17 March 2008

A Shrine to the Grand Prix

We might have to change the name of this column to “Gunner’s Grand Garages” this month. That’s because our featured “car castle” is Chuck Cochran’s Grand Prix Museum — a small garage with a big reputation in the Pontiac hobby. It’s located in Henderson, Nevada.

Over the years, Chuck has entertained everyone from GTO-creator Jim Wangers to Pontiac Motor Division’s “Official Historian” John Sawruk in his two-car-size shrine to the Grand Prix. He has hosted Cars & Parts editor Bob Stevens, well-known auction reporter Phil Skinner, GTO expert Paul Zazarine and other hobby luminaries. Chuck’s calling card lists him as “curator” of his garage, but he could just as well be called “social director.”

Unlike some of the garages we have featured, Chuck’s space is devoted more to his memorabilia collection than his collector cars. He does have a 1977 Grand Prix and a 1972 LeMans, but often they both sit out in the mild weather. With the cars outside, Chuck can enjoy the thousands of items inside or show them off to his guests.

Cochran and his wife are born collectors. We visited around Halloween and got to see their huge collection of pumpkins. Then there’s the ceramic cat collection. Inside the house, Chuck has a room filled with toy trains and toy roller coasters (another of his hobbies is traveling the country to ride roller coasters). There’s also a collection of M&M toys. As we meandered through the house, we got to see all of this, but the Grand Prix Museum was the crowning jewel of the tour.

Chuck Cochran has probably been driving 1977 Grand Prixs since 1977. Naturally, he collects anything he can find related to the cars. It’s also true that he collects other Pontiac memorabilia, as well as Tucker-related items, for the garage. Chuck doesn’t own a Tucker, but he got interested in them and helped the Tucker Club organize a memorable convention in Las Vegas.

Chuck’s passion for collecting just about anything and everything is massive, but what makes his garage really special is the concentration of items specifically related to the Grand Prix. Once you see the place, you just know in your heart that no one else in the world has as many Grand Prix goodies.

Chuck has just about every piece of sales literature and technical literature related to these cars. He has hard-to-get dealer-only items like merchandising books and showroom albums. He has factory-issued Grand Prix postcards, Grand Prix matchbooks, Grand Prix key chains and Grand Prix pins.

In the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, the various General Managers of Pontiac gave out annual awards named after themselves. Often, these awards were custom-designed by Jack Stuart, an artist who worked for Pontiac’s ad agency. Chuck has Estes Awards and DeLorean Awards that feature cars like the Grand Prix.

Cochran has larger factory-issued Grand Prix items, too. There’s a showroom banner that reads “The Legend Lives On: 1977 Pontiac Grand Prix” in black, block letters. He also has billboard art for the ’77 Grand Prix “Excitement” machine.

At one time, Chuck wrote a letter to each state to try to get license plates that say “77 GP.” He did not get replies from all 50 states, but several sent him the plates he wanted free of charge. Chuck also has many Grand Prix dealer promotional models, Grand Prix model kits and countless miniature versions of the No. 43 Grand Prix stock car that “The King” Richard Petty drove in NASCAR races.

Several of Chuck’s most interesting items did not come from a Pontiac merchandise catalog or anything actually related to the car itself. On one wall he has a plastic or Plexiglas sign that came from a business called the Grand Prix Diner. Chuck just happened to be passing the eatery one day when the owner was throwing the sign away. He asked permission to take it home and cut off the word “Diner.”

Many of the real automobilia items that Chuck has, like his DeLorean Awards, Pontiac trim items, Indian head hood ornaments, steering wheels and hubcaps, were purchased years ago when they were very inexpensive. Chuck also cut corners on items like his Grand Prix jukebox. He had seen one for sale at a very high price, but the one he bought was far less expensive. It came from the Midwest and he even got a friend to bring it home on a car trailer. It does not actually work, but it makes an interesting storage cabinet in the Grand Prix Museum.

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