Curbside Classic: 1972 Pontiac Catalina – Getting More For Your Dollar

(first posted 10/8/2012)    For a long time, stepping up to a Pontiac meant getting a genuinely nicer vehicle whose differences went beyond the grille and trim. For example, this Catalina–the most basic full-size 1972 Pontiac you could get–came equipped with a standard V8, power steering and power brakes. For the miser’s special, you’d have to go across the street for a Turbo-Thrift Six, three-on-the-tree Biscayne, because there was no such animal from PMD.

The 1970 Pontiacs that preceded our featured Catalina were very different from the sleek Pontiacs of the early- to mid-’60s. Based on the same basic platform as Paul’s favorite ’70 Impala, they were all-around nice cars, despite a questionable face lift that made them a bit baroque-looking in front view. A year later, they would be replaced by a super-sized version.

The 1971s were more subdued up front. In place of the chrome radiator shell of the ’70 was another prominent grille, this time a full-width affair that made the car look even wider than it was. In an odd move, a new Grand Ville model appeared at the top of the line.

In the early ’70s, Pontiac began to step away from being the powerhouse of style and performance it had been during the previous decade. With models like the Grand Ville, was Pontiac trying to become more junior Buick than premium Chevrolet?

The Grand Ville’s introduction moved the storied Bonneville down a step, into the slot left by the recently departed Executive series; Pontiac’s volume biggie, the Catalina, returned.

As before, the Catalina was available in a variety of models: two- and four-door hardtops; a sedan; a convertible; and six- and nine-passenger station wagons. Joining the standard Catalina was a new Catalina Brougham series, which effectively replaced the Ventura as a Catalina with a little more gingerbread.

With all that was new for 1971, there were only minor changes for the 1972 model year. The somewhat awkward grille of the ’71 was replaced with a much more attractive classic-style grille. The Grand Ville, Bonneville, Catalina and Catalina Brougham lineup remained the same. Closed Grand Ville models (a convertible was also available) were set apart from other B-body Pontiacs by roof lines shared with the C-body Oldses, Buicks and Cadillacs. Grand Villes like this ’72 four-door hardtop enjoy the distinction of being the only GM B-bodies with C-body roofs.

Although no longer the top-drawer Pontiac, the Bonneville was still quite nice, and also quite popular. As seen in this brochure picture, it and other non-Grand Villes had a more flowing roof line. Meantime, Pontiac dropped the Bonneville drop-top in favor of the Grand Ville convertible.

But hey, we’re here to talk about the Catalina, aren’t we? Unlike the wider-ranging full-size lineup from Chevrolet, Pontiac’s roster contained no fleet/tightwad special. If you wanted rubber floor mats, a six-cylinder engine and no chrome gewgaws, you were, sadly, plain out of luck. The Catalina sedan may have been the cheapest big Pontiac, but it still boasted a two-barrel, 400 cu in V8, automatic transmission, variable-ratio power steering and power front disc/rear drum brakes. Cheapskates would have to be directed to the Chevy store across the street to check out Bel Airs and Biscaynes.

Yes, the Catalina was quite well-equipped for an early-’70s American car; back then, it seemed that everything cost extra. But the Cat was the exception to the rule, with its standard solid foam front seats and seat backs, nylon carpeting, teak woodgrain on the dash and door panels, concealed wipers and a finicky radio antenna embedded in the windshield.

Outside, Catalinas were dressed up with bright moldings around the roof gutters and at the rear edge of the hood. Hubcaps were standard, but the optional full wheel covers and vinyl roof seen on our featured Cat produced a very rich-looking car.

Of course and ultimately, you did pay more for the Catalina’s extra features: A 1972 Biscayne sedan cost $3,074 with the Turbo-Thrift Six, and $3,408 with the V8. At $3,713, the Catalina sedan cost some 10% more than a V8 Biscayne.

Inside, however, the Catalina probably was a more pleasant place to be. Catalina coupes and sedans got cloth-and-Morrokide upholstery, while convertibles and station wagons featured more weather- and kid-friendly all-Morrokide seating.

The upholstery on our CC looks quite comfortable to me, even 40 years after it was sewn together. Offering even more comfort and status was the previously mentioned Catalina Brougham, which returned for 1972.

As you’d expect, the Brougham sported fancier interior trim with carpeted lower door panels, a deluxe steering wheel, clock, full wheel covers and color-keyed exterior door-handle inserts. In addition, Brougham identification graced the sail panels. Running about $200 higher than a comparable standard Catalina, it wasn’t a big seller, with only 8,007 sedans, 8,762 four-door hardtops and 10,545 two-door hardtops finding buyers–a drop in the bucket compared with the nearly 200,000 regular Catalinas sold that year. The Brougham was nowhere to be found when the 1973 Pontiacs were introduced.

Nineteen seventy-two was also the last year for the Catalina convertible. The $4,080 drop-top sold just 2,399 copies. The Grand Ville would keep Pontiac’s B-body convertible flame alive through 1975.

As you might have surmised from my previous CC articles, I do have a thing for full-size 1970s Pontiacs. While my favorite is the 1979 Bonneville that my dad owned, I also like the 1971-76s. This cool instrument panel is one reason why. Unlike most other big 1970s gunboats, the Pontiacs had round gauges instead of the strip-type speedometers seen on just about everything else. I also liked these steering wheels, with just enough trim to let you know you’re in an uplevel car.

The Catalina’s standard powerplant was a two-barrel, 175-hp 400, but those who wanted more engine could specify a four-barrel 400, or choose a two- or four-barrel 455 V8. The power figures I found were a bit confusing, but apparently there were 200-hp and 250-hp four-barrel 400s; 185-hp and 200-hp two-barrel 455s; and 220-hp 250-hp four-barrel 455s. It seems that the higher figures were achieved with the optional-at-$40 dual exhausts.

I was very happy to find this solid model 2L69 Catalina sedan in downtown Rock Island, just a few blocks from the office. This 4,154 lb. land yacht is one of 83,004 Catalina sedans built in ’72. This one is very nice indeed, and an original Nebraska car according to the current owner.

This is a solid, original car, right down to the original wheel covers and whitewalls. The only rust on the car is some minor surface rust on the sides, as you can see in this photo. A little judicious polishing, and this car would be just the ticket for one of the local cruise-ins. If I wasn’t working only part-time right now, I’d have been severely tempted. A nice, honest car, and that light green is so Seventies. Were all ’70s cars green or brown? It sure seems like it, judging by the survivors I see these days.

As with the 1975 Fleetwood Brougham, these cars appeared to be styled, and not designed according to key hard points, focus groups or engineers. Even this four-door sedan looks good to me. Hopefully whoever buys this beauty will love it as much as I do. As the saying goes, they’re only original once.