Tim Miller


It was the late Summer/early Fall of 1999 when I was roaming around the Conroe Swap Meet. I was not looking for anything in particular. Swap Meets always prove to be interesting because you never know what you will find - sometimes nothing - sometimes a lot. I had been there most of the day and the afternoon Texas heat was beginning to take its toll. I really had not seen any interesting or needed parts. As I was nearing the end of my rounds, I noticed a '63 Pontiac Grand Prix at the very back of the area. The Car Corral had been full and they must have relegated a few latecomers to the back of the Fairgrounds. I was a little shocked to see this particular vehicle as you normally do not see these cars for sale, on the street or anywhere - at least that's been my experience. As I walked closer to the vehicle, I could see a couple of 'For Sale' signs taped to the windows.

63 silver calf

Being a die hard Big Pontiac guy (that will have to be another story at a later date), the car became like a magnet - I really had to get a closer look and closer inspection. The car was silver (Silvermist Grey to be exact) with Dark Blue interior. I could tell the car had been repainted the original color, but probably awhile ago because by now this car is 36 years old. I kept walking around the outside, circling the vehicle and looking at every panel, door, fender and chrome.

Being a die hard Big Pontiac guy (that will have to be another story at a later date), the car became like a magnet - I really had to get a closer look and closer inspection. The car was silver (Silvermist Grey to be exact) with Dark Blue interior. I could tell the car had been repainted the original color, but probably awhile ago because by now this car is 36 years old. I kept walking around the outside, circling the vehicle and looking at every panel, door, fender and chrome.

The more I looked, the more I realized this was a pretty straight vehicle - no dents, no prior body work from a previous wreck. What was really amazing was that the sides of the vehicle had no dents, which is rare for these vehicles given the absence of chrome. I have always liked the style of the '63 & '64 Grand Prix and the design has always amazed me - they just were not practical to leave in a crowded parking lot. The glass, exterior chrome and bumpers were all in good shape and appeared to be original - just a few small scratches the bumpers and the usual pock marks on the rear trunk chrome - no one ever said that pot metal would hold up over the long haul. I still had not seen the owner yet. Finally, a gentleman walked up to me and asked if he could help or answer questions. "Are you the owner?" I asked. "Yes" was his response, and we shook hands and exchanged names. I then asked permission to look inside the car. Out of courtesy I never just climb into someone's old car, even if it is for sale.

The inside was in really good condition - save for the blue astro turf on the dash pad to hide the cracks. All the upholstery was original with no cracks or tears. The carpet had been replaced a number of years ago and was in really good shape except for the extra material over the center hump behind the console - obviously a generic aftermarket and they never heard of Harry Samuel. As I continued looking at the inside, I spot the A/C vents - factory air - almost a must for this part of the country and definitely a plus option to have on a vintage vehicle. I glance at the odometer and I am seeing a few miles over 62,000 - is this it's first or second trip around? Check the brake pedal and the other obvious areas for wear - none to be found. I ask the owner about the mileage and he says that to the best of his knowledge it is (I later find out he was the car's third owner) and from all appearances it probably is. I can tell that this car has never been abused. I continue looking at the inside, front seats, back seat, door panels and glove box - the original owner's manual is still there.

Frankly, I was quite amazed at this unmolested hunk of iron. Back to the outside and exterior. Again, I slowly walked around the outside perimeter of the vehicle. I am now looking at the tires and wheels. Tires are in fair shape but should be replaced soon. The 8 lug wheels look great too - the correct ones for 63- even down to the left hand threads on the left side and correct center caps. I guess I didn't mention the wheels early on as I believe all Grand Prix's and full-size Pontiacs should have them. They are the best. Next stop on the tour is the engine compartment. Not in the best shape but all there and untouched. Ask if I may start it and the owner says yes. Tells me the carb is a little out of adjustment and may have to crank it a few times. Car starts on third try then dies. Crank it again and starts right up. Owner says it doesn't idle well until it warms up, course with this heat that should only take a minute or two. Engine running smooth now and I get out to take a look at the engine compartment. Pretty dirty, but as I mentioned all there and original. I am really getting intrigued by now. Go back to the inside to turn on the A/C. Owner says not working - just needs a little freon (more on that later).

Back to the engine compartment and notice a little 'blow by' coming from the breather cap. Owner says it's always done that and doesn't use any oil. Check the rear of car - no smoke from the exhaust. We next attempt a test drive, however we are stopped at the gate by one of the workers. "Sorry, cannot leave and come back in." Oh well, maybe another time. Talk some more to the owner and tell him I might come back later. I had written down all the information on the car and the owner's name and number. Decided I had better come back and look tomorrow as this is a two day swap meet. As I am making the trip back to Houston, I can't seem to get the car off my mind. I keep thinking of other areas I did not look at. I am now working on questions for tomorrow.

Sunday rolls around and I am off to Conroe again. One of the guys in our car club, Harry, decides to go with me as he is looking for parts to finish his '66 GTO. We enter the swap meet area and I guide us around the back part first. We spot a guy selling some NOS and used GM parts, so we stop and Harry finds one of the parts he'd been looking for. I'm getting anxious to go look at the Grand Prix again. As we near the top of the rise, I look over and the car is not there. I ask around, inquiring to some of the other people in the area and they tell me the guy loaded up about a half hour before and left. The last day is usually quiet. Oh well, guess I'll have to save the questions for another time.

Tuesday rolls around and I finally decide to call the owner. We chat for awhile and I found out he did not sell the car yet. I am still wanting to drive it, so we make arrangements and I agree to meet him the following Saturday just outside of Lake Charles, LA. Seems he retired from a company in North Texas and decided to move back to the family farm in that area. Leave early Saturday morning as this is a three hour drive. At about 9:00 a.m. we all meet up again - me, the owner and of course the '63 Grand Prix. We go out back to the barn where he keeps it - yes it was covered - and I remember that we have to let it warm up a bit. Took a little longer than two minutes this time as the weather was a bit cooler that day. We go for the test drive. Car seems to handle ok. I can tell these tires are going to have to go. She tracks straight and shifts ok - what Roto Hydramatic doesn't? It does seem to pull and grab a bit when the breaks are applied. Must be a small problem somewhere. We arrive back at the farm and I leave it running. Inquire about the A/C again - same response. Also cannot seem to get the blower motor operating at the various speeds- another small problem. Now we get to the fun part - trying to settle on a price that is fair to both parties. I am trying to rationalize my figure by explaining what is needing to be done in the way of repair costs and he is trying to justify his from the emotional side. If I were selling, I guess I would feel the same way too.

We finally agree, shake hands and I give him a deposit to hold the car. We discuss delivery arrangements and he offers to bring me the car the following weekend (he's got a trailer and a nice diesel truck) for $50.00 more. Somehow I feel like I got a deal there as he has to drive 3 hours to me and then 3 hours back. I am feeling better about this already. I return home later that day and I am trying to relate the story to my wife. She asks "You didn't buy that car, did you?" I respond affirmatively. "You already have two other Pontiacs and a parts car or two." She now thinks I am crazy and excessive. I then try to rationalize this by pointing out that these are some of the qualities she admired in me when we got married.

Oh well. Saturday arrives and the GP is here early.

Off the trailer and into the driveway. We finish up our transaction quickly as the "previous owner" has to get back. I am now free to spend more time with the old beast. First things first - not much gas in the tank- so off to get some Premium Shell and a chance to drive it some more. Brakes still grabbing, old radials showing their age and I now notice the car sits a little low in the back (the premium gas must be real heavy). Arrive home and begin a major cleanup - lots of dust and very little wax on the paint.

Monday morning arrives and the GP goes to Skeeter's - local shop that is owned by a guy who appreciates and understands old cars - for a thorough checkup. I have always been a preventative maintenance freak. Nothing worse than breaking down somewhere or being inconvenienced over some small part failure that could have been avoided. Skeeter begins a quick view of the outside then a more lengthy look under the hood. Belts and hoses should be replaced - not in bad shape but better to be cautious. Fan clutch is loose- need to replace that also. Start car and let idle. Running pretty good, but let's go ahead and replace plugs, points condenser, plug wires, filters, etc. and an oil change, filter and transmission service. Skeeter notices the blow-by from breather cap; not a good sign but not all bad either. Next stop; we move to an open bay and up on the lift she goes. Skeeter is absolutely amazed at what he has seen so far. Cannot believe how well this car has held up and the shape it's in after 36 years.

A fine testament to PMD and the care the vehicle had had (and lack of abuse) from it's previous owners. Rear shocks and springs are in really bad shape (guess that Shell gas was not as heavy as I originally thought) and upon removal find out that they were the originals. After carefully removing the 8 lug wheels and drums, bad news comes next. The right rear drum was badly scarred from the brake shoes coming loose. The other three were in great shape. I happened to have a spare right rear that I had acquired some time ago (actually from a '64). The previous owner ("Pinhead") had painted it a nice ugly reflector silver. Seems his neighbor had some paint left over from his days working for the Highway Department. It really looked bad, but was very usable in an emergency like this. Took the original and shipped it off to Roger Riehl - only he can make new again. While the rims are off, they are shuttled over to the Firestone store for new radials. We also notice oil leaking from rear of the engine compartment. Rear main seal? - certainly a rare problem for Pontiac engines. Time to check the A/C system. Yes it does need a little freon. However, not only is the compressor frozen, but so is the blower motor and the evaporator core is shot. Knowing that the right front fender has to come off to replace it, we all decide (mostly me because this is having an adverse effect on my wallet.) that this repair will have to come later.

Car is running pretty good now. Still problems with the carburetor though. I am able to locate a refurbished Carter AFB from another '63. We use it rather than rebuild the old one.

The GP is now ready to drive.

I spend the next few months enjoying it and driving it on week-ends when I get the chance. As the weeks roll by, I decide it's time to do a little research on the history of this car. I send off to PHS for the usual information. I find out the car was assembled at the Kansas City Plant and sold to Charles Schwab Motor Co. in Ardmore, OK. Not a heavily optioned car, but certainly nicely equipped with factory air and 8 lug wheels. In discussions with the previous owner, who did not have a lot of specific names and dates, we were able to determine some of the ownership history. Seems the original owner purchased it in Oklahoma and several years later moved to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. We're guessing he had it from 1963 to about 1984 when he passed away. His wife kept it in the garage for a few years and sold it to another gentleman in that area. He kept the car for about ten years and had it painted the original color while in his possession. Sometime in 1994, he sold it to the man I bought it from. Again, given it's history, I am not all surprised at the general overall condition of this vehicle.

Spring rolls around and as the weather is warming up, I feel compelled to seriously consider having the A/C system fixed. I am trying to carefully plan some strategy here. The oil leak is getting worse and on a couple of "hundred mile" trips the GP is consuming about a quart of oil. Since we have to take the right front fender off to get to the evaporator core, I decide that while the car is having major A/C surgery, we might as well yank the engine and do what is necessary. I bite the bullet and the GP goes to Color, Etc. (now Classique Coachworks). We layout a game plan and decide to remove the entire front end and start the process. The engine goes to Conrad Engine & Machine Shop. Although the engine is in great shape (no abuse), we decide to go entirely through it and do it right. The complete A/C system goes to Classic Auto Air in Florida for a complete redo. While everything is out, we next decide to totally freshen up the engine compartment and refinish everything back to original. Although the front suspension is in good shape, I decide to go ahead and replace everything since the car is all apart anyway. The brake booster goes to White Post and the steering box to Adco. Nothing is in really bad repair, but I am not much of a duct tape, bailing wire and coat hanger type of guy. NOW is the time to do this.

When I was growing up we had an expression - " if it don't run right-chrome it".

I was not about to have the GP looking good and not be mechanically sound (kinda of like taking a shower in the morning and putting on yesterday's underwear). While waiting for the engine and A/C work to be completed, we took care of a few other minor problems. The exhaust system had a few pin holes - replaced all of it. The blue astro turf came off the cracked dash and was redone by Cy-Fair Upholstery just like it was originally. The rear deck lid chrome went to The Finishing Touch to be redone and rather than try to touch up the few scratches on the lower dash, we repainted it to the original color. Engine comes back, as does the A/C and it is now all going back together nicely.

The GP is really feeling proud of herself now.

She served the previous owners well for the first 36 years and is now feeling youthful and rejuvenated. I know she will serve me well for the next 36 years.

Oh, in case you are wondering about the name "Silver Calf ", that was my wife's idea. I think she is secretly proud of her too. Special thanks to all those who helped me return to my wayward misspent youth :

Ames Performance,

Automobile Archives,

Cy-Fair Upholstery,

Conrad Engine & Machine Shop,

Classic Auto Air,

California Pontiac Restoration,

Kurt Kelsey,

Merle Green,

The Finishing Touch,

White Post,

Roger Riehl,

Skeeter's and the whole crew at Color, Etc.(now Classique Coachworks).

I hope I haven't forgotten anyone. Time to sign off for now - Gotta go Wide Trackin !

By Tim Miller