The Super-Duty Catalina is symbolic of Pontiac's early-'60s dominance of NHRA's dragstrips and NASCAR's high-speed ovals. Super-Duty engine components were initially sold through the Division's dealership parts departments, but the NHRA soon mandated that in order to be eligible for competition in stock classes, complete engines must be factory installed. Pontiac countered by offering the Super-Duty 389 and 421 in its '62 midsized models.

Production records suggest that 179 total Super-Duty Pontiacs were built during that model year, including 16 Grand Prixs and 162 Catalinas-one Super-Duty remains unaccounted for. The SD-389 was installed into 7 Catalinas while the remaining 155 received the SD-421. Limited production numbers notwithstanding, the early Super-Duties are regarded by many as Pontiac's ultimate performance vehicle, which might be best exemplified in the May '62 issue of Motor Trend magazine.

The Motor Trend Test
Arguably the most famous Super-Duty Pontiac performance review ever published, journalist Roger Huntington penned the article showcasing the Catalina's performance prowess. Said to be among the first Super-Duties released to the public, the staff at Ace Wilson's Royal Pontiac in Royal Oak, Michigan, prepared the vehicle prior to testing and, according to the author, did nothing mechanically beyond checking the engine's spark-advance and valve-lash settings.

Pontiac advertising executive Jim Wangers piloted the Catalina as Huntington rode along. Testing took place during the winter, in less than optimal conditions. A set of Goodyear tires and 150 pounds of ballast were utilized to maximize traction, but the efforts proved futile. Wangers still managed to run the quarter-mile in 13.9 seconds, at a trap speed of 107 mph. Zero to 60 mph occurred in 5.4 seconds.

Huntington wrote that even though the SD-421 was factory rated at 405 hp at 5,600 rpm and had 425 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm, he believed the mill's actual output was closer to 465 and 510 respectively, when calculated from performance data. In optimal conditions, it might propel the Catalina from 0 to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds with quarter-mile times in the mid-12s at speeds nearing 115 mph.

Power Of The Press
Eugene Riotte of Ardmore, Oklahoma, has been a Pontiac fan his entire life. The 66-year-old proprietor of Performance Coating Service tells HPP that the Motor Trend article fueled his hopes of owning a Super-Duty. "I went to McCarley Olds-Pontiac in Sulphur, Oklahoma, to place my order, but the salesman told me the package was for professional racers and the dealership couldn't get one. I ordered an Ensign Blue '62 Catalina with a 425A engine and a four-speed transmission instead."

Years passed, but Riotte's desire for a Super-Duty Pontiac didn't waiver. "I finally purchased a Mandalay Red Super-Duty '62 Catalina in 1987 and immediately started its restoration," he says. "Once underway, I found it needed a few engine parts, so I placed want ads in some publications. I received a letter from Gary Wheeler of Roanoke, Virginia, in October 1988. He owned a '62 Catalina with the parts I needed and the car was for sale. He even enclosed pictures of it."

Riotte immediately contacted Wheeler to determine if the Catalina was, in fact, a Super-Duty. "It had all the correct characteristics, so I knew it was real. During our discussion, Gary mentioned that it was equipped with a rear antenna and I recalled that the Catalina in the Motor Trend article had one. That evening, a friend and I discussed the possibility of this being that test car. We decided that it could be, but we had no way of knowing for sure. I knew that it was at least a Super-Duty, so I called Gary and told him that I'd take it. I hooked up my trailer and left for Virginia the next morning."


When Riotte arrived on Thursday and looked the Catalina over, he found it had been repainted a color much darker than its original Aquamarine. "It was definitely a Super-Duty, and even though it had 110,000 miles on its odometer and clearly needed a restoration, it appeared complete. Gary knew the previous owner's widow, so we stopped to visit with her before leaving the area. She told us that her husband owned the Catalina for several years and that he used it for daily transportation," he recalls.

The Truth Emerges
During the return trip to Oklahoma, Riotte stopped in Tennessee and called noted-researcher Pete McCarthy. "Pete was working on his book Pontiac Musclecar Performance-1955-1979 at the time, and he was gathering information on the Super-Duty cars. I told him of our potential find and he suggested I contact Fred Simmonds at Pontiac since he had access to the original manifests. I called Fred and he went to Pontiac on a Sunday to find the Catalina's original paperwork as we drove back."

In their next conversation, Simmonds confirmed what Riotte had deduced-his Catalina was indeed the test vehicle that Wangers drove in Huntington's Motor Trend article, but that's not all they found out. He also told Riotte that the Catalina was not only the first sold by Royal Pontiac, but it was built on December 22, 1961, and was likely the first Super-Duty Catalina to roll off the Pontiac, Michigan, assembly line.

With the Catalina home safely, an elated Riotte took inventory of his acquisition. "I found that it was about 98 percent complete and that all its numbers matched. With it came two boxes. One was filled with what seemed like every original part that was replaced over the years, including fuel pumps and its original ignition coil. The other contained a few new parts and, to my surprise, the original window sticker," he says.

While removing the carpet, Riotte discovered a folded paper on the driver side. "I opened it and was shocked to find it was the original bill of sale from Royal Pontiac. It stated that Lloyd Quesenberry of Max Meadows, Virginia, purchased the Catalina on January 30, 1962, as a new vehicle despite its use as the Motor Trend test car, and he paid just under $4,500 for it. I was able to speak with him before he passed and he confirmed its original paint scheme and the equipment it had when he took delivery."

The Restoration
The restoration of Riotte's Mandalay Red '62 Catalina was put on hold as the historical Pontiac took precedence. Taking precise notes as he went, Riotte disassembled the Catalina and separated its body shell from the frame. "We bolted the body to a rotisserie, completely blasted it, and repaired the rust holes in the shell. It then went to Cuba Bodyshop in Wichita Falls, Texas, where Greg Cuba applied the Ditzler Aquamarine basecoat/clearcoat combination and white accents to replicate the Royal Pontiac paint scheme. The finish was then wet-sanded and machine buffed."

During disassembly, Riotte found traces of black paint on the Catalina's underside in areas not exposed to the elements and, because of this, he elected to refinish it in an identical shade. "I don't know how many were originally black instead of red-oxide primer, but this Catalina definitely was," he says. "I also added a N.O.S. gas tank and reproduction fuel lines that I made in the process."

At some point in the Catalina's life, a previous owner welded a pair of large tow hooks on the front of its frame. "I don't know when they were added, but it took days of grinding to get them off," Riotte recalls. The frame was then stripped to bare metal and repainted semi-gloss black. The suspension was completely rebuilt using a plethora of N.O.S. and stock-replacement components.

Among a host of extra-cost options appearing on the Catalina's original window sticker, a front and rear stabilizer bar (UPC 574) added $7.10 to the bottom line, but Riotte contends that the rear bar wasn't ever installed. "There's a group of holes on each side at the rear of this Catalina's control arms that my other Super-Dutys don't have. It looks as if this is where the bar would have been mounted, but there's no indication that anything was ever bolted in place. I believe the bar was planned, but the car was built without it."

The Super-Duty 421
Upon disassembly, Riotte found that the SD-421 had previously been rebuilt and was bored 0.030-inch in the process. He had the block bored an additional 0.030, which increased its bore diameter to a total of 4.15 inches. When combined with the 4.00-inch stroke of the original No. 990 forged-steel crankshaft, total displacement now measures 434 ci and compression checks in around 12:1

The cylinders were filled with forged-aluminum Ross pistons and forged-steel Crower connecting rods. Though the original McKellar No. 10 camshaft was in excellent shape, Riotte elected to replace it with a modern Crower No. 60310 mechanical flat-tappet grind featuring 240/248-degrees of 0.050-inch duration and 0.525/0.550-inch valve lift when combined with a set of 1.65:1 ratio roller-tip rocker arms from Comp Cams.

While rebuilding the Catalina's rear axle, Riotte discovered that the original left-hand axleshaft had been replaced with a billet-steel unit. He also found that the splines of the original right-hand axleshaft were badly twisted, so it, too, gave way to a billet-steel unit. "Someone had replaced the factory 4.30 gears with a set of 3.90s, but the original ring-and-pinion came with the car. They looked new, so I installed them after Fabcraft in Southlake, Texas, rebuilt the original limited-slip differential," he adds.

The Results
It took Riotte nearly 20 years to complete the Catalina's restoration. "I took my time because I wanted it done right and worked on it in my spare time. But when I learned that the POCI National Convention was being held in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 2007, I pressed to finish the project. We were down to the wire working several 12-hour days. My friend, Ed Giolma, came to my rescue several times during the final months, and I really appreciate his help."

Since the Catalina's completion, Riotte has taken it to several area shows and says it's usually awarded a top honor. "I had Chris Frasher of CF Designs in Long Grove, Oklahoma, touchup the paint in a few areas, but I'm very satisfied with the overall result. I don't drive it much because of its rarity and historical significance, but I enjoy driving it around show areas with the exhaust collectors uncapped. While in Tulsa, Jim Wangers got to see it for the first time since January 1962, and he autographed the sun visor for me."

Conclusion
A countless number of enthusiasts can relate to Eugene's desire of owning a Super-Duty in the early 60s, especially after reading the Motor Trend article. He admits that while he'd be satisfied owning any Super-Duty Pontiac today, he relates, "I never would have guessed that I'd some day own the car that fueled my dream. I'm very fortunate to have found it."

We might also consider Riotte's Catalina as inspiration to Pontiac hobbyists of all ages. You see, this isn't just a famous press car, this was the first production Super-Duty Pontiac released to the public and it paved the way for all performance vehicles that followed. So whether your dreams include owning a vintage Pontiac or a late-model performance car, there's no denying that this Super-Duty Catalina has touched us all.

Jim Wangers Recalls The Road Test
Jim Wangers tells HPP that the Aquamarine Super-Duty Catalina was specifically built as a press car, and that he made arrangements with Roger Huntington and Motor Trend magazine to road-test it at Detroit Dragway. "Royal Pontiac took delivery of the Catalina and we immediately added a Royal Bobcat appearance package consisting of white paint accents, 'Bobcat' decals on the roof pillars, and center-cap spinners on the 8-Lug aluminum wheels," he states.

While engine modifications are typically associated with Royal Bobcat packages, Wangers says there wasn't a need to modify the Super-Duty 421. "The engine was designed for maximum performance, so there wasn't much we could do mechanically to improve upon it. The Royal Pontiac team finely tuned it prior to the test, but the car was otherwise completely legal for Super Stock competition."

Wangers confirms Huntington's report of poor testing conditions. "It was the middle of winter and there was snow on the ground. The track hadn't been prepped since the last event in the fall, and the temperature was probably around 20 degrees," he recalls. "I drove the Catalina as hard as I could and Roger was simply blown away by its performance-he gave an excellent portrayal. Once testing was completed, Royal Pontiac sold the Catalina and I never knew what became of it. It's great to see it again after all these years." RR

  • «
  • |
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
  • |
  • 4
  • |
  • View Full Article