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Rolling Artwork Adorns The Syracuse Nationals

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, July 28 2016
Pontiac’s iconic “Chief” ornament adorns the hood of Bobby Coln’s 1955 Safari station wagon. And it still lights up. (RacinToday photos by Martha Fairris)

Pontiac’s iconic “Chief” ornament adorns the hood of Bobby Coln’s 1955 Safari station wagon. And it still lights up. (RacinToday photos by Martha Fairris)

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – The former owner of an auto salvage yard and the current owner of a classic 1955 Pontiac Safari station wagon, Bobby Coln is living in car-guy retirement by this vow.

“This car will never end up there,” said Coln (the “l” is silent), adding that the pride of his Pontiac bugfeaturefleet is destined to remain a family fixture in Savannah, Tenn.  “It’s not for sale at any price. I’ve been offered crazy money for it, like $125,000. You couldn’t replace it. You can’t hardly find another Safari for sale.

“I saw one in Daytona Beach 25 years ago, and said, ‘I’m going to have me one of them cars one of these days.’ I love the style. I call it my art-deco car; it’s got so much chrome it just catches my eye.”

Coln’s Safari surfaced as one of three on display during the recent 17th annual PPG Syracuse Nationals at the revamped New York State Fairgrounds. A production of the Right Coast Association of nearby Brewerton, the three-day event billed as the “Largest Car Show/Happening in the Northeast” featured approximately 8,000 street rods, customs, classics, antiques and trucks.

The vehicles _ and sun-drenched spectators _ filled the Empire Expo Center, several adjoining buildings and spilled onto the shaded areas of the Fairgrounds, which has undergone a $50-

The tailgate of Bobby Coln’s 1955 Pontiac Safari station wagon bears a striking resemblance to its more popular GM corporate cousin, the ’55 Chevrolet Nomad.

The tailgate of Bobby Coln’s 1955 Pontiac Safari station wagon bears a striking resemblance to its more popular GM corporate cousin, the ’55 Chevrolet Nomad.

million renovation since last fall. A key element was tearing down the grandstands of the historic Syracuse Mile dirt track, an emotional event for many Central New Yorkers that nevertheless created considerable space for additional show cars, the obligatory swap meet and car corral.

Coln and wife Margaret made the 2,300-mile roundtrip from Savannah to Syracuse for the second time in the Pontiac Bobby purchased for $21,000 from a museum in New Jersey 19 years ago. “I found it in Hemmings Motor News and skipped over it for six months, because I thought it might have a rust problem being in New Jersey,” Coln said. “I kept looking for one but they’re so hard to find. I finally called the gentleman (owner) and talked to him and he assured me there wasn’t any rust in the car.”

The Poncho was equipped with its original 247 CID V8, automatic transmission, power steering and brakes and an iconic two-piece “Chief” hood ornament. “It does light up,” Coln said. “That’s an option and it was on the car when I bought it. It comes on with the headlights or the parking lights. The car’s got a power antenna too, which is a rare option.

“It was totally stock when I got it. I drove it one year like it was and then one winter blowed it apart. It’s now got a ‘72 Nova front clip (with disc brakes), ‘72 Nova rear end, a ’70 Grand Prix 455 V8 and Turbo 400 transmission. I re-upholstered the interior in the same (factory) pattern and colors. It was originally leather and I put ultra leather back in it. It has vintage heat and air and an AM/FM radio…with a 500-watt amplifier.”

Coln had the odometer re-set to zero when the 455 was rebuilt and installed; the car now has 58,000 miles on the clock.

The Safari is, of course, a corporate two-door cousin to the Chevrolet Nomad wagon.  Originally

The interior of Bobby Coln’s 1955 Pontiac Safari station wagon features new “ultra leather” seats while retaining its classic metal dash, albeit with a late-model steering wheel.

The interior of Bobby Coln’s 1955 Pontiac Safari station wagon features new “ultra leather” seats while retaining its classic metal dash, albeit with a late-model steering wheel.

exhibited as a 1954 Chevrolet Corvette Motorama concept car, the body style was shifted to Chevy and  Pontiac full-size 1955 production vehicles because of a perceived greater sales potential. The ‘55 Safari shared body components with the Nomad, allowing both GM divisions to amortize tooling costs. The Safari was distinguished by Pontiac’s front-end bumper/grille assembly and sheet metal and rear tail light design, both created by Pontiac stylist Paul Gillan.

The Safari featured “sport-coupe” front doors, extra chrome adorning the tailgate and interior, and sliding rear-seat windows. Like the Nomad, the wagon’s “B” pillar was raked forward, a styling cue not shared with GM’s other period two-door wagons.

While interior trim, upholstery and bright work were equal to Pontiac’s top-of-the-line Star Chief model, the Safari was the only model in the Star Chief Custom (Series 27). The General cranked out 3,760 Safaris in 1955, making it the lowest production Pontiac of that year. “I’ve seen numbers like 3,760, 3,762…they’re pretty rare,” Coln said. “The Pontiac Club of America says there’s 25 registered that they know of. I think there’s more out there…up-and-running and got tags on ‘em.”

Coln said the Safari, which is insured for $75,000, has been promised to daughter Shelley. “She spoke for it and she’ll get it, but I hope it’s not for a long time,” said Bobby, 67. “She won’t get it until I pass away or I can’t drive it any longer.”

Coln’s toy collection includes a 1962 Pontiac Catalina convertible, “one of the prettiest Pontiacs

The original owner of Rich Eistertz’s 1957 Ford Thunderbird paid $3,460.89 to drive it off the lot of the Bill Reno dealership in Denver, Colo. Eistertz, of Edinburgh, N.Y., will sell the well-equipped “Baby Bird” for $105,000.

The original owner of Rich Eistertz’s 1957 Ford Thunderbird paid $3,460.89 to drive it off the lot of the Bill Reno dealership in Denver, Colo. Eistertz, of Edinburgh, N.Y., will sell the well-equipped “Baby Bird” for $105,000.

ever made,” Bobby said. “I also own a ’47 Pontiac convertible and a ’63 Buick Riviera, the first generation and another pretty car. I’m GM all the way.”

The show’s signature event was competition among the Winfield Select Six for the coveted Winfield Award. A panel of judges led by pioneer California car-builder/designer Gene Winfield pored over a national field of entries that included Joe Horisk’s 1961 Chevrolet Impala extended two-door hardtop from Wilmington, Del.; Frank and Mike Briglia’s 1948 Chevy pickup from Wolcott, Conn; Richard Broyles’ 1941 Ford pickup from Jonesborough, Tenn.; Mike and Pat Markin’s 1938 Graham 97 coupe from Eau Claire, Wis., and Michael Pausina’s 1950 Mercury “lead sled” coupe from Mandeville, La.

All qualify as rolling works of art. But winner of the Winfield Award and its accompanying $10,000 check from Meguiar’s Car Care Products was a 1940 Mercury coupe co-owned by Jack and Carolyn Kiely of Rumson, N.J. According to the event program, the Kielys borrowed from European coach designs by incorporating a rear section featuring a three window fastback roof. The swoopy design is marked by a windshield lowered into the cowl, rear window glass curved in two directions and fender skirts in the rear and front _ the latter skirts moving when the wheels turn.

The car is powered by a 660-horsepower Shelby GT500 5.4-liter V8. The instrument panel flows into the doors and is fitted with modern electronics. But in a nod to the past, the Merc comes with handmade luggage for the trunk and behind the seat.

Entry blanks now are available for next year’s Syracuse Nationals, set for July 14-16 at the Fairgrounds. “I really enjoyed that show,” said Coln, back in Tennessee and out for a ride in the Catalina. “We’ll be back at some time, maybe in another car.”

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, July 28 2016
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