1961 Pontiac Catalina
8-cyl. 389cid/318hp 3x2bbl
With an experienced team and a lot of data.
By 1961, the excesses of the late 1950s were mostly gone and U.S. car manufacturers were trimming fins and acres of chrome. Pontiac was five years into Bunkie Knudsen’s reign, and John DeLorean was making his presence felt as the horsepower wars heated up in earnest. Drivers like Fireball Roberts, Junior Johnson and David Pearson won 21 of 52 NASCAR races and the Super Duty 421-cid V-8s were the engines to beat.
Pontiac had success in the sales race, too, making its way to third place in 1961. The division had a dizzying lineup of 15 standard models, plus the new Tempest compact. Top seller for Pontiac in 1961 was the Catalina.
Like all big cars, the Catalina was downsized for 1961, and its base engine was the 215-hp, 389-cid V-8, but options ranged all the way to the 405-hp Super Duty 421-cid V-8. The top-selling body style was the $2,700 four-door sedan, though a variety of two-doors, station wagons, and convertibles were available.
Pontiac tidied up its styling for 1962, with a V-shaped twin grill, full length side-trim, and a multi-plane, convertible-look roof on hardtops. Catalina sales almost doubled to more than 200,000, and while 68,000 were four-door sedans, a surprising 46,000 two-door hardtops were sold.
Catalina sales stayed strong in 1963. The bodies were redesigned with clean square shapes and vertically stacked headlights. Engines ranged from 389-cid to 421-cid V-8s, but now there were five horsepower levels of the big 421. Pontiac remained in the third spot for U.S. sales.
For 1964 the full-size Pontiac design was squared up further still, and a 2+2 style package was offered on the Catalina. Sales rose again to nearly 260,000, with virtually all of those being equipped with a Hydra-matic automatic transmissions, making 4-speeds a very desirable option today.
For modern day enthusiasts, the 1961 to 1964 Pontiac Catalina is an excellent choice for a starter collectible. Their large production numbers mean parts are easily available, and plenty are available in a variety of conditions. Catalinas are sturdy, and their styling has worn well. High horsepower options are potent street machines and carry a price premium, but are worth seeking out. For these states of tune in particular, make sure documentation supports the car’s currently equipped engine.