There once was a time when drag racing was a popular part of pop culture. Two V8-powered muscles cars going head-to-head use to be a hallmark of many great movies — The Wraith, Rebel Without A Cause and Two Lane Blacktop, just to name a few — but aside from the high-octane action seen in The Fast and Furious, we hardly see old-school drag races in Hollywood nowadays.
In the 1950s to 70s, a period generally seen as the ‘Golden Age of Drag Racing‘, just about every major American automobile manufacturer was involved in the motorized sport, and all because winning at the “drags” sold them cars! You’ve probably wondered where the old mantra “Win races on Sunday, sell cars on Monday” came from…
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A lot of interesting cars came out of Detroit during that time period, and one particular model was especially noteworthy.
Back in the 1960s, the major automobile manufacturers recognized drag racing as a major automotive sport, one nearly as important as Nascar. In an attempt to take advantage of its mainstream status, they made cars specifically designed to take part in the action.
There was one big problem, however, and that was that cars of 60s were too big and heavy to effectively win races, forcing engineers to come up with innovative ways to lighten up their bodies and beef up their engines. The approach Pontiac took with their mid-size Catalina involved using aluminum parts to cut weight and modifying its engine to crank out even more ponies.
The Catalina’s front and rear bumpers, front fenders and fender liners, hood, radiator support, splash pan and radiator all went aluminum, while its big, 421-cu.in. Super Duty V8 received a boost in output.
For the 1963 season, Pontiac realized that even more changes to the Catalina would be necessary to keep it competitive. They tricked out the 421-cu.in. Super Duty V8 even more by adding new Mickey Thompson pistons, a new camshaft grind with lighter valves and beefier valve springs.
The biggest upgrade, however, came in the form of the Catalina going on a crash diet that saw it lose an extra 270 pounds, bringing its curb weight to just 3,300 pounds. To achieve this, engineers transformed the car’s box frame into a U-shaped frame and then cut approximately 120 holes in the steel frame to drop some unnecessary pounds.
Other performance modifications included the removal of the front anti-roll bar and all sound-deadening material and application of thinner-gauge aluminum stampings for the front fenders, hood, and other non-stressed members.
According to the guys at McLoughlin Chevrolet, the Pontiac Catalina has gone down in history as the “Swiss Cheese Pontiac.” With just a few examples of it currently still around, the famous race car is an extremely rare and highly sought-after collectible that could fetch a lot of money