When one considers the gravity of the swath of deceased nameplates left behind by Pontiac—GTO, Trans Am, Star Chief, and Bonneville among them—the Catalina ranks decidedly in the second or third tier, above the Parisienne but surely below the LeMans. But the Cat, in its prime, was perhaps the most appropriately named automobile to wear the arrowhead in the 1960s.
The GTO cribbed its badge from a race-winning Ferrari. The Goat was not exactly a gran turismo and was built to homologate nothing. While you might see a Bonneville at Bonneville, it wasn’t likely to be setting land speed records. And the Can Am most definitely never competed in the Canadian American Challenge Cup. In the case of the Cat, it’s nearly impossible to bring a full-size car to the island of Santa Catalina, but you can park at Point Fermin in San Pedro and look out. The island’s out there, 22 miles offshore, a silhouette in the setting sun. You wouldn’t drive a GMC Yukon Denali to the top of Mount McKinley, after all. It’s about the feeling the car evokes: a taste of the midcentury Southern Californian life. In the 1960s, the Catalina idyll hit the mark completely.
NASA used a hot-rodded Catalina convertible to tow the M2-F1 lifting body experiment aloft. With a 389, 400, 421, 428, or 455 cubic inches between the frame rails, the Cat sounded like nothing less than a chugging powerboat off idle. In the days when L.A.’s strip malls were still a fresh idea, a Catalina Safari wagon was the perfect way to haul home your Curtis Mathes television.
But perhaps because they weren’t as desirable as the top-of-the-line Bonnies, Cats are a rare spot these days. We found this two-door hardtop in Marfa, Texas, wearing a calico paint job and some absolutely bitchin’ faux-knockoff Pontiac Motor Division hubcaps on its steel wheels. It’s a ’67 model, the big tell being a headlight treatment reminiscent of George Barris’s Batmobile. The ’66s had more traditional stacked headlamps, while 1968 cars developed a bulbous protrusion on the prow and moved to horizontal quad lights.
Marfa’s a weird spot, a typical down-at-the-heels West Texas town shot through with a smattering of artsy-fartsy. And this ol’ Cat fits right in, 1000 miles east of its spiritual home.
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