Big Al's Featured Car's
1960 El Poncho
One of Two Never Made!
Owned by Jack Buck
Pictures & Story by John Carollo

Many car enthusiasts get their influences from cars seen earlier in their lives. Later, as the desire for that particular car snowballs, it comes to be they usually buy or build the car. But what happens when the car you really dig is one of one and, worse yet, was never built by the factory to begin with? That’s what happened to Jack Buck of Greenville, PA. Jack’s always been a gearhead, starting by working in a gas station when he was 12. He built and owned cars but it was a car in a nearby town that really got his attention. Fellow Pontiac fan, ‘Gib’ Mahle took a ’60 Bonneville and, adding roof and cab parts from a ’60 Chevy El Camino, made a truly one-off Pontiac pick up style ride. When Jack saw it, he was instantly in car-lust and would dig the ride forever. So much so that he tired to buy it but Gib wouldn’t sell. Jack took a picture of the car and continued to try to buy it to no avail. That picture sat on Jack’s desk for about 20 years, all the time with Jack thinking, “I really want that car.” The time came when Jack, a now-retired body man, decided that Gib would never sell so building one of his own was the answer. Jack told Gib who at first said, ‘You can’t do it.’ Jack and Gib kept talking and Jack learned many of the secrets Gib used to build the car as well as coming up with some of his own to avoid the problems Gib encountered. Eventually, after hours of talking about how he would build it, Jack heard Gib say, ‘I think you can do it.’ Sadly, Gib never lived to see the completion of the clone of his car. Gib’s family still has the car and are not interested in selling it either.     

Now determined to build his own, Jack needed some rolling stock to get started. While on vacation out west, he found a ’60 Bonneville in great condition in Powell, Wyoming. Jack cut a deal and then bought a used trailer to haul the car back to PA. A donor cab from a ’60 El Camino was also located and made its way to Jack’s shop. Four and half years later and with what Jack called ‘a whole bunch of help’ from Chuck Murrin, Jack’s own El Poncho rolled out of his shop. When you start adding up the tremendous amount of details El Poncho has to offer, you’ll see why the car earned a coveted John DeLorean Award at the 2009 National Pontiac show in Dayton, Ohio. At that same show, Jack was also honored by longtime Pontiac/GM employee, John Middlebrook, who gave Jack and Chuck Pontiac pins and plenty of compliments on the car.

It’s easy to think this car is a factory built ride. It’s that good. About the only tip off would be looking inside. That’s where Jack decided to upgrade the ‘60’s car interior, now a cab interior. Jack used quite a few Caddie parts starting with a rare ’65 tilt and telescoping steering column with his own custom adapted ‘60 Pontiac logo on the 16 inch steering wheel. For creature comforts, he tossed in a comfy ’65 Caddie bench seat with six way power. The windows are power too and the controls sit in Caddie armrests on stock Poncho door panels. Handmade, clam shell panel doors behind the seat provide storage in what would be otherwise wasted space. They too, wear Pontiac emblems. A custom made mini console under the dash looks like it’s always been there but secretly houses the new Vintage Air controls for the A/C that blows thru a new center vent in the dash. The new vinyl interior, including a new dash pad, was done by F.A.B. Trim in Meadville, PA. E-Z Wiring was used on the circuits.

The chassis of El Poncho is virtually stock having undergone what amounts to a complete restoration. Stock suspension with a 3:08 rear gear make for a nice ride. The stock drum brakes are still there and work just fine stopping the 5000 lb car. Wheels and tires are stock sizes with 14 inch wheels and 215 75 R14 Coker tires.  The motor and tranny did get some help over the stock ’60 units. A ’65 Pontiac 421 HO was bored out .040 sending it into the 428 range. HO #77 heads help create a little more power as do the factory trips. A ’74 GM three speed automatic 400 tranny built by Greenville Transmission delivers that power.
We spent quite a bit time riding around in El Poncho while shooting it and were very impressed with the power, handling and smooth ride of this unique car/truck.

When looking at the outside, it does indeed look all factory. The bed and cab were the big changes and they started with dropping in a ’60 Chevy El Camino roof, glass and the section that creates the front of the bed into the cut Bonneville body. That would be difficult but manageable. Jack and Chuck found out there is a distinct difference between a ’60 Chevy and Pontiac when it comes to the doors and side glass. The guys had to meld the inner door frames together to get everything to work before moving on to the bed and tailgate. Without a doubt, the most critical area was the transition from quarter panels to cab. Not only did they have to work two different body styles for cosmetic values but ’60 Pontiacs have an X-shaped chassis that twists and flexes more than a perimeter frame. Any sheet metal design and work had to be able to withstand the body flexing or start to crack. Strong design eliminated those problems. The styling issues were handled piece by piece to meet car to truck. That area got even harder when it came to trim pieces that never existed. Jack and Chuck made them by hand and did such a great job they have to be pointed out to be seen. The bed floor is from a ‘03 Chevy truck while the sides of the bed were hand formed with a few clever removable panels. Going old school, the team used lead for filling all seams and holes. With the bed done, it was time for another Phantom piece; a ’60 Pontiac tailgate. Using the stock rear panel skin and even the gas door, they covered a framework they hand built and fitted. The guys say the tailgate is the real story here as it has so many functions to handle. It has to work like a tailgate, latch like a door, look like a rear panel and still retain the working gas door for fuel. They did get it right and even added an additional tail light to each side for a period custom look. What may sound simple was a series of complex projects that had to follow a specific sequence and be right to move on to the next change. When the extensive bodywork was done, a few coats of Dupont Chroma Premier dark copper paint from a 2007 Ford truck were laid down by Eric Moore. The final result is that one can spend a good hour looking over El Poncho and still not see and appreciate all the work involved. They made it look easy.

And speaking of El Poncho, check out the emblems on the car. If they look familiar, it’s because Jack and Chuck made them out of the original Bonneville emblems. They cut them, turned them upside down, ground them and welded them into master pieces from which new pieces were poured then finished. It’s that kind of attention to detail the makes this car so unique. And yes, we have to admit, when we first saw it, we actually wondered if it was a lost concept car from Detroit that someone had found at a Pontiac Garage Sale and restored. That is, once we actually got through the big crowd that is usually around it. When you see it, you might, too.