The Pontiac Catalina is an automobile which was part of Pontiac's full-sized line from 1950 to 1981. Initially, the name was used strictly to denote hardtop body styles, first appearing in the 1950 Chieftain Eight and DeLuxe Eight lines. In 1959, the Catalina became a separate model, as the 'entry-level' full-size Pontiac.
Early History (1950–1958)
The name Catalina was first used on the 1950 Chieftain Series 25/27 hardtop, Pontiac's top of the line model at the time. Originally referred to as 'hard-top convertibles', these vehicles offered pillarless design in the door and window areas, along with the top-grade convertible appointments. The advantage this fixed-roof design offered was its sporty, airy feeling without the expense and drawbacks normally associated with convertibles. With the exception of the 1958 Bonneville, all Pontiac hardtops were designated Catalina from 1950 to 1958. Powered by a flathead straight-8 engine at the time of its debut, it would receive Pontiac's new 287 CID OHV V8 four years later. A one-piece windshield was new for 1954. A padded safety dash became available in 1956.
1961 Pontiac Strato Chief coupe
1963 Pontiac Laurentian (Canada)
1964 Pontiac Laurentian coupe (Canada)
The 1961 full-sized Pontiacs were completely restyled with more squared-off bodylines, the reintroduction of the split grille first seen in 1959 and dropped for 1960 and an all-new Torque-Box perimeter frame with side rails replacing the "X" frame chassis used since 1958. The new frame not only provided greater side-impact protection than the "X" design but also improved interior roominess.
Rooflines were more squared off on four-door models with the six-window styling dropped on pillared sedans and wider C-pillars with flat rear windows on four-door hardtops. A revised version of the 1959-60 "bubbletop" roof was used on two-door hardtops. Wrap-around windshields were dropped in favor of flatter glass work for improved entry and exit to the front seat.
The new body was somewhat smaller and lighter than the 1960 model with wheelbase down three inches (76 mm) to 119, overall length reduced by the same to 210 in (5,300 mm) and width dropping nearly two inches to 78.2 from 80 in (2,032.0 mm) 1960. The front and rear track of the '61-62 Pontiac was reduced to 62.5 in (1,590 mm) front and rear. The new '61 Pontiac was advertised as "All Pontiac...On a New Wide Track."
All engines were again 389 cu in (6.4 l) V8s as in previous years. Standard engines were two-barrel units rated at 215 hp (160 kW) with the three-speed manual transmission or 267 hp (199 kW) with the optional Hydramatic, with a 230 hp (170 kW) regular-fuel economy V8 offered as a no-cost option with the Hydramatic. Offered as extra-cost options were more powerful versions of the 389 including a 303 hp (226 kW) version with four-barrel carburetor or 318 hp (237 kW) Tri-Power option. New to the option list were two higher performance versions of the 389, including a four-barrel 333 hp (248 kW) unit and a 348 hp (260 kW) Tri-Power option, both with higher 10.75:1 compression ratios. A 363 hp (271 kW) engine was offered to drag racers. Late in the '61 season the 421 cu in (6.9 l) Super Duty was released for sale.
A new three-speed Roto Hydramatic automatic transmission replaced the previous four-speed unit for 1961. The new transmission was slimmer and lighter than the older four-speed Hydramatic, which was continued on the larger Star Chief and Bonneville models. Also new for 1961 was a four-speed manual transmission with Hurst floor shifter, available on special order.
The 1962 Pontiacs received a heavy facelift of the 1961 design with more rounded body contours and new rooflines on two-door hardtops featuring convertible-like bows. Catalina sedans and coupes got a 1-inch (25 mm) wheelbase increase, after spending 1961 on a 119-inch (3,000 mm) length shared with full-sized Chevys (Safari wagons retained the 119-inch (3,000 mm) wheelbase through 1964).
Most regular engine/transmission offerings were carried over from 1961 with the 389 cu in (6.4 l) Trophy V8, ranging in power ratings from 215 hp (160 kW) to 348 hp (260 kW). A small number of 1962 Catalinas and other Pontiacs were built with a "non-streetable" 421 cu in (6.9 l) Super Duty V8 with two four-barrel carburetors and 405 hp (302 kW), as a US$2,250 option (when the base Catalina listed at US$2,725), along with various "over the counter" performance options offered by Pontiac including aluminum bumpers and even lighter frames with drilled holes (which were dubbed the "Swiss Cheese" frames).
For 1963, Catalinas and other full-sized Pontiacs featured cleaner, squared-off bodylines and vertical headlights flanking the split grille, but retained the same dimensions and basic bodyshell of 1961-62. Engine offerings were revised as the 333 hp (248 kW) and 348 hp (260 kW) versions of the 389 V8 were dropped in favor of "production" versions of the larger 421 cu in (6.9 l) rated at 338 horsepower (252 kW) with four-barrel carburetor, 353 hp (263 kW) with Tri-Power, or a 370 hp (280 kW) "HO" with Tri-Power . The 405 hp (302 kW) Super Duty 421 was still offered to racing teams during the early portion of the model year but discontinued after General Motors ordered Pontiac (and Chevrolet) to "cease and desist" from factory-supported racing efforts in February 1963. New options for 1963 included a tilt steering wheel that could be adjusted to six different positions, AM/FM radio and cruise control.
A 1963 Catalina convertible modified by California hot-rodder Bill Straub was used as a tow vehicle in the NASA M2-F1 program.
The M2-F1 and its 1963 Catalina convertible tow vehicle
Mild facelifting including new grilles and taillights highlighted the 1964 full-sized Pontiacs. Engine/transmission offerings were unchanged from 1963 except for a new GM-built Muncie four-speed manual replacing the Borg-Warner T-10 unit. Also new for 1964, was the 2+2 option package available on Catalina two-door hardtops and convertibles that included bucket seats, heavy-duty suspension and other performance equipment, along with the same selection of 389 cu in (6.4 l) and 421 cu in (6.9 l) V8s found in other Catalinas.
Throughout most of the 1960s when Pontiac annually captured third place in industry sales, behind Chevrolet and Ford, the Catalina was also often the industry's third best-selling full-sized car behind the first-place Chevrolet Impala and second-place Ford Galaxie 500. The Catalina's success in the low-medium priced field led many competitors to respond with similar products such as the 1961 Chrysler Newport, a less-expensive Chrysler that was priced lower than base models bearing the Chrysler nameplate in recent previous years; and the 1962 Dodge Custom 880 and 1963 Mercury Monterey, both of which were introduced as full-fledged low-medium priced full-sized cars in size and power that followed unsuccessful efforts by Mercury and Dodge to bring out downsized full-sized cars.
In 1964, even Pontiac's mid-priced rivals within General Motors responded to the Catalina's success in the marketplace as well as to capture Chevy Impala owners "trading up" to cars from upscale GM divisions. Buick took its lowest-priced big car, the LeSabre, and lowered the base sticker price further by substituting a smaller 300 cu in (4.9 l) V8 engine and two-speed automatic transmission from its intermediate-sized cars in place of the 401 cu in (6.6 l) V8 and three-speed automatic used in other big Buicks. Oldsmobile went even further by creating a whole new full-sized series, the Jetstar 88, which was $75 lower than the Dynamic 88 series (but still a few dollars higher than comparable Pontiac Catalina models) and also got a smaller engine - a 330 cu in (5.4 l) V8 and two-speed automatic transmission from the intermediate F-85/Cutlass line, along with smaller 9.5 in (240 mm) brake drums (also from the GM intermediates) compared to the 11–12 in (280–300 mm) drums still found on all other GM full-sized cars from the bare-bones six-cylinder Chevrolet Biscayne to the Cadillac 75 limousine. And since the Catalina was still priced lower than the Jetstar and LeSabre, the lowest-priced full-sized Pontiac was often perceived by buyers as a better value in the marketplace due to its larger standard V8 engine and three-speed automatic transmission, and (in comparison to the Jetstar 88) bigger brakes.