Affordable Classic: Landed One – 1961 Pontiac Laurentian

In the last installment I took a gamble on a faraway project that turned out to be rather more rusty than expected. All that could be done was lick my wounds and move on. This time I vowed to set eyes on any potential car before committing to a road trip and trailer rental. Having owned a few rusty project cars in the past I have discovered and I do not find rust removal an enjoyable process so I focused on my search on finding a solid body as the top priority.

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Often with winter approaching sellers can find themselves motivated to move any projects on that they themselves are not going get to. I had been watching a semi-local 1961 Pontiac Laurentian sedan that had dropped price a couple times in the past few weeks. I noticed the seller had again dropped the price but this time drastically. Immediately I called him to gather a few more key details. He claimed it ran and was almost rust free. From the description it sounded like a promising candidate and an appointment was made to view the car. Again I recruited my friend and old car hunting partner, Rod, to come along as a second set of eyes can be invaluable especially as prospective buyers can tend to view cars through rose colored glasses.

Rather than taking a trailer right away we took Rod’s Lincoln Town Car. What better way to view a big, old boat of a car than driving up in another one? This time we were visiting a rural property about a hundred kilometers away.

With Rod at the wheel I was able to take a few photos of the drive up which was a nice bonus.

The location was quite secluded.

Upon arriving at the seller’s property we were presented with an old car paradise. Or maybe an old project paradise to more accurate. His land was an oasis of interesting vehicles on the southern Alberta prairie. As we entered the seller’s very large but friendly dog bounded over to greet us followed shortly by the seller himself.

Besides the Pontiac we had come to see a 1951 Cadillac Coupe DeVille and a Volvo 123 GT sat out front. The Cadillac was also for sale and practically oozed patina. If I had a few more dollars in my pocket I could have been easily swayed over to the big Caddy.

The Volvo 123 GT is the rare sporty model of 120 series and the seller mentioned he had several others but they were likely destined for sale overseas. This model apparently commands top dollar just not in Canada unfortunately.

But back to the Pontiac. Having learned a lesson from the Frontenac the inspection started with the usual rust traps. The trunk, rockers and floors are common trouble spots on almost any old car but the Pontiac was incredibly solid with just a touch of rust in the rear wheel arches. The car had all the signs of being a dry prairie survivor.

The interior was brittle but complete and as a bonus even included an original owner’s manual.

The six cylinder engine easily started although it ran off a bottle of fuel (a whiskey bottle visible behind the thermostat housing) rather than the gas tank. The seller mentioned that the water pump had a bad bearing and one could indeed feel the free play in the bearing. The car wore stock partial hub caps on one side and Impala SS covers on the other.

The seller wanted an extra two hundred for the Impala caps which I declined actually preferring the stock chrome units. Before we agreed on a price I asked for a self-guided yard tour just in case something more temping lay out there.

His yard was full of lust-worthy automotive treasures of all kinds. The collection included a large number of desirable Volvos that were obviously his passion. Mostly 1960s era 120 series cars with perhaps the largest concentration of 123GTs anywhere.

Several P1800s and a handful of later 140 series cars rounded out the Volvo selection.

There were also a number of Fargo Power Wagons from the 1960s as well as a more common and well known Dodge variant.

The rest was mostly a mix of American and Canadian vehicles that were perhaps bought from an opportunity rather than theme. I would estimate the total at close to fifty vehicles all together.

Frustratingly he did have a pair of Frontenacs one of which appeared to have a solid body. It also featured missing trim and would have been ideally paired with the rusty one I had previously passed on. If only I had known of their existence a week or so before!

Quite a few of the yard vehicles had more potential value than the Pontiac but would also require more work to get back on the road. I was looking for a straight forward project this time around so a deal was struck for the big Pontiac. And yes there are three pedals present in the driver’s footwell.

To understand this Pontiac we need a little background on the Canadian market and GM at the time. The Canadian market is only about ten percent of the size of the U.S. market and thus a full line of Pontiacs could not be justified. At the same time standalone dealerships for marques in GM’s portfolio were not possible especially in the less densely populated areas of Canada. So GM organized its dealer lines into Chevrolet/Oldsmobile/Cadillac and Pontiac/Buick/GMC. As the lowest rung member Chevrolet would have received the largest volume of sales but again not every town could support a dealer of each type. To solve this issue GM attempted to equalize sales between the two dealerships streams by offering more entry level Pontiacs. A hurdle to this strategy was the steep duties levied against automotive parts and vehicles not produced in Canada at the time. Cadillac, Buick and Oldsmobile with their larger profit margins were better positioned to absorb these costs while the lower priced Pontiacs could not. The solution was slowly increase the use of Canadian produced Chevrolet parts in these Pontiacs until they because mostly Chevrolet under the skin with styling that aped their Pontiac cousins from the south. The result was for many years Pontiac had sales numbers that approached Chevrolet’s.

For 1961 American Pontiacs got a newly designed perimeter frame while the Canadian models stuck with Chevrolet’s “X” frame. As a result the brakes, suspension, wheels are identical to a 1961 Chevrolet Biscayne or Impala. While the base engine in a Chevrolet Biscayne would have been a 235cid straight six the Canadian Pontiacs received a related but larger 261cid modified from light truck duty rated at 150hp. For those that required more power a 283cid Chevrolet small block V8 or 348cid V8 was optional depending on trim level. The Laurentian is the mid line model slotting in between the base Strato Chief and more plush Parisienne.

Like many of the Canadian car names the Pontiac Laurentian was named for Canadian person or place. In the case it was the Laurentian mountain range in southern Quebec. This particular Laurentian is a fairly bare bones example with the six cylinder engine, a three speed manual transmission as well as manual brakes and steering. It certainly makes the engine bay clutter free which greatly eases the effort of maintenance and repair.

While doing up the paperwork the seller insisted we check out his house before leaving. Like a scene out of American Pickers it was jam-packed with antiques and interesting items. We returned home again without a vehicle in tow but not disappointed as I had purchased the big Pontiac. Now to drag it home.


The whole Affordable Classic series:

  1. The Search Is On
  2. Landed One – 1961 Pontiac Laurentian
  3. Dragging It Home
  4. Assessment and Planning
  5. Little Fixes
  6. Shocks and Brake Removal
  7. Disc Brake Mounting
  8. Cooling and Fueling
  9. Back into the Brakes and Other Odds and Ends
  10. First Drive!
  11. Last Minute Fixes