The Pontiac Catalina is a full-size, junior series automobile produced by Pontiac from 1950 to 1981. Initially, the name was a trim line on hardtop body styles, first appearing in the 1950 Chieftain Eight and DeLuxe Eight lines. In 1959, it became a separate model as the "entry-level" full-size Pontiac.
The Catalina was Pontiac's most popular model, available in multiple body styles, and served as the donor platform for the popular Pontiac Grand Prix, Pontiac 2+2, Pontiac Ventura, and the Pontiac Safaristation wagon.
When the Pontiac Tempest was introduced in 1964, lessons learned from the Catalina's introduction of the Grand Prix led to the introduction of the Pontiac GTO, to include the 389 cu in (6.4 L) Pontiac V8. The name "Catalina" was first used on the 1950 Chieftain Series 25/27 hardtop, Pontiac's top trim level package at the time, and later added to the Star Chief in 1954, Pontiac's equivalent of the Chevrolet Bel Air. 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. For 1959, Pontiac dropped the name "Chieftain" and "Super Chief" models for its junior-level series and renamed it "Catalina", while demoting the former top-line Star Chief to intermediate status eliminating the two door Star Chief Catalina, the only hardtop for the Star Chief was the four door hardtop and expanding the Bonneville nameplate to a senior series that included sedans, coupes, convertibles and Safari station wagons. 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 provides greater side-impact protection than the "X" design but also improves interior roominess. 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 models except for the rear flanks of the new coke bottle styling and due to this styling the rear track was extended to the 59 and 60 Pontiac's 64" wide track. 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) . n 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. The 1965 full-sized Pontiacs were completely restyled with more flowing sheetmetal featuring "Coke-bottle" profiles and fastback rooflines on two-door hardtops. Wheelbases increased to 121 inches (3,100 mm) on all models. For 1967, Catalinas and other full-sized Pontiacs received a heavy facelifting of the '65 bodyshell with more rounded wasp-waisted body contours and fuller fastback rooflines, along with concealed windshield wipers - an industry first. Replacing the 389 and 421 V8s of previous years were new 400 and 428 cubic-inch V8s with bigger valves and a valve angle change built off the same Pontiac V8 design in use since 1955. For 1971, Catalina and other full-sized Pontiacs were completely redesigned and restyled from the wheels up with long hood/short deck proportions and fuselage styling somewhat similar to Chrysler Corporation's 1969 full-sized cars, along with a double shell roof for improved roll-over protection and flush pull-up exterior door handles - the latter two features first seen on the 1970+1⁄2 Firebird. The 1974 Catalina and other big Pontiacs had a new Mercedes-like center split grille and revised rear styling with new 5 mph (8.0 km/h) bumpers on the aft end and license plate moved above the bumper. For 1976, only minor detail changes were made to Catalinas and other full-sized Pontiacs that included revised grilles (with rectangular headlights now on Catalinas with the "Custom Trim Option-round headlights continued on base models) and taillight lenses. This year was the last for the 1971-vintage bodyshell, optional adjustable pedals, 455 V8 and the clamshell tailgate on Safari wagons.
top of page
bottom of page