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Melted Strato-Chief

Worst ending for Pontiac in 2013

After reading the sad tale of the Crispy Oldsmobile 442, reader Doug M wanted to share the story of his 1958 Pontiac Strato-Chief. Like the Olds, Doug had a long history with his Pontiac and had managed to keep it around most of his life, but then the most unfortunate of events befell it. We will let him give you all the details in his own words right after the break.

1974 Grease Parade

The story about the crispy Olds 442 brings to my mind my own story about my beloved ’58 Pontiac Strato-Chief. Like the owner of the Olds, this Pontiac was my first love! I can remember spending hours taking rust off the bumpers when my grandmother gave it to me around 1969. The car was stolen when it was new and the radio was taken. I never had the cash to replace it, but did manage to attach an 8-track below the hole with about a dozen screws (don’t ask). I can remember getting that car up to 105mph downhill, no seat belts. I can also remember making out with a redhead on that magnificent bench seat, the chrome and metal dash reflecting the night’s lights.

1958 Pontiac in 1996

One time, the driveshaft dropped onto the road. Fortunately, I was at stop light at the time! Time passed, I drove other cars, and the ’58 sat in various garages waiting to be fixed and restored. Fast forward to the mid ’80s and I donated it to a college where students learned to restore it. When I saw the finished job, I had to buy it back! It was seldom used during the following years as my wife and I concentrated on our new business. It was at that time that I decided to give it to my nephew Michael, whom I knew would take the car to a much better condition than the students did. It was in beautiful shape when it melted in a warehouse fire where it was parked.

Doug at Kitsilano Beach in 1972

It’s always sad to hear these kinds of stories, but it reminds us as to why we care so much about our cars, especially the ones from our younger years. We want to thank Doug for sharing it and his memories of it with us, we are sure it had to be tough to look at the before and after photos.


  1. Liam

    Oh man, that is sad! enough to bring a man to tears! Is it totally beyond saving, or is just possible to resurrect it from the flames at all?? If you did, it could only be called one thing, ‘Phoenix’! I hope this is not the end of this car…..anything can be saved!!

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  2. sunbeadon

    OK, now I’m hooked – did the “red-head” make it to wife???

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  3. geomechs geomechs Member

    Some people might disagree with me but cars and trucks become part of the family. Over the years they develop a personality all their own, and can even get to the point that the only one who knows how to make it go is you. I always laugh at (old) Biff in Back to the Future II where he knows how to start (young) Biff’s ’46 Ford. Losing a car that has been part of the family is like losing a family member; you’re devastated. I sure wish Doug the best.

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  4. Rick

    Not sure why the model name of the car “Strato Chief” is hyphenated in the title and copy for this story. It certainly isn’t hyphenated on the trim on the car, at least it wasn’t on the ’63 Canadian Pontiac Strato Chief (with the factory Chevy 283) that I had many years ago.

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  5. Rancho Bella

    I had a ’71 Mach1 four speed in perfect mint condition just burn to the ground in ’81……….I hate to admit it but it darn near brought me to tears. So, I am well aware of a loss of a favorite car.

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  6. Dolphin Member

    This wonderful but sad story is one more reason why people who care about vehicles and their history and historical significance need to care about all those vehicles that didn’t survive to be restored because they were neglected and left parked somewhere to decay to the point that nobody would want or be able to save them, yet the owners would not sell for one reason or another. To be clear: that’s their right, but sometimes it means that’s one more gone forever.

    I think the reason we need to care about that is in this very sad example of Doug’s Strato- Chief. You use it, keep it around, do the right thing to get it restored, and then this happens and one more is gone forever. How many will be left 50 years from now?

    BTW, Doug, if one of those guys is you—Cool!

    Jesse: I nominate that pic of those cool guys with the robins egg blue Strato-Chief as the photo of the month….maybe the year.

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  7. jim s

    cool car, sad ending. i do not want to know what happens to my vehicles after i sell them. which is why i like to sell to out of the area buyers or part them out. it does not always work out that way but i try.

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  8. paul

    I new a guy that had a Talbot Lago that he ran it in the vintage rally in Penn, after the rally he left it in a barn for a short time ( weeks ) during that time the barn & car were lost, a sad end.

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  9. Charlie Member

    I had a ’68 Chevelle wagon, special ordered, with a 396, 4 speed manual on the floor, bucket vinal seats, heavy duty radiator, battery, and clutch, the beefy suspension, and an economy rear axel, designed to pull a two horse trailer, and, get decent gas mileage as well. It did pull the trailer and the gas mileage when it was not pulling, was not bad. It was a great road car, drove it coast to coast, but, after only five years the New England road salt had rusted out the back fenders, the rocker panels, the trailing edge of the front fenders, and the floors had holes. At 168,000 miles the carburetor needed to be rebuilt, some mistake was made, trying to start it, it sprayed gasoline all over the engine, it caught fire, and I watched it burn. The insurance company totaled it, the place where it was towed saved the engine and transmission, and put them in another car, so they lived on. I took the money and bought a used ’69 Pontiac Bonneville wagon with the 400 cu engine which died of rust a few years later, but again the engine was saved, and transplanted.

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  10. Jim-Bob

    These stories are just painful to read. While it may not have helped in these instances, it’s a good reminder to always carry a fire extinguisher in your car. It’s saved my butt at least once, when the Holley carb on my first car (AMC Spirit with 360 swap) spit fuel out and started a carb fire while delivering pizza one night. Had I not had one, the fire would have done more than burn a few plastic pieces and the air filter. Then again, that car has caught fire 5 times, so I have learned to always carry one.

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  11. Riley Nash

    I lost two Pontiac Grand Prix’s in Hurricane Rita. One was a ’62 and the other a ’64. The ’62 fell victim to a tree down the center of the car. In another part of town, the ’64 fell victim to the building it was sitting in and its being destroyed around it! The cars would both be alive and well today. Instead the ended up being parts cars!

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  12. Pleiku Pete

    How about changing the site name to “Burn Finds” ?

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  13. Charles

    Loosing one’s favorite old car to fire is a tough one. At this point it will not even make a good parts car.

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  14. Andy

    That was me in the picture with Doug, front and centre – CFUN Graffiti parade back in the 70’s – and I was in the car doing 100 mph – down hill ….. Oh those younger days – great car, great memories……… so sad. Thanks Doug

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  15. sunbeamdon

    OK Andy, now you are dating me – my first pass above 100mph was on the Lougheed Highway past the traffic island/light stanchions at industrial park/Burnaby Mountain exit in a Chrysler New Yorker with a big block of some kind (not a hemi). Red Robinson was king of DJs! Long-live rock’n role.

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  16. Bizfinguy

    I had a wonderful 1976 BMW 2002 for several years in the mid 2000s. My (then little) kids loved riding around in it. I sold it to a friend who had a somewhat lackadaisical teen-aged son named Nick. I said, “Don’t let Nick drive it,” figuring he’d wrap it around a tree. Thank God that never happened, but Nick did get stuck on the road with a fuel leak, which quickly blossomed into a car fire. End of my old 2002. I never saw a picture and frankly didn’t have the heart to ask for one!

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  17. Glen Riddle

    BTW the Strato Chief was a Canadian Pontiac, not a US model. Here we had Chieftains/Super Chiefs and Star Chiefs/Bonnevilles for 1958.

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