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What's your ride? Maria and Stephen Phillipps' is a 1956 Pontiac Safari wagon


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Maria and Stephen Phillipp drive their 1956 Pontiac Safari station wagon on nice days. (Photo by Ellie Bogue of The News-Sentinel)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014 - 7:29 am

Maria and Dr. Stephen Phillipp are in love with station wagons.

Maria grew up in a family of seven children, so it only seemed natural to her to buy station wagons when she and her husband had their four children.

"All my kids learned (to drive) on them," Maria Phillipp said.

So when it came to the impulse buy of an antique car, it only made sense that it was a station wagon. The couple, who have a lake home at Wawasee, were driving around Warsaw one rainy afternoon looking for the new movie theater. That's when they spotted a red-and-white 1956 Safari Pontiac station wagon at a dealership that specialized in classic cars. It didn't take long for the couple to forget the movie, and several hours later to became the owners of a vintage ride.

They had only driven the car a short distance from the dealership when the fuel pump went out. It was back to the shop for a quick repair. That's the thing about vintage cars, Stephen Phillipp said, there is always a little something that can go wrong because a lot of the parts are so old. He said they never have had anything like the fuel pump since, but there are little things. For a while one of the rear hubcaps would pop off whenever he made a turn. He would hear that familiar clang of the hubcap hitting the road and know he needed to pull over to look for it.

The Phillipps also had a '64 convertible Mustang that Stephen gave to his brother, who lives in Florida. That was his brother's dream car so it only seemed fitting that he should own it, Stephen Phillipp said. They also own a '93 turbo-charged Firebird and a '94 Impala.

The Safari was a luxury station wagon in its day with a lot of chrome work, red-and- white leather upholstery and red carpeting. The hood ornament lights up when the car lights are on. Over the windshield on the exterior, almost like a unibrow, a visor shields the front-seat passengers from the sun. The drawback is that while sitting at a stoplight, you can't see the signal. But Pontiac thought of that. It installed a prism mirror on the dashboard that allows the driver to see the stoplight. The car has the original radio, and judging by the wear on the old ivory knobs it's seen some use. Phillipp said they put in a car stereo and air conditioning. As much as they love the old front-window vents, its just not the same.

The windshield wipers, which worked on a vacuum system – meaning the faster you drove, the faster they went – have also been replaced with an electronic system. Maria Phillipp said they try not to drive in the rain, but should it happen, they wanted a more reliable system. They have also added seatbelts. Maria Phillipps said when she and her husband first started dating he drove a Nash Rambler, with no seatbelts. Shortly after their first date he had seatbelts installed. That was when she knew his intentions were serious.

Look for the Phillipps on nice days, safely belted in driving their '56 Safari. About the farthest they will drive it these days is to their lake home at Wawasee.