1959 Pontiac Bonneville convertible is better than a perfect match
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Each day in 1959 when a much younger Ron Rufo left his family's home in downtown Chicago, he was greeted with a smile-inducing sight: his neighbor's new Pontiac Catalina.
"I loved it from the first time I saw it," Rufo said. "I always remembered how distinct and attractive the wide-track body was."
This passion for Pontiacs never left him and in 1998 his well-trained eyes locked onto another example: this time a 1959 Bonneville convertible. The Chicago resident spied the drop top while pulling into a car show.
"I crested a bridge and that's when I saw it. I pulled into the show and parked right next to it," he said.
Rufo hit it off immediately with the vehicle's owner, who offered to cruise with Rufo to another car show the following weekend. That single event turned into many more and before long the auto-loving pair were cruising to shows all over the suburbs.
As the friendship blossomed, Rufo's affection -- and growing desire -- for the Pontiac intensified. To his dismay, Rufo learned of other interested suitors and, more importantly, "the owner would never sell it; he was going to die with it."
Over the next two years that stanch tune changed drastically. In July 2001, Rufo received word the owner was ready to part with the beloved cruiser and Rufo was the first to be notified. While stunned he got his wish, beneath Rufo's elation remained a lingering doubt.
"A little bitty part of me was disappointed it wasn't a Catalina."
While appearing very similar in the 1959 Pontiac model lineup, the Catalina slid under the top-of-the-line Bonneville trim, making this convertible an attractive find. "Even though it's a much nicer vehicle (than the Catalina), I couldn't get that neighbor's car out of my head."
However, any buyer's remorse quickly melted away once Rufo brought the striking Aztec White cruiser home. "Staring at it in the garage, I just loved the color and the highlights of the chrome trim. Everything about it was just perfect," he said.
Rufo is now the car's sixth owner. In his travels, Rufo has traced pieces of the car's lineage. After leaving the Pontiac assembly plant, the Bonneville was sold new in Arizona. It wasn't equipped with the continental kit or spotlights but both were installed years later.
Owners one through three remain a mystery but Rufo met the fourth owner in River Grove at a 2009 car show. "Right away he recognized the car," Rufo said. "He owned it during the '80s and gave me pictures of the car from that period."
Throughout all of its owners, the colossal machine has been meticulously maintained. Continuing that tradition, in 2011 Rufo had the 389-cubic-inch V-8 engine refreshed, adding new gaskets and seals, along with a fresh coat of blue paint. Glasspack mufflers were also added to the exhaust system.
The stunningly beautiful silver and blue interior was overhauled and given new upholstery, carpeting and a convertible top. Rufo also made the decision to add the rear fender skirts, a dealer option for 1959.
The classy, seemingly hand-chiseled sheet metal turns heads, yet Rufo attests it's more than the two-door's jet-age design that leaves spectators breathless.
"They're amazed at the sheer size -- all 20 feet of it."
Perhaps this colossal stance is the reason these fantasy machines Pontiac made in '59 never left Rufo's imagination.
"As a young man, I was very impressionable. I always said one day I wanted to get a car like that and I was very fortunate that dream came true."
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