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On a windy day in May I traveled to Wolsey, SD to visit with banker/farmer/Pontiac enthusiast Jack Steele. We visited at the local truck stop in Wolsey (14 miles west of Huron on Hwy 14) and later traveled to his farm home where we looked over his car collection.
Twenty-five miles west and a few miles north of Huron, SD, you will find the home of a farmer, a banker, and a Pontiac enthusiast. Jack Steele’s collection of Pontiac supercars will make any car enthusiast drool; 29 Pontiacs in total-11 Trans Ams, seven GTOs, a few other Pontiacs plus the king of them all; a 1962 Pontiac Catalina 421 Super Duty. All of them are in pristine condition and all of them with very few miles. Jack was not born to be a car guy. His father, Leland, was not an enthusiast although he did favor Pontiacs to drive. He worked for the state but the family moved to Huron when Jack was just nine months old. His dad went to work for the Farmers & Merchants Bank. Leland was always interested in agriculture and in his early days of making a living, he was a cattle and hog buyer in the Central South Dakota area. He started to purchase land and built up a farming operation. In the early 50’s he kept acquiring land. Most of it was where Jack lives today with his wife Donna. They have two children, Preston and Tasha. Preston lives in Huron and Tasha lives in Brandon. Preston is involved in the banks and also has a farming and livestock operation in the area. Tasha works with Sanford Medical Center in the marketing and promotional department. Donna is not a car nut but she does go to car shows with Jack. “She likes vehicles but she’s not a die-hard like me. Her passion is her gardens (she has nine of them), especially day lilies. Preston is getting more and more interested in vehicles. Like Dad, he is a Pontiac guy.”
Jack owns banking and insurance interests in East Central South Dakota. He got into the banking business because his father was in it and hired him in 1972. “Dad had an ownership interest in F&M Bank in Huron and that’s where I first went to work,” according to Steele.
Jack’s first new car was a 1965 Pontiac GTO which he acquired at the age of 21. “I loved the GTO when it came out in ’64 and had to have one,” remembers Steele. “The ’65 was a 2 door hardtop four-speed with three 2-barrell carburetors. It was a ‘race car’ and I drove it pretty hard. I put in on the drag strip a couple of times but never blew it up. I did put a couple clutches in it. I raced it on the street many times.” “I have Pontiacs exclusively. My Dad and Grandpa both drove Pontiacs, so I was born into them you could say. The early Pontiacs were not performance cars but just good, reliable street cars. Pontiac did not get into performance until ’55 when they put a V-8 into them. I just liked the cars. The next one I purchased was a ‘68 GTO. I traded the ‘65 for the ‘68. The car had similar performance as the ’65, just three years newer. Three years later I traded again, this time for a ‘71 GTO. By this time I had been married for a while and we started to have a family, so my next purchase was a ‘75 station wagon (Pontiac of course).” Jack did veer off course a little with an Oldsmobile station wagon but for the most part has stayed with Pontiacs all his life.
“The very first collector car I purchased was a 1970 GTO (purchased around 1980). I loved the body style on this year,” said Steele. “A kid in Wolsey owned it and decided he wanted to sell and I purchased it. It was in great shape and I didn’t drive it much.” Jack owned that car for almost 10 years before fully restoring it. In the meantime, he purchased a ‘65 GTO and a ’70 and a half TransAm. The TransAms were first produced in 1969 and this model came out midyear in 1970, thus the designation ‘70 and a half.
Today he has a 1931 2-door Pontiac that he made a street rod out of. The car was showcased at the last Winterfest of Wheels event this past May. “Donna and I wanted to build a street rod. Those early Pontiacs looked a lot like a ‘Model A’ Ford. That was a neat car. We used the frame and strengthened it. It has a 455 Pontiac motor, modern day front and rear end suspension in it. The car was refurbished by S&L Classics in Mills, Wyoming. They have done some work for me over the years. I designed it, but they built it. I try to explain in words my vision for the car. They have done seven or eight cars for me. They know what I like and know that I am fussy,” according to Steele.
Jack’s favorite car he has ever owned is the ‘62 Pontiac Catalina Super Duty “because it is so rare and unique and so original with such low mileage.” Local businessman Ennis Lund restored the vehicle for Jack. “Ennis did such a beautiful job of restoration that I doubt if there is another one as nice anywhere.” How he acquired the car is a fascinating story. The Super Duty was a race car.
It had a 421 cubic inch dual 4 barrel race engine in it. Ennis actually owned the car. He was at the Pontiac Oakland Club show in Spearfish. Oakland was the forerunner of the Pontiac brand. Pontiac purchased Oakland in 1926 and they built both cars until the 30’s when Oakland went away and it was just Pontiac. Ennis had a booth and Jack was looking for parts. They started talking and hit it off. The Super Duty subject came up and Ennis mentioned he had one and it immediately got Jack’s attention. “He started to tell me about this car. I gave him my card and we left.” Ennis is a Pontiac guy and he found the car in Sioux Falls. Ennis drove past this car stored in an old wooden garage on Cliff Avenue almost every day for 20 years. But one day the garage door was open. I saw the back of a dirty ‘62 Pontiac. Ennis told his wife, “I think I should buy this car.” It had been in this garage since 1967. An attorney from Chicago acquired it as partial payment for his services. Ennis finally found out who owned it, contacted him, and purchased it after Ennis’ and Jack’s conversation in Spearfish. Ennis called next week and told Jack “I think you should be interested in this car.” Ennis knew the value of the car if it was finished. He knew how passionate Jack was about Pontiacs. The car was not finished but it was a very rare and unusual car. Ennis sent him hundreds of photos of the car and told him the story about it. “I had to go look at it,” says Steele. After three years of ownership, Ennis sold the car to Jack in 2008 and the restoration was finished in 2009. “The neat thing is that Ennis and I were on the same page as far as what this car should look like when the restoration was complete.” Jack had met Ennis before but this was the first piece of business they did together.
What was really amazing about this car is how well it was preserved. There weren’t even any mouse droppings in the vehicle. “It was a miracle that we found this car in as good of shape as it was,” says Steele. “The only thing we did to the interior was clean it. It has original interior. The only thing we did was replace the carpet. To have original interior in a car was a major miracle. Typically cars of this vintage just did not survive, but this one did.” The car even had the original tires on it with only 7280 original miles on it. In 1962, there were 162 Catalina Super Dutys’ and only 16 Grand Prixs’ made for a total of 178 Super Duty cars produced in 1962. Jack also owns a 1962 Grand Prix 421 Super Duty.
Jack has been to some Mecum and Barret Jackson Auctions. “I really did not go to buy but just to look. But if I would have found a 1967 GTO Ram Air, I probably would have bought it. This is my favorite car that I don’t currently own. They have an open hood scoop that really increased the performance of the car. I have been looking for one of those for a long time. There are some around but the owners do not want to sell them.”
When asked if he buys cars for an investment, Jack said it is not the real reason he buys them. “If they are nice and they are rare, they at least hold their value well and most years appreciate so they are a good investment. The real reason is I love Pontiacs. It is just a benefit if their values increase. If their value was cut in half, I would still be happy collecting them.” Now that’s a true Pontiac enthusiast.