Q: I really enjoy classic cars. I recently discovered the 1957 Pontiac Star Chief, and it's quite a beautiful machine, as is the 1957 Bonneville. But other than some of the chrome detailing, those two cars look exactly the same.
Why did Pontiac make two different models of the same car? And please don't use too much engine-ology in your answer; engine specifics make my eyes glaze over.
A: Engine specifics make my eyes glaze over, too. That's why the guys at the shop will sometimes find me deep into a nap while working on a car.
Car names are a mess. Manufacturers slap them on and remove them at will. So it almost takes a Kremlinologist to figure out what was what. But here's what we can tell you about the Pontiacs that interest you.
The 1957 Star Chief was Pontiac's top-of-the-line model at the time. And the convertible version of it was a very pretty car. In fact, if you were a fan of the sitcom "I Love Lucy," you may remember that the car Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel drove to California on the show was a Pontiac Star Chief (a 1955).
Anyway, Pontiac's sales were in the dumps at that time. So, to try to goose them, Pontiac created a new, high-performance version of the Star Chief Convertible. They loaded it with every conceivable option, put a crazy-high price on it ($5,782) and called it the Star Chief Custom Bonneville.
In short, the Bonneville was just a high-end version of the Sky Chief in 1957. That's why they look like the same car: They are the same car.
The following year, Pontiac decided to make the Bonneville a separate model. They stripped out all the expensive options they'd put in the previous year and lowered the base price to around $3,000.
By the way, you have very good taste. A well-maintained '57 Star Chief Bonneville would probably run you about $150,000 these days. Start hinting for your next birthday now.
Keep your cool
Q: I own a Chevrolet Traverse. I've noticed that the transmission temperature gauge regularly reads around 212 degrees at highway speeds. The engine temperature gauge reads normal or even a little cooler than normal, even when it's hot outside.
I checked with the dealership and was told that this is normal operating temperature for this transmission. I worry that as soon as my warranty runs out, the transmission will expire. Or I'll be on a trip and the transmission will break down in the middle of nowhere. Does this sound normal to you?
A: This sounds perfectly normal, so quit worrying. Here's how your transmission stays cool: Whenever your engine is running, the transmission fluid gets pumped into the transmission cooler, which lives inside your car's radiator. As the transmission fluid passes through the radiator (inside those transmission cooler lines), it gets bathed in coolant. The temperature of that coolant is the same as your normal engine operating temperature, which is 210 to 230 degrees.
If your transmission fluid wasn't running through that 220-degree coolant in the radiator, it could heat up to 350 or 400 degrees or more. And then it would cook itself and your transmission. But it sounds like your transmission cooling system is doing exactly what it's supposed to do. Hope that knowledge helps you cool off a bit, too.
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