Story and photos by John Gunnell
Throughout the later part of the ’60s, Pontiac Motor Division remained America’s number three best-selling automaker. The company built its post-1957 image on the youth market appeal of full-sized performance cars. Under-the-table factory support of drag racing and stock car racing helped move big, “brutaful” Pontiacs out of showrooms. In the mid ’60s, muscle car sales gradually transitioned from “monster motor” big cars to the midsize car niche where the GTO ruled the roost.
Since 1958, big Pontiacs rode on one of two wheelbases. From 1965-1969, the smaller stance — which measured 121 inches — was used for Catalinas and all Safari station wagons, regardless of trim line. The larger 124-inch stance was reserved for Star Chiefs, Executives and Bonnevilles.
Sport luxury, smooth performance and high style were the keynotes of Pontiac’s larger cars during the mid to late 1960s. Playing off the glory of the earlier Super-Duty high-performance models, big-cube, multi-carbureted engines and 300-plus horsepower ratings continued to be offered. However, 0-to-60 mph acceleration suffered due to added weight. The big-boat Bonnevilles were super cars to drive on superhighways, but rarely did much at a drag strip. The opposite was true of the Catalina 2+2, which became Pontiac’s full-sized performance car.
As one of Pontiac’s top full-size collector cars of this era, the Catalina 2+2 has a mystique of its own. It was available as a pre-packaged group of equipment in hardtop coupe or convertible form. Individual options could also be added. For 1966, small changes were the rule. An industry-first plastic grille was among them. A two-stage exhaust system with resonators was also new. Added options included manually inflatable Super-Lift air shocks and Strato bucket or Strato bench seats and head rests. The 2+2 package included all-vinyl upholstery, louvered fender trim, 2+2 badges, a 421-cid V-8, a three-speed transmission with a Hurst floor shifter, heavy-duty shocks and springs, chrome engine parts, full wheel discs and special fender pin striping.
Even with a weight of more than two tons, the 2+2 with the Tri-Power 421 HO engine and four-speed gearbox could hit an incredible 95 mph in the quarter-mile. Pontiac installed the 2+2 option on 6,383 Catalinas in 1966, but the company’s records do not indicate how many cars with the option were sport coupes or convertibles. Of the total, 2,208 cars had manual transmissions and 4,175 had Hydra-Matic drive.
Car enthusiast Don Anderson of Chicago decided he wanted a 1965 or 1966 Catalina 2+2 to park alongside his Mercedes-Benzes. He wanted a nice turn-key car that he could take to the annual Pontiac Oakland Club International (www.POCI.org) convention and win awards, so he scoured the club’s Smoke Signals publication in search of a primo version of this muscle model. By March 2012, Anderson had two cars on his radar and he wound up buying a white ’66 that was owned by a man near Old Cars Weekly’s office.
The car was restored with 83,570 miles since new. It had the base four-barrel 421-cid 338-hp V-8, Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission, black vinyl bucket seats, black carpets, a black vinyl roof, quick-ratio power steering. 11-inch power drum brakes, a special 2+2 console, eight-lug aluminum drums, a tachometer, a remote-control left outside rearview mirror, a heater and defroster, rally gauges, a rear defogger, a visor vanity mirror, tilt steering, Soft-Ray tinted glass, a hazard flasher, front and rear floor mats, a remote trunk lid release, bright door edge guards, a rear radio speaker, white sidewall tires and a Safe-T-Track rear axle.
The seller had bought it about seven years earlier and had a thick file on the car. He had driven it only about 2,000-3,000 miles, and the documents indicated that the car had been kept in Pennsylvania until the late ’70s. The seller bought it from an Ohio man who brought it from Pennsylvania.
The seller said that the car was repainted the year that he bought it, and that he drove the car home from Ohio to Wisconsin. When Anderson bought the 2+2, the engine started quickly, ran smoothly and quietly and did not smoke or get hot. It seemed to be a good honest car and Anderson took a bus trip to Wisconsin, test drove the 2+2 for the first time, loaded up some parts, cleaned the car and then drove it to Chicago.
Anderson wanted everything on the car working, but discovered that the clock, oil pressure gauge and tachometer needed repair. He replaced the old dual exhaust system with new stainless-steel parts from Waldron’s Exhaust (www.waldronexhaust.com) and added fender skirts since they were listed on the factory broadcast sheet found in the car. A few other small issues sorted out and then he had the car further detailed.
Shortly thereafter, he drove the car to a POCI convention in St. Charles, Ill., to see how it would hold up in points judging. He won a Silver Award in Stock Class.
After the POCI convention, Anderson had additional cosmetic and mechanical upgrades completed. When the car was taken to the POCI and GTO Club Co-Convention in 2013, it won a Gold Award in Stock Class. Afterward, Anderson considered some alterations that would place it in the POCI Modified Class.
Owning the 2+2 has made Anderson a Poncho enthusiast of the first rank.
“I like both Mercedes and Pontiac shows,” he said. “But Pontiac events are just a lot more fun.”
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