Feature Car
May 16 - June 28/01

1969 Pontiac Bonneville Ambulance
Owned by Fraser Field
Central Fraser Valley Chapter

Story and Photos by Fraser Field

This month's story is in two parts.  The first, provides a brief history of ambulances in general and the second is the story of a specific ambulance owned by Fraser Field.

Part 1 - History

The special heavy-duty commercial Pontiac chassis used for Superior's Pontiac Ambulances was created by extending a Pontiac supplied Bonneville chassis 23.10 inches to obtain a wheelbase of 146.8 inches. Together with Superior, Pontiac engineers developed the basic chassis with a heavy-duty 400 transmission, heavy-duty brakes, springs, shocks and 15 inch wheels.

Powered by a 360 brake horsepower, 428 cu. in. Pontiac V-8 engine. A molded fiberglass roof gave the 'high-top' ambulance patient compartment headroom of 48 inches, 109.67 inches in length and a width of 36.60 inches, this gave room for up to four stretchers and the attendant in the rear. This exclusive construction also made the vehicle easy on gas, tires and brakes by reducing overall vehicle weight. Classified as Superior model 207, which began at a base price of $12,680.00, the Kosciusko, Mississippi plant produced 137 long wheelbase high top ambulances in 1969. This ambulance is typical of ambulances used throughout British Columbia. Cadillac's, Pontiac's and a few Oldsmobile's were used, the most common being the Cadillac. These were all replaced with Dodge Kary vans when the Provincial Government made a unified service throughout the Province in 1974. 

This picture shows a 1972 Cadillac commercial chassis ready for shipment to one of the several manufactures. This chassis was used for the building of Hearses, Limousines and ambulances. The chassis was lenghtened approximately 24 inches and the side windows and windshield are about 4 inches higher than the standard car. Most of the driveline components are exclusive to the commercial chassis also. Until the late 1970s, most ambulances were professional cars, that is, they were built on a passenger car chassis.  The most popular of these chassis, and the most prestigious, were those from Cadillac.  For a variety of reasons, the Federal Government issued regulations in 1977 regarding the equipment that all new ambulances must carry.  These regulations could easily be met only by van-based rigs, in effect killing the passenger car-based ambulance.  The few remaining professional car manufacturers made only a few more ambulances before giving up on the market completely. Eureka and Flexible were already gone, having gone out of business in 1964 and 1965, respectively.  Cotner-Bevington went out of business in 1975. Miller-Meteor built only four ambulances in 1978 and ceased operations completely in 1979.  Superior was the last to give up on the market.  The company made ten ambulances in 1979, their final year of ambulance production. The list price for one was $32,000, and a van conversion could be bought for about $20,000.

I'm sure many people can remember their local community ambulance service or larger ones like Richmond ambulance, Surrey Ambulance, Kingsway or Metropolitan in Vancouver with their Cadillac and Pontiac Federal Q sirens screaming down the road to assist the public in peril....

Part Two - Fraser Field's Ambulance

1969 Pontiac Bonneville, General Motors Commercial Chassis Division, Body by Superior Coach Kosiusko, Mississippi. 

Why would anybody buy an old ambulance?

I've been asked that on occasion when I pull up in my 1969 Pontiac High top ambulance. I must say the car gets the looks and the why's and what's. My wife and I wanted a foul weather vehicle that we could do some highway traveling with. We wanted something that could pull a trailer and that would fit my personality, something a little unusual. We looked around at other car options that were available and while doing some research work for the BC Ambulance Paramedics a red light flashed in my mind and I said to my wife what about an old ambulance?? After a long silence she shrugged her shoulders and said why not.

The search was on, very few were made and even fewer survived the harshness of their demanding work load. Lots suffered the final demise as a hippy mobile. Every old car owners knows the fruitless searches that end in the finding of another piece of junk. The boys and I took many weekend trips south of the boarder on our quest of the perfect car. Lead after lead was followed then one February I got a call from a gent in Idaho who said there was an ex-B.C. ambulance for sale near Spokane. I told my wife Dorothy that we should do something special for Valentines day and maybe a trip to Spokane would be a romantic getaway. (This guy is good! - Webmaster)

Within a few days the subject of looking at an old ambulance was brought up and the honeymoon was a happening. To make a long story short the car was a solid rust free vehicle with a excellent interior. $1,500.00 traded hands and we drove the ambulance home. Soon a new coat of red paint brought 'Big Red' back to its original splendor, other than the motor a complete check and repair of the mechanical was done and we were on the road. To say it was a head turner is an understatement, several cases of whiplash were created as we drove the 21 ft, 6000lb  mobile hospital unit down the road and whenever we stopped people would come to have a look and ask a lot of questions. Though the car is rare with only 137 being produced it isn't valuable as there is little demand for this type of vehicle. It is in high demand for first aid competitions and safety shows with over a hundred requests every year. The ambulance is fully equipped with all the museum pieces of the period as well as enough functional equipment to make it a life saver if required.

Big Red completed the Coast to Coast 2000 tour across Canada last summer and was a hit where ever it went.  Several times we were pulled over by regional ambulances and police so they could have a look at the old car and hear the whine of the big mechanical siren.

Why would I want an old ambulance, I guess because I have been a Paramedic here in BC for almost 20 years and some people like to take their job home with them....