Any enthusiast of the early ’60s performance scene knows full well that the Pontiac Catalina Super Duty instilled fear in the cutthroat competition. Super Duty didn’t seem to care whether the challenge came on a NASCAR oval or an NHRA drag strip, winning results were all but guaranteed. Pontiac has continually distanced itself from the rest as a performance leader with continued technical developments and larger engine sizes.
The pinnacle was the 1962 model year. Alling, an auto parts wholesaler, has a watch from that era. His ’62 Catalina still has a 421 Super-Duty engine and has only done 19,000 miles in its life. While some low-mileage cars have led the life of a storybook, this Catalina’s story contains a few different twists. The end result, however, is a surprisingly quirky example that serves as a holdover from Pontiac’s former glory days, and still lives on amid 2022 Supercars.
A number of clues to Pontiac’s next performance revolution emerged in the late 1950s. The most famous being the mighty 389 cu in V-8, but the fact that Knudsen (a Pontiac general manager) had him -Even driving a Tri-Power Bonneville to an impressive 131 mph lap record at Daytona in 1957 should have been proof that there was a real “car guy” at the helm of Pontiac.
A Tri-Power option with three two-barrel carburetors became available across the Pontiac lineup for 1958 and increased horsepower to the 370-cu.in. 330 V8. Once again, Pontiac would dominate at Daytona, logging speeds as high as 137.693 mph in the flying mile.
The 1962 Pontiac Catalina Super Duty: It’s time to step up a gear…
The style step for high performance was set in 1959, with the arrival of Wide Track. Knudsen decided to take the marque to town, leaving the low end of the segment to Chevrolet, adding 3.25 inches to the width of the body, then increasing the reach from 58cm to 63 inches up front and 59 in. to 64. -inch in back. The 1959s saw heavier front brake drums, more precise power steering and less dive-prone suspension.
At the same time, Knudsen was increasing Pontiac’s involvement in motorsports, with a successful stock car program and a new foray into drag racing with the help of famed Mickey Thompson. Thompson also rode the “Challenger I”, racing four Pontiac 389-cu.in. V-8, at 406.6 mph during a land speed record attempt at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1960.
Pontiac’s success in stock car racing led them to branch out into drag racing in an effort to capture more of the West Coast market. It was these programs that resulted in the creation of the Super Duty packages for the Catalina. In 1961 Pontiac rolled out a lower, sleeker look and the company once again claimed victory with a podium at the Daytona 500. For 1962 a new roofline was introduced.
Perhaps alarmed by the success of these cars, the Hot Rod Association enforced a rule that Super Stock class cars must be real shock cars sold to the public and manufactured on an assembly line in quantities of at least less than 50 per year.
To continue its quarter-mile success, Pontiac had no choice but to create a 421 Super Duty engine for drag racing and NASCAR. There’s nothing that initially sets this Super Duty apart from any other Catalina. The only external clues to the irrational power lurking under the hood are the eight-lug, finned aluminum wheels, and you have to be careful to spot them.
Where can you find a 1962 Catalina today?
Once you start the Super Duty Catalina, it becomes abundantly clear that you are in the presence of a racing car. With aluminum manifolds identical to those used on the NASCAR version, a set of noisy mechanical tappets and pistons that squirm in their bores, the 421 produces a unique sound loved by many.
Alling purchased the Catalina in 2001 from Arizona, after receiving a minor refurbishment in 1985, including a coat of Mandalay Red paint. Paint and carpeting aside, the car is otherwise original and has only driven 19,000 miles. That might not seem like a lot, but to put it into perspective, that’s 76,000 quarter-mile runs.
What Alling owns isn’t a muscle car, it’s a race car with a license plate on it. “It was built to go out on the track and beat the competition,” he said. More than four decades after rolling out of the factory gates, with a paint job and 19,000 miles on the odometer, the Super Duty-equipped Catalina can still do just that.
The 1962 Pontiac Catalina Super Duty certainly has a story to tell. With a history of fierce racing victories and record performance statistics, it will forever be known as one of the greatest drag racing machines the world has had the pleasure of knowing.
Sources: Hemmings, PontiacV8, MuscleCars, MotorTrend
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