TRAF­FIC-STOP­PER

1969 PON­TIAC BON­NEVILLE SU­PE­RIOR AM­BU­LANCE

New Zealand Classic Car - - CONTENTS - Words: Christo­pher Moor Pho­tos: Ross de Rouf­fignac

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.

Wind re­sis­tance

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.

Re­laxed setting

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

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