Classical Pontiac 1999 POCI National Convention
Jim Mattison and Pontiac Historical Services

Although I kept myself from getting too excited about the prospect, in the back of my mind the highlight of my convention trip was going to be a tour of Pontiac Historical Services (PHS) given by none other than Jim Mattison. While I had known of Jim for years it wasn't until Classical Pontiac became popular that I met him personally, at first through email exchange and eventually face to face at last year's Trans Am Nationals. If the Pontiac hobby can be said to have celebrities Jim must certainly be counted as one, so I was quite happy that my efforts with my website had facilitated our meeting. Practically every time he wrote to me he graciously made the offer "if there's anything I can ever to for you let me know" and until this summer I had never tried to cash in. While making our plans for Buffalo we discovered that our financial friend Southwest Airlines doesn't fly there. Whipping out my well-worn road atlas the natural choice was to fly into Detroit, the automotive motherland, see what damage we could do there then drive through Canada for the show. Naturally the next thought I had was a possible meeting with Jim.

If you're like me there's always been a bit of mystery surrounding Jim. He seemed to almost come from nowhere to become the torch bearer of Pontiac history. In addition he obviously has some close ties with current production as he often tours with the latest cool hardware from the assembly line. From following the magazines I also knew that he had his own collection of cars to be proud of. How big of an operation is PHS? What are his ties to Pontiac? How did he get the dream job of traveling with the Banshee and countless other significant cars? Where can I apply as apprentice? After a series of messages and phone calls it looked as if I might find out some of the answers.

So why all the doubt? It turned out that the GTOAA's meet was the week prior to the POCI convention. Jim was only going to be in town Monday between those official appearances and he also hoped to spend at least some time at a Packard show Monday evening and Tuesday. Although I could hardly bring myself to say it I kept telling him that we could arrange a meeting some other time. Several other factors contributed to the scheduling difficulties: Monday was a holiday, GM had begun a two week planned shutdown, Jim had to switch vehicles between the Packard show and Buffalo, I'm pretty sure Jupiter wasn't aligned with Mars. Well as you obviously know by now we pulled it off, or I should say he pulled it off. We met at his location and he proceeded to fill us in on PHS, Pontiac, and some of his other endeavors. Next we were given a peak at about half of Pontiac's vehicle collection, the other half stored elsewhere and because of the shut down unavailable. Finally we had a chance to just spend time with Jim and get to know him a little better. As a matter of fact by the time we made it to the nationals I felt like we were comrades in arms.

The first thing I want to share with everyone is that while PHS is a first class operation, it, like Classical Pontiac is to me, is a labor of love. The return from that portion of his business ventures is perhaps just a break even. I've agreed to not share the particulars as it really is no one else's business, but what is important is that he likes our hobby enough to keep the all important factory records under his wing. Actually throughout the tour that was a common thread: countless pieces of Pontiac history, both large and small, given to Jim as caretaker (or in many cases saved from the trash bin by him). Like what you ask - like the 20th Anniversary T/A turbo motor cutaway, the 1961 Motor Trend Car of the Year award for the Tempest, like several limited addition pewter statues commemorating significant developments at Pontiac, like racing helmets and crate motors, like pace car hoods, and most important of all the collection of cars sitting in silence safely covered just a few feet from his office.

So what is PHS? It is a single room filed with file cabinets, a microfilm machine, a copy machine, a fax, a few desks, and a fair amount of memorabilia. What was I most jealous of? Jim's desk chair fashioned from a leather GTA seat. Jim took the copy of the factory invoice I received from Pontiac almost 13 years ago and showed me the painful steps it takes to research a car. It's not a simple matter of looking up the VIN, first you have to select the film that lists the VIN along with the invoice number. Put it in the machine, scan through and locate the VIN. Having written the invoice number down it's back to the cabinet for another film, scan through it looking for that number then make a few test copies adjusting exposure until you have an acceptable duplicate (which was MUCH nicer than that that I received from Pontiac). As if that wasn't enough of a pain, depending on the format of the invoice the area framed for copying has to be adjusted. Invoice in hand a trip to another row of cabinets for related documentation such as factory photo and production figures then finally over to the opposite end of the room to collect the various standard sheets sent with each packet and fill the envelope and your ready to go. I guess that doesn't sound too bad for $35 until you factor in the overhead for the expensive machinery involved, the credit card surcharge, postage, and then the royalty paid to Pontiac for every packet processed and the businessman in me sees where yes, this has to be a labor of love.

Now's probably a good time to address the question that comes up all the time on the Q & A: "How can I quickly document my Pontiac?" While traditionally you mail a check to PHS and wait anxiously for your packet, the quick answer is to fax the request form with your credit card information to them. They get the fax right away, and since the payment is by credit card there's no time lost waiting for a check to be processed. For an additional $5 ($40 total) they will fax the invoice copy to you before mailing the complete packet out. It doesn't get any better than that. Understandably there are no plans to open a voice line for orders (given my experience with email questions I can just imagine what Jim would get over the phone).

Now for the history lesson. Shortly after I learned about Pontiac providing copies of factory invoices in 1986 (and did my best to get the word out in our chapter newsletter) they became swamped with requests. They were extremely close to shutting the whole operation down when Jim stepped in, and after the corporate lawyers had their say he acquired the files and started PHS. As the years passed GM identified Jim as the Pontiac history guy and hence every item looking for a home gets sent his way. Pontiac also entrusted him with the car collection and allows him to determine which cars go to which shows throughout the year. Hardly a money making business, he is given a modest budget which is scrutinized at the beginning of each season. Perhaps most fun of all is Jim's involvement with Pontiac's brand team. Once again I can't give many details, but count the 30th T/A as one of the many projects he has been a part of.

That about covers all of those questions except for that apprentice job. All I can say is that each of my thinly veiled offers to road test the Pontiac historic fleet was met with silence and a knowing smile. We wrapped up our tour with lunch and shared war stories about our respective Pontiac experiences. While I was ecstatic about the success of my meeting with Jim he was practically apologetic about not being able to do more. "What more could there be?" I thought, then he told me a couple of things...all I can say is hopefully we'll have more time the next trip to Michigan! Thanks for your hospitality, Jim, the Pontiac hobby is fortunate to have you.

OK, enough of this yakking, take me to the cars!
Jim Mattison
20th Anniversary T/A Cutaway
The Records
Pace Car Hood Awaiting Mounting
One of Several Limited Edition Pewter Statues
A Glimpse Through the Fence at Pontiac's "Museum in Boxes"