I wouldn’t have met identical twins Dan and Ron Gaudet except for the fact they visit my daughter’s equestrian farm in Shannonville almost every Sunday. Dan works on his car in the shop on the property two hours east of Toronto, and Ron is there to help him along. Their friends often lend a hand as well.
The car is an ultra-rare 1955 Pontiac Safari station wagon – cousin to the much-sought-after but more common Chevy Nomads built between 1955 and 1957. Pontiac Safari wagons were all built in the U.S. as part of the top-line Star Chief offerings. They were not intended for the Canadian market so they are seldom seen north of the 49th.
Production of the Chevy Nomad was almost three-to-one over the 3,760 Pontiac Safari models built in 1955 – the first year they rolled off the line. The Nomad was Pontiac’s most expensive model, even eclipsing the cost of a Chieftain four-door sedan and the fancy Star Chief convertible.
This particular Safari odyssey began eight years ago when Dan bought the fire-damaged classic from a dealer in Eastern Ontario. An insurance company had written the car off after an electrical fire took out everything under the hood, the hood itself, all the wiring and the dashboard. The good news was that the sad remains of this once magnificent classic, originally built in the Kansas City General Motors plant and imported to Canada in the 1970’s, had found a new friend.
Dan is an equipment operator for the Municipality of Durham and lives in Peterborough – 90 minutes away from Belcarra Stables in Shannonville. He faithfully makes the trip every Sunday to work on the Safari. Brother Ron is almost always there to help. He lives in Shannonville and shares his brother’s classic car passion with his restored and highly modified 1965 Mustang coupe that he has owned for two decades.
The twins immediately began to dissemble the Safari. Someone had swapped a Chevrolet V8 engine in place of the original 1955 Pontiac ‘Strato Streak’ 287 cubic inch 200 horsepower V8 engine.
The parts for this American-built classic would normally be hard to find in Canada except Dan, who works all over Durham Region, had discovered a salvage yard that had a suitable parts car. Dan bought the discarded 1955 Pontiac Star Chief sedan which yielded the correct engine, hood and a bevy of other parts to rebuild his Safari station wagon.
Fellow Peterborough resident and friend Paul Jones, a retired General Electric engineer, found 90 per cent of the small parts needed for the restoration and repaired many of the existing parts.
What ensued was a long process of renewal – including five years in a local body shop to put the car into new condition including the replacement of a damaged rear fender using a section from the parts car. More than three years of patient reassembly has now transpired with everything done in proper sequence so very little work had to be repeated. Wally Slone, a talented mechanic and coworker of Dan’s for 24 years operating equipment for Durham region, faithfully showed up every Sunday for three years to put the pieces of the Pontiac back in place. The original colours of fire gold and white mist were matched perfectly for refinishing the Safari. Topping off the restoration is an optional lighted Indian chief hood ornament.
The Safari restoration has been an expensive expedition as Dan estimates he has about $100,000 invested in the car plus thousands of hours of work. But he is proud that he never gave up on the car despite often working long hours alone in a sometimes cold shop.
“I lost a girlfriend over this car but I got another one,” Dan says, but vows to never do another restoration as this one has taken up so much of his time. “It’s been a labour of love to restore something I hadn’t seen before.
He adds: “This has also brought my twin brother and me closer together. It’s really gratifying to see what we’ve completed.
“I am hoping to keep this car for the rest of my life.”
Alyn Edwards is a classic car enthusiast and partner in Peak Communicators, a Vancouver-based public relations company. [email protected]