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In the days when auto manufacturers had one core platform on which perhaps a dozen or more models or trim lines were based, the Pontiac Catalina was an upper-level designation under the Chieftain umbrella. It was born in 1950 as highly optioned hardtop – no pillars between the front and rear side windows – and broke out as its own model in 1959, when the Pontiac’s design was revamped.
The 1959 Catalina was the entry point for Pontiac’s lineup, with the Star Chief in the middle and the Bonneville at the top. All featured the brand’s new Wide Track design. More than a styling cue or advertising ploy, it was an architectural distinction that pushed the wheels farther out to enhance handling. It was a performance trait customers could feel and they liked the sportier, more secure driving experience.
For a company that was fighting hard to alter a perception of dowdiness, the Wide Track cars delivered a tremendous shot of adrenalin. The Wide Track campaign grew into the Sixties and the entry-level Catalina would play an important role in establishing Pontiac as true performance brand.
The Super Duty Years
The Pontiac architecture was redesigned in 1961, replacing the comparatively weak X-style frame with a stronger perimeter-type design. It was also the year Pontiac quietly and unofficially got serious about motorsports support – particularly Stock and Super Stock drag racing – with a range of Super Duty engine and driveline components. They were officially over-the-counter items in ’61 and racers, including Arnie “The Farmer” Beswick, enjoyed immediate success, so by 1962 Pontiac began to build a limited number of Super Duty-equipped production models.
As the entry-level Pontiac, the Catalina was the leanest of the lineup, with fewer features and options to weigh down the car. It got the nod as the Super Duty production base vehicle. Of the 178 known ’62 Super Duty cars built, 162 were Catalinas and the other 16 were Grand Prixs. The Super Duty program continued in 1963 with a hotter, dual-quad 421 engine that was officially rated at 410 hp, but realistically cranked out more than 500 horses. Only 77 Super Duty Catalinas were built in ’63 and about 15 of them were taken to the extreme, with weight-reducing holes cut into their frames. They became known as the “Swiss Cheese” cars and are today among the most valuable of all factory-built race cars from that golden era.
2+2 Equals Exclusivity
The Catalina generally followed the styling lead of the top-line Bonneville through the Sixties, remaining the entry full-size model, but in 1964 a special 2+2 version gave it distinction – Pontiac’s idea was to make the “GTO” of the full-size lineup. In ’64 the unique features were limited to interior appointments, but exterior fender louvers appeared in 1965 to make it instantly identifiable. The 2+2 lasted through 1967 and spawned a version in the Canadian Parisienne in ’67, as well.
In the Seventies, the Catalina was redesigned with other vehicles on GM’s full-size B-body platform and like other cars of the time, falling compression ratios and rising federal regulations saddled it with a higher curb weight and less power. Car buyers were turning to smaller, more fuel-efficient cars and the full-size, full-frame cars like the 1976 Catalina quickly became relics from a not-so-distant past. The writing was on the wall.
In 1977 an all-new, smaller, lighter and more efficient Catalina was introduced, reflecting a radical upheaval in the industry. It would only last through 1981, ending the run of performance-proven Pontiac that will forever be associated with winning.
Original Parts Group offers thousands of 1959-76 Catalina parts and accessories, with new parts added daily. Our extensive catalog offers nearly everything from sheet metal, chrome and upholstery to engine parts and the hard-to-find details to finish a restoration with show-winning attention to detail. Our prices make that restoration more affordable, too! Shop online or order your OPGI 1959-76 Catalina parts catalog today!