When the collector-car hobby kicked into high gear in the ’70s, it was rare to see a Pontiac hot rod or custom, but things have changed. Take Lou Calisibetta’s Old Stillwater Garage in Stillwater, N.J., for instance. Calisibetta is famous for redoing the Alexander Brothers “Golden Indian,” a radically customized 1960 Pontiac that he owns. Calisibetta also created a pair of Pontiac “woodies” based on the rare 1957 Transcontinental station wagon and 1958 four-door Custom Safari wagon.
Still, it is rare to see a Pontiac hot rod. This might be because builders look for certain cars to modify and Pontiacs just aren’t on the list. In a lot of cases, at least for pre-muscle car models, enthusiasts stumble onto a Pontiac and then decide to modify it because it’s easier and cheaper than restoring it to stock condition.
There aren’t many parts in catalogs for early Pontiacs. To bring a Pontiac back to its original configuration, you either have to find good used parts (which is getting even harder) or purchase NOS factory parts (which is expensive and close to impossible).
The first Pontiac was manufactured in 1926. We have seen one Pontiac dragster with a sign saying it was a 1926 model, but it was really just an old frame with a fiberglass body and an all new power train. On the other hand, a Pontiac we’ve seen hot rodded a lot is the “waterfall grille” ’36 Pontiac with its art deco styling. We notice these because we have a stock ’36 in our collection. We had a bear of a time getting parts for our car, so we understand the reason that many ’36s Pontiacs are getting the hot rod treatment.
In our travels, we’ve seen a handful of late-’30s and late-’40s Pontiac rods. Early-’50s Pontiacs are hard to customize. Talented builders can do it, but it is easier to start with a car that has less trim, less weight and smaller tires that look better on a rod. Pontiac rods and customs often feature bolt-ons such as Lakes pipes, sun visors, hood scoops and Moon discs.
The 1957-1962 era of Pontiac better lends itself to customizing. This explains why quite a few of these cars—particularly 1958-1960 Catalinas — are being modified today. With the ’61-and-up models, hot rodding usually takes place under the hood. However, if you’re lucky enough to get hold of a Super-Duty Catalina or Tempest or something of that type, a Pontiac hot rod will look just fine if you do it up in “gasser” style.
Whatever you do and however you modify your Pontiac, you can expect it to get a little extra attention at a car show because you were thinking out of the box and personalizing a car that you don’t see at every hot rod show.
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