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Excitement builds for Pontiac museum

Tim Dye's collectiPontiac-related memorabiliwill be display new museum slated open next summer none other than Pontiac Ill.

Tim Dye's collection of Pontiac-related memorabilia will be on display at a new museum slated to open next summer in none other than Pontiac, Ill.

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Updated: April 19, 2011 5:21AM

My year in travel was one of surprise transitions.

I got lost along the west coast of Sweden, had my laptop stolen in Colombia and rediscovered America’s heartbeat in small towns along the new Highway 36 in Missouri.

Travel is about embracing change, but one thing was constant: my 2005 Pontiac Sunfire. It has taken me across America. It has 107,000 miles on it.

I have slept in this Pontiac, eaten a slab of ribs while driving my Pontiac and greeted a huge bison that came up to my car window as I was stopped in the Custer State Park listening to the Cubs on satellite radio. My passenger seat carries memories of parents, drive-in movies and sleepy-headed lovers.

Pontiac ceased production on Oct. 31.

Travel is often about where you have been, but I can tell you where I will be going in 2011: the Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum. It is slated to open in July in Pontiac, Ill.

Pontiac (pop. 11,800) is on Route 66 and the museum will be three blocks from the downtown Route 66 Association of Illinois Hall of Fame and Museum.

“Interest goes up every year,” said Pontiac mayor Bob Russell. “We’ve had more than 20,000 visitors to the museum this year.”

The Pontiac museum is the brainchild of car collector Tim Dye of Broken Arrow, Okla. He will be moving his 18 Pontiacs, a rare 1890s-era horse buggy and various memorabilia to Pontiac. Dye has more than 10,000 Pontiac-related manuals, advertising items and magazines. He owns every Hot Rod magazine since its 1948 debut.

“I am the museum at this moment,” Dye said by phone from Broken Arrow. “This is the only collection where you can see Pontiac history from the buggy to the Oakland cars to the Pontiac cars.”

The car was born in 1907 in Pontiac, in Michigan’s Oakland County. The Dye fleet is anchored by a black 1931 Oakland Sport Coupe with cream-colored spoked wheels. That was the last year for the high-end Oakland, which died out during the Depression. The more affordable Pontiac car was added in 1926. A ’26 Pontiac could be had for $825, according to Dye.

So, why didn’t Dye select Pontiac, Mich., for the museum?

“Pontiac, Ill., is a better fit,” he said. “Their tourism is building, they have three museums [Route 66, Livingston County War and the International Walldog Mural & Sign Art] and a network of people are helping me.”

Dye is 50. His Pontiac-ness began in 1976 when he drove a ’68 GTO.

“My wife drives a ’98 Grand Prix pace car to work,” he said. Dye drives a ’97 GMC truck to haul parts. He is an automotive writer.

Dye spent three days driving around this fall with Mayor Russell and Pontiac city administrator Bob Karls.

“Everybody in town is named Bob,” Russell said. (I love small-town observations.)

They cruised around the Tulsa area in Dye’s Canadian-built 1964 Pontiac Safari gold station wagon.

“I showed them things on Route 66 they had only seen in pictures,” he said. “Like the Blue Whale [in Catoosa] and the Round Barn in Arcadia. They are all restored. At no time in history could you see these things in as good as shape at the same time.”

Just like the Pontiac.

Russell never drove a Pontiac while mayor of Pontiac, but when he lived in Ottawa, Ill., he drove a ’67 LeMans and ’69 Catalina.

“They were two of the best cars of my life,” said Russell, who moved to Pontiac in 1979. “Why would they discontinue the Pontiac?”

Even Dye was surprised General Motors cut loose on the Pontiac.

My Pontiac dealer is telling me to go Buick.

“Buick’s been known forever as old people’s cars,” Dye said. “I have a friend who has a muscle [car] parts business. He gets calls all the time for Chevrolet and Pontiac parts. He never gets calls for Buick.”

Pontiac has been my ride throughout the run of my Detours column, which began in 1995. My 1997 Pontiac Sunfire made it to 180,000 miles.

I remember being stuck in my Pontiac in the Black Hills of South Dakota after a moving visit to the Crazy Horse monument. Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski wanted his wife to read part of this 1952 letter to his children after his death: “Life at its very best is a fleeting thing. We can be likened to a wisp of a cloud that comes up out of the horizon, from where we know not. You can, with your own lives, either darken the sun, and make things unhappy after you, or you can create a lovely haven of shade for your family, your friends and for those who will follow you.”

I continue to try to put that into play in the parts of my wandering life.

The reliability of the Pontiac has helped me share those discoveries with you.

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