By on March 15, 2012

The first thing that drew us to this 1947 Pontiac was its history. It was originally a paddy wagon or “Black Maria,” where a ride in this police vehicle meant that you were running out of luck in a hurry.

These days a ride in Hugh Thurston’s retro-wagon means a whole lot of happiness for him. He calls it a “Pontota”, because it is a Pontiac body on top of a Toyota 4-Runner frame and power train.

It took Hugh three long winters to forge a bond between the Pontiac body and Toyota frame, and he would not recommend the experience to the faint of heart.

The result is a driver quality vehicle that will fulfill its primary purpose as a great road vehicle until the snow flies and the next round of restoration begins over the winter. Right now Hugh wants to enjoy the view from behind the wheel of his Pontota. He’s already logged thousands of miles behind the wheel with many more to come with a journey to the East Coast planned for the fall.

It can double as a camper on road trips for Hugh, plus it pulls down around 30 mpg on the highway although Hugh allowed that a recent trip of several thousand miles was “closer to 27 mpg”. He admits that he “was probably driving the old wagon a lot faster on that trip”.

Nevertheless, the high 20s to low 30s miles per gallon range tell you that this is a very good combination when Hugh and the old paddy wagon hit the open road together.

Hugh seemed mildly surprised when he found that his vehicle drew so much attention when we met him at a car show. We weren’t surprised. A 1947 Pontiac paddy wagon is a story by itself. A 1947 Pontota is in a class by itself.

Together they make one of the most interesting resto-mods that we have ever seen in our travels.

For more of J Sutherland’s work go to

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!


20 Comments on “Car Collector’s Corner. This 1947 “Pontota” Police Transport Wagon is Definitely One of a Kind...”

  • avatar

    I love this kinda stuff, keep it up TTAC!

  • avatar
    Franz K

    Resto Mods I love . But sticking a Pontiac on top of a Toyota 4Runner ? Thats just plain out and out wrong

  • avatar

    It may be offensive to purists, but I like it. An excellent idea for somebody who wants a classic daily driver that can be easily maintained.

    • 0 avatar
      Bill Wade

      I’m with you, thinking outside of the box and building something unique. I have nothing but praise for the guy.

      • 0 avatar

        Ditto. Someone after my own heart.

        I’d have found a way to do it with GM components but that’s just me. It’s good to read stuff like this and learn I’m far from the only one who wants to marry an old body style with modern technology and drive it daily.

  • avatar

    I love stuff like this. Not too long ago Hot Rod magazine had an article about a old Mustang body being installed over a Fox ‘Stang platform. Really cool, that.

  • avatar

    I’d be much more impressed if it had the original frame, Pontiac flathead six (seriously doubt of the flathead eight was available in this model), and the three-on-the-three. I hate hacking up vintage cars. By the way, that body is most likely the Chevrolet sedan delivery (back before they invented vans, or aped them with the HHR delivery) given the interchangeability of the low end Pontiac’s with Chevrolet’s.

  • avatar

    That’s really interesting! I wish there were more pictures.

  • avatar

    In case you’ve ever wondered why people like crossovers and such, cars like this should give you a hint. A little bit after these, designers went through a protracted period of longer/lower/wider that might have looked sleek but fit people less well than upright jobs like this.

    I’m really glad modern vehicles look more like these.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    The flat heads were old old old school. 100k miles is unheard of. The head had to be pulled annually and the piston tops and valves had to be de-carbonized. Much as I miss the 3 on the tree, these were crash boxes. MPG was not a factor. You cannot drive a drum brake car in modern traffic. I. know, I tried with a 66 Valiant. Myself , I would have filled that engine bay with a 300 inch Ford I-6 or a GMC 248. Or a Jag 4.2 But a V6 is just too darn new to impose upon what was basically a pre-war car with a 20’s drive line.

  • avatar

    Preserving originality is great and all, but there are many more old machines out there than people to care about them, and a good chunk of these resto mods took on originals too rough to restore (e.g. a shell sitting in a field somewhere for the last 30 years).

    I just wish there were interior pics. I’m curious how the new and old came together in the dash.

    • 0 avatar

      The owner used the original Pontiac dash and instrument cluster and the Toyota steering wheel and column. He had the console shifter from the Toyota mounted at about the same height as the specifications in the donor 4-Runner cab from the floor.

  • avatar

    Extremely cool! While I can understand a little angst over converting vintage cars to a modern chassis, I’m betting that this one had seriously roached-out stock mechanicals and that it would likely never have seen the road again otherwise. He picked a solid chassis to work with and now he gets to drive it every day, pulls down at least twice, maybe even three times the MPG than it did stock, and he doesn’t have to worry about chasing 60+ year old parts to keep it rolling.

    A friend of mine did a similar conversion of an old Nash using a Ford Ranger chassis. It wasn’t nearly as refined as the Pontora, but he managed to get it titled as a Nash, in California no less! An impressive feat in my book, it saved him a lot of grief when he renewed his registration & plates.

  • avatar

    This drivetrain gets 18-20 mpg in its original body. How does is get 30 here? Part of driving an old car to me is the sound and feel of the old
    drivetrain. Guess that’s not important to others.

    • 0 avatar

      MPG reports based upon owner’s narrative- hyperbole may apply in some cases. Incidentally I agree on a personal level with you about cars that have their original hearts. There is something special about old school sights, sounds and even exhaust smells.

  • avatar

    Gotta call BS on 30mpg. Even in original form it the 4runner wasn’t getting anywhere near that and it’s not like the Pontiac body weighs less.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • ToolGuy: Here’s a nice animation of a cough in a store environment: (In my...
  • Jeff S: Agree the old drivetrain was the best part of the Frontier along with a very competitive price. Nissan might...
  • Jeff S: It sounds ideal to only refine the oil we produce but Big Oil is global. I myself would be more than happy to...
  • JimZ: nope, the only Hurricane I can think of that was associated was the Willys F-head engine from the 1950s.
  • Jeff S: Nissan could start with better automatic transmissions. An automatic transmission that grenades before 100k...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Timothy Cain
  • Matthew Guy
  • Ronnie Schreiber
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Chris Tonn
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth