1962 Pontiac Bonneville
For some folks, owning that American car of their dreams remains just that… a dream. For some lucky folks, after a lifetime of dreaming, that fantasy becomes a reality, as is the case with Karl Cordwell and his 1962 Pontiac Bonneville…
For some people it’s the American car scene which gradually grows on them. As we all know, attending a car cruise regularly can become irresistible. Karl Cordwell has been a regular visitor to the Leeds cruise at its various locations since the age of 17, as we’ll find out. In that time, his love of all things petrol-powered has varied dramatically over the years.
“Back when I was 17, I used to attend the cruise in my first car which was a Vauxhall Magnum,” Karl remembers. “All my mates were running about in Minis. The insurance for the Magnum cost me more than the car was worth, even back then.” Karl always owned and rode motorbikes too and when the time came for mortgages and marriage, his car was the first to go, daily duties being dealt with on two wheels.
This period of family life and settling down never stopped Karl from visiting the monthly Leeds cruise and within a few years he was back to four wheels in the shape of fast Fords. “By now, I already had a hankering for an American car as there were so many cool cars turning up to every meet,” Karl smiles. “I had to stick with something practical for the time being as my wife also had to drive whatever I bought.”
The Fords made way for TVRs, the first of which somehow became a daily driver all year round for Karl’s wife. “We stuck with TVRs for around 12 years and eventually ran the West Yorkshire Car Club,” Karl points out. “We had four TVRs in total, the last being a very rare 450 Seac, number 17 of 18 built.” The V8 connection was already in place, the Seac being propelled by a race specification 4.6-litre V8. A brief fling with the Jap scene then ensued in the shape of a Skyline R32 and Honda S2000, no less. Already, Karl had made his way through an enviable collection of cool cars, enough to keep many a petrolhead happy over a lifetime, but his ambition to own a big American car still hadn’t been fulfilled.
“The first American car I bought, I’d seen parked up in some woods near where I live,” Karl recalls. “It was a Ford F350 dual cab pick-up and I’d had my eye on it for some time.” Karl’s curiosity as to why the pick-up had been parked there eventually got the better of him and he soon made contact with the owner. “He’d left it parked up when the gearbox let go, but was willing to sell the pick-up as he had no plans to fix it,” Karl explains. “I put a pair of new batteries on the 7.3-litre power stroke engine and she fired up straight away and ran really sweet.”
That was where his good fortune ended as the bodywork and interior were rough and that gearbox still needed a rebuild. “I had it picked up and transported by a low-loader to have the gearbox rebuilt, then spent the next few years sorting the bodywork and interior,” Karl recalls. “My mate Danny carried out a full respray and the truck looked stunning by the time it was completed.”
Enter the Bonneville
The F350 went down well at the Leeds cruise as predicted, but Karl had a sudden desire to own a large American motorhome and the truck was put in part exchange. “After a while, I realised I was missing the truck and began looking for another one, but less of a project this time,” Karl explains. “While I was looking, I came across an ad for this Pontiac Bonneville and began making enquiries.” The ’62 four-door Vista was still in America when the advert was placed and was due to reach the UK in December 2016. “I took a long drive down to Oxford on a wintry December day to take a closer look at the car,” Karl smiles. “I’d already decided if it ran okay and was solid underneath, I’d make an offer on it.”
Karl discovered the original owner, John Rodine, had purchased the Bonneville from Dave Sbarbaro Pontiac dealership in California, handing over $4380 for it back in ’62. “It moved on to Kevin Smith of Long Island, Kansas, later in its life and had covered only 2000 miles in the last 15 years,” Karl adds. The invoices supplied held a wealth of information, and in June 2011 the car had been sat in a barn on a farm when a tornado struck. “The barn was completely destroyed, but the car remained totally intact other than a break in the rear screen,” Karl tells us. “This really is a true survivor car… in every sense of the word!”
Luckily, Karl’s freezing trip to Oxford didn’t disappoint. The matching-numbers 389cu in V8 ran sweet and the York Town blue paintwork remained in excellent order. The Fisher-built bodywork now has a distinctive sparkle thanks to Magic Mirror acrylic lacquer, while the acres of chromework remain spotless. Step inside and it’s pure Sixties heaven with the original blue cloth trim still intact, along with its factory-fitted working AM stereo and clock. “The build sheet from Southgate, California factory dated April 4, 1962, was hidden under the carpet too, which was a pleasant surprise,” Karl confesses. “This is a real time-warp car.” Even the original handbook, service book, invoice, jack and spare wheel all remain with the car. You may have spotted those deep-dish wheels with chrome hubcaps are wider than standard. Karl loves the look of these rims, offering a more aggressive appearance, though they could be reverted to standard if he ever desired.
Since taking on the ownership of this piece of American motoring history, Karl has made a few subtle upgrades and repairs to ensure the Bonneville drives reliably and smoothly as it should. Electronic ignition is now fitted, all fluids have been changed and the electrics replaced where the wiring was beginning to show its age. “I’ve had the four-barrel carb rebuilt and a full stainless exhaust fitted with manual cut outs, designed and built by Tony Banks in Leeds (www.tonybanks.co.uk ),” Karl points out. “It runs better than ever now, and the exhaust sounds the business too.”
Despite its originality, Karl made the decision to completely remove the interior to clean it thoroughly before refitting. “Kevin Birkett has done a lot of work on the Bonneville and, indeed, all my cars over the years,” Karl smiles, “and I agree with his statement that you can fix just about anything on these cars with a spanner or hammer, and not a computer in sight.” More than three years since its purchase, the Bonneville continues to attend the Leeds cruise, which is quite a long time by Karl’s standards and that’s in addition to fulfilling its role at various proms and weddings. Incredibly, this one may actually end up being a keeper!