Right out of the gate, Tom Mianulli was a full-size car kind of guy. As a child, his parents toted him around in a colossal 1967 Buick LeSabre.
His own first set of wheels was nothing nimble. It was a 1971 Chevy Impala.
"Over the years I've never had sports car. I've thought about it on occasion but the big ones always call me back," the Rolling Meadows resident said.
It's little wonder Mianulli's eyes drifted to a large-and-in-charge ride while he strolled through an auto auction in Auburn, Indiana, in 1999.
"I walked by it several times and, slowly but surely, I realized it was something special," he said.
From all appearances, the auto had the makings of a well-kept, 1968 Pontiac Grand Prix. A closer look revealed much more.
"It had been built and sold in Canada," Mianulli said. "Up there, it was badged as a Gran Parisienne."
The slight name change wasn't its most unusual element. "It's got a Chevrolet-sourced 327 (cubic inch) V-8," he said. "Look underneath and it's all Chevy drivetrain and suspension."
Neither previous owners nor Mianulli customized this unique setup; his Poncho rolled out of the factory this way. "The Canadian market wanted smaller engines and Pontiac gave them to them -- even if it meant borrowing from Chevy."
That move was unusual for the Pontiac brand, which liked to manufacture its vehicles for the U.S. market with components unique from the rest of its General Motors counterparts. But with higher taxes and fuel costs north of the border, the sales tactic panned out well.
Mianulli's Gran Parisienne was sold new out of a dealership in Morden, Manitoba, in December of 1967. After purchasing it from the seller in Indiana, Mianulli and his wife, Cathy, have learned more about it's owners and history, including that it sat idle in a rural barn for ten years.
"Canada doesn't use salt on their roads during the winter so the vehicle was very well-preserved," he said. Mianulli was able to drive the Pontiac home from the auction. "It was a pure dream to drive. Even with the smaller 327, without any emission controls like U.S. cars to bog it down, it moved effortlessly."
In addition to the name and unique powertrain, several other small touches set this Gran Parisienne apart from the similar U.S. version. The hubcaps are unique, a "327" badge is mounted on the front fender and hideaway headlights -- while an option in the U.S. -- came standard on the Gran Parisienne. Another touch hearkens to the car's country of origin.
"The center floor mat has a giant maple leaf on it," Mianulli said.
One more Canadian-specific element was changed. "I removed the kilometer adapter so the car would register miles."
Convinced of its roadworthiness, the enthusiast drove his steel sweetheart to Phoenix in 2002. "I stuck to the highways. It was entertaining to watch the other motorists see the Illinois plate and realize you can travel this far in this kind of car."
After a heavy dose of driving, in 2003 the engine was rebored and rebuilt with new valves. The two-speed transmission also received an overhaul. All told, the car is back in like-new condition, which pleases the full-size car fan.
"These big cars are straight up cruisers with loads of comfort."
While it's certainly ready for road trips, there are no plans to cruise the Pontiac back over the border.
"While it would be fun to drive to Canada, I'm afraid they will want to buy it back!"