1969 PONTIAC BONNEVILLE SUPERIOR AMBULANCE
The ambulance body was built at Superior Coach Corporation in Kosciusko, Mississippi, where, from 1954, a full range of funeral cars and ambulances on the Pontiac chassis continued in production until 1974
Brian Armstrong is the third owner of this rare red and white 1969 Pontiac Bonneville Superior ambulance, bought new in August 1969 from the dealership Bell Chevrolet, Cut Bank, Montana, the county seat of rural Glacier County. He has the paperwork to prove the history of vehicle-hull ID No. 262 909P 310025.
The ambulance body was built at Superior Coach Corporation in Kosciusko, Mississippi, where, from 1954, a full range of funeral cars and ambulances on the Pontiac chassis continued in production until 1974. This Superior served Glacier, as the red and white Dymo labels of twoway radio contacts at the right of the dashboard indicate.
Brian has owned the Pontiac since 2004, driving the ambulance for pleasure, occasionally as a funeral vehicle or as a wedding car for friends getting married.
VINZ passed the ambulance with only a little bit of work required for certification and registration. Being in original condition helped the process; Brian has done no restorative work while it has been in his ownership other than replacing the missing stretcher.
Brian drove the ambulance in the Americana Night Cruise through Petone in February 2011. Hutt News published a picture of three mini-skirted nurses giving a helping hand by pushing the vehicle towards the starting line. The “first aid” caption omitted the fact that this was a stunt; Ross de Rouffignac — this feature’s photographer — and I saw the Americana parade and can confirm that we saw nothing to indicate that the ambulance needed any help that night. Shame on whoever captioned the image for calling the Superior an “old-time ambulance”. What was intended as a bit of fun of now reads as flippancy.
Brian has shown the ambulance several times at Moonshine Rod and Custom Club’s annual American Vehicle Day over the years, but the Pontiac has been missing the last two years while Brian recovers from a stroke. He says that he hopes to have the ambulance back again next year. While we are talking, Brian disappears and returns wearing what a Cut Bank resident would have worn in 1969: a cowboy hat and a casual shirt.
Photographer Ross tells us that the 400-cubic inch (6.55-litre) V8 motor has plenty of the torque power that Americans like, which, he reckons, is about four times more than that of an average family car of the era. Brian
The red and white exterior colour scheme carries through to the interior in both cockpit and patient areas. Hard-wearing aluminium sheeting covers the lower doors and walls in the paramedics’/treatment area
measures the ambulance while Ross speaks, recording a length of approximately 6600mm and a width of 2100mm. The Superior runs on 98-octane petrol and gives 10–11 miles per gallon (23.5–21.3 litres per 100km). Brian hasn’t tested how fast the ambulance will go, estimating 100mph (161kph). He has driven the vehicle to Masterton, where the performance is “good as gold” going over the winding Rimutakas to the Wairarapa.
The two-part grille has a bold centre division and double headlights grouped on either side — Pontiac had returned to this layout in 1968 after having the headlights arranged on top of each other from 1963 to 1967. Brian says that it’s hard work
polishing the grille and body chrome to keep it shiny.
The siren and the lights are in working order. Those flashing roof lights at the front and rear are a shape reminiscent of tail lights from a 1959 Cadillac. At the front, they are placed one on top of the other in two groups of two at either side of the ‘Ambulance’ sign, and, at the rear, they’re side by side in pairs. A raised, dome-shaped, revolving light is in the centre of the roof. Zip fasteners in the cockpit lining enable access to the electrics operating these lights if a repair is needed. The control panel for these lights, as well as for the siren, heater, and air conditioning, sits in a recess above the driver’s rear-vision mirror.
The red and white exterior colour scheme carries through to the interior in both cockpit and patient areas. Hardwearing aluminium sheeting covers the lower doors and walls in the paramedics’/treatment area. An efficient crew has labelled what the drawers and cupboards contain, so they would have wasted no time in getting the patient comfortable while the ambulance sped to hospital. The cupboards and drawers are fitted with round stainless-steel handles — so popular in the 1960s.
Draw curtains on three sides of the treatment space enabled the paramedics to work on their patients with some privacy. Everything, from running water to the hookups for intravenous drips, was onboard for them.
A step above the number plate makes for easy entering and exiting the rear door. The door is heavy, and, as Ross says, “It has a mind of its own.” The curb swing passenger doors are also heavy, and care has to be taken not to slam them when closing. They could offer a bit of resistance to the Wellington wind.
Brian puts on his Dr Seymour Bush white coat when he takes us for a spin into Upper Hutt. When we set out, the mileage on the odometer is 63,531. The ride is smooth, and the feeling beneath the feet is of something solid.
In this relaxed setting, it would be easy for a passenger’s imagination to transport the ride from New Zealand suburbia to cruising along a US freeway. The vision from the windscreen is great, and three people can easily sit on the bench-type front seat. This near-50-year-old American classic would make long distance travel a very comfortable experience across the US or around New Zealand.
An imitation woodgrain panel with ‘Bonneville’ in gold lettering is on the passenger side of the dashboard. On the driver’s side is a feature that would not be fitted in an ambulance in 2018 — a cigarette lighter.
Brian has had enquiries about selling his ambulance, which he has rejected because they aren’t high enough. He reckons that the $50K he’s been offered is too little.
“I’ll keep it until I get the price I want,” he says. He really doesn’t wish to sell it — and one really can’t blame him while there’s fun to be had from it.
The two-part grille has a bold centre division and double headlights grouped on either side — Pontiac had returned to this layout in 1968 after having the headlights arranged on top of each other from 1963 to 1967