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