A Rocky Start To A Streamlined Pontiac Love Affair
Story and Photography by: Erik Olsen
People that love cars also tend to love stories about cars. These stories often include the one that got away, the one that made it cross country, the one with a million miles, and so on. Another story is that of the survivor: a car that has made it all this time without being altered or damaged, and that’s still here today driving around just as it did during another time.
It’s hard to say why these are usually good stories, something about a machine preserved and waiting for someone to breathe life back into it resonates with a lot of people. It brings back memories and gets them excited, and in some cases it causes them to get out and find an old car of their own. Finding the right one however, the one that scratches every itch, is not easy.
Chris Anderson, of Minneapolis, MN, is a car guy. He grew up riding around in the back seat of his dad’s 1951 Chevrolet fastback coupe with his brothers, dreaming of a car of his own. He also grew up with his brothers in his dad’s garage watching him work on project after project. He tried a couple of projects of his own, a ’51 Chevy pickup and a ’71 Opel GT, but both projects eventually stalled as his heart just wasn’t in them. He sold both projects and decided to spend some time searching his feelings until, during the winter of 2011, he realized that what he wanted all along was a return to his roots, and a fastback of his own.
The only catch was that Anderson didn’t want just any fastback. Certainly there’s plenty to choose from both foreign and domestic, but what Anderson wanted was a two-door fastback, an American model, built somewhere between 1949 and 1952. He had known that shape since he was a kid, and it was the only one that would do. It wasn’t likely to be an easy task finding the exact car he wanted, but even within such tight criteria there’s a great selection of cars thanks to the post-war production boom.
The search began. Anderson put the word out with friends and connections in local car clubs. He looked in every garage he drove past that had the door open. He also turned where everyone else looking for an old car has to look these days: Craigslist. For six months he searched every day for a car that would suit his needs. Six months…every day. Nothing.
Understandably, Anderson began to get a little frustrated until it finally occurred to him to try posting a want ad. All this time he figured his search would find the right car, but maybe it was time to also give the right car a chance to find him. Luck was on his side. After less than a week, he had a promising response, received in July 2011.
The email sounded hopeful, it was from a gentleman in South Dakota with a 1949 Pontiac Streamliner sitting in a garage. Anderson made the trip with his dad and brothers to see the car, and none of them could believe what he found. It was hopeful, but it wasn’t a shiny, perfect car. In fact, he describes that his initial reaction was that it was “as shiny as cardboard”.
Nonetheless, a beautifully preserved car was sitting, seemingly waiting for someone to breathe some life back into it.
Once the car was brought outside and the details emerged, the find only seemed better and better. It was still owned by the family of the original buyer. It was used sparingly, but started and run once a year to “keep it alive”. Amazingly, it was also used for a trip from South Dakota to Chicago, and back, sometime between 2002 and 2011. It sat, but also saw enough use to keep from rotting away.
The original owner had the dealer put seat covers on the car when he bought it—and they are still there today. The car is still wearing its original, one year only, Mayan Gold paint. All in all everything was completely original and unmolested. For Anderson, there was no doubt this was it, and he struck a deal. On the ride home he couldn’t help but look back at the trailer with excitement knowing that a longtime dream was becoming a reality.
Once home, Anderson set to work polishing the massive chrome bumpers and other trim and it shined up perfectly. He polished the Mayan Gold paint and, despite a few dings here and there, it also polished up amazingly well. Now it looks much more like root beer than cardboard. He also started going through the usual mechanical work required to make the car safe. Brakes, suspension, steering, it was all inspected and rebuilt if necessary, but it was all in such good shape from mild use over the years that there was little to be done! The straight-eight flathead even managed to fire even though it also needed a tuneup for the sake of reliability and to eliminate some leaks.
Finally satisfied, he put the car on the road—at least temporarily. The transmission had some common issues and the engine was a little tired from sitting, so after a couple of summers of around-town driving, the car was pulled into the garage in May 2014 for what ended up being a fairly major mechanical restoration. The engine was pulled and the head machined, a new transmission sourced, and a lot of little parts were removed, sanded, and painted. Everything was kept original, and further life was being breathed into a car that already had so much remaining.
That long year in the garage is finally over, and the Streamliner is now back on the road getting its bugs worked out. As it stands, it cruises down the road smoothly, paint and chrome shining in the sun, with its straight-8 humming along with a sound not often heard anymore.
Additionally, Anderson has spent a lot of time hunting swap meets and eBay for N.O.S. accessories like the original Pontiac suicide knob (that matched the existing marks on the steering wheel), a traffic signal prism, and a compass that lights up with the headlights. All of these touches add to the experience and compliment the already wonderfully mid-century modern/art deco dash. The best part of that dash however, is likely the odometer as it currently reads only 54,400 miles, which are original and documented.
The reactions to the car are wonderful, and stir memories galore. A lot of older admirers remember having something similar, or riding around in one as a kid. Plenty of honks and waves, and always the inevitable question of what year it is. All the while the driver has a constant grin, feeling that great combination of pride in his work mixed with all the sensory input that only comes from a big old American car. The floating ride, the gentle acceleration, the huge steering wheel, the lack of seat belts, even the smell. It all combines to create a drive that is unlike any other. As the air rushes in the large vent windows, you’re almost obligated to take a deep breath, to lean back into the springy bench seat and soak it all in with your arm hanging out the window. It’s almost therapeutic. You can’t be in a rush with such a car.
Anderson has no plans to get rid of the Streamliner any time soon, if ever. It’s only been a few years since he found it, and he knows he has many years of love left to give it. With luck on his side he plans to continue to breathe life into his car as long as he can.
In the meantime, he’s enjoying the ride every chance he gets, sometimes right behind the very fastback in which he grew up.