Many hobbyists feel that the...
Many hobbyists feel that the '63 Pontiac is among the most stylish ever produced. The full-size wagons are quite attractive and they make excellent cruisers. Owner Ed Giolma reports that his Caravan Gold '63 Catalina Safari gets as much as 16 mpg on the highway.
Today's SUVs are the family haulers. Many are big and bulky, and loaded with creature comforts to keep the little ones entertained on long trips. While most are adequately powered for the majority of buyers, there are those consumers who need an SUV for its size, but aren't willing to surrender performance. That's exactly what attracts niche buyers to such models as the Dodge Magnum, Chevy Trailblazer SS, or Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8. These aren't the industry's first foray into that market, however.
During the musclecar heyday, the station wagon was the equivalent of today's SUV. Standard engines were mostly just powerful enough to maintain highway speed when fully loaded and they were geared to maximize economy on long trips, but high horsepower V-8s, various transmissions, and deeper rear axle ratios were a check-on-the-option-list away. Even with their large size, the wagons' ability to efficiently transfer weight and plant their rear tires made the performance examples venerable threats on the dragstrip. In fact, some were successfully campaigned by racers on various competitive circuits.
Vintage station wagons are quite popular with hobbyists today and though those with factory-installed high-performance equipment are quite rare, it's not uncommon to find owners who've installed a plethora of go-fast goodies on an otherwise basic model, creating the ultimate hot-rod wagon. This particular '63 Catalina six-passenger Safari falls into the latter category. Factory equipped with a two-barrel carburetor and automatic transmission, it took the long road to the finish line and now features a four-barrel carburetor and four-speed transmission, and seats only five. Here's how it happened.
Ed replaced the original bench...
Ed replaced the original bench seat with factory buckets and reused the bench seat material to cover them, so the entire interior matches perfectly.
Ed Giolma of Southlake, Texas, is no stranger to '60s Pontiacs. The 68-year old retired electrical engineer has owned a dozen '61 Venturas, including the one that Jim Wangers campaigned for Royal Pontiac that year. "I have always liked station wagons and have owned two '61 Pontiac wagons in the last 20 years," he says. "I was intrigued when I saw a '63 Catalina Safari with 35,000 original miles and a four-speed transmission for sale in a popular classified publication."
When Ed first called in late 2005, he found that the Caravan Gold (code T) wagon was very original and still wore its factory paint, but learned it was very faded. "The car was bought new by a Chicago-area couple at Wright Motors in Evansville, Indiana, and it was used for transportation at their summer home in Estes Park, Colorado. It had a 389 two-barrel engine, column-shifted automatic transmission, and air conditioning. The second owner purchased it from their estate and added the manual transmission. It had a few more owners before I learned of its availability," he adds.
Ed admits that he initially passed because the wagon needed paint. He saw it listed again in that same publication a few months later. This time, however, it boasted of a fresh paint job in its original Caravan Gold. He had a Phoenix-area acquaintance test drive it for him and ask that he take several detailed pictures of it. Impressed with what he heard and saw of the wagon, Ed purchased it and had it delivered to him in May 2006. Over the next year or so, he proceeded to equip the Catalina Safari exactly the way he wanted.
Other factory-installed options...
Other factory-installed options include AM radio, padded instrument panel, front seat belts, and a deluxe steering wheel. Originally equipped with a column-shift automatic, the floor-mounted Hurst Competition Plus shifter now attaches to a period-correct Borg-Warner T-10 transmission that was added by the second owner. A Stewart Warner oil pressure and water temperature gauge combo allows Ed to monitor the 389's vitals.
The low-mile 17H-code 389 two-barrel was in excellent condition and retained its original 4.06-inch-bore and 3.75-inch-stroke crankshaft. Ed had Wayne Calvert in Denton, Texas, rebuild the stock No. 543797 cylinder heads, which yield a compression ratio of 10.25:1 on the 389. "Wayne installed new 1.88/1.60-inch valves and guides and stock-replacement valvesprings," Ed states. "I reinstalled the heads and added a new timing chain and Melling oil pump before reassembling the engine myself."
He opted to leave the 389's original No. 640 two-barrel spec cam with 269/270 degrees of duration and 0.374-inch valve lift in place. "The engine ran well and I didn't want any camshaft break-in issues commonly associated with modern oil quality, so I left the original cam in the engine. It pulls 21 inches of vacuum at idle," he boasts. To improve the performance of the original 267hp mill, a numbers-correct four-barrel intake manifold and Carter AFB carburetor were pirated from a 303 hp 389 and also installed.
Wayne Euper was enlisted to rebuild the period-correct Borg-Warner T-10 transmission and Ed added a 10.5-inch Hayes clutch-and-pressure plate assembly. The open rear axle once housed a 2.87:1 gear set, but Ed installed a 3.23 unit to improve off-the-line performance. Except for new ball joints and heavy-duty gas shocks, the suspension remains completely original.