Car of the Week: 1960 Pontiac Catalina Super-Duty

top-bannere8512-1

1960-Pontiac-racer-3

By John Gunnell

Back in the 1960s many car manufacturers found it handy to support drag racing programs to attract business from car enthusiasts who spent their weekends at the drag strip. Rather than getting directly involved in drag racing, the automakers usually relied on certain dealers to put their cars in the winner’s circle and generate publicity.

Milt Schornack was a talented mechanic and car tuner who worked at Ace Wilson’s famous Royal Pontiac dealership in Royal Oaks, Mich. According to Schornack, it was in 1959 that Wilson approached Pontiac Motor Division with the idea of turning his franchise into the company’s high-performance headquarters. PMD was all for the idea and Schornack was the guy who did a lot of the performance tuning on the cars that became known as Royal Bobcat Pontiacs.

Once the arrangement between PMD and Royal Pontiac was sealed, the next step was to build some cars to win races and make headlines. The cars would have to look good, go fast and sell the notion of Pontiac performance. Wilson told Schornack to put together a’59 Pontiac with a warmed-up motor. Naturally, the 389-cid Pontiac V-8 with three two-barrel carburetors was used.

1960-Pontiac-racer-9

The dealership’s drag car needed an easily recognizable identity. It was nicknamed the Hot Chief. The engine was tuned to deliver 345 hp on the drag strip. In his book “Milt Schornack and the Royal Bobcat GTOS” (co-authored by Keith J. MacDonald), Schornack says, “The Hot Chief traveled to Florida in February 1960 and by the time the Royal Racing Team left the Winter Nationals, the Daytona Beach dragstrip was but a smoking hole in the ground.”

Ace Wilson enjoyed winning races and the next year he decided he needed even more racing cars to shake things up. So, a pair of race-prepped 1960 Catalinas were constructed. Jim Wangers, who worked for Pontiac’s advertising agency, drove the Hot Chief No. 1, which had a 389-cid/368-hp Super-Duty V-8 attached to a four-speed manual transmission. This car was painted red and had bold lettering all over the body hyping Pontiac power.

This writer once interviewed Wangers’ former boss, Jack Stewart, who told me how much Wangers was into drag racing. Stewart said that Wangers often put his work aside and spent all day on the phone talking to his drag racing buddies. However, Stewart had a few tricks he used to get the agency jobs done. He said he would have the phone removed from Wangers’ desk and tell him he couldn’t have it back unless he did his work. According to Stewart, the job would get done fast and well and then Wangers would get his phone back.

 

1960 Pontiac racer-7

1960-Pontiac-racer-8

Wangers was a top-notch driver. When he took Hot Chief 1 to the National Hot Rod Assoc. (NHRA) Nationals in the Detroit area he took both class and Top Eliminator titles with a 102.04 mph 114.14 sec. run. This performance became famous and Wangers later produced and sold a poster showing Hot Chief 1 in action. Unfortunately, the car vanished over the years.

There was a second car called Hot Chief No. 2. It was painted white, but lettered up very close to the way Hot Chief 1 was. This car had a 363-hp Royal-tuned Super-Duty Catalina with Hydra-Matic transmission. Amazingly, the Hot Chief 2 survives today in very good condition.

“This car is the only known surviving 1960 Super-Duty that was raced by Royal Pontiac,” says the current owner of Hot Chief 2, Bob Knudsen, Jr., of American Falls, Idaho. “The red car was probably crashed or crushed — no one really knows.” A man naned Dick Jesse piloted the white car and made it to the final run in the automatic class at the Nationals before another driver named Al “Lawman” Eckstrand beat him with a ’60 Plymouth.

1960-Pontiac-racer-4

1960-Pontiac-racer-5

Bob Knudsen, Jr., who collects Royal Pontiac race cars, Super-Duty cars in general and “Swiss Cheese” (drilled frame) cars in particular, says he likes the Pontiacs because they were winners. “It’s simple, “ he said. “When I was a kid I loved drag racing in my ’59 Bonneville. I’d go to Pocatello Dragway all the time, but I always came in second and never won a trophy. My buddy had a ’59 Super-Duty and always beat me.” Today, Knudsen’s race car collection is hard to beat.

As for Hot Chief 2, before it came into Knudsen’s possession, it had been purchased by Ed Shafer, the Governor of North Dakota. In 1990, Shafer had a frame-off restoration completed by Chuck Simpson in South Carolina. It went from there to a Pontiac club (www.poci.org) convention in the Chicago area, where Knudsen first saw it.

1960-Pontiac-racer-2

1960-Pontiac-racer-6

“I remember Shafer loaded it on the trailer and I looked up and saw it and told myself I loved that car,” says Knudsen. Then it wound up in Floyd Garrett’s muscle car museum in Tennessee. Garrett ended up selling it to another collector and Knudsen traded a 1962 Chevy 409 Bel Air Z11 car with an aluminum front end for the Hot Chief 2.

Knudsen believes that the car is the only original 1960 Super-Duty around today. “It has the right Super-Duty intake, the right heads, the right exhaust and everything else,” he says. “It has the right tank, the right crank and the right cam and the rest of the parts like the special air cleaner with the oblong holes that came in the trunk of Royal Super-Duty cars. The Super-Duty package was sold only as a dealer option, so only a few were delivered and right here is the only original one I know of to be around.”

Knudsen has begun showing the car and took it to the 2014 POCI Convention in Wichita, Kan., where it drew a lot of attention. The car is an amazing piece of drag racing history.

1960-Pontiac-racer-1
_____________

Show us your wheels!

If you’ve got an old car you love, we want to hear about it. Email us at oldcars@krause.com

COW CALLOUT


2016 Collector Car Price Guide

  • T8205The 2016 edition of the Collector Car Price Guide is packed with pricing information for collectors, restorers, buyers, sellers, insurance agents and anyone who could benefit from reliable and authoritative data. The 2016 edition lists all models made by 109 carmakers and 37 truck makers between 1901 and 2008!

    This brand-new version includes over 275,000 prices for sports cars, domestic cars, imported cars, classic cars, special-interest automobiles, muscle cars, and trucks in 6 conditions.

    Check it out

;

3 thoughts on “Car of the Week: 1960 Pontiac Catalina Super-Duty

  1. Cargeek

    Wow…Talk about rewriting history?
    Hard to know where to begin
    Milt Schornack was not an employee of Ace Wilson’s Royal Pontiac until approx late 1964. Jim Wangers’ throw Milt in the forefront since dealers complained about Jim Wangers marketing Royal Pontiac when he was the “Ad” man that was supposed to be representing all Pontiac dealers. Milt was given a title and sent out as the spokesman with the cars by Jim Wangers. He was not the head wrench or top Royal driver.
    Semone “Bunkie” Knudsen had already involved Pontiac in racing in 1956. It was Jim Wangers that had convinced Mr. Kundsen that every Pontiac dealership need a parts department that understood high performance and one salesman on the floor understood Pontiac performance. Knudsen agreed to trying it out at one Dealership. A budget would be set aside for the experiment and Jim Wangers would over see it.
    Since Bill Packer Jr was the largest Pontiac dealer with three location, Detroit, Flint and Miami, Jim Wangers approached him with the idea first. Bill was heading to Florida and wanted to think it over and would get back to Jim on his return.
    Not willing to wait Jim Wangers stopped by the new Ace Wilson Pontiac in Royal Oak on his way back to the office. Ace Wilson Jr would not let Jim Wangers leave the dealership until a deal was made. It was and Jim Wangers organized a drag racing team. The first team in 1959 had Frank Rediker, Winston “Win” Brown, Bill Sidwell and Chuck Broomfield as the main contributors. At Detroit Dragways first major event, which Jim Wangers was credited for bringing to Detroit, Bill Sidwell crashed the 1959 car out side the gates of Detroit dragway and was fired as the driver.
    Frank Rediker was the man most responsible to developing the Bobcat Kit. Chuck Broomfield did all of the Bobcat installations until Dave and Sid Warren came along in early 1966.
    Back to 1960. The two cars that best known from Royal Pontiac were the red stick shift one driven by Jim Wangers. The White automatic car was driven by Winston “Win” Brown. (NOT DICK JESSE). Both of the original cars had their drivetrains removed and race prepared engines where installed. The cars where lettered. After the season the race cars had their paint striped to bare metal and re shot in their correct color. If they only scuffed the paint the lettering would bleed through. The original drivetrains where reinstalled so the cars could be put out on the used car lot and sold with a warranty. Also, the Royal race cars had heaters for two reasons: first, increased cooling capacity and second this is Michigan and heaters are a must. You can clearly see Frank Rediker and W. Brown on the top of the fender.
    After Gov. Ed Shafer had this car featured in a Pontiac magazine in the 1990’s a letter to the editor was submitted on behalf of several of those who worked on the original 1960 Royal cars. It was also discovered the Gov had bought two white 1960 Pontiac since both owners claimed to have the original. One owner claimed he knew his was the one because he could see the lettering coming through. Jim Wangers saw the car at a Pontiac convention back then and told them he could NOT verify the car as being the one Win Brown drove.
    There are pictures of Jim Wangers and crew after winning the 1960 Nationals. Milt Schorneck is not one of those standing behind the red car.

COMMENT