COAL: 1967 Pontiac Catalina Convertible — Months For Some, A Lifetime For Others

Music takes me places, at least in my mind. “In Only Seven Days,” the eighth track on Queen’s 1978 “Jazz” album, is streaming on Spotify as I write this. I find “Jazz” to be an under-appreciated album with a variety of high-quality-but-commercially-overlooked songs. This particular song keenly captures the initial rapture and subsequent melancholy of love found/love lost between two vacationers. Looking back now, it felt like we only had seven days (in adult time) with our 1967 Pontiac Catalina convertible. Child time passes more slowly; fleeting events are remembered as longer in duration. And once again, your narrator, easily smitten by a pretty automotive face, keenly felt the rush of infatuation and the pangs of separation. But, he learned that there were “plenty of fish in the sea,” so to speak.

Spring brings possibilities

Spring’s arrival in 1972 brought the promise of a delightful, sunny summer to come. Warming temperatures certainly encouraged visions of sultry evening, top-down ice cream runs to the Tastee-Treat, or the Big Top Drive-In on Route 7. As I closed in on turning five, this activity seemed one worthy of increased frequency . . . to daily, in my mind. (Note: This type of thinking resulted in the widespread adoption of pre-K programs, as concerned parents sought to prevent their children gorging their idle minds on the intellectual equivalent of a family-size bag of potato chips. Unfortunately, it was too late for me.)

The Tastee Treat still lives. NY Route 7, Sidney, NY.


As does the Big Top Drive-In, NY Route 7, between Unadilla and Sidney, NY.


In any event, I wasn’t the only one who conjured visions or we wouldn’t have bought the Pontiac. (Spoiler Alert: This was not one of my father’s best purchases. But, as an adult, I admire the optimism behind the move. More on that later.)


My father, the convertible man

I’m surprised it took so long for another convertible to inhabit our garage. Long before my arrival, he had owned (in no particular order) a 1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser convertible, a 1959 Chevrolet convertible, and a 1960 Mercury convertible. As mentioned in my initial installment, he didn’t navigate life in a conventional manner; this extended to his vehicle choices as well.

My father’s ‘55 Century. I would have held on to this one.


Subtlety, thy name is . . . not the “Big M” in ‘57, cruiser skirts and all. I guess you had to be there. Thankfully, my father took pictures.


A roller coaster of household finances dictated how long each vehicle stayed. It was like an ongoing automotive decision tree: Are things are going well? If yes, then one must upgrade, such as from a 1955 Buick Century hardtop to a 1957 Turnpike Cruiser. If no, then one must “reevaluate” and downgrade, such as from the Turnpike Cruiser to a 1954 Chevrolet sedan with no reverse gear (true story). My mother would have much preferred that we had no need for an automotive decision tree, ever, but she had to wait a little longer for that.

The search finally ends

We went on several junkets searching for the Cadillac’s replacement. I am an only child, but there were always five or more of us on these boondoggles. Presumably, this was because my Uncle John was the only one that “knew cars” so he and one or two of my cousins joined us.

Money, or lack of it, dictated the vehicles under consideration. I only remember bits and pieces of these trips, namely one faded and forlorn ‘66 Riviera at a lot in Bainbridge. Also, to me, it seemed like whenever we checked out a private owner’s vehicle, the owner was a hippie. This may have been driven by the (low) price point we were shopping within. At nearly five, I defined “hippie” as anyone with long hair and a beard, which in 1972 was probably a majority of males under the age of 25 not in the armed services. So, at the time, I was pretty sure we bought the Pontiac from a hippie who lived with other hippies.

Smartly tailored

While I’d mourned the Cadillac’s departure and clutched its magic key as my rosary, I was happy to welcome our next guest. To my five year-old eyes, the ‘67’s proud, nicely integrated “nose” (compared to the more “schnozzy” ‘68s), simple loop bumper and hooded, vertically stacked headlights delivered a clean and very “Pontiac” face. The upward/outward slant of the top headlight housings added a whiff of Batmobile-ish aggression. It was definitely a face I could, and did, admire as often as possible.

This example sports fender skirts, while ours did not. Going “skirtless” was a thing in the early ‘70s.


All in the details

Our car was likely Tyrol Blue or possibly Montreux Blue (hard for me to tell from old paint chip charts online) with a white top and white vinyl interior. I found this color combination quite flattering to its subtle Coke-bottle profile; Gulf Turquoise or Mayfair Maize would have also given five-year-old me the vapors in 1972. (In 2023, I’d add Plum Mist to the list.)

The interior was standard Catalina but two specific features made my child-heart flutter: the clear Lucite top portion of the steering wheel rim (its “Energy Absorbing” label on the hub sounded vaguely superhero-ish, also) and Chief Pontiac’s silhouetted profile for the high beam indicator. I’d enviously eyed these features on other Pontiacs and now we had them for ourselves! These were genius, just genius! (What can I say? I was a weird little kid.)

Two “home run” level details, in my book.


Just in time for summer

It was probably late May or early June when the Pontiac arrived. Years later, my father said he needed to “compound” the paint to bring back the shine; I don’t remember him doing this. To me, it was always that lovely, high-gloss metallic blue. Something else I don’t remember is having many chances to ride in it. My father was a booking agent — he booked and managed musical acts. That required him to be on the road.

However, I do remember this: we were at my aunt and uncle’s house in the village of Unadilla. It was probably mid-June; the sun was pleasantly warm, close to setting but still intense as it descended. We had likely just gotten the car registered and plated. My father backed out of their driveway onto Route 7. Uncle John was riding shotgun; my three older cousins were in the back seat. The sun glinted off this freshly waxed work of art as they departed. It was (and still is, in my mind) a lovely visual.

A crummy commercial

It made for a lovely visual, but there was one problem: I was not in the car. And I. Was. Not. Happy. About. It. No crying or tantrum-throwing occurred. I just felt like Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” when he discovered the secret message in “Little Orphan Annie” was nothing but a crummy Ovaltine commercial.

Sonofabitch, indeed. My sentiments exactly.


I was left behind with my mother, Aunt Patty, and younger cousin Jeffrey. As they headed west on Route 7, top down, chasing the sun, it looked to me like they’d begun the greatest adventure of all time.

My mother told me they were just going for a quick ride, they won’t be gone long, . . . all the things a mother would tell today’s FOMO-stricken child, decades before the term was invented. But, eventually, it was long past dark and they were still gone. Aunt Patty took my mother and I home because we didn’t know where they were or when they’d return. I was pretty sure they’d stopped at both the Tastee-Treat and the Big Top Drive-In, but I kept my suspicions to myself.

School days, school days, “run away you fool” days

The summer passed. With lunch secured in the trunk of my Jaguar pedal car, I regularly “drove” from the house to the barn (maybe 100 feet away), sat on the stoop and enjoyed my mid-day meal in the sun. Now that I was five, September’s impending arrival meant kindergarten. Incidentally, the only pictures I have of our Pontiac are from my first day of kindergarten, while I waited for the bus.

Name, home room, teacher name, bus number. Like going to the joint for a 12 year stretch, but with better clothes.


It was a foggy, chilly, overcast morning; the kind we get in New York in early September, before the sun is high enough to clear the fog and warm things up. After that, it seems like a regular summer day but one knows the days will become shorter and cooler as fall arrives. If I had known then what kindergarten held in store for me, I might have made a run for it in my trusty Catalina convertible. But, little did I know that the Pontiac had “a condition,” a term old-timers once used to refer to their more serious maladies. The Pontiac’s condition was going to substantially shorten its time with us.

My getaway vehicle was just steps away . . . .  I knew the alphabet but I hadn’t learned how to hot wire. My mother was there to make sure I actually got on the bus.


Remember earlier, when I mentioned my father’s optimism? Years later, when I asked him why he got rid of the Pontiac, he told me that it needed a valve job. As in, rather badly needed one. He knew this when he bought it — something like that would not have gotten by my Uncle John. The “plan” was to get enough money to get the valve job done. Then, (I assumed) we’d have a car that was not only sexy but also running correctly. It seemed like a simple enough plan, at least on paper. In reality, not so much. In retrospect, I admired his optimism in buying the car.

In the end . . .

The Pontiac was sold to a mechanic in Oneonta who could make the valve job a reality. Oddly enough, not long after its departure my memories of it faded. I probably went 30 years without thinking of it at all. When it suddenly re-entered my consciousness years later, it not only stayed but made a home for itself. The revelation itself was itself a pseudo-Ralphie/“Christmas Story” moment: After admiring a picture of a similar one online, the lightbulb went off in my head and I thought, “Hey! Wait a minute. We had one of those . . . . “ I wouldn’t be surprised if I muttered, “Sonofabitch . . . “ to myself.

I can still close my eyes and see them heading west on Route 7 like it happened earlier tonight. And, I am still a little disappointed I wasn’t with them. We didn’t have it for long: three months, maybe four. I was sorry to see it go; it was so pretty and so very 1960s . . . and I hadn’t taken anywhere near the number of trips to the Tastee-Treat or the Big Top Drive-In that I’d imagined. (Honestly, I’m not sure we took any trips to either place in this car, or the Cadillac for that matter.)

But, I recovered more quickly from this one than I did from the Cadillac’s departure. Life goes on; I still had to make it through kindergarten, which probably occupied most of my time. For our next car, I do not have a definitive resource (a family member) to consult regarding the exact chain of events. But, I have a pretty good idea of how things went and, while connecting the dots, I had a realization about my childhood-self. We’ll talk about that next time.