A letter signed by S.E. ‘Bunkie’ Knudsen extended his warm wishes to a Pontiac customer on her momentous occasion.

Today, it’s expected that an average car like a Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Nissan Altima will reach 100,000 miles and beyond without much effort on the owner’s part.

In fact, if a car does not reach 100,000 miles, it’s almost considered a dud and unreliable.

To put that in perspective, Redditor /u/Better-Literature-56 scanned and shared a letter from the 1960s he found to the /r/JustRolledIntoTheShop subreddit from Pontiac General Manager at the time S.E. Knudsen personally congratulating his great Aunt on reaching 100,000, from how the letter reads, a handful of Pontiacs.

“…the letter does imply it was more than one Pontiac,
commented OP. “I wouldn’t have any way of knowing but I strongly suspect is was 3-4 different cars with an aggregate of 100k miles driven between em all.”

OP thread is linked here with a screenshot of the letter below with a few key paragraphs copied verbatim for the Google Bots to consume and archive.


“Today I learned that you have personally driven Pontiacs over 100,000 miles. I would like to take a moment of your time to tell you how pleased we are with your continued appreciation of our Pontiac automobile.”

“A product’s success can only be measured by the satisfaction of its owners, and in our case each of the thousands of miles you have driven speaks of your satisfaction with our fine product.”

“In recognition of your contribution to Pontiac’s success, I would like to present you with the enclosed “Distinguished Owner’s Card” and one “100,000 Pontiac Miles” crest.”

“Thank you for your continued loyalty, and may you enjoy many more miles of Pontiac pleasure.”

The letter is signed S.E. Knudsen AKA Semon E. “Bunkie” Knudsen, a, according to The Auto Channel, top second generation auto exec at GM at the time and, at one point, Ford, and the White Motor Corporation.

Knudsen was responsible for hiring John DeLorean (yes, that DeLorean,) Pete Estes and for turning Pontiac into a performance division. During his time with Chevrolet, he also birthed the now legendary Super Sport performance trim level.

Suffice to say, a personal letter from S.E. “Bunkie” Knudsen was a big deal, however, I suspect, a variation of this letter was sent to many owners of the time.

And here’s what a period correct badge from Pontiac on reaching 100,000 miles looked like.

Photo Credit: https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/vtg-pontiac-crest-promotion-1959-100-1801296160

According to the consignor of said badge above, getting one of these was a big deal and was only bestowed to an owner after a recommendation from your local dealership to GM HQ. These were typically placed on a car’s dashboard somewhere.

In OP’s case, although his great Aunt didn’t rack up that many miles all on one Pontiac, the fact that she was such a loyal customer (a repeat buyer) was probably factored into Knudsen’s decision to recognize said loyalty.

Back then, 100,000 miles typically represented the end of a car’s life, literally and figuratively.

Often, when a car’s engine reached that mileage, you’d need a thorough engine overhaul if you wanted to rely on your car any further.

Researching about how reliable older cars were, I came across an anecdote from someone whose family did long roadtrips in the ’60s.

“In the mid-60’s we routinely would vacation in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, piling up over 2,000 miles per excursion.”

“On those excursions, we did have to buy tires, replace water pumps, fuel pumps, all sorts of stuff. It was expected – we’d know in advance that something would happen.” – Stan Hanks

Not only do we do such roadtrips without blinking an eye today, we regularly do so in rentals with no prior knowledge of that car’s repair history.

Even if you neglect a modern car, if you do the bare minimum of just oil changes, chances are good any car can make an extra long trip like the one Hanks described.

Modern day cars and the gas engine have reached a level of reliability and efficiency, thanks to the perfection of mass production and standardization, not to mention the continuous march of technological advancement, that it’s an everyday miracle cars last as long as they do.

Today, the equivalent of this letter would be if a car, in my opinion, reached at least 300,000 miles.

And, even then, that’s practically doable if you even cared the slightest to follow a car’s maintenance schedule.

I’m sure OP’s Great Aunt would get a heck of a lot of mileage out of new cars today.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here