The owner added the fender decals to caution spectators that the front body panels are sta
Any hobbyist of the early-'60s performance scene knows that the Super-Duty Pontiacs instilled fear in the competition. It didn't seem to matter if the challenge came on a NASCAR oval or NHRA dragstrip, triumphant results were commonplace. Pontiac distanced itself from others as a performance leader with continual engineering developments and larger displacements.
To many, the pinnacle was the '62 model year, and retired auto-parts wholesaler Mike Marsh of Lafayette, California, owns a timepiece from that era. His '62 Catalina is equipped with the potent 421 Super-Duty engine and has accumulated a mere 14,000 miles in its lifetime. While some low-mile cars have led storybook lives, this Catalina's tale contains a few different twists. The end result, however, is a stunningly original example that serves as a vestige of Pontiac's glory days.
The 421 Super Duty
Pontiac's 421 Super-Duty engine debuted late in the '61 model year as a larger version of the SD 389. Neither engine, however, was factory installed. Instead, the components were shipped to factory-backed racers for post-delivery installation, and the Super-Duty program's overwhelming success forced racing organizations to limit engine eligibility to factory-installed units. Pontiac countered by offering the SD 421 as a regular-production option on '62 Catalina and Grand Prix models.
The 389 and 421 Super-Duty packages were engineered for maximum performance, but the larger mill often overshadowed its smaller brethren. It featured a four-bolt block containing a 4.09-inch bore and a No. 542990 forged-steel crankshaft with a 4.00-inch stroke and 3.25-inch diameter main journals. The cylinders were filled with Mickey Thompson forged-aluminum pistons and No. 529238 forged-steel connecting rods. Its flat-tappet, mechanical camshaft was the newly designed No. 541596 McKellar No. 10 with 308/320 degrees of duration and 0.445/0.447-inch lift with 1.65:1-ratio rocker arms.
The original '74 Hot Rod ad. Provided by Stuart Stephens
Two cylinder-head castings were used during the '62 model year, both with a combustion chamber volume of 68 cc to produce an 11.0:1 compression ratio. Casting No. 540306 featured 1.92/1.66-inch valves and was carried over from the previous model year. It was used into March 1962 before casting No. 544127 with larger 2.02/1.76-inch valves entered production. Since both heads were designed for competition, neither was equipped with an exhaust crossover.
A cast-aluminum intake manifold housed two Carter four-barrel carburetors, and like the cylinder heads, a few different manifolds were used in '62. Functionally the same, early model-year engines with No. 306 heads received casting No. 542991, while late-year engines with No. 127 heads utilized No. 9770319. Strangely, both contained an exhaust crossover though the cylinder heads did not. One last casting, No. 9770859, was available towards the end of the model year and had no exhaust crossover whatsoever.
Pontiac engineers designed a pair of highly efficient, cast-iron exhaust manifolds for the Super-Duty package. The units boasted separate bolt-on collectors that contained cutouts to bypass the 2.25-inch dual-exhaust system and low-restriction mufflers. This engine also received a specific harmonic balancer, oil pan, and fuel and oil pumps. A conservative gross rating of 405 hp at 5,600 rpm and 425 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm was the end result.
The bulletproof engine was mated to a heavy-duty clutch and pressure-plate assembly and backed by a heavy-duty three-speed manual or a Borg-Warner T10 four-speed manual transmission in the Catalina, but only the four-speed in the Grand Prix. Though a limited-slip differential was optional, 4.30:1 was the only axle ratio available. Total documented production for Catalina and Grand Prix models equipped with the 421-SD is 155 and 16 units, respectively.
This super-clean Super Duty has accumulated just 14,000 miles since it was delivered to it
A typical Catalina weighed around 3,550 pounds in street trim, and a unique feature aimed at reducing weight was found on a number of '62 Super-Duty cars. Such steel body components as the fenders, inner fenders, hood, radiator support, and front bumper were replaced with stamped-aluminum units, shedding nearly 200 total pounds. The number of cars that received aluminum pieces is presently unknown, but some researchers believe all would have had them unless the buyer specified otherwise.
Marsh's Cameo Ivory Catalina is one such vehicle equipped with an SD-421 engine and a gamut of aluminum sheetmetal. It was built at the Pontiac, Michigan, assembly plant on July 11, 1962, and shipped to Mission Pontiac Company in San Bernardino, California, for delivery. It's unclear if the car was ordered for a customer or employee, but the absence of convenience options and the presence of a four-speed transmission and 15-inch wheels indicate it was intended for maximum performance.
Renowned Pontiac hobbyist Pete McCarthy is partially credited with discovering the Super-Duty Catalina. In the late '60s, Pete was an area manager for the Pacific Bell telephone company, and his duties included bill collecting. Pete sent employee Larry Williams to a home in Bloomington, California, to collect on a delinquent bill. Larry found that the homeowner was recently widowed, and-like him-her deceased husband had an interest in cars. She told him about her husband's Pontiac and led him to the garage to see it.
Though this Catalina was originally equipped with cast-iron exhaust manifolds, it now spor
Though Larry wasn't sure what it was, he knew the Pontiac's aluminum body panels made it very special. "Larry came back to the office and described the car to me," says Pete. "My eyes lit up like saucers. We went back to her house and found a Super-Duty 421 Catalina. Though we knew it was rare, in 1968, no one knew exact production numbers. She owed Pacific Bell around $1,500, so Larry and I pooled our money and bought it for the amount of her bill."
The Catalina was very original and retained nearly all of its unique Super-Duty components. "Someone had replaced the No. 127 heads with a set of '64 No. 716 castings," says Pete. "I wanted SD heads on it, and the '63 SD No. 980 was a little better than the No. 127. I had a new pair of No. 980s I purchased over the parts counter, so I installed these and a pair of modified, custom-made Doug's headers I had from my '62 Grand Prix."
Pete was a member of a local car club, the Riverside Pontiacs, and affixed the club's placard to the Catalina's package tray. The club joined forces with others to form the Inland Empire Racing Association (I.E.R.A.), which maintained Riverside International Raceway in exchange for track time. This gave Pete the opportunity to test the Catalina's performance more than once. "Riverside was roughly 2,500 feet above sea level. With just a pair of Casler slicks, the Catalina consistently ran 13.20s at 105 to 106 mph without any correction factor," he recalls.
A previous owner replaced many of the Super-Duty components that disappeared over the year
A transfer back to Los Angeles in late 1969 forced Pete to relinquish his half of the Catalina. With the pending move on his mind, he let Larry handle the transaction, simply collecting his portion of the selling price, and subsequently lost track of both Larry and the Catalina. It's unclear if Larry kept the car or sold it to another party, but Yuba City, California-resident Lanny Johnson acquired it in the early '70s.
As a new-and-used auto-parts retailer, Lanny Johnson was continually buying and selling vehicles. He recalls the Catalina's owner approaching him about accepting it on trade. "I had a '58 Bonneville when I was younger," says Lanny. "I had a soft spot for Pontiacs and knew that the Super-Duty cars were rare. So I took it on trade for a pair of early Corvettes." He found that a few of the Super-Duty components had been replaced. "It had a Mallory ignition system and different wheels, and it didn't have the correct carburetors," he recollects.
Immediately after taking possession, Lanny contacted Mickey Thompson, soliciting his interest in the Super Duty, but Thompson politely declined. The Catalina then remained in storage while in Lanny's possession. Though started occasionally, Lanny never registered it with the California DMV or drove it on the street.
When deemed time to sell, Lanny placed an ad in the classified section of the Nov. '74 issue of Hot Rod magazine. That's when then-21-year old Terry Weber came along. The Tulare, California, resident recollects: "I was into early Pontiacs and really wanted a Super-Duty Catalina. The ad said the car was in mint condition with 12,000 miles, and he wanted $2,000 for it. I really didn't intend on buying it but had to have it when I saw it. My friends thought I was crazy, but I paid the full amount."
The 421-SD engine generated over 400 hp and featured two 500-cfm Carter AFB carburetors, a
Terry recalls the No. 980 heads and headers that Pete installed were still in place. "It also had Cragar S/S wheels with Stahl tires up front and modified 15-inch wheels with cheater slicks on the rear. It came with a bunch of extra non-SD engine parts in the trunk and some wild side pipes. Someone had also painted the driveshaft bright yellow or orange, so I painted it black. But overall it was very clean."
For the next four years, the Catalina sat on blocks while Terry served in the Navy. After returning home, the two began terrorizing the area streets. It wasn't long, however, before he had to replace the original T10 transmission's cast-iron main case with an aluminum unit. The original 4.30:1-geared limited-slip differential was another casualty, which Terry replaced with a similar 3.42:1 unit from another '62 Pontiac.
While owning the Catalina, Terry met hobbyist George Knevelbaard, who then lived in Hanford, California. George expressed interest in purchasing the Catalina if Terry ever chose to sell. "I assured him that I had no intent of selling, but I kept it in the back of my mind," says Terry. The two kept in friendly contact over the next few years, and in that time, Terry added about 1,000 miles to the Catalina's odometer, primarily racing it on the street.
Wouldn't it be nice if all trunks looked this clean after 45 years?
As Terry matured, he found himself in the market for other acquisitions. "I became a homeowner in 1985 and needed money for improvements," he recalls. "George called one day, and I told him that I had been thinking of selling the Catalina. We agreed upon a price, and I sold it. I've regretted selling it ever since." All the components Terry received when purchasing the Catalina went with it. Among them were the original exhaust manifolds and damaged limited-slip carrier with 4.30:1 gears.
Getting the Catalina as close to original as possible was high on George's priority list. "I bought the Catalina because it was such an original survivor," he says. "The paint held up very well. I did have a few areas touched up, but it was still mostly original. I don't think the engine has ever been out either. I had to install many of the correct '62 Super-Duty pieces that were gone though."
George replaced the No. 980 heads with a pair of No. 127s, and reinstalled the original exhaust manifolds, 4.30 gears, and a factory-type exhaust system. He also found that, like the carburetors, the original intake manifold was missing. So he installed a No. 9970319 intake and Nos. 3433S (front) and 3435S (rear) Super-Duty carburetors, along with a No. 1110976 dual-point distributor without vacuum advance, the correct Super-Duty valve covers, and a set of heavy-duty 15-inch steel wheels.
The only time George displayed the Catalina was at the '90 POCI Western Regionals in Ventura, California, and though Pete hadn't seen the Catalina for years, he immediately wondered if George's Super Duty was the same car he once owned. "I knew George, and when I saw the car at the show, it quickly occurred to me that this could be my old car," says Pete. "I looked through the rear window and couldn't believe it. There were the two holes I drilled to mount my Riverside Pontiacs placard onto the package tray."
The Catalina's interior is all business. Notice the lack of a radio and ventilation contro
The Next Millennium
In 2004, George relocated from Hanford to Rockford, Michigan, and in came a new owner for the Catalina. Mike Marsh was at George's home collecting parts for a friend when George told him about the move and the cars he was selling. "We walked into a building where George stored his cars. I saw the Catalina up against the wall, and immediately fell in love with it," says Mike. "We negotiated a price and I bought it." With it came a pair of cast-aluminum Super-Duty exhaust manifolds and many of the parts that had trailed it over the years.
The Catalina had sat for quite some time, so Mike quickly gave it a thorough detailing once home. "I had to be very careful because it's so original. I washed the body, scrubbed the carpet, and cleaned the engine compartment. I also added a correct reproduction battery and set of Coker tires, but that's all I've had to do," he says.
Regarding what he finds most appealing about his Catalina's styling, Mike says, "It's just a beautiful body style. I love the overall appearance, especially the taillights. In fact, I originally ordered a '62 Catalina with a 389ci, Tri-Power, and a four-speed, but I got married instead. My wife later told me that I could buy a '62 someday because she owed that to me, and when George showed me this car, I had to have it. Now it sits next to my '58 Bonneville convertible."
The road to Mike's garage wasn't always easy for the Catalina, but it survived unscathed over the years. Today it leads a life of leisure, totaling about 100 miles per year driving to local shows. In addition to home-state appearances at the '05 POCI Western Regionals in Pine Lake and the '06 POCI National Convention in Ontario, Mike and the Catalina recently ventured 4,000 miles round trip for the 24th Annual Pontiac-GMC-Oakland show in Gretna, Nebraska. "It always seems to bring home some type of award," says Mike. "And it's definitely a crowd pleaser."
For Mike, there seems to be few greater thrills than driving his Super-Duty Catalina. "I love the sound of the open collectors," he says, "The car launches hard and it performs as well. It's just a fun car." He admits, however, that he doesn't presently have plans for future project vehicles, adding "I certainly don't have any plans to modify this one either." He best summarized his love affair with the Super-Duty Catalina in one simple sentence: "I just want to enjoy preserving this piece of Pontiac history."
Mike, we couldn't have said it any better.
Special thanks to Pete McCarthy for his technical input.