Curbside Classic Lite: 1962 Pontiac Laurentian – Canadian Market Origins, the Oshawa Connection

Many of you would have been following or at least heard of the impending demise of the GM factory in Oshawa, just east of Toronto, where this Laurentian was born. This news has been more recently followed with an update that 300 or so jobs are planned to be retained at the site, and it is destined to become an aftermarket parts centre. They also may create a test track there to trial autonomous vehicles. More news to follow I’m sure.

Autonomous vehicles were the furthest from Sam McLaughlin’s mind when he set up shop in Oshawa in 1908. His company, McLaughlin Motors, produced 154 cars in its first year of operation, using Buick engines provided by William Durant of GM.

Sam’s brother John, founded the Canada Dry company, in Toronto, in 1890.  Still one of my favourite drinks of pop (soda for our US friends).  Someone shot a photo of this can on the French language side.

I would not lay claim to be the most expert person in either GM or GM Canada history, what follows is what I have been able to glean from various sources. I have included multiple CC articles that describe Pontiac in Canada and the Laurentian / Parisienne etc. below in the further reading section.

By 1918, GM saw that Sam had a good thing going and they purchased his operation. They began to produce GM branded cars in Oshawa at this location.

This 1962 example came from that factory. The 1962 Ponchos were redesigned from the 1961s with more rounded contours. US models got an increased wheelbase by 1-inch to 120 inches. Canadian Pontiacs stayed on the 119 inch wheelbase shared with Chevy.

As expertly written here on CC previously, these Pontiacs were Chevrolets under the skin. They used the same engines and transmissions as full-size Chevys. I believe this example used either a Chevy 261 six or a 283 V8. Transmissions were either the three-speed column-mounted manual or the 2 speed Power Glide automatic.

As a casual GM observer, I was always confused with what I observed as the proliferation of model names – Bonneville, Strato Chief, Parisienne, Catalina, there were too many to understand. Researching this piece, I came across an equivalency description that was helpful for me. The Laurentian was the equivalent in trim level with the US built Catalina. The Canadian Strato Chief’s cousin was the American Star Chief, and the Canadian Parisienne was equivalent to the American Bonneville. At least at the time.

After the GM downsizing of their full size cars in 1977, I believe that the remaining Canadian model names were dropped in favour of the US names in 1986. Parisienne was the last to survive. The Laurentian in these photos had a trim level equivalent to that of the Chev Bel Air.

This car visually jumped out at me while driving along Trafalgar Road in Hornby Station (near Milton Ontario) last summer. This particular location has become a bit of a used car lot – one car at a time that is. Previously I have also photographed a 1974 or so Cutlass there, and now resides a more recent foreign make of what appears to be Japanese or Korean origin.

The differences in profile view with a modern car are obvious – the lengthy rear overhang, the greenhouse mounted on top of the body, the whole upright look and feel of the car. An unintended contrast with the black car in the background of the lead photo shows the difference in aerodynamic characteristics.

I was pleased to see this car, along with its seemingly rechromed bumpers which the former owner may have done in an attempt to start a restoration, or to at least address parts of the car that were in the worst condition. The rest of her looked pretty original (aftermarket gauges notwithstanding) and in very decent, solid shape. One can only guess at the age of those whitewall tires however. I can say that it did not last long on this corner with the red sign in the window.

1962 offered some other historical highlights: The music of Ray Charles, Gene Pitney, Bobby Vinton, and Elvis Presley. JFK committing to putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade. John Diefenbaker still Canadian Prime Minister despite bungling the government’s handling of the Avro Arrow aircraft program and its cancellation. The first Wal-Mart opened (scissors photo) in Arkansas.  Marilyn Monroe. The Cuban Missile Crisis.

The other appeal to me for this Pontiac was that I had a Strombecker slot car racing car set as a kid, and it had two stock cars – a 1962 Pontiac and a 1962 Ford Galaxie. I think it was 1/24 scale. I loved the semi circle taillights on the Pont, and the drop down taillights on the Galaxie. So much so that I used red marker to colour the taillights in on both the monocolour bodies. I ran those cars until the brushes wore out. Unfortunately the racing set did not survive several moves my parents had to perform. No matter, it was great fun.  The racing cars, not the moving part.

Further reading:

1961 Pontiac Laurentian

1962 Pontiac Parisienne

1964 Pontiac Laurentian