[Gunner’s Classic Corner] Door Slammers: The Original 1960 Pontiac Hot Chief II Poncho

Hot Chief No. 2 was raced by Royal’s performance salesman Dick Jess
Hot Chief No. 2 was raced by Royal’s performance salesman Dick Jess

According to Milt Schornack, it was in 1959 that Pontiac dealer Ace Wilson approached the GM division in hopes of turning his Royal Oaks, Mich., franchise into the company’s high-performance headquarters. Pontiac Motor Div. (PMD) was all for the idea and Milt was the guy who did a lot of the performance tuning.

With Royal Pontiac established as PMD’s hi-po outlet, Wilson had Schornack build a Tri-Power ’59 Poncho called the Hot Chief that put out 345 hp on the drag strip. In his book Milt Schornack and the Royal Bobcat GTOS (co-authored by Keith J. MacDonald), Schornack says, “The Hot Chief traveled to Florida in February 1960 and by the time the Royal Racing Team left the Winter Nationals, the Daytona Beach dragstrip was but a smoking hole in the ground.”

The following year a pair of race-prepped 1960 Catalinas went to bat for Royal Pontiac. Jim Wangers drove the red Hot Chief No. 1, which had a 389-cid 368-hp Super-Duty V-8 and a four-speed manual transmission. He cleaned house at the NHRA Nationals in the Detroit area taking both class and Top Eliminator titles with a 102.04 mph 114.14 sec. run. The Hot Chief No. 2 was a white 363-hp Royal-tuned Super Duty Catalina with automatic transmission.

“This car is the only known surviving 1960 Super-Duty that was raced by Royal Pontiac,” says the white car’s current owner Bob Knudsen, Jr., of American Falls, Idaho. “The red car was probably crashed or crushed—no one really knows.” Dick Jesse piloted the white car and made it to the final run in the automatic class before Al “Lawman” Eckstrand beat him with a ’60 Plymouth.

Bob Knudsen, Jr.- who collects Royal Pontiac race cars, Super-Duty cars in general and “Swiss Cheese” (drilled frame) cars in particular-says he likes the Pontiacs because they were winners. “Its simple, “ he said. “When I was a kid I loved drag racing in my ’59 Bonneville. I’d go to Pocatello Dragway all the time, but I always came in second and never won a trophy. My buddy had a ’59 Super-Duty and always beat me.” Today, Knudsen’s race car collection is hard to beat.

Hot Chief No. 2 was ultimately purchased by Ed Shafer, the Governor of North Dakota. In 1990, he had a frame off restoration completed by Chuck Simpson in  South Carolina. It went from there to a Pontiac club (www.poci.org) convention in the Chicago area where Knudsen saw it. “I remember he loaded it on the trailer and I looked up and saw it and told myself I loved that car,” says Knudsen. Then it wound up in Floyd Garrett’s muscle car museum in Tennessee.  He ended up selling it to another collector and Knudsen traded a 1962 Chevy 409 Bel Air Z11 car with an aluminum front end for the Poncho.

“I think that right here you are looking at the only original 1960 Super-Duty around,” Knudsen told Racing Junk. “It has the right Super-Duty intake, the right heads, the right exhaust and everything else. It has the right tank, the right crank and the right cam and the rest of the parts like the special air cleaner with the oblong holes that came in the trunk of Royal Super-Duty cars. The package was sold only as a dealer option, so only a few were delivered and right here is the only original one I know of to be around.” Knudsen has only exhibited the car a couple of times. “I think it’s been shown twice at the POCI shows,” he noted.

About John Gunnell 141 Articles
John “Gunner” Gunnell has been writing about cars since ‘72. As a kid in Staten Island, N.Y., he played with a tin Marx “Service Garage” loaded with toy vehicles, his favorite being a Hubley hot rod. In 2010, he opened Gunner’s Great Garage, in Manawa, Wis., a shop that helps enthusiasts restore cars. To no one’s surprise, he decorated 3G’s with tin gas stations and car toys. Gunner started writing for two car club magazines. In 1978, publisher Chet Krause hired him at Old Cars Weekly, where he worked from 1978-2008. Hot rodding legend LeRoi “Tex” Smith was his boss for a while. Gunner had no formal journalism training, but working at a weekly quickly taught him the trade. Over three decades, he’s met famous collectors, penned thousands of articles and written over 85 books. He lives in Iola, Wis., with his nine old cars, three trucks and seven motorcycles.

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