1958 Pontiac Bonneville Woodie Wagon - Hurray For Bonnewood
Bob Garacochea believes in the adage, "Good things come to those who wait." As the proprietor of the successful Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery in Santa Monica, California, and an authority in artesian bakery techniques, the owner of this "should have been" Pontiac has patience that may be unmatched. After all, patience is a learned virtue, and Bob has had plenty of time for lessons; if not from the 30 hours per session it takes for his bakery's bread to be finished, then perhaps from the amount of time it took him to get the Pontiac he always wanted.
He grew up during the California surfer craze of the '60s, the experience teaching him to love wagons-especially Woodies. "Everyone had them," he says. "It's just what we all used at the time." Living near, and on Venice Beach and viewing the parade of Woodies stuffed with suntanned beach-goers and surfboards each day influenced Bob to buy a '54 Ford station wagon at an early age. "I was 15 at the time, and too young to drive. So it sat in a vacant lot next to my home."
In 1967, Bob joined the service to fight for his country. While getting ready to leave for Vietnam, he happened to spot a '57 two-door Safari sitting in a lot. All through his tour of duty that '57 stayed in his mind, the soldier having decided that was the car for him. When Bob returned home, he found times tight and cash hard to come by. Forced to curb his enthusiasm, he had to wait until 1980 before his next chance at '50s Pontiac wagon ownership.
With a new decade started, things were changing. One day, Bob happened to be driving around town, taking the long way home, when his eye caught an unmistakable sight. Passing a fence, he saw just the hint of the beaded roof of a Safari. He remembers the moment clearly, "I pulled my truck up to the fence and used the cab to look over it. And there it was!" Not only was it a Safari, but it was the exact same one he had seen years earlier. "The owners of the lot didn't even know it was there," he says. "To get at it, we had to cut three or four tree limbs out of the way." With his car found, Bob tracked down the owner and explained his circumstances. A short story later, the car was his.
Joining the Pontiac Oakland Club International (POCI), was the next step, and it was through the club that he met Lou Callisabetta of Old Stillwater Garage in Stillwater, New Jersey. "I was contacting members while looking for parts for my '57," Bob says. "Lou had a nearly identical car on the East Coast, so I talked to him about it." Not only was Lou helpful in Bob's search, but he also didn't mind that the West Coast owner was building a replica of his own car on the opposite side of the United States. "We started talking and struck up what became a long-term friendship," Bob says.
Several years later, when Bob had a business under his belt and some pennies saved, he decided it was time for a wagon he's yearned for since his childhood. Problem being, Pontiac didn't build a Woodie wagon in the late '50s. "It's not like I could go out and buy one," he says. With that in mind, Bob decided what couldn't be had by normal means, he would build. His appetite previously whetted by his experience with the '57 wagon, the determined baker knew the perfect starting point for his dream machine. But this time it would be a '58 model, built to look like a Woodie and featuring upscale Bonneville trim to further differentiate it from the pack, since Pontiac didn't offer a Bonneville wagon in 1958.
His next choice was an easy one-the builder. Bob got Lou on the phone, the project was discussed, and a plan was formulated. Using a '58 Star Chief Custom Safari wagon as a donor, Lou was knee deep in Pontiac parts when he realized just how decayed it was. With the frame and body divorced for the first time since they were married on the assembly line, Lou concluded, "It was a badly rusted s.o.b." So, instead of wasting precious hours doing it all by hand, he had the entire car dipped in Redi Strip. With the parts derusted and clean, the X-frame was quickly handed over to mechanic and auto body technician Steve Decker at Old Stillwater Garage for prep. It should be noted that in this case, "prep" is short for having to patch the frame and create two new framerails. Handled expertly by Steve, the frame was returned to stock condition and readied for reassembly of the suspension.
Steve began the procedure by fitting an Air Ride suspension setup. This may sound easy, but the trick here was to keep everything of vintage era underneath in working order while complementing the suspension with modern pieces. Thankfully for Steve, the Air Ride kit was nearly a bolt-on affair, the setup made specifically for this style of vehicle. Retaining the original rearend with 3.40 gears in the process, Steve finished the job by mounting Master Power Brakes four-wheel discs and a set of 15x7 Radir wheels wrapped in 225/75R15 Continental radials.
With the chassis sorted out, he moved on to the engine combo, first picking out a '72 400 block from an expired Catalina. Since the '58 was to become a "mild custom," extreme power figures were traded for reliability and simplicity of operation, so mostly stock replacement pieces were employed inside the now 0.030-over short-block. What he did change, he did in deuces however, upping not only horsepower, but also the wow factor when the hood was popped. From the top down, you'll find an Edelbrock carburetor dressed with a louvered air cleaner from a '60s Pontiac. The aluminum intake manifold, also by Edelbrock, sits between the company's Performer RPM aluminum heads (2.11/1.66 valves) adding both power and visual impact. Compression has been set at 10.5:1 thanks to the Speed-Pro forged pistons, the overbore, and the 72cc chambers in the heads. Crane's custom-grind hydraulic flat-tappet cam features a mild 225-degrees duration at 0.050 and 0.407 lift. Fire is provided by a Mallory Unilite distributor and coil to the tune of 32 degrees total advance at 2,600 rpm, with current carried through Taylor 8mm wires to AC Delco plugs. Spent gasses exit the exhaust ports into a set of Ram Air Restoration Enterprises reproduction exhaust manifolds with 2.5-inch outlets and continue through a Flowmaster exhaust featuring 3-inch pipes.
Moving onto the bodywork, Lou worked his magic. A '58 Impala donated a section of its roof to provide a vent to be made into a third brake light. Locating a Bonneville donor, Lou and his team removed all of the stainless. Polishing it by hand at the shop, the team modified it to work on the wagon body.
Having decided on DuPont Organic Calypso Green as a basecoat-a color Lou used on one of his own rides-the body was flawlessly sprayed with four coats of paint, then four more of DuPont clear. The sides were then decorated with Bonneville trim. In the front and rear, the metal bumpers were filled, rechromed, and polished with the work split evenly between Cambridge Custom Chrome and AIH Chrome, making them a seamless work of art. The stock grille at the front was replaced by the classic look of a tube grille. In the rear, '56 Olds lenses replace the Pontiac taillights. The finishing touch was the Woodie treatment Bob felt he had deserved all of these years. On the flanks of his custom wagon, the onlooker will find no wood or decals; instead the wood trim was painstakingly painted on by artist Dave Symons before the clear was sprayed.
The package wouldn't be complete without some furnishings inside. Several of the modern amenities include an ididit column and a Lokar floor-shifter mated to a Turbo 350 transmission. Though the rear seat is a reupholstered original, with work completed by Jerry Ambrosi, the fronts are GM Motorama-style, hard-shell buckets. With a surfer theme as the general idea, Jerry used vinyl and wicker as the tools to represent the era, going as far as to recover the interior doors to reflect the outside of the car-complete with trim. The center console was built from scratch using vinyl-covered wood, while the dash is out of a '64 Grand Prix and features gauges by Hanline. To masterfully finish off the cabin, '58 repro rugs were picked, adding a cool classic look to go with some cold Vintage Air. To keep everything clean under his feet, Bob had a set of custom mats made, representative of the color found in the bed.
Looking back on it, there's not a lot Bob and Lou would have done differently to "Bonnewood," the name, a play on words of Bob's area and the car from which it was modeled. But exquisite execution doesn't necessarily pertain to the ease of a project. Quite the opposite, really. While both the artisan and the artist had a clear idea of what they wanted, distance can be the bane of every project, "We're both computer illiterate," Bob says. "It was left up to pictures and phone calls." And lots of trust, we're sure. But where else can you find a car like this? Only in Bonnewood!

Photo Gallery: 1958 Pontiac Bonneville Woodie Wagon - High Performance Pontiac

Read More | Digg It | Add to del.icio.us