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California (GS) Dreamin'

California GS in Maryland, 1998.

1967…Petula Clark, Aaron Neville, the Tremeloes, and Herman’ s Hermits belted out their latest hits for an eager young audience. The AM radio crackled with news and the latest information about the Viet Nam War. San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit was being constructed. University of California at Berkeley was frequently in the news. During this turbulent time period, my parents and I lived in the Bay Area, and I was a sophomore at the State College in Hayward, California. Dad was short-term-leasing a 1965 Corvair Corsa coupe as cheap transportation, complete with its 140-hp.pancake engine, a front end that hydroplaned in any moisture as heavy as the morning dew, a shimmy like a hula dancer, and weak interior heat (accompanied by very strong gasoline odors guaranteed to induce a throbbing headache in two minutes whenever it was turned on). The car was literally falling apart around us as we drove it – a “bucket of bolts” personified. Today, the Corvair is a classic in its own right – and probably would have been worth saving as a unique part of American automotive history. But that would be the subject for another website!

On June 26, 1967, the Oakland Tribune printed an ad from the local Buick dealer touting a car “built in California for Californians,” the California Gran Sport. Since our Corvair was disintegrating rapidly, Dad was expediting his search for a new vehicle. Guess who convinced him to drive over and look at a CGS? While there weren’t any on the showroom floor, the salesman told him that a car in production at Fremont was currently unassigned, and if we could live with picking just the color, and whether we wanted an AM radio or not, we could have it soon. After looking at a showroom GS-340 (the CGS’s cousin) both he and my mother were signing papers to order it. And a week later, on July 6, 1967, our new car showed up at the dealer’s. Needless to say, we picked it up immediately and he turned in the “bucket of bolts.”

My family enjoyed driving the car for many years as our “everyday driver,” and subsequently it (and we) migrated to Oklahoma and then Pennsylvania. After finishing college, I took employment that eventually led me to Maryland. During the national gasoline crisis of 1974, I bought the CGS from my folks and registered it in Maryland. We won’t tell anybody that I bought an AMC 6-cylinder 3-speed manual transmission Gremlin to drive back and forth to work in city traffic during the gas crisis . Mind you, it wasn’t half the car the CGS was (sorry, Gremlin fans) and cost almost as much as the CGS had seven years previously, but in fact got better gas mileage and had a 20-gallon gas tank, to boot! I bought a siphon, locked the gas cap on the CGS, and used it as for my own 20-gallon gasoline storage tank, to keep my Gremlin fueled through the days of long gas lines and closed gas stations.

But my favorite car for long distance driving was the CGS. It handled nicely in all conditions, and was much more fun to drive. The metallic blue factory paint suffered mightily in the weather, as it was without garage protection, and I gave it a “quickie enamel” repaint in the late 1970’s to keep it from looking too tacky. But fortunately it never developed rust holes from road salt . The CGS continued to serve me well mechanically as an everyday driver, and even with rear wheel drive, covered winter roads safely – I never failed to reach my destination for any reason. In its 34 years, it has never been towed. Can’t say the same for the poor Gremlin. It was towed twice in the 4 years I owned it – once from the driveway and once on the road, both times because of mechanical failures.

In 1978, I traded the Gremlin for a Dodge Power Wagon 4WD truck and semi-retired the CGS. That was definitely not a wise investment. After being picked up, and driven for one day, we drove the truck back to the dealer's - at least it didn’t need towed in. The dealer just kept it in the shop for daily work – the first 90 days of ownership found it in my possession and on the road for less than 30 days – a dismal record for any make of vehicle. Needless to say, my CGS was summoned out of semi-retirement to transport me back and forth to work while the mega-unreliable truck was shopped. But by 1981 the dealer had “sort of” stabilized the truck (enough to trade it in - for a new Buick, of course) and the CGS was back in semi-retirement, under roof at last. This was my opportunity to make a major cash outlay – it was repainted once again, this time by professionals at the Buick dealership. They sanded it to the bare metal and sprayed it with lacquer paint, bringing a like-new appearance to it once again. After bringing home trophies from several local shows, the CGS was awarded a 3rd-in-class at the July 8, 1989 BCA National in Batavia, NY. I attribute those results to the fine paint job it received.

The intervening years have found the CGS remaining “under roof” at our place. Its status continues as “retired” and it no longer sits out, exposed to sun or rain. Birds can’t use it for target practice…unless they get into our garage! It’s paid its dues and earned a comfortable retirement home. (Not that I don’t occasionally hear comments – read complaints - from my wife about the car in our garage that never goes anywhere…except to occasional car shows.) It still brings home an occasional trophy, even though its 21-year old paint job is showing signs of deterioration. But it makes those wonderful V-8 sounds (instead of that tinny 4-cylinder “buzz” we now hear so frequently) and still turns heads at stop signs, Dairy Queens and auto parts stores!

Guess I’ll just have to get it painted again and replace the somewhat noisy muffler! Now if I can just find someone to do lacquer…

This is the rather crowded engine compartment. Its 260-hp V8 with 4-bbl carb is factory-equipped with California’s Air Injection Reactor System. The air conditioning and power steering systems take up what little space remains.

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is owned by Courtney Shenkle.

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