Rides from the Readers: 1961 Pontiac Catalina

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Conrad Hailparn

Hagerty readers and Hagerty Drivers Club members share their cherished collector and enthusiast vehicles with us via our contact email, tips@hagerty.com. We’re showcasing some of our favorite stories among these submissions. To have your car featured, send complete photography and your story of ownership to the above email address.

Today’s featured ride is a 1961 Pontiac Catalina, the top brand’s top-selling model that year. However, this particular Catalina convertible boasts a special cocktail of options thanks to original owner Conrad Hailparn and Royal Pontiac of Michigan. His convertible came off the assembly line with a 303-hp, 389-cubic-inch V-8 with a three-speed manual, but upon delivery, Hailparn had Royal Pontiac swap in a Hurst floor-shifter and high-flow exhaust manifolds. They also installed air bags in the rear coil-spring suspension.

1961 Pontiac Catalina reader ride
Conrad Hailparn

Though he took delivery of his convertible in Michigan, Hailparn had a hankering for a celebratory European road trip. He and the Catalina made the nine-day trip across the Atlantic Ocean and, once Hailparn traded his sea legs for driving ones, drove through France to Holland and then to Germany. Not only was it perfect driving weather—thanks to the relatively high latitude, the June light lasted until nearly 10 p.m.—but Hailparn and the Pontiac even fit in some public service by chauffeuring hitch-hiking girls in Northern Germany to nearby country fairs. Of course, the Pontiac performed its tire-smoking duties as well: “There were several stop-light races with numerous German cars which the Pontiac won,” Hailparn writes. On his way back to the Atlantic coast, Hailparn passed through England, where “a few Rolls challenged the Pontiac.” We’ll infer from the “few” that the Pontiac proved victorious …

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