Drag Strip Classic: 1965 Pontiac Catalina 2+2 – “Stop Telling Me I’m Beautiful, Love Me For What’s Inside”

Pontiac 1

(first posted 1/27/2014)     Right off the bat, I don’t mind admitting that I have a borderline unhealthy attachment to Mayfair Maize 1965 Catalinas.  After all, a Ventura that looked very similar to the above 2+2 is my “one that got away,” the car that keeps me up at night.  If I had let a Tri-Power 421 get away, I may be beyond help at this point.

Pontiac 7

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I’ll take you back thirteen years, to when I was a 23-year-old looking for a winter car.  I wanted an old car to drive around, so I drove three hours to look at a 1965 Catalina Ventura Sport Coupe for sale. It was a 389-2V equipped hardtop with 8-lug wheels(!).  It had zero rust, one tear in its black interior, and a dent in the quarter.  I’m pretty sure I could have taken it home for under $3000.  I didn’t have much money at the time, and it felt like it would have needed some engine/suspension work.  I decided to pass, and it’s probably good I did, because subjecting that sweetheart to the salt would have been one of the dumbest things in the world.

Pontiac 2

That was the last time I saw that particular car, for better or for worse, but this attractive 2+2 edition floats around Michigan car shows and the Stanton Pure Stock Muscle Car Drag Race just to taunt me year after year.  Even Uncle Tom McCahill loved the 2+2s, considering them to be neck and neck with the Riviera as the best looking car of ’65.  Since the one I passed up was Mayfair Maize, I have a sweet spot for that color, and it seems like that was a featured color for ’65, considering that several of Pontiac’s beautiful advertisements featured a 2+2 in that yellow hue.

Pontiac 6

Speaking of advertising, I don’t think anybody in the 1960s could hold a candle to Pontiac’s.  As a collector of antique car ads, I am lucky enough to have observed them all.  By 1965, many advertisements were banal and lifeless, but Pontiac was smart enough to employ Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman to illustrate their ads throughout from the late ’50s until the early 70s, and they’re works of art.  Every single one of them is beautiful; head and shoulders above the rest.  The ad copy was usually intriguing, as well.  I wonder if Jim Wangers was the principal writer for these. (a few more F & K Pontiac ads here)

By comparison, the 1965 ads for my beloved Buicks almost universally used a photographed car in front of a plain white background; even a pretty model thrown in couldn’t help much.  It’s no wonder so many people bought Pontiacs in the 1960s.

Pontiac 4

Under the hood, the 2+2 option meant that the lucky owner automatically got the 421-cubic-inch Pontiac instead of the 389.  The standard 4-barrel was rated at 338 horsepower, while the Tri-Powers wielded 356 or 376.  This 2+2 runs down the quarter mile in the mid-14s or so, which is not too bad considering its bulk; it looks like a big, beautiful, yellow aircraft carrier moaning down the quarter-mile.  This one’s even air-conditioned!

Pontiac 5

It seems like GM dusted most of their magic on the exterior of the 2+2, as the interior is standard GM, with a longitudinal speedometer and fairly nondescript dashboard.  The 2+2 had buckets (and this one had a console with a vacuum gauge on it), but regular Catalinas would have been bench-seat equipped.  As an aside, I think a vacuum gauge is underrated.  Having one permanently mounted inside the car is an outstanding tuning tool for someone who’s ever messed with an old car’s carburetion.

While I like the tri-gauge pod in the center of the dashboard, the interior is a bit ho-hum.  I think that, in this time period, the coolest dashboards had to belong to the full-size Chrysler and Mercury.

Pontiac 8

photo courtesy of www.330gt.com

Car and Driver thought enough of the 2+2 to test it against a Ferrari 330GT 2+2 in its March 1965 edition.  It actually proved itself better than you might expect, but Pontiac did have a reputation for providing “ringers” to the car magazines, so that may be an invalid test.

Pontiac 9

I’d be remiss if I didn’t return to the 8-lug wheel.  The pictured Catalina 2+2 and the one I passed up both carry this option, and I think it’s the best looking wheel of all time.  The finned center section is actually the brake drum, and the wheel surround bolts to it.  Try finding a new drum for that at your local parts store!

Pontiac 3

The 2+2 only lasted through the 1967 model year, when it became clear that full-size muscle cars were not the sales force they once were.  After all, Pontiac was selling all the GTOs they wanted, so the 2+2 became somewhat superfluous in its lineup.  For four model years, however, Pontiac created arguably the best full-size machines of the Big 3, maybe the rightful heir to Chrysler’s 300.  And they look glorious in Mayfair Maize.