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Otorohanga idol: 1964 Pontiac Laurentian

17 April 2015

When Kaylam Singh’s great-grandfather bought this car brand new, we bet he never guessed it would end up like this half a century later!

Imagine this: the year is 1964 and you’re on the lookout for a new car. The family dairy farm has done well over the last few years, so you decide to treat yourself to something a bit above average.

With a large family, though, there are limited options. Upon visiting the local car dealership, Otorohanga Motors, you’re shown a brochure for the 1964 Pontiac Laurentian. Instantly, you know it’s the car for you. But there’s a big catch — only selected dealers have access to the cars, one per dealer, and to get your hands on one, you need to pay the full price up front, using overseas funds.

It’s not only an expensive purchase at £2300 but also a bit of a risk buying a car you can’t even see first, let alone test drive. Mangal Singh and his son Nim took that risk, and, when their purchase finally arrived around three months later, neither of them could have been happier about their decision.

The Pontiac was used as the main family car all the way until 1984, when it was passed on to Nim’s son, Kalvin, who, by that stage, was heavily involved in both engineering and running the family farm. Kalvin used the car to drop his kids, Kaylam, Nikki, and Sunil, off at the local school — until it got to the point at which Kaylam was so embarrassed by the big old car that he insisted his father stop out of sight so that he could walk the rest of the way. 

Slowly deteriorating over the years, the car was used around the farm for a bit before getting parked in a hay barn and all but forgotten about. The car had become so much a part of the furniture that when it was stolen in 1994, it took Kalvin a while to work out why there was suddenly more room to park the tractor!

While that could have been the end of the family heirloom, the car was reported stolen and, soon afterwards, the not-so-smart thieves were caught speeding along the Auckland motorway. Thankful for its return, more for the memories than for its financial value, the family returned the car to the hay barn.
With Kalvin by now having a love for all things automotive, and being a jack of all trades, he’d built himself a few different cars over the years, and had also been heavily involved in drag racing. So it was only natural that when Kaylam was in his teens he, too, would catch the car bug. However, it wasn’t until he was dreaming about what cars that he’d like to build that he stumbled upon what had been right under his nose the whole time. By now, Kaylam, too, was working on the family farm — and passing the old Pontiac every working day. 

Being a fan of the low-rider style, Kaylam saw potential in the big old Pontiac and wanted to get it back on the road as soon as he could. However, Kalvin had different plans; he was determined that, with the family connection to the car, if it was going to be rebuilt, it had to be done right.

Sure, it’d take longer than Kaylam had planned, and cost a whole lot more, but Kalvin would help out along the way with both the skills needed and finances when required. With Kaylam being just 18 at the time, you can imagine how frustrating this was for him, but looking back now, some eight years later, he is more than happy with his decision.

After much discussion between father and son, with occasional input from brother Sunil, a plan was laid down, which was to include low-rider styling, high-quality fabrication, and more than enough performance. With vomit stains still visible on the carpet as evidence of how badly the car handled from factory, one of the key factors would be sorting out the suspension and steering. 

For Kaylam, there was only ever one suspension option, and that was to airbag it. Slam Specialties bags were used all around, along with relocated Monroe shocks. Doing all the fab work themselves, with Kalvin teaching the boys the skills he’d learnt along the way, they found that the suspension was relatively simple compared with other aspects of the build.

The steering proved an interesting one; after a bit of trial and error, a HiAce van power-steering rack was decided upon. With plenty of thought going into the rack’s placement, an almost zero-bump-steer finish was achieved, resulting in a car that drives as nicely as a modern vehicle. When you consider the rural lifestyle of the family, and how far they’ve got to travel to get to any car-related events, you soon see why handling was so important. 

While work was being done on the front end, a set of HQ spindles was fitted, which not only dropped the car a further two inches but also allowed for HQ disc brakes to be bolted straight up. The stock Pontiac diff was retained, along with its drum brakes out the back, but a CPP master cylinder is now in charge of operating them.

It wasn’t until Kaylam and Sunil had spent hours and hours hand-stripping the old paint from the car, as Kalvin had told them to, that they realized they should really have saved themselves a bunch of time and anguish by having the car soda blasted. Despite the lesson learnt, the result the boys achieved by hand, not only on the body but also on the underside and chassis, was good enough for the car to be dropped to Alan Langdon at Otorohanga Panel-Beaters to be hammer-and-file finished. 

From there, it was off to Spray & Bake Commercial Specialists, where Paul Butcher was called upon to apply the custom indigo Xirallic pearl PPG paint that the guys had decided on after plenty of toing and froing. 

Besides the 20×9-inch Dub Esinem rims, the finishing touch was fitting the brightwork, which had been repaired and replated by the team at Advanced Chrome Platers, Hamilton. 

With the aim being to keep the build as close to home as possible, another local business was called upon to rewire the car. Being heavily involved in the V8 scene himself, John Ryan from Otorohanga Auto Electricks knew exactly the look Kaylam was after, and managed to hide all engine-bay wiring neatly out of sight.

During the build, the tired factory-fitted 283ci small block Chev was replaced with a four-bolt mains 350 block. While the engine was in the process of being assembled at Motor Preparations Otorohanga, a set of ported and polished fuelie heads off a race boat became available and was soon fitted. 

With a high-lift Crane cam inside, along with an Edelbrock Air-Gap manifold and carb outside, the motor was soon offering far more power than it had had when great-grandad had driven it off the yard all those years ago.

With cruising comfort a priority, the stock front seats were ditched in favour of a ’65 Cadillac Coupe de Ville bench seat, which, along with the rest of the interior, was dropped off to CH Allen Upholstery. Tan leather with snakeskin accents was the design of choice, but not till the team at CH Allen had worked their magic building an armrest into the rear seat and modifying the split front bench to become one piece.

Of course, no cruiser would be complete without decent audio, and, as with the rest of the build, the installation was done at home. With the car having such a big parcel tray and already having air tanks in the boot, the family decided to drop the three subwoofers just rear of the back seat. With a set of 6x9s up front, a Fusion amp to power it all, and a few TV screens to boot, the car now cranks.

One of the finishing touches to the build has been the creation of custom headers by Mike at Sinco Customs. With the car running an X-beam chassis, the only way to get it sitting as low as Kaylam wanted was to run the headers up and out through the fender wells. These works of art then join 2.5-inch pipes, which subtly exit just forward of the rear wheels. The fine distinction of this is carried on to other aspects of the build, such as the high stop lights built into the boot-lid hidden under the paint. 

However, the engine bay is anything but subtle: with those headers receiving a Ceramichrome treatment from Procoat, they’re now a key feature. Kalvin’s input to ensure the car was done right the first time has paid off, with the entire build being of a high quality and without compromise in either time or cost. 

With the Pontiac now completed, there’s not a thing that Kaylam (centre) wants to change on it, which is rare for a build of this magnitude and time frame, and speaks volumes about the work done. Instead, focus has shifted to Kaylam and Sunil’s 1967 Impala project, although Kalvin’s also talking about giving his Lincoln Continental a bit of an upgrade, and, after all the help he’s given the boys, it’s only fair they chip in on that. So, with this car on the road and two more in the works, it looks like this won’t be the last we’ll see of the Singh family and their fleet of big old cruisers! We can only imagine how proud Mangal and Nim would be of the legacy they created without even realizing it. 

This car was featured in NZV8 Issue No. 108 (May 2014). You can purchase a copy online, here.


  • Engine: 350ci small block Chev, four-bolt mains, forged pistons, ARP fasteners, ported and polished ‘fuelie’ heads, high-performance Crane cam, Street Demon 750cfm carb, Edelbrock Air-Gap manifold, Procomp distributor, Procomp Blaster coil, custom headers, twin 2.5-inch exhausts, PWR alloy radiator, PWR oil cooler
  • Driveline: Turbo 350 transmission, stock diff
  • Suspension: Slam Specialties airbags, Holden HQ spindles grafted to Pontiac A-arms, Monroe shocks, Nolathane bushes, Toyota steering rack
  • Brakes: Holden HQ front discs and calipers, Pontiac rear drums, CPP booster
  • Wheels/Tyres: 20×9-inch Dub Esinem rims, 275/30R20 tyres
  • Exterior: Smoothed bumpers, ’59 Cadillac tail lights, hidden high stop light, Indigo Xirallic pearl PPG paint
  • Interior: 1965 Cadillac bench seat, modified rear bench, full custom retrim, crocodile-skin inserts, Billet Specialties steering wheel, Retrotek Smart Shifter, wireless paddle shifter 
  • ICE: Seven-inch touchscreen DVD player, 10-inch flip-down TV screen, 3×10-inch subs, Fusion amp, Soundstream 6×9-inch speakers
  • Performance: 500hp