When 19-year-old Mary Beth White told her father she'd seen a rusted-out two-door Pontiac station wagon with no engine or trans sitting in a friend's garage, he was up on his feet before she could finish the sentence. "It's ugly," she reported.
"Excuse me ... did you say two-door Pontiac wagon?" he asked. "Call him and tell him your dad wants the car!"
If that episode leads you to believe Dave White is an impulsive guy, you need to hear the rest of the story. After Dave bought the weather-beaten '56 Safari, it sat in his shed for 18 years while he mentally wrestled between restoring it or turning it into a mild custom. Finally, a few years ago, he came to a decision. You can see for yourself which way he went.
Once Dave made up his mind, he went after the project like a man with a car to finish. The "rusty and rotten" blue and white wagon was pulled out of the shed, and the body was pulled off the frame and completely disassembled. Virtually every piece was sandblasted and primered with epoxy.
Dave turned to his longtime friend, rod and custom builder and fabricator Bob Balkow, for assistance and advice during the buildup of the Safari. Bob turned an expanse of rusted steel into a like-new body.
"I kept the eyebrows, hood stripes, side trim, and rear fender chrome stripes to make sure it was distinguishable as a Safari," Dave tells us, "but that massive bulk of pitted and dented chrome in front had to go." The replacement is a '54 Corvette grille, flanked by Harley-Davidson turn signals, with a split and flipped '55 Chevy bumper mounted to the rolled pan.
You can't pick the paint for this much sheetmetal based on a sample swatch, so he and his wife decided to visit a few new-car lots to find the right color for the car. Dave was looking for something out of the ordinary, but not odd; contemporary, but something that would not go out of date. Mary Jean spotted the perfect paint, Radience Red, right away at a Jaguar dealership. After six hours of driving to every other dealership in central Connecticut, Dave-impulsive guy that he is-agreed that she was right. That joint decision was confirmed by Rick Tennan's outstanding paint job.
A Chevy small-block made the most sense for powering a car intended for plenty of street duty, so Dave filled the engine compartment with a TPI L98 from a '91 Corvette ("with as much chrome as I care to polish"), hooked to a Turbo 350 transmission.
The Safari was finished just in time for an event at a nearby Pontiac dealer, where it won Best in Show. A week later, it was an award winner at another show. We picked the wagon as an R&C Top 10 winner at the Goodguys East Coast Nats in Rhinebeck. But Dave didn't pull his Safari out of the shed to collect a bunch of trophies. He built it to put it on the street. Look for it there.