Review: The High Death by Dave Bonaskiewich


The High Death

Dave Bonaskiewich


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In today’s incredibly strange social climate, there seem to be forces at work designed to bring our daily lives away from the animalistic, primal urges that used to drive our species. More and more we are forced to grasp at less and less, and go further out of our comfort zones to really feel alive. Many of us find shelter in nostalgia, but some of us younger folks aren’t so lucky. We only have mythical stories of “the good old days,” when it was up to you whether or not you wanted to wear your seatbelt. The likes of catalytic converters, self-driving, machine-learning algorithms and other fun-sucking “advancements in safety” were confined to works of fiction and fantasies of lawmakers and state treasury number crunchers.

Now bear in mind, I am not claiming I was born in the wrong generation, in fact quite the opposite—I was lucky enough to be born and grow alongside the internet, which gives me an unprecedented window into the lives of the people who actually got to live their lives. The media they consumed, the cars they drove and the stories they told are all still available for anyone to investigate with the benefit of hindsight in regards to context. What may be to most discarded “relics of the past” are more like forgotten treasure maps to hidden treasure.

Two of the treasures I’ve been led to in my great expedition thus far are stoner rock and musclecars. Now you probably don’t need any explanation of the latter, but here’s a quick run down on stoner rock if you need it.

Emerging from across the pond after and as a response to the “Flower Power,” late ‘60s social climate, stoner rock, as it is called retroactively, shared social real estate with the trends of car culture at the time. Bigger was better. Gone were the days of the Vox combo guitar amplifiers that couldn’t scream their way over the girls. In their place were separate head units with massive tubes climbing higher in wattage. The horsepower wars had spilled into audio equipment. This advancement in technology was necessary for what was to come. The name “stoner” comes from the drug habits of the bands and listeners, but offers an unnecessary stigma towards the music itself. I attribute the name to the ritualistic repetition of administration.

Allow me to explain. The blues riffs that rock music was based off of largely to this point began to slow down and the backbeat began to get more sparse. This made the music “breathe” so to speak, or in this case, maybe the music itself is smoking. Lyrics also got way less cutesy tonally and in delivery. Way less “She Loves You” and more “The Raven.” This no doubt added to the dark stigma. A good example of a band involved in this movement would be Black Sabbath. Rivaling only the Beatles and Led Zeppelin in general influence, Black Sabbath are oftentimes debatably referred to as the creators of heavy metal, akin to that of the GTO and the musclecar.

Now why am I talking your ear off about a genre you probably don’t care about and attempting to relate it to something you do? Enter The High Death, the self titled debut album from Poncho Perfection staff member Dave Bonaskiewich. Dave has had his hand in countless other musical projects in a range of different flavors of rock. That being said, this record is stoner to the core. Fifty years of musical and automotive evolution are alive in these 37 minutes. While the sound calls back to bands such as Pentagram, it also nods to some contemporary acts who all throw their own blends of spices into the general recipe.

The album opens with a somber funeral march, church-organ laden introduction on “La Mort Elevee” and then drops you right into the belly of the beast with “Perejil.” The backbeat ramps up and we are met with Dave’s wailing vocals. Make no mistake, the vocal performance itself remains tight throughout, especially in the higher registers. The standout track on this album is for sure “War Emblem.” The title is no doubt a reference to the arrowhead Pontiac logo and hood bird found on the nose of the song’s subject matter: a 455-outfitted Trans Am. The song is about a “white knuckle ride in a clean machine” and it definitely sounds the part. The beat pulses like a pushrod idle, riffs shifting like gears back and forth. Vocals sit on top of the mix like a finely- tuned blower. The smoke the song is breathing smells different here, possibly higher-octane. This track would be right at home on my “back road in Mexico” mix. Visions of an open road and not a single damn left to give pop into my head. I think we all know the feeling. Fans of Deep Purple, look no further than the organ tone on the instrumental track “Magnatar.”

Track seven, “Strange Ways” is a Frehley-penned Kiss cover, being the only one featured on The High Death. “Scythe and Flower,” the final track before a reprisal of the intro, between which the rest of the album is sandwiched, features a haunting vocal performance by Audrey Nordstrom who does not fail to put you in the aura of finality that the track aims to bring.

This album is a romp from start to finish and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to give themselves the feeling that they’re on the open road, even if they’re just sitting in an office chair. A few of these tracks beautifully capture the feeling of freedom that comes with the sights, smells and sounds of good old-fashioned motoring. The best part? Quarantine friendly. Can’t go wrong.

-Rob Keefe

New Pontiac Media…

New Pontiac Media…

A few issues back, I wrote about the changing world of magazines and how the “new media” is replacing the written word with podcasts and video presentations of content becoming the preferred vehicles of getting the message out. While all of this turmoil has sidelined a lot of magazines we knew and loved (even Car Craft, of all things), not all of the changes have been bad.

We would be fools if we kept doing the same thing over and over, hoping for a different outcome. The times are forcing us to evolve. As a result, we now have a total of four platforms with which to bring the Pontiac message to you; Poncho Perfection, Tiger News, Tiger Talk- The Cruisin’ Tigers Pontiac Podcast and now the Poncho Perfection YouTube Channel.

We all know that Poncho Perfection is a traditional car magazine, focused on our favorite marque, with a group of seasoned professionals who understand the topic and present fetures, tech, historical pieces and event coverage better and with much more authority than anyone else out there.

Next up is Tiger News, the “house organ” of the Cruisin’ Tigers Pontiac Club. This publication is available as a digital download and is formatted like Poncho Perfection. The focus is more on club activities, member profiles, board actions, membership milestones and editorials from our president, as well as updates and previews of the annual “Cruisin’ Tigers Indian Uprising Weekend.” Like Poncho Perfection, Tiger News also features a model car column by our scale Pontiac guru Tim Sickle, a “Department X” feature and a classified ad section that mirrors Poncho Perfection. The two publications complement each other perfectly and offer an alternating focus on the activities of the club and the Pontiac world at large.

Time to Move Forward

Never ones to rest on our laurels, the directors and officers of the Cruisin’ Tigers Pontiac Club and staff of Poncho Perfection are a team committed to moving the Pontiac hobby forward. As a result, we have developed two new platforms for getting the message out, each using the technology of the 21st Century, yet different enough where they will not be tripping over one another.

Pontiac Talk-
The Cruisin’ Tiger Podcast

Last autumn, CTPC Director Paul Weinstein teamed up with Chicagoland radio veteran Mark Zander to produce Pontiac Talk, the Cruisin’ Tiger Podcast. This is a professionally-produced audio podcast that is sponsored by Ames Performance Engineering and Autosmart.
The podcast’s subject matter is presented in a traditional interview format—yours truly was the first guest and I was really impressed by just how well it went. It was kind of a weird setup, as they were in Illinois and I was actually down here in Florida in my car with my phone connected to the sound system by Bluetooth. It was as soundproof an environment as I could come up with and it worked pretty well. Mark and Paul did a fantastic job with the debut and honestly, it has gotten even better as they have become more familiar with each other and have settled into a nice groove. Mark is very skilled at not only guiding the interview but also extracting relevant and interesting information from their guests. Paul’s extensive knowledge of the Pontiac hobby and the state of the restoration industry has really dialed in the podcast and has been particularly helpful with interviews with Kevin Beal from Ames Performance Engineering and Brian Caldwell, from Autosmart. It’s a team that really benefits from each other’s input. The guests have run the gamut from industry insiders to hobbyists like Bill Nawrot to the people who help make the club run as well as it does, like President/Treasurer Randy Ray and Tech Advisor Coordinator Kyle Kruszewski. There are also some surprises in store that we are not going to spoil, so be sure to check it out.

The Poncho Perfection YouTube Video Channel

Shortly after the 2019 Ames Performance Pontiac Nationals, our ace phtographer Tony Webster contacted me about possibly extending our reach into the video realm in the way of a YouTube channel that, like our “Norwalk Notables” column, concentrates on racers and the performance end of the hobby.

With his ability to shoot over 1,700 frames every year at Norwalk, Tony has been the catalyst for a push to getting more race coverage in the magazine. He was able to do what I used to do earlier in my career, get down on the starting line and shoot, shoot, shoot. With my role at Poncho Perfection being so different now, Tony was a very welcome addition to the team. As an added bonus, his living less than an hour from the track puts him in close contact with many of the racers who come to the Ames Performance Pontiac Nationals.

Tony is not a stranger to interviewing people. For over 20 years, he has hosted “The Metal Command” radio show, which has recently left the airwaves and has evolved into a podcast. He has a studio in his home and in this period of COVID-19 isolation, he was still able to get his first two episodes posted on the channel. The first was a montage of some action photos from Norwalk that went over extremely well. The second installment was an interview with Jaimie Zeek, a third-generation Pontiac racer who received her NHRA racing license at Norwalk in 2018. It was an inspiring story of an accomplished young woman who has become a very tough competitor in the process.

As we went to press, Tony was able to get out of his house and visit Kevin Burns, the 2019 Chief of the Pontiacs. Tony interviewed Kevin in his garage with his race-winning Firebird right next to him. It was a great conversation that has been honed by Tony’s years of radio experience. Future episodes will delve into such topics as engine building, performance upgrades and of course, more Pontiacs.

Between the Tiger Talk podcast and the Poncho Perfection YouTube channel, we are catering to the changing tastes of the 21st Century Pontiac fan. We have great people on both projects and each is different enough to not overlap the other.

Be sure to tell your friends that The Cruisin’ Tigers Pontiac Club and Poncho Perfection are continuing to branch out in new and innovative ways. The best is yet to come!

Inspiring the Next Generation…

Inspiring the Next Generation…
Like many of you, my passion for Pontiacs came early on in life, as my dad was a longtime Pontiac dealer parts manager and had a variety of memorable company cars that made a huge impression on my “fragile eggshell mind,” to grab a line from Jim Morrison.
In a very similar way, I was able to project that love of Pontiacs to my son Rob, albeit in a very different time with a very different lineup of vehicles. Where Catalinas, Firebirds and LeMans Sports were in our driveway when I was a youngster, for Rob, his early years were highlighted by Grand Prixs, from our SE family cars to GTPs and GTXs from Pontiac’s PR office. Those were the cars that captured his imagination and the ones that he has the fondest memories of.
I had been without a Pontiac of any sort for a few years after my divorce and as I began rebuilding my life, I met Ann, we bought a house and blended our families together. Soon,  the time finally came to get another Pontiac. We ended up buying our 2000 Daytona Pace Car GTP replica on eBay and had it shipped from Northern California back to Fairport. I chronicled that story back in December.
I always knew that Rob’s affection for my Pace Car was strong the first time he saw it. He was about 14 at the time and didn’t jump behind the wheel at first—he actually got in the back seat and exclaimed, “This is so cool, I feel like I am six years old in the back seat of the old GTX!” It was at that moment that I knew that I wasn’t really the owner of this car, I was its caretaker until it was time for him to take it over. That time came in January.
When Rob graduated from high school, we made a pact of sorts that when he turned 25, I would turn the car over to him. We moved to Florida and the car eventually came down with us. In that time, we had a lot of fun with it, I was even able to have John Manoogian II, who headed up the Grand Prix design team, autograph the passenger side airbag cover two summers ago. I told him at that time that the car was definitely his, but I wasn’t quite finished with it.
This past December, I came to the realization that it was the right time for him to take the car. Though he had just turned 24, I was convinced that he was mature enought to take on the responsibility of this particular car, which included day-to-day operation and maintenance, as well as the idea that this car had a ton of power going through the front wheels.
Though it is a thoroughly fine performance platform, putting out 375 plus horsepower through the front wheels will force you to rethink how you drive. In normal operating mode, it behaves like any other GTP, though with a bit more power. It’s still very docile and smooth, and will get over 28 mpg on the highway.
Once you click the “Performance Mode” however, things change dramatically. The timing advances, the shift points move up to 6,300  rpm, the transmission line pressure raises and the shifts become as hard as any racing automatic I have ever driven. The performance boost in that mode unleashes all the power the 3800 will dish out and can pretty much guarantee that it will change lanes on you the first time you floor it if you’re not prepared. There was no way that I was going to give that car to him when he was 16—neither of them would have survived. Today though, things are different—he has grown into a responsible young man and as an additional insurance policy, I made him pay for the car, no gifting here. Not only does he have a lot of skin in the game, he will definitely treat it with more respect because if he does blow it up, the bill is not on dear old Dad. I’m not worried though…
So, once the agreement was made,  he and his best friend Matt Hopps bought plane tickets to Tampa and after spending a few days of sightseeing, they drove it to Delaware to visit his mother and from there, it was back to Rochester. Inspired by the GTP, Matt is also a young front-drive Pontiac fan. He has a 2001 GTP coupe repainted from black to Sunset Orange Metallic. It is having its engine rebuilt right now and will have a full array of ZZ Performance upgrades. He hopes to show it at Norwalk this summer, right next to Rob’s GTP.
In order to make sure that the now 20 year-old Pontiac was up to the trip, I had one of our new Restoration Editors, Chris Brown, owner of the Iron Stable Garage in Clearwater, take the GTP and get it ready for the trip north.  Chris did a very thorough job of going through the car, changing all of the fluids, replacing bulbs, checking and testing the brakes, rotating tires, even cleaning the underside of the car, making sure that there wasn’t any debris that would obstruct airflow and test drove it to check his work.
With a clean bill of health, I drove it to Quaker Steak and Lube with Annie for one last cruise night as its owner. It was a little sad but I was ready for it to go and inspire another generation of Pontiac fans with the last name Keefe.
This idea of instilling the love of cars in your kids is essential to the survival of the Pontiac hobby into the next generation and quite frankly, our generation has not done an effective job as stewards. While there are a lot of families that live and breathe the lifestyle and pass that passion onto their children, there is also a mindset that kept the kids away from the cars.  “Don’t touch it” evolved into “No, you can’t drive it” to “No, you can’t have it.” When the kids weren’t included in outings with the car, it often develops into resentment. More than once I have heard people say, “I felt like I was competing with the car for Dad’s affection and I learned to hate it.”  Those same people have come to me for help on how to dispose of those cars when it came time to settle the estate. Not only did those people want out of those cars, they wanted to forget the whole sad chapter in their lives.
Obviously, this doesn’t happen to everyone but it illustrates a worst-case scenario between parents and children when it comes to doling out the limited amount of discretionary time away from work and other obligations. When it comes to kids or grandkids, they need guidance as they grow and including them in your automotive hobby is a great way to share your passion, and have those great memories you carry with you as they move into adulthood. It also makes it a lot easier to plan what happens to your car collection when you have properly trained a new steward to take your place as the caretaker for your vehicles. It also serves as a great source of pride that you passed a worthwhile passion down to your family’s next generation.
For Rob and me, that Grand Prix is something that we will always share and I am thrilled that the car that he dreamed of as a child didn’t get away from him like the ones of my own childhood. Salty roads relegated the cars that I grew up with into unrestorable rubble. While those cars are long gone, their memories survive and I will be happy to eventually replace them with rust-free lookalikes. I am sure that my father would approve of some worthy stand-ins.                                     PP

Remembering My Dad…


Remembering My Dad…

By Don Keefe

As I write this, it has been a little more than 12 hours since my father, Charles A. Keefe, Sr. lost his decade-long battle with dementia. He was 84 and in spite of his illness, he remained healthy and active until about two years ago.

As fathers go, my brother Charles and I were very fortunate. He was tough, he didn’t tolerate bad behavior, backtalk or disrespect and when we misbehaved enough for our mother to utter the words “Wait until your father gets home,” we knew that harsh punishment awaited us. I can still remember the fear and dread that phrase brought. In a way, it was like living in a Clint Eastwood movie and if you ever had him glare at you with those steely blue eyes, you know what I am talking about- it was like a scene straight out of Gran Torino. He commanded respect and most of my friends were terrified of him well into adulthood.

On the plus side, he was a lot of fun. We loved watching Saturday morning cartoons, went on all sorts of adventures together, exploring local boatyards, going out on Saturdays and meeting up with his friends at various dealerships, all the while gaining a love of all things mechanical. One time, when I was about four, we went to the old Hallman Chevrolet on East Avenue in Rochester to visit his friend Irving Crane. Mr. Crane was a world-champion professional pool player who worked at Hallman’s at the time. They actually had a pool table upstairs where he would play and work deals with customers.

I remember him as a tall, thin man who was actually very friendly to me. While he and Dad were talking, I slipped away and crawled under the velvet ropes and into the 1957 Corvette SS experimental racecar, which was on display in the main showroom. It had been retired years before but was still worth millions even then. After another salesman whisked me out of the car and told me I wasn’t allowed in it, I remember thinking how it was well worth the scolding. I think my interest in experimental cars was ignited that day. The day he brought home a bright orange 1969 Firebird had me hooked for life- I was four and I can still remember the gleam of the grille in the late-afternoon sun as I looked out the front door. Dad even bought a matching car seat for my brother, who was just a few months old at the time. It was also parchment and had the same interior pattern as the car.

His working at Pontiac dealerships for much of his career instilled a sense of marque loyalty that I took to completely ridiculous levels. In the years that ensued, I stayed a car-crazy kid, who went to college and got a journalism degree so I could write for car magazines.

Pontiac fanatic could mean a lot of things to different people but I did get a very special form of fanaticism as a result. I mean who actually starts a magazine devoted to a brand that is no longer being built? Oh yeah, that would be me.

Dad taught us how engines worked, how to fix and maintain cars and boats and he showed us that there was an elegance and artistry in well-designed vehicles. He loved Duesenbergs and Packards and also appreciated the precision of German engineering. Chris-Craft mahogany runabouts, Pontiac 2+2s and Super Duty Catalinas were also among his favorites. He was a huge fan of the legendary Mac McKellar and he was really impressed that not only did I get to meet Mac but we became friends back in 1990 and stayed in touch for the rest of his life.

I remember when I was still in college and I dragged home a completely beat-up 1966 Grand Prix. He dressed me up one side and down the other for buying such a neglected vehicle. Yet, once he regained his composure, he said, “Well, we might as well get this heap so it will stop safely- we already know that it will go!” He was the first one under the car and after an afternoon of laying new brake lines and rebuilding the brakes, the old GP was roadworthy.

A few years after that, I was living in New Jersey and the Grand Prix was my daily driver. I was planning on meeting up with my cousins in the Southern Tier of New York for a weekend get-together. I made it to Owego, New York on Route 17 when the wheel bearing let go and wiped out the 8-lug drum and the spindle. I was halfway between New Jersey and my destination and about two hours from my parents’ house. I called my dad and told him what happened. He said he would get the parts and meet me down there to fix it. It was about 90 degrees out and he went to a junkyard and pulled the necessary pieces, along with a 5-lug drum and wheel off what was left of my first car, a ‘66 Bonneville convertible, which had been there for several years.

We met at the truck stop I was stranded at and we found a gas station nearby. The attendant was a teenager who had no idea how to operate any of the machinery. My dad just went into the shop and took charge. He turned the drum and mounted the tire from my 8-lug rim onto the 5-lug wheel- he even balanced it for me. I still remember the look on the kid’s face after Dad was finished. I thanked him for letting us use the shop and it was obvious that he wasn’t authorized to do that, judging from the nervous look on his face. Dad said, “Don’t worry kid, I won’t blow you in to your boss.” That was Dad…

My father was certainly the product of a bygone era, one where family came first, your word was your bond and you helped your fellow man whenever you could. You held the door for ladies and you lived up to your responsibilities- no matter what. He was a man of great faith and my parents had a marriage that was inspirational to anyone who met them.

Even though he was diagnosed with dementia in 2008, he continued to live a mostly normal life until he had a heart attack in May of 2015. He recovered but his cognitive function really started to slip from there. He was upset that he could no longer drive but he pushed on and did the best he could for as long as he could.

Last March, his health slipped to a point where he could no longer be cared for at home and alternated between assisted living and hospitalization and finally, a nursing home. Mom visited him almost every day and showed everyone what “for better or worse” really meant. Her devotion to him was absolute.

About four years ago, before his dementia took most of his memory and far too much of who he was, my dad told me, “You know, I have lived a great life and I got to do everything I wanted to- I traveled the world while I was in the Army, I married a wonderful woman, I raised two great kids. If I die tomorrow, it would be fine- I have no regrets.” We should all be so lucky to have lived such a complete life. Godspeed, Dad, I love you…


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The True Value of Your Stewardship …

The True Value of Stewardship…

Sometimes, I feel like I am in a soundproof room screaming at the top of my lungs. I have spent the last 20-plus years trying to expand the hobby by welcoming the next generation to the fold. It has been a tough sell for a lot of reasons, though I think that the gravity of the situation is starting to sink in for a lot of people.

I became much more aware of the potential of the Millennial Generation after I made a Millennial of my own. My son Rob was born in September of 1995, and within a few short years it became quite obvious that this generation was going to be large and have a lot of buying power.

According to an article published in April of 2016 by the Pew Research Center, a non-partisan think tank based in Washington, D.C., the Millennial Generation is now the largest living segment of the U.S. population, with 75.4-million people, surpassing the Baby Boomers’ 74.9 million. Obviously, the total number of births between 1946 and 1964 was higher but those total numbers are beginning to dwindle. Additionally, the total number of Millennials is still climbing, with immigration levels at an all-time high, expecting to peak at 81.1 million people by 2036. That is a lot of people and a lot of potential customers.

Whether all of the bad press that the Millennial Generation has received thus far is justified or not is open to debate, the facts are that they comprise almost the entire 17-34 age demographic and their dollars are the most sought after by retailers. Market researchers were gearing up for their market demands since they were in diapers.

Why aren’t we- as automotive hobbyists in general and Pontiac hobbyists specifically- aiming our sights at them? Even if a small fraction of 1% could be enticed to join our ranks, there would be zero need to worry about the future of the hobby. Yet, for the most part, we complain about “those damn kids” without trying to understand who they are, what their interests are and that with some proper stewardship, we could easily make them the very worthy heirs to the legacies that we are so enamored with.

As far as I am concerned, the national clubs as a whole don’t get it and some don’t want to. While they are wasting their time trying to entice “older guys who aren’t in the club” (aka guys who swore them off 20 years ago), they are completely ignoring their own mortality as organizations and driving them full speed into the abyss. This is exactly not the way to do it. How many times have you heard something to the effect of, “We need to bring in the young people but we don’t want to change anything.” Sure, that is working so well already.

Typically, when younger enthusiasts are discouraged from participating at an event, it usually boils down to two things. It is either fear of young people or it’s their car. While it is technically allowed and is technically a Pontiac, it might be a front-driver or has a corporate engine. The purists either put it in the back of the show so no can see it or they simply turn it away altogether. I have actually heard people saying, “We don’t want those kinds of cars at our event.” Yeah, you showed them all right- just don’t complain about how your show size keeps getting smaller every year. If you’re looking for answers, the mirror is a good place to start.

On the flip side, the younger people are going back to their friends and saying how poorly they were treated by the event organizers. Most of their peers give the standard “I told you so” response and those would-be members will never return. Don’t tell me it doesn’t happen, or they are isolated incidents- I know better.

Fortunately, I have seen some progress in three areas of the hobby, two national events and one local one that particularly impressed me. First and foremost, the Ames Performance Pontiac Tri-Power Nationals is the largest and most successful Pontiac event in the country and they do this by not turning people away. I know, it’s crazy but Pete and Andrea Woodruff of Super Duty Promotions, the owners of the event, have classes for any and all Pontiacs ever built and whether you have an original 1963 Super Duty Catalina, a GTO Judge, a race car or a clapped-out Grand Am with a pizza sign on the roof, you are welcomed and encouraged to participate in both the show and race programs. With car counts usually passing 1,000 cars, they have what it takes to keep the momentum going for many years to come.

Our hats are also off to the Trans Am Nationals in Dayton. These folks left all of the “no corporate nonsense” BS at the door and welcomed all Pontiac Firebirds regardless of year or powerplant. Right now, the second-generation cars are the most abundant, but if yours came with a 305 Chevy or 403 Olds, or whatever else, you are welcomed and treated like royalty regardless of whether your car is worth six figures or not.

Finally, I would like to take a moment to give a shout-out to the Widetrack Warriors car club from Orlando, Florida. You will see coverage of their annual event elsewhere in this issue but one point about them that I wanted to make here is that in the fall of 2016, they opened up their club to owners of other GM divisions. They now accept Buick, Cadillac, Olds, Saturn, GMC and even the stateside Holden derivatives, like the Chevy SS. They understood that their survival depended on opening up the membership to other GM cars, and interestingly the makeup of their events hasn’t really changed much but the membership numbers and the dues they generate are up. By remaining a primarily Pontiac-based organization, they can stay true to their mission, while casting a wider net with which to attract more would-be Pontiac fans.

I give the Widetrack Warriors a lot of credit for doing what they did- it definitely took some courage and I am sure there was some pushback. It may not be for every organization and it wouldn’t work for this magazine, but for them it is working. They are providing a realistic path to get at younger people and open up new opportunities to get these younger car guys and girls interested in the Pontiacs that we grew up with and love to this day. By being friendly and inclusive, everybody wins.

-Don Keefe

The Glorious Outcome of Unrestrained Passion, or Finding Pontiac’s Spirit in Auburn Hills…

Tim Kuniskis extolling the virtues of the first production car able to pull a wheelie- we really like this guy…


The Glorious Outcome of Unrestrained Passion, or Finding Pontiac’s Spirit in Auburn Hills…

By Don Keefe

Like many of you, I sat and watched the incredibly bold and dramatic reveal of the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon on April 11th and I was struck by two things: just what a fantastic car it is and how General Motors would never have launched a car in that fashion. It was too anti-social, too irresponsible and just way too far out of GM’s corporate culture to ever pass the multiple layers of legal departments and public relations managers. Yet, that take-no-prisoners mindset was exactly what was needed to launch such an over-the-top vehicle. Once again, Tim Kuniskis, head of FCA brands in North America, nailed it on every level. Part John Z. DeLorean, part P.T. Barnum, he personally launched the Demon in a way that would have brought tears of unadulterated joy to Jim Wangers’ face. Who’s kidding who-it probably did…

While they certainly have the resources to release cars on that level, such as the race-only COPO Camaros, General Motors would not have rattled the cages of everyone from the EPA to Bible Belt church ladies in the process. The whole mission statement of the Dodge Challenger SRT Demon defies logic and that is the whole point.

“…This is a project that was born in the shadows of FCA, a project where the only reverse engineering was finding a way to move the business case forward. It’s one of those projects where the only thing you can count on was the bean counters killing it. And the typical car company lawyer? Well, they would have redlined this thing out of existence. And that’s fine, because at Dodge, making the suits nervous is how we know we’re on the right track…because when we do it right, when we are true to our core, we deliver products that would never have gotten off the ground at a typical car company.” -Tim Kuniskis


When was the last time you heard a message like that coming from a car company? Easy, when the Hellcat was released in 2015. Same guy, same passion.

I have been watching Mr. Kuniskis (a fellow Rochestarian by the way) for quite a while now and what I see in him is a true car guy who worked his way up in the company in a meaningful fashion. He was not one of those Harvard MBAs who was dropped in without any field experience. He knows the business because he was fully immersed in it.

After graduating from the State University of New York with a Bachelors Degree in Business Administration, Kuniskis did it the old-fashioned way, gaining real-world experience, step by step. He started in the Syracuse Parts and Service District in 1992 and moved into the sales end shortly after that. His first car? A 1977 Firebird Formula that he purposely blew up the original 350 in, so he and his dad could install a 455. He may work at FCA but he’s one of us. Kuniskis understands the business because he has been involved in every level of the Chrysler organization. This is in stark contrast to the time-honored tradition of hiring people with the best-looking credentials and no regard for the fact that they don’t have a shred of experience in the car business.

As an enthusiast, Kuniskis understands the passion that fellow car nuts have, and just how viscerally the quest for the ultimate automotive experience can grab someone. They mercilessly exploited that notion with weekly teasers on social media that heightened interest and buzz about the new Demon to agonizing levels. Under his direction, Dodge has become a car company that gets it better than any before it. Others have had that level of passion before but no one was able to get things approved like he has.

Without a doubt, there is a very different mindset at Fiat Chrysler America (FCA), one that allows not only for the development of such outlandish “halo car” programs but also, their release. There was no last-minute rejection to this program like the ones that killed the legendary Ram Air V and other great innovations at Pontiac.

Just think where Pontiac would be today if GM brass had let passionate engineers like Mac McKellar, Herb Adams, Bill Collins, Tom Nell, Jeff Young and others get out there and let their imaginations run wild back then and nurtured that mindset to the present. What could Jim Wangers have done to get the word out about Pontiac without GM brass hampering his every move? I am confident that not only would there still be a Pontiac but they would be at the top of the horsepower wars today.

Cars like the Demon, the Hellcat and the rest of the Dodge SRT line don’t come out of focus groups or traditional planning committees. They come from passionate people who are willing to put their careers on the line to make it happen. Dodge has positioned itself as a performance division much like Pontiac did in the 1960s. While full-line carmakers like Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota and others offer very competent performance cars, Dodge is the only one who doesn’t treat it as a niche with their “me too” entry.

Like Pontiac before it, Dodge’s performance message is at the forefront, no matter what the segment- I mean really, they are coming out with a 707-horse SUV this fall, so they aren’t just phoning it in. The big difference is that no one is tying Dodge’s hands at every turn like GM did with Pontiac. I really do wish that Pontiac was still around because I think that the competition between these two companies would bring out some amazing vehicles for fans of both.

In Memory of Eric White


It has been over a month since Eric White passed away and in that time, we have had some time to reflect on the impact that he had and continues to have on the Pontiac hobby. For the May issue, we put together a tribute to him to call attention to the work that he did and to give him the best sendoff we knew how.

There is always the thought of immortalizing those who have left us in some way, both as a marker to their place in history and also to provide some degree of comfort to those left behind. With Eric’s body of work, in the form of his artwork, photography, and The GTO Association of America Pontiac GTO/GT-37 Identification Guide, his place in history is assured and very significant. This magazine and the Pontiac hobby would not be the same without Eric’s contributions and for that reason, he will always be on our masthead.

To my mind, there is also the responsibility to continue his work in the area of the preservation of automotive history. My own personal situation has given me a unique opportunity to help continue his work in an interesting way.

Ever since I was a child, I collected car magazines. From the time I was nine years old, I put down comic books and moved into a world that was much more exciting than anything DC Comics or Marvel could provide to me. I was lured in by such titles as Hot Rod, Car Craft, Popular Hot Rodding and High Performance Cars, the lone East Coast title I read back then. I was hooked. I started mowing lawns to earn enough money to buy them on my own. Every once in a while, my mom and dad would treat me to a magazine on our trips to the grocery store but for the most part, I bought them on my own.

The lure of the world of car magazines inspired me to pursue a career in the field. As a result, I went to St. John Fisher College in Rochester, about a mile from where I live now and graduated with a Bachelors degree in Communication/Journalism. It is hard to believe that it has been 30 years since I donned my cap and gown and crossed the stage.

The truth was that by the time I went to college, I already learned how to write based on the writing styles of the late greats Roger Huntington and Tom Senter, two writers who without their knowledge, helped me find my own voice and later, my advocation. I ended up talking to Mr. Huntington on the phone once and told him what a great influence he was and also passed that message on to Mr. Senter’s widow about ten years ago.

Forty plus years after being blown away by the August, 1975 issue of Car Craft, my obsession has turned into a career and it also turned into a pretty huge collection of magazines, sales literature, press kits and books. I don’t even want to think about how much money I spent over the years, I am confident that I could have purchased a GTO Judge at current market price for the amount of cash I spent. A few bucks here, a few more there, a few more about 10,000 times and it adds up. I don’t even know how many magazines I have- I estimate that I have around 10,000, plus a large amount of books, brochures, promotional posters, calendars and other pieces of automotive memorabilia.

Here is where my dilemma comes in. Ann and I are planning to move to the Gulf Coast of Florida and downsize. I have been hauling these magazines with me on every move I made. No More.

When I got divorced a dozen years ago, I rented and filled a 10×20-foot storage unit with- you guessed it- car magazines. I have a lot more now and I have decided that if it is not actively used for research, it has to go. I had talked to a few people about taking the collection but the truth is, I think that most of them were taken aback when they found out just how large the collection has become. No one person seems to be able to handle them.

Ann teases me by threatening to call the producers of the Hoarding TV show but I steadfastly consider it collecting- my contention is that it is never hoarding if your stuff is cool. She is only kidding (I think) but the fact that my collection was well organized and on shelving indicates that I don’t have a problem. Okay, I am repeating that in my head and it does sound like something a crazy person would say- but I am not- you’ll have to take my word for it.

Eric’s passing brought his work with the Automotive History Preservation Society back in focus. He and I had spoken about it several times and in addition to founding the organization, he was very active in it, tirelessly scanning old magazines and sales brochures, compiling a huge online database of information.

After considering the options, I have decided to donate the bulk of my collection to the Society. I have some incredibly rare magazines and books as well as some very obscure Pontiac and Oakland sales literature as well as print ads that should be permanently preserved.

I contacted Bob Geromotta at AHPS and I have directed them to take all of my materials, scan them and then sell them off to help keep the operation running. With all of the stuff I have accumulated over the years, I am sure that it will help.

One thing that I learned at Eric’s memorial service was his appreciation of the military and those who fought and were injured in battle. At the time of his death, he was working with a local church organization to hire disabled vets to help with the scanning of materials for the Society. We hope that his vision for those employment opportunities materializes.

What about you? I can’t think of a better way to help preserve automotive history and make it available to everyone than to help the AHPS continue its work. They are doing a fantastic job of not only preserving automotive history but also helping to rebuild lives disrupted by injury and war.

Eric White was a wonderful man and everyone I know misses him terribly, myself included. In addition to continuing to run the AHPS ad without charge, I am donating my collection in memory of Eric and I hope that my contribution inspires you to pick up the torch and donate your cash and materials to the Automotive History Preservation Society.

For more information on the great work the AHPS does and how you can get involved, please visit the web site at


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The nearly 30 years of experience I have had in the magazine business and my immersion in the Pontiac hobby since early childhood has shown me a lot of things. First, I think that Pontiac people are the best in the hobby. The friendships that I have fostered over the years have really moved beyond the realm of friends- I consider many to be family and that is the highest compliment that I can give.

When I first landed at CSK Publishing in Hackensack, New Jersey, to start my position as Associate Editor for High Performance Pontiac, I was a wide-eyed kid who had a good deal of knowledge about Pontiacs and journalism and was eager to get started. I quickly found out, however, that I still had much to learn. Fortunately, CSK was the perfect place to be.

In a lot of ways that little publishing company blended extremely well with my college training. Both were relatively small operations and because of that, we learned all aspects of the business. Most car magazines at the time were much larger and had separate departments for editorial, road test, photography and other functions.

At CSK, not only was there only one group of people handling all of those things for High Performance Pontiac, we were also the staff for seven other magazines. If you look through the mastheads for late 1980s and early 1990s issues of High Performance Mopar, Musclecars, Vette, Muscle Mustangs and Fast Fords, Fast Cars & Rock and Roll, GM Enthusiast and Bracket Racing USA, you will find the same names. We did all of those magazines at the same time and it was the best training for anyone in the business- it was car magazine boot camp. Even today, having CSK Publishing on your resume is a badge of honor because that was a real “sink or swim” environment.

One of the more interesting outcomes of my CSK years are the friendships from that time in my life. I am in regular contact with most of the people from that company- even though I haven’t worked there in 25 years. The camaraderie that I continue to experience from that period is very much a part of who I am. We had Mustang fans, Mopar fans, Pontiac fans, Corvette fans, sports car fans, racers, wrenchers, photographers and editors and we all got along. We got into a ton of mischief and we still get together and laugh about it to this day.

I find it fascinating that with all of the differences we had in ethnicity, politics, lifestyle and marque loyalty, that we got along so famously. I think most of it had to do with the notion that we were decent to one another. It really seemed to work. Who knew?

Why is it then that the Pontiac hobby, a single marque that is no longer in operation, has to be so fragmented at this stage of the game? We are all fans of an orphan make. Isn’t it time to start working together? Isn’t it time that we actually make the hobby more attractive to younger enthusiasts instead of shaming them at shows and telling them their cars aren’t worthy of display?

Yes, it does still happen and it really disturbs me. Haven’t those same people ever heard the old saying, “Be nice to your kids. They choose your nursing home?” It’s the same with cars. Do you want your car to go to an enthusiast or someone who leaves it in a field to rot?

Without a doubt, the portion of the hobby that gets the most media attention is the muscle-era Pontiacs, most notably, the GTO and Trans Am, as well as their various related A and F-bodies. While those are fantastic machines, there are so many other dynamic, interesting and active areas of the Pontiac hobby that many don’t even know about. How about inviting them to your events to get your show numbers up? How about giving little kids rides in the parking lot instead of yelling at them to stay away from your car?

I own two Pontiacs purposely chosen because they are somewhat outside of the mainstream: a 2000 Daytona Pace Car Replica Grand Prix GTP and a 1966 Tempest Custom four-door hardtop. My GTP has been called by a few self-proclaimed experts on the topic, “front-drive crap,” “not a real Pontiac,” “a Buick” and “a Chevy.”

Similarly, my Tempest has been called a “GTO parts car,” a “waste of time” and a “dead grandma’s car.” That last one may well be true, however, as Mrs. Mason, wherever she is, must have looked down with great pride to see the panic her and her husband’s Tempest caused when I pulled into the midway area at the 2013 Ames Performance Pontiac Nationals. Everyone was marveling at the original, intact California A.I.R. system and the amazingly original condition of the car. One observer said to me, “I have seen two of a lot of cars here today, but I haven’t seen two of those.”

If we were to just stop bickering about whose car was this or that and made a little room under the tent for the Pontiac fans with different tastes, this hobby would be nearly as large as the Mopar hobby. Think about it, if everyone welcomed the Fieros, the front-drivers, the Third and Fourth-Gen Firebirds, the late-model GTOs, the Solstices, the G8s, hell, even the Azteks, I think that the Pontiac hobby would be healthy enough for our great-grandchildren to enjoy these cars in a self-sustaining hobby.

When it comes down to the group who I think has the best attitude of inclusiveness in the Pontiac hobby, I would have to say that the Trans Am Nationals has the right idea. They welcome all Firebirds from all four generations. Best of all, they take no issue with GM small-blocks, V-6s or LS-power- quite a breath of fresh air.

Since the history of the Pontiac Firebird is six years longer without the traditional Pontiac V-8 than it is with it, they allow that the march of technology meant that powerplants come and go. While we can all have our favorites, it doesn’t mean we have to shun all others.

I have come up with an idea that I hope will unite the Pontiac hobby and help spread the word about this magazine. You hear people talking about “hashtags,” the pound signs that precede posts that are made on social media. They tie similar interests together in searches and help spread the word about whatever it is that the posters are interested in.

I therefore ask all of you, whenever you make a post about Pontiacs that you end it with the phrase, #PonchosUnited. That way, we can help promote the idea of uniting the Pontiac hobby and at the same time, help get the word out about Poncho Perfection. We are enthusiastic about the future and want to grow the hobby. Let’s start here and see where it goes.