Updated: 2 days ago
It had been a cold spring here in New England in 2016. We had found only one vehicle for our low mileage foundation that season and had no prospects. On a Friday in April, I received an unexpected call at work. The caller said he was Francis Williams from Niantic, Connecticut and had been told to call me about a car that he and his wife had decided to sell. I asked him how he knew of us and whether this car conformed to our low mileage – high quality criteria. He said he understood completely because he had been told about me and got my number from Noel Evans (Evans knows our standards because he has been here for several Nutmeg Chapter tours over the years).
I had two more questions for Mr. Williams. I asked him how he had stored the car.
He answered, “In our cellar."
Then, I asked him how long had he had the car.
He responded, "I bought it new from Blue Ribbon Pontiac in Norwich, Connecticut.”
Now this sounded like it should meet the conditions of our Foundation – but let’s face it, I’ve been wrong before.
Within a week, my wife, Joan, and I had a trip to Hartford scheduled so we took a detour to Niantic to see the car and talk to Francis Williams. As we approached the house, we could see it indeed was a split level with an overhead door at one end of the 1st floor – perfect!
Fran was at the door waiting for us but we missed his wife, Marian. Fran was the perfect host and I soon realized he was very knowledgeable about cars (in fact, he had been in new and used car sales for 56 years).
He brought us into the downstairs area and all I could think about was this gorgeous Catalina housed in a room with full carpeting (it turns out Fran had the owner of Blue Ribbon Pontiac order extra carpet when they refurbished their showroom).
At our final interview, Marian had a perfect quote: “How many cars have you seen in a house with a carpeted floor under it?”
“Well, there she is," he said. “My wife has owned it since new and we washed it twice and never waxed it – only used moist and dry towels to clean her up.”
I was quite taken aback by the paint since all panels, doors, fenders, hood, and trunk were between 2.1 and 2.7 milliliters thick and showed no pitting on the chrome over pot metal or the chrome over steel. He opened the hood and the engine bay was clean as a whistle and the trunk was perfect. I opened the driver’s door and the car still had the factory protective plastic across the floor (extremely rare in a car this age because dealers prep typically included removing the plastic). I asked him how he took delivery of this car with the factory protective plastic still in place.
He answered, “well think about it – my wife ordered the car and I was head of sales.”
Basically, he was telling me that in his position, he could do whatever he wanted and this maneuver kept the carpet just like new. The car also had plastic seat covers and an 8 track that were dealer installed.
“Why the seat covers?” I asked.
Francis certainly knew what he was doing and said, “Well, when you’ve got 2 and 5-year-old kids, it’s the only way to save the interior”.
He had shown me all the original paperwork including bill of sale, original window sticker, build sheet and the original warranty book, but this warranty book was most interesting. It showed mileage of only 1,712 miles after 18 months of ownership plus the original metal Protectoplate in Marian’s name. I had only one additional question. I asked Fran why the car had incorrect radial tires. He smiled and replied that he changed them due to age and safety concerns.
However, he pointed along the wall in front of the car and said, “Those are the originals; I know they are important for a car of this caliber and they go with the car.”
Wow, was I impressed!
I additionally asked about the spoked hubcaps and Fran went directly to the window sticker denoting the décor group which called for deluxe wheel discs, (Marian opted for the spoke caps).
After this illuminating conversation, we had to head for Hartford. We told Fran we were very interested and would call within a week. Over a two-week period, we put together a deal that worked for both of us. On May 5, 2016, we (being myself and our curator, Jim) headed south to pick up the car and interview Fran and Marian (who I might add, was quite a vivacious and quick-witted woman).
After loading the car, the four of us sat around the living room table and stories about the car and its owners started to fly. Interestingly, the plastic seat covers were at the beginning of our discussion along with the general condition of the car. It seems that Fran and Marian decided to enter the car in the 1987 Pontiac-Oakland National Club convention in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. This first outing was not easy for them because the officials said it looked restored and they were delegated to compete against restored vehicles. No one was happy about this situation–most especially Fran–so they decided to withdraw from the formal judging and enjoy the show. Even though the car was excluded from judging, Bob Copley (then secretary of POCI) and his wife Joyce voted it the #1 Pontiac at the show.
The National POCI event returned to Sturbridge in 1998 with a survivor class. This time the Williamses had a true venue for their car and it earned 389 out of 400 points. What about the plastic seat covers, you ask? Fran was none too happy with the judges because they deducted 5 points because the plastic seats were added by the dealer and not recorded on the build sheet. He vehemently felt the car should have been awarded 394 points!
I asked Fran how they were rated in the class.
She responded, “We won best in class – it wasn’t even close.”
They continued to show the car locally.
As another personal note, Fran and Marian sold us the car but kept all the awards – she (the car) meant that much to them.
I still didn’t understand why this car was bought by and all paperwork was in Marian’s name.
She took the conversation from there: “For years, Fran brought home dealer cars and rotated them constantly. I’d get used to a car and a week later he’d sell it. Finally, I put my foot down and told Fran I wanted my own car – and it was going to be blue and white and have rear fender skirts plus plenty of power – end of conversation.”
Marian was very car savvy and actually looked at replacing the ’67 with a new ’68 until she opened the hood and was bombarded with pollution controls (she also said the engine rumble was gone!). At this point, the ’67 would be her car until we purchased it. Incidentally, she watched us load the car in the trailer – took several photos, turned, and walked away (undoubtedly overcome with memories).
Marian also had a great answer to my questions of why the car was driven so little – she replied, “We talked about her (the car) more than we used her – besides Fran had enough cars to keep us going for the rest of our lives.”
My next question involved their first phone call to me – in other words: “Why me?”
Marian told us they were in their late 70’s and after months of discussion decided it was time to move on. "Our kids have no love for the car, but Noel Evans from the Pontiac Club said you’d treasure an original car of this quality.”
Thank you, Noel. You were absolutely right.
I was so taken aback by their (in house) storage of the car and asked how all that happened. “Obviously we both loved the car so when we decided to store the car downstairs. That first year became a life time – it stayed in the house and nobody other than the two of us ever drove the car – in fact it has been driven only around town plus three trips.”
In other words, they stopped driving it about 20 years ago except for an occasional around the block exercise.
As Marian explains: “Fran had to drive it around the block since I’m shrinking and can’t reach the pedals any more.”
This automobile is spectacular and will quickly become a tour group favorite. A tip of the hat to Marian and Francis Williams for ordering and preserving this elegant piece of American history!