The Laurentian, like the Parisienne, were GM Canadian model line nameplates – and as such they were never sold in the the USA. Built specifically for the Canadian market, they were soon being exported from Canada as disassembled “crate” or “CKD” cars. It was from these “CKD” kits that GM Holden assembled the Laurentian in Australia, as did New Zealand, the Netherlands and South Africa.In Canada, in addition to the four-door sedan there was also 2-door model available, and all Laurentians could be had with V8 engines from 195 up to 425 hp. Odd and confusing in this respect was that while the Laurentian was the base model in Europe, but in Australia it was the largest and most expensive car manufactured by GM-H. In 1960 GM-H standardised on an automatic transmission for both the Chevrolet and Pontiac models.The Right-Hand-Drive Pontiacs had the same dashboards whether Chevrolet or Pontiac and only one dash design per bodyshell run so the 1961 to 1964 models had the one dash (a RHD version of the 1961 Pontiac layout) even though it changed annually in Canada and the 1965-1968s all had a ‘transposed’ version of the 1965 Chevrolet dash.The RHD cars also had antiquated, short, ‘clap-hands’ wipers that almost met in the middle of the windshield rather than the parallel wipers of the LHD Canadian cars. Local radios, upholstery and two-speed heater/demisters were fitted – some Australian cars had local Frigidaire air-conditioning.
In Europe the Laurentian came as a 4-door sedan or as a 6 seater “Safari” wagon (not available in the Star Chief Executive range). A full-size Pontiac meant a length of 548 cm, a width of 202 cm and a height of 141 cm. On the European market it was only available with a straight 6 cylinder, 4100cc engine that produced 152 hp @ 4200 rpm, and this was mated to a manual 3-speed transmission – and came without power steering and power assisted brakes.
From a design standpoint, the most obvious feature were the stacked headlights were located at each extremity of the extremely wide car frame making for a broad, low rectangle, divided in the middle by a jutting V, that had been a trade mark of Pontiacs since the marque dropped its once-famous ribbon of chromed strips down the centre of the bonnet. To emphasise the breadth of the car, and also to act as a contrast to the perpendicular headlights, were eight narrow steel slats stretching across.
In 1963 the slab-sides of previous model were modified by a double bulge – upward and outward – commencing just behind the centre pillar and racing back to provide something like tail-fins at the back and a frame for the gigantic, square boot. The overall effect was probably the best ever from Pontiac. Obviously big and clearly American, it nevertheless was well balanced, lacking in garish and unnecessary ornaments.
The most important mechanical change was to the V8 engine. Dimensions of the well-proven 4.6 litre unit were unchanged, but a higher compression ratio and redesigned cylinder heads were added a claimed 25 bhp to the total output. Rear axle ratio was slightly lowered and the overall performance was improved. Top speed was up by five mph. The car had slightly longer legs in the lower of its two automatic transmission ranges and an average of slightly more than a second was sliced off acceleration figures.
According to some road testers, this improvement was been accompanied by an increase in engine and transmission smoothness – but we have no real evidence of that. The Pontiac’s two-speed Powerflyte automatic box was always a smooth unit, whether fitted to the Pontiac or the Chev, but it seemed better than ever with the extra 25 horses to help kick it from ratio to ratio. But there was one annoying feature of the transmission which some car club members have told us about, but for which we cannot confirm if true or not, and that is that, after running the car in reverse, it is easy to stall the car when you come to a stop.
From Generator to Alternator
Another mechanical change was the fitting of an alternator in place of the conventional generator. There was no way of telling whether this was an improvement, but the fact that almost the entire American motor industry is switching to alternators seems to suggest that it does have the advantages claimed—more power at low revs, simpler maintenance and longer life—as well as the possible advantage of being cheaper to make. The power-assisted drum brakes are now self-adjusting. The adjustment is made every time the brakes are applied when the car is going backwards.
Around the city and at speed on the highway, when the driver used them only sparingly, the brakes were light to apply and stopped the car quickly and in a safely straight line. By American standards, the brakes were reasonably good. But a few hard applications at speed, in the sort of conditions one would encounter in descending a steep mountain pass, the brakes faded considerably, even to the point where there was little effective braking power left.
They recovered their power quickly enough (providing you didn’t need to use them again for a few minutes) but even by the standards of the early 1960s, they were really not good enough for the high performance of which the Pontiac was capable. Power steering was again standard equipment. When Pontiacs first got power steering in Australia in 1959 the system was unduly sensitive at slow speeds and deprived the driver of most of his feel of the road at high speeds. Also, it tended to carry on in the same direction after a corner had been negotiated – on the early models you could not afford to let the wheel centre itself, or you would find yourself continuing in a circle.
The Laurentian Interior
Thankfully from 1963 onward the power steering system was improved beyond recognition, providing the driver with some feel of what the front wheels were doing at speed and the wheel had quite a strong self-centring action. The highlight of the interior was the high quality leather covering the broad bench seats. Carpet spread across the floor and the dashboard was the same handsome, well padded affair stretching like a giant binnacle right across the car. Although good looking and providing a deeply recessed speedo that was among the easiest of all to read, the dash design restricted the size of the glove box – which was strange given the size of the car.
The heater, which until 1962 was not a standard feature, was powerful and controlled by a simple panel of switches below the centre of the dash, and the de-mister was capable of quickly defogging the vast expanse of Pontiac windscreen. The ride and handling qualities were exceptionally good. The car was always dead smooth and comfortable, irrespective of road surface and it cornered like a car much smaller than the size would have suggested. But the Pontiac did suffer from a too-low geared steering – again strange considering it was power assisted.
Many car reviewers complained about the build quality, although these were soon sorted by owners. Prolific on the early examples were squeaks, rattles and vibrations. Most noisy spots were in the dashboard and front doors. The poor assembly was a pity, as otherwise the Laurentian was the best Pontiac yet, with performance and quite outstanding good looks.
Pontiac Laurentian Quick Specifications:
Engine: Cylinders: eight, vee formation; Bore and stroke 98.4 by 76.1 mm; Cubic capacity 4638cc; Compression ratio 9.25 to 1; Valves overhead, pushrod; Carburettor two barrel, downdraught; Power at rpm 195 bhp at 4800; Max torque 285 ft/lb at 2400
Transmission: Powerflyte two-speed automatic
Suspension: Front – independent coils; Rear – solid axle, coil springs; Shockers – telescopic
Steering: Recirculating ball, power assisted; Turns, 1 to 1 – 51; Circle – 44 ft
Brakes: Type – drum, power assisted
Dimensions: Wheelbase – 9 ft n in; Track, front – 5 ft 0.3 in; Track, rear – 4 ft 11.3 in; Length – 17 ft 8.1 in; Width – 6 ft 6.8 in; Height (laden) – 4 ft 7.5 in; Weight: Kerb – 33 cwt
Tyres: Size – 7.50 by 14
Performance: Top Speed – 98.5 mph; Maximum Speed in Gears: Low 75 mph; Drive 98.9 mph; Standing quarter mile: 18.2 sec; 0 to 30 mph 4.0 sec; 0 to 40 mph 5.9 sec; 0 to 50 mph 8.15 sec; 0 to 60 mph 11.65 sec; 0 to 70 mph 15.5 sec; 0 to 80 mph 21.3 sec; 20 to 40 mph 3.3 sec; 30 to 50 mph 4.0 sec; 40 to 60 mph5.2 sec; 0 to 60 15.8 sec; Fuel Consumption: 13.3 mpg; Price: A£2643 General Motors-Holden’s Pty Ltd, Port Melbourne.