The two-door, pillared sedan...
The two-door, pillared sedan body-style had long been the favorite of drag racers when presented with a choice, as it was usually the lightest weight and most rigid platform. This big Cat launches hard, due in part to a dialed-in chassis setup and the abundant torque generated by the 473 cubic-inch stroker. The combination has run a best of 10.91 at 124.0 mph.
Being the perennial underdog has forced many Pontiac fans to take innovative approaches to getting the job done. When there was a lack of aftermarket support for the tried and true Pontiac V-8, racers learned to port their existing heads to flow as much air as the competition, substitute forged big-block Chevy connecting rods to replace the flimsy cast rods, and build headers where suitable units were not available.
Restorers were also forced to take many a sow’s ear and turn it into a silk purse, building custom patch panels if repops were unavailable to replace rusted areas, or sneaking in a quick-ratio steering box and making it look like the factory unit. Call it Yankee ingenuity or working with what you have, Pontiac guys have a lot of tricks up their sleeves when it comes to making the best of a less-than-desirable situation.
So, it comes as no surprise that Mike Clay of Walkersville, Maryland, has taken a very unique approach to the restoration and modification of his ’62 Catalina. Looking to all the world like an original Super-Duty racecar, this particular Cat is currently on life number two, having been transformed from a mundane, pillared four-door family car into the two-door nostalgia racer that you see here.
Mike Clay’s Catalina started...
Mike Clay’s Catalina started life as a pillared four-door sedan before it was converted into a two-door sedan. The Pontiac was devoid of anything more than light surface rust but was dead mechanically.
You’re probably looking at this car thinking: Wait a minute! This used to be a four-door?
Don’t be alarmed if you’re still scratching your head. Yes, this Catalina used to be the lowliest of the low—a four-door sedan that had all the charm of a utility-company fleet car. Just like the current crop of Hollywood starlets however, this one’s had a little work done. Unlike Heidi Montag though, you can’t tell that everything’s not factory-issue.
Mike bought the Catalina as a project car from longtime POCI member Tyrone Mount. He and fellow POCI’er Dan Richardi had discussed the idea of turning a relatively plentiful four-door pillared sedan into a relatively rare pillared two-door sedan. The idea would take quite a bit of bodyworking skills, but after exhaustive research on the subject, they confirmed that the two bodystyles shared a common roof, windshield and backlight. This meant that the proportions would be correct, and if properly executed, indistinguishable from a factory build.
They then set to work on a rust-free but mechanically dead sedan, removing the doors and carefully cutting out the center posts. Starting with the passenger side, Tyrone bolted on a door from a two-door sedan donor car, which also gave up the front halves of its rear quarter-panels, as well as quarter-window frames. They carefully trimmed the panels until they fit and trial-fitted this sheetmetal jigsaw puzzle, holding everything together with locking pliers—and that was about as far as it went.
From this angle, one can see...
From this angle, one can see just how good the bodywork is on Mike’s Catalina. The door seams are perfect, the quarter-window fit is spot-on, and the modified rear quarter is indistinguishable from a factory-built two-door sedan.
Enter Mike Clay. He knew Tyrone, and after selling his ’61 Bonneville at the 2009 Spring Carlisle Flea Market, he was hunting for a new project. “I was looking for a ’61 or ’62 two-door Pontiac to build into a street/strip machine,” Mike recalled. “Everything I looked at was rusted-out and overpriced.”
Then he remembered Tyrone’s project car. “I had talked to Tyrone about the car but never actually seen it,” Clay said. “I called him to see if he’d be interested in selling it. He was, so I went over to have a look.”
Mike also dragged along his friend Steve Johnson, an expert body and paint man who works with Mike at Burdette Brothers, a former Pontiac dealer for over 60 years. “Steve looked the car over and said the quarters could be welded in without any problems,” Mike said. “So with Steve’s input, I decided to buy the car.” Since Tyrone has a fleet of ’62 Pontiacs, he worked a deal out with Mike to keep the rust-free front-end sheetmetal and give him a pair of fiberglass front fenders and a ’glass bumper.
Tyrone towed the car to Burdette Brothers and they set out to complete the four-door to two-door transformation.
Steve started the process of installing the doors: fitting the quarter-panels and quarter-windows to the body, carefully aligning the panels, and tack-welding them in place. After measuring and double-checking everything, he finish-welded it all in, also reinforcing the backside of the doorjamb area with an L-channel so it couldn’t be seen.