Friday, August 9, 2013

1959 Pontiac Catalina Vista

"Clean  . . .  classic . . . completely right wherever you go! You can be fully as proud of your car as you are of your thrift when your driveway features a Catalina. Its distinctive, Bonneville-inspired styling is a masterpiece of good taste. Its new, low silhouette . . . Vista-Panoramic windshield . . . sweeping glass expense . . . and slim-line roof definitely mark you as the owner of America's Most Modern Car!"

Sporting no less than four tailfins, a "Flying Wing" roof with a huge wraparound rear window and abundant chrome trim, this "Wide-Track" Pontiac from Havana looks anything but frugal. Mind you, the Catalina was Pontiac's base model in 1959.

At the end of the decade, after some years of really sluggish sales, Pontiac rose like a phoenix from the ashes. General manager Semon "Bunkie" Knudsen, who was in charge of the division since 1956, presented the first lineup that was completely developed under his management. Now, his plan, to change Pontiac's brand image from a stuffy old man's brand towards America's performance car maker, began to pay off. Sales rose by more than 75%, boosting the division from sixth to fourth place in the annual industry ranking. The numbers were still not comparable to Pontiac's sales in the better years of 1955 or 1956, but it was an encouraging signal, nonetheless.

Ironically, Pontiac's success was quite simply built on raw power, rather than a refined strategy. When Bunkie Knudsen arrived at Pontiac in summer 1956, he instantly hired two well respected engineers: Pete Estes from Oldsmobile and John DeLorean (yes, that DeLorean) from Packard. These young petrolheads didn't loose time and went to work on raising Pontiac's performance figures, which Knudsen saw as a crucial step to attract younger buyers. By 1959, Pontiac offered "Tri-Power" carburetion and V-8 engines, sporting up to 345 horsepower. Adding the Pontiac-exclusive "Wide-Track" chassis with "Gyro-Level Ride" made these cars really hot performers. Consequently, Motor Trend Magazine awarded the Pontiac "Car of the Year".

Fortunately, all the power under the hood was backed up by a matching new design direction. The flamboyant Harley Earl styling of the 50s, still evident in Pontiac's 1957 and 1958 models, now gave way to a much leaner and crisper design which already shows a strong influence of Earl's eventual successor Bill Mitchell, who should lead GM into the 60s with his new "Linear Look" design philosophy.

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