Here is Grandma at the wheel in 1971.
This photo was taken during...
This photo was taken during the first South Dakota trip in 1971.
Warm memories and feelings of nostalgia provide passage back to what many of us see as a more idyllic time. To escape the trials and tribulations of daily life, we gravitate towards anything with the potential to take us away from them—like Pontiacs.
Two stories in this month’s issue remind me of my childhood. In My Words event coverage of the Full-Size Pontiac Chi-Town Shindig brought back memories of the mid-to-late-’60s Big-Cars that are seemingly much less prevalent at the shows and on the streets today than the early ’60s ones, and “Four-Door No More,” which is about a ’62 Catalina four-door sedan that was transformed into a two-door sedan.
What do these stories have to do with my upbringing?
At the same time that my parents owned a Burgundy ’65 Tri-Power four-speed GTO and then a Barrier Blue ’66 326 three-speed manual LeMans, my grandparents owned an optioned-out Cameo White ’66 Bonneville four-door. Like the Goat and LeMans, many of my earliest memories came from riding around in the big Bonne. The difference was that riding shotgun in the Bonne was mostly with my grandmother Jean Grimmelmann at the helm. Whether it was to the bank, where a lollipop for me was the perfect reason to make the trip; to the local Grand Way department store (which has long since become a K-mart) and its restaurant, The Patio, for ice cream; or simply to the high school to pick up my uncle Kurt; or the corner to pick up my grandfather Karl at the bus stop in inclement weather—for a little kid, there was always someplace exciting to go in the Bonneville.
When I think of it now, I wonder how my grandmother was ever able to park the land yacht, or navigate it in and out of the garage without adding Darlington stripes to the port and starboard sides. After all, she is 4-feet, 11-inches tall, and the ’66 Bonne is 221.8 inches long and 79 inches wide. For comparison, a ’13 GMC Yukon XL is 222.4 inches long and 79.1 inches wide! Thanks to Pontiac’s power steering and brakes…and a driving cushion to ensure a safe view out the windows, she did just fine.
The Bonne made many long distance trips with my grandfather at the wheel and visited many U.S. states during its tenure in their household. The one I remember best was its second trip to South Dakota in three years, because my parents and I went along with my grandparents on this 1974 summer vacation to visit my uncle Karl and aunt Cindy. By then my mom and dad had a red ’68 Cutlass S convertible and we took both cars. I can remember looking through the convertible’s rear window to see the Bonne traveling at highway speeds behind us. It looked like it owned the road.
Later that year we moved to South Dakota, and, of course, the Pontiac remained in New Jersey with my grandparents. Uncle Kurt reached driving age and, as is tradition with most families, he began driving his parent’s car until he could buy his own. By 1975, the 9-year-old Bonneville had become road worn and the mileage was high, so my grandparents began shopping for a new car. When we returned from South Dakota later that year, a new ’75 Olds Delta 88 had replaced the big Bonne in the garage, thus marking the end of an era.
My grandparents are now in their early 90s, and though the Bonneville is long gone, it has never been forgotten. Like my parents’ ’65 GTO and the ’66 LeMans that followed it, they all live on in memories, as all three cars represent a part of my early childhood when getting in the car and going anywhere was an adventure. The fact that much of my formative years were spent in Pontiacs makes it all the more special.