AUGUST 2019: COAST TO COAST IN A CANADIAN-BUILT 1957 PONTIAC SAFARI STATION WAGON

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A large decal on a rear window indicated a 1957 Pontiac Safari station wagon was driven across Canada in 2017 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Coast to Coast trek.

The 2017 version of the event required all participants to drive vintage vehicles (some pulling trailers) from Canada’s West Coast to Canada’s East Coast; a journey of about 5000 miles (8000 km) across two mountain ranges and one country from start to finish. 

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The 62-year-old Pontiac station wagon was the perfect entry for the long trip because of its age and originality. Owner Brian Tychonick was a fountain of information about the car because he took a hands-on approach to the restoration process on the car.

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A 1957 Pontiac Safari was built specifically for the Canadian market and is smaller than its American-built counterpart. According to Brian, the Safari wagon was also built on a GMC truck frame in 1957 so it had a GMC power train in it.

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Brian mentioned his wagon had a GMC-style 261-cubic-inch inline six-cylinder coupled to a three-on-the-tree manual transmission.

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Brian wanted his Pontiac station wagon to be both dependable and efficient before he and his wife began their long cross-Canada trip in the car. The couple also wanted to pull a vintage Boler trailer behind their Pontiac so they wanted to bring out the best in their factory power train.

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The six-cylinder engine was completely rebuilt before it was put back in the car. Brian added a two barrel carb, along with headers, to improve its performance.

He also added an electric overdrive unit to drop the RPMs under highway load with the trailer in tow. The result was an excellent improvement for the Pontiac’s performance when it has to work harder on the road. Now the Pontiac has little trouble running at 60 mph (about 100 km/h) with the trailer on back.

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The add-on gauges in the Poncho wagon are Brian’s way to keep track of the engine in a more accurate manner while on the road and the tachometer was added to confirm the lower RPMs at higher speeds. He added an electric brake unit so he can slow his Boler trailer down more efficiently when he hits the brakes.

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The Pontiac also has dealer-installed options like a windshield visor and spotlight that Brian wanted so he could add some period touches to his wagon. He mentioned that his fender-mounted park lights were also a dealer-installed option.

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The Pontiac’s interior required no improvements according to Brian.

Eventually Brian and his wife decided they were ready to take the Pontiac station wagon on the journey of a lifetime with the Coast to Coast tour. A very hot day in Osoyoos, British Columbia during an early stage of the journey had many of the participants ordering a tow up a long steep hill out of town.

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However, Brian and his wife decided to leave very early in the morning so they could tackle the hill under the Pontiac’s own power (with the trailer in tow) during a cool part of the day.

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The trip across Canada was successful outside of a gasoline issue in Canada’s Maritimes when inferior fuel caused problems for the Pontiac’s engine.

A side trip to Maine after the conclusion of the cross-Canada tour allowed Brian to provide better fuel for his car to eliminate the engine issue.

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Life on the road with the 1957 Pontiac station wagon has been a happy experience for Brian and his wife and it’s clear they want to continue the journey in the future.

BY: Jim Sutherland

Jim Sutherland is a veteran automotive writer whose work has been published by many major print and online publications. The list includes Calgary Herald, The Truth About Cars, Red Deer Advocate, RPM Magazine, Edmonton Journal, Montreal Gazette, Windsor Star, Vancouver Province, and Post Media Wheels Section. 

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