Cars

Low-mileage time capsule is back on the road

Kirk Ives and his son Jace show off their 1957 Pontiac Chieftain hardtop, a true survivor car, with barely 58,000 original miles showing on its odometer. Ives, the chief of police in Oxford, jokes that it's only appropriate that the chief drives a Chieftain.
Kirk Ives and his son Jace show off their 1957 Pontiac Chieftain hardtop, a true survivor car, with barely 58,000 original miles showing on its odometer. Ives, the chief of police in Oxford, jokes that it's only appropriate that the chief drives a Chieftain. The Wichita Eagle

OXFORD – What’s that old saying, “No pain, no gain?”

That’s sort of the story line that played out for Kirk Ives finding a great, low-mileage collector car.

Ives had to undergo shoulder surgery several years ago when it became too painful for him to work in his garage pit under a car.

“I was explaining to Dr. Prohaska that I worked on old cars and I just had no power in my arm,” he said. “He said, ‘Oh, you like old cars?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I love ’em,’ and he asked me if I would be interested in buying one.

“I told him I’m always interested in old cars and he said his brother had one, a ’57 Pontiac. I didn’t even know what they looked like. In fact, I was looking at buying a ’57 Chevy 210 at the time. Then he said it was a two-door … and when it turned out it was a hardtop, that was even better.”

In short order, Ives, who is the police chief of Oxford, got in touch with Larry Prohaska of Atchison, his surgeon’s brother, who had owned the Pontiac for years. When he saw a photo of the interior of the car, with the seats still covered in protective clear plastic seat covers, he wasted no time traveling to Atchison to see the car in person.

He was stunned when he saw it.

“It had been driven less than a thousand miles a year since it was new. It had sat in a round top shop all those years,” Ives said. When he looked at the odometer, it read a bit over 56,000 miles, and the condition of the car confirmed that was actual mileage.

Mary Prohaska had traded in a 1948 Pontiac in April 1957, at H&M Buick Pontiac in Atchison to purchase her new 1957 Pontiac Chieftain. The sticker price of $3,300.49 covered the base price, plus a few options like whitewall tires, chrome cowl trim and an AM radio.

Not only did she take excellent care of her new car, but Mary Prohaska kept every document, from the bill of sale and owners manual, to receipts for oil changes, new tires and battery over the years she drove it and enjoyed it. Larry Prohaska eventually inherited his grandmother’s Pontiac and continued take excellent care of it.

He had installed a cassette tape deck at some point, but thoughtfully put it in the glove box, rather than cut up the dashboard; he also installed speakers in the rear package tray. At some point, the Malabar Yellow portion of the car had been repainted, although the Sheffield Gray roof and side trim were left original.

The two men came to an agreement and the car, along with all its paperwork, changed hands. That was about 2 1/2 years ago.

Ives polished out the paint on the Pontiac, deciding to preserve, rather than repaint, the now-cracked finish on the roof, which is actually closer to white than gray.

“I just love the look of that,” he said, noting that the patina confirms the authenticity of the car.

He removed the plastic seat covers and in the process, found more bits of history: a drive-in theater ticket stub torn in half at the gate, a Barnum and Bailey Circus ticket and a parking stub from a long ago Kansas State basketball game.

Checking the yearly license registrations, it became clear the Pontiac had only covered 2,000 miles since 1988. But Ives said the previous owner had fired the Pontiac up and driven it a bit every few weeks to keep it from deteriorating.

He recently tore down the 347 cubic inch V-8 engine, installing hardened valve seats compatible with unleaded gas. But aside from new gaskets and a paint job, the engine remains as original, with its 2-barrel carburetor and oil-bath snorkel-style air cleaner. The Hydra-Matic transmission and rear end are also factory-installed pieces.

“All of the gauges in the dash work, the dome light works. The AM radio works, although it takes a while to warm up,” Ives said. “There’s no power steering, no air conditioning. It’s a pretty basic car.”

The Chieftain did come equipped with a unique retractable trouble light mounted to the underside of the big trunk lid, and it still works, too.

Ives couldn’t resist giving the Pontiac some updated rolling stock, though, opting for a set of 17-inch Riddler 5-spoke wheels that carry more highway-friendly 225/5017 Nexen radial tires.

“There is one other little trick on it,” Ives confessed. After he installed a set of dual exhausts, with Magnaflow mufflers, he added flame-thrower tips to the exhaust system.

“I like cars that are a little different,” he admitted.

When he was offered a tempting price for the Pontiac recently, Ives quickly and politely turned it down. He and his family are having too much fun cruising around in their 58-year-old time capsule on wheels, which now has just a bit more than 58,000 miles on its odometer.

Reach Mike Berry at mberry@wichitaeagle.com.

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