The Car That Never Was: 1959 Pontiac El Catalina

The Car That Never Was: 1959 Pontiac El Catalina

In 1959, Pontiac was at the top of their game with sales figures improving year over year, making dynamite cars that were packed with clean style and legendary power… A reputation that would carry the GM middle child brand through the next decade. The charismatic leader Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen lead the charge as Poncho’s mission was to be known for pure Wide-Track performance, backed up by stock car and drag racing via the ‘Super Duty’ program heading into the 60s. That’s why the vehicle you see below was all the more of an odd one- Pontiac hadn’t produced any sort of truck or real utility vehicle since 1928 (besides a sedan delivery that was discontinued after 1953), so making their own upscale version of the El Camino was probably doomed from the start. This one-off prototype consisted of a Chevy El Camino cab and inner bed mounted on a 122″ Catalina Safari Wagon chassis and front clip with the stock 389 V8, along with the wagon’s lower doors, quarter panels and tailgate. It was an immense amount of work for Pontiac engineers to essentially hand-build the El Catalina, but Knudsen smartly cancelled the project before a second one could be constructed. The reason was simple- The split between Ford Rancheros and Chevrolet El Caminos in a niche ‘car-based pickup’ vehicle market only equalled a relatively small 36,000 units sold that year, so it didn’t take a crystal ball to see there wouldn’t be much meat left on the bone for a third (and likely more expensive) entry. Besides, the El Catalina didn’t fit Pontiac’s emerging performance image Bunkie was pushing towards.

Regardless, she’s make a fine custom cruiser, no?

Note: Mecum sold the one and only El Catalina prototype, fully restored, at their 2018 Indy Auction in May for a jaw-dropping $340,000!!!

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