The day of this particular Monday morning’s commute to work started out uneventfully enough. After a somewhat busy Easter weekend, I found myself on my morning Red Line train – a little tired but mostly rested, fiddling with my smartphone and catching up on social media, my Flickr page, and Curbside Classic posts I had missed over the weekend. I had no idea what was waiting for me after I deboarded at the underground Jackson station and walked westward. As I have a weekly conference call every Monday morning at 8:30, I usually stride very purposefully and with laser-like focus with the intent of getting to work with enough time to make my cup of hot tea before the call starts. As I approached the intersection at Clark Street, I spotted something old, American, and beautiful standing at the curb.
Note the custom license plate up front. I actually like that it was a Catalina and not an upmarket Bonneville. Look how this car is tricked out: deluxe wheel covers, a stand-up hood ornament, and a landau roof in a hue that complements the body color very nicely. Somebody actually ordered the low-line Catalina and said, I’m going to put so many options on this!, instead of just purchasing a Bonneville. This car was one of just 5,410 Catalina two-doors produced for the model year, starting at $6,020 (about $21,000 / adjusted for 2016). The more expensive ’79 Bonneville two-door started at $6,593 (almost 10% more) – and it went on to outsell the Catalina coupe that year by a ratio of over 6:1.
Pontiac’s B-Body four-door sedan (and even the wagon) was a far more popular body style than the two-door in these years. You could still get the Pontiac 301 V8 in a Catalina for ’79, which was good for 140 hp in base form. In a recent QOTD in which readers were polled as to which 1977-1990 GM B/C-Body we would buy if we could go back in time, the name “Catalina” came up exactly just three times out of over 160 responses. I still really like this one, though, both on its own merits and also just for existing.
Yes, indeed – this is a bona fide Catalina, and not a Bonneville, as evidenced by that (blurry, sorry) fender badge, front grille pattern and taillamp lens evident in the shot below. It’s a shame about that rust. The thing that always struck me about this generation of Catalina is that the name of this entry-level, full-sized Pontiac seemed completely at odds with my mental image of the beautiful California Channel Islands this model was originally named after. We have discussed “name debasement” pretty comprehensively in this forum, so to be clear, I understand this nameplate had once been attached to a genuinely glamorous automobile in the 60’s.
When I was growing up in the 80’s, though, I didn’t associate the “Catalina” name with a big Pontiac as much as I did a reddish-orange salad dressing that my mom used to serve when she was being fancy. How I had wished this Catalina coupe was the color of that dressing, but I still find the rich buttercream shade of this car really appealing. I have come to identify it in my own mind as “Klockau Cadillac Yellow“, as it just screams late-70’s luxury. Oddly enough, though, when researching the official, “factory” name of this paint color, the one offered on the ’79 Catalina that looked closest to that of our featured car was “Montego Cream”, which is a shade that looked slightly darker, richer and browner on the page from the brochure than what we see here. This car’s finish looks closer to the “Yellow Beige” offered on the ’79 Buick LeSabre. This car might have been resprayed earlier in its life.
I find the premise of ordering the strippo model and gilding it with options completely fascinating. I can actually kind of understand the thought process behind this. Let’s say the original owner wasn’t so hung up on the “Bonneville” name and being able to lay claim to owning one. Let’s suppose he or she had a thing for full-size Pontiacs, and really liked the look of the downsized 1977 – ’79 models, but wanted a few toys on it and didn’t want to spring the extra dough for the Bonneville.
I’ll confess to having bought off-brand clothes that mimicked the look of popular styles when I was a teenager. Nobody needed to know my “Major Damage” jeans were just a rip-off of the popular, urban “Get Used” distressed-look denim. They looked just as fly (to me, anyway), and I then had allowance money left over for a movie after hitting the mall with my friends. It made total and complete sense to my young, cheap mind to buy a trendy-look pair of discount-branded jeans instead of just a nice, respectable pair of stonewashed Levis. In the same vein, I’m guessing the look of this full-size Poncho spoke more to the owner than what it was called. And as many broughamophiles will tell you – sometimes you just gotta put the landau on it.
Downtown, The Loop, Chicago, Illinois.
Monday, March 28, 2016.