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History "The Swiss Cheese Pontiacs" with photos

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by loudbang, May 22, 2017.

  1. loudbang
    Joined: Jul 23, 2013
    Posts: 15,433


    These things seem to strike a cord with drag racing fans no matter which brand you normally support.

    So for your latest short history lesson An original Full sized Pontiac "Swiss Cheese car has been restored.

    In 1963, Pontiac created a handful of very special Catalinas, strictly for drag racing, that would be forever known as the Swiss Cheese cars. Here are some rare details on these unusual Pontiacs.

    1 1963-Pontiac-Swiss-Cheese-Collingwood-B-J.jpg

    In the early ’60s, the Detroit "Motor City’" performance wars were heating up. As the competition escalated, these drag-strip battles produced some wild and crazy factory-built race specials, maybe none more wild than the 1963 Pontiac Catalina lightweights. Famed Motor City journalist Roger Huntington, writing for the May 1963 issue of Hot Rod magazine, took one look at the radically modified Pontiacs and coined the nickname they’ve carried to this day: the Swiss Cheese cars.

    Only 14 Swiss Cheese Catalinas were built by Pontiac, and only nine are said to exist today. Due in part to their rarity, everything about these strange cars seems to be shrouded in myth and legend. But fortunately for us, Tim Divers of Divers Street Rods in Sultan, Washington, winner of the 2008 Ridler Award, among other feats, has performed a ground-up, nut-and-bolt restoration of one of these rare machines, and he carefully photographed the entire process.

    Like many of the factory lightweight drag cars from the Detroit automakers in the ’60s, the Swiss Cheese cars employed weight-shaving body components—in this case, thin-gauge aluminum for the inner and outer front fenders, hood, front bumper and brackets, and radiator support. (Plastic side windows were also available as a dealer package, reportedly.) These pieces and some other measures—more on these later—trimmed the big Catalina’s weight down to a claimed 3308 lbs versus the production car’s advertised shipping weight of 3725 lbs, a savings of over 400 lbs right off the top.

    With its giant 120-inch wheelbase and 64-inch track, the Catalina came into the game with a significant penalty in size and weight over the standard-size Ford and Chevy and the intermediate-class Dodge and Plymouth. Every ounce was critical, leading Pontiac to some extreme measures, as we will see.

    All 14 of the cars were nearly identical: Catalina two-door hardtops, body style 2347, with base blue plastic interiors. The first 12 cars were painted code 92 Firefrost Silver, a special-order Cadillac high-metallic color, while the last two were finished in standard WA2970 Pontiac Silvermist Gray. The car shown here, originally raced by Collingwood Motors in Greybull, Wyoming with the name Tonto VI, happens to be the final example assembled by Pontiac, and it wears Silvermist Gray paint.

    2 1963-Pontiac-Swiss-Cheese-Collingwood-profile.png

    Power for the ’63 lightweight racers was supplied by Pontiac’s Super Duty 421 CID V8, here rated at 420 hp at 5,600 rpm but said to be good for closer to 500 hp when properly tweaked. The combination included trick high-flow cylinder heads, a McKellar no. 10 camshaft (named for Pontiac engineer Mac McKellar), and two Carter AFB four-barrels on an aluminum intake manifold. A special "bathtub" (photo at end) intake that resembled a modern tunnel ram-style manifold was available over the counter.

    3 1963-Pontiac-Swiss-Cheese-Super-Duty-V8.jpg

    A few photos of a Full sized SD car not Swiss Cheese and NOT this car but the engine would look like this.

    1963 421 swiss a.jpg

    1963 421 swiss b.jpg

    1963 421 swiss c.jpg

    Just to show how far Pontiac was willing to go in the pursuit of weight savings, the exhaust manifolds were cast in aluminum. First made available as dealer items in 1962, they were standard equipment on the ’63 lightweights.

    Unable to withstand prolonged high temperatures, obviously, the aluminum pieces were considered adequate for brief journeys of approximately one quarter mile, and weighed but 27 lbs per pair compared to 72 lbs for the cast-iron production-line parts. There was a warning included with the cars NOT to do extended driving or the exhaust manifolds WOULD MELT and some did.

    4 1963-Pontiac-Swiss-Cheese-Right-Exhaust-Manifold.jpg

    Replacements now seem to be going about $2,000 EACH Now if you can find any.

    Just as you’d expect, the Swiss Cheese cabin was free of frills, with a bench seat in blue vinyl and nylon and radio and heater deleted. Body sealer, sound deadener, and insulation were also deleted to pare off a few more pounds. Surprisingly, perhaps, the Hurst shift lever was not connected to a four-speed transmission. Instead, the standard gearbox was a Borg-Warner T-85 heavy-duty three-speed with a trick close-ratio gearset featuring a 2.09:1 first gear. Of course, many racers swapped out the three-speed in favor of the Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed box.

    5 1963-Pontiac-Swiss-Cheese-Collingwood-interior.jpg

    Here’s the soul of the Swiss Cheese Pontiac, if you will, and how it won its name. With the Catalina stripped down to the bare frame, here supported on the blades of a forklift truck, we can see the 120 to 130 large-diameter holes punched in the rails in a desperate attempt to whittle off a few more pounds. Journalist Huntington, who wrote about the Detroit auto industry for decades in a score of magazines, reached for the obvious nickname and a legend was born.

    6 1963-Pontiac-Swiss-Cheese-Bare-Frame.jpg

    Here’s a closer look at the radical surgery performed on the Catalina’s frame. Note the bottom plate has been completely cut away, transforming the framerail’s box section into a U-section. Meanwhile, the 120+ lightening holes in the sides leave little meat remaining in the frame itself, forcing the body shell to carry the bulk of the chassis loads.

    Needless to say, the Swiss Cheese cars were virtually worthless for road use, while on the drag strip, racers found that the lightweight frame required frequent patching and reinforcement, especially around the rear suspension area.

    Parts such as doors would go out of alignment due to "sagging" of the frame due to all the metal that had been removed.

    7 1963-Pontiac-Swiss-Cheese-Frame-Detail.jpg

    This shot of the Swiss Cheese chassis reveals a number of key details. Note the Borg-Warner T-85 three-speed transmission, the alloy bell housing, and the cast-aluminum headers with twin-outlet adapters for the rudimentary street exhaust system that was still needed according to NHRA rules of the time.

    And here’s an intriguing detail pointed out to us by restorer Tim Divers: It would appear that the lightening holes were punched in the frame sections before the frame was welded together.

    8 1963-Pontiac-Swiss-Cheese-Frame-Trans-Manifolds.jpg

    George DeLorean, the younger brother of GM executive John DeLorean and a Detroit performance legend in his own right, raced a Swiss Cheese Catalina that was as quick as any in the country, running elapsed times in the 12.30-second range at 115 mph.

    NHRA, drag racing’s top sanctioning body, assigned the lightweight Catalina to the B/Factory Experimental class for vehicles with special features not necessarily available in dealer showrooms.

    DeLorean also raced a smaller and lighter Pontiac Tempest with a Super Duty V8 in the A/FX category. The Swiss Cheese Pontiacs enjoyed limited success on the drag strips in 1963.

    Unfortunately, Pontiac’s racing program that year was grounded before it launched when, on January 21, GM President John F. Gordon and Chairman Fred Donner issued their famous edict that ordered the company out of all racing activities, effective immediately.

    Today the Swiss Cheese cars are highly treasured on the car show and auction circuits, thanks to their fascinating history and construction, with cars usually changing hands in the half-million dollar neighborhood.

    George Delorean's

    9 1963-Pontiac-Swiss-Cheese-George-DeLorean.jpg

    10 1963-Pontiac-Swiss-Cheese-Right-Rear.png

    Ok this is NOT meant to be the be all end all History of these cars. There are some threads here on the HAMB where they get mentioned and this one on the Lightweight Tempests is a good read but some of the photos are missing.

    So if you have anything to dispute or add free free to add anything OF VALUE to this thread.

    The SD Bath Tub intake as promised :)




    The original post from here:
    1947knuck, edcodesign, slv63 and 29 others like this.
  2. Love this stuff. Great history lesson.
  3. Corvette Fever
    Joined: Feb 18, 2014
    Posts: 118

    Corvette Fever
    from Michigan

    George is still in the car game not as a drag racer but a street rodder in the Detroit area. He has a kick ass 53 Olds that he has been working on for the last couple of years
    A couple of years ago he and a buddy ( both north of 80)lined up their 39 and 40 Fords for a drag race on Woodward just prior to the Woodward Cruise and light them up......George won, guess racing lives forever.

    Sent from my iPad using The H.A.M.B. mobile app
  4. Interesting history.
    My signwriter buddy was telling me something about these early 60s Pontiacs a few years ago, when he did the sign work on this kiwi Pontiac. 362778-1328340883-01fff9d5ea9f0271577a964cbec1763d.jpg
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  5. Jalopy Joker
    Joined: Sep 3, 2006
    Posts: 20,812

    Jalopy Joker

    loudbang likes this.
  6. jetnow1
    Joined: Jan 30, 2008
    Posts: 1,157

    from CT
    1. A-D Truckers

    What they did to that frame is incredible- and from the factory. You wonder what they could do today without
    lawyers and accountants driving everything.
  7. Lebowski
    Joined: Aug 21, 2011
    Posts: 1,570


    Thanks for the info. :)
    lothiandon1940 and loudbang like this.
  8. RMR&C
    Joined: Dec 26, 2009
    Posts: 2,842

    from NW Montana

    Good read, thanks!
    Love those old ponchos.....had a '68 Catalina in high school.
    loudbang likes this.
  9. loudbang
    Joined: Jul 23, 2013
    Posts: 15,433


    Got driven to trade school by a cute little bit older neighbor in a stock 63. Back in those days ladies stockings had that little bit more opaque thicker part to hook the thing from garders into near the very top. We would be cruising along and she must have had peripheral vision like supergirl because just when her skirt would ride up to the interesting part she would come out with "eyes on the road mister". Caught me every time LOL. :rolleyes:
  10. 40ragtopdown
    Joined: Jan 13, 2015
    Posts: 968


    My brother had a 63 catilina black 421 four speed tri power man that thing was fast for a full size car . Thanks for the pictures that really bringsback some memories. I remember watching the guys from Royal Pontiac race at dragway 42 when I was a kid .
  11. ..............................Great story. I think we've all been there a time or two.:D;)
  12. flatheadpete
    Joined: Oct 29, 2003
    Posts: 9,240

    from Burton, MI

    Great article. I've always wanted a '62 421 tri-power 4-speed Catalina.
    C. John Stutzer and loudbang like this.
  13. mgtstumpy
    Joined: Jul 20, 2006
    Posts: 6,170


    I remember reading an article ages ago about them, a good example of bad practice. Still awesome cars
    loudbang likes this.
  14. belair
    Joined: Jul 10, 2006
    Posts: 7,654

    1. H.A.M.B. Chapel

    Well done, loudbang. Those are handsome cars. One of the few models I prefer over the Chevys of the same year.
    loudbang likes this.
  15. jimmy six
    Joined: Mar 21, 2006
    Posts: 3,399

    jimmy six

    There is a 421 63 Tempest coupe that comes to breakfast I occasionally go and it has one of the "bathtub" manifolds. I'll photo it next time. A very nice car.
    loudbang likes this.
  16. The 39 guy
    Joined: Nov 5, 2010
    Posts: 2,522

    The 39 guy

    That car was owned by a couple of collectors in my home town. They commissioned Divers to do the restoration. The link below may be of interest for many of you. Having seen the chassis before restoration I can attest that it was a very fragile piece that would require constant maintenance even if used only for drag racing. Nice subject Loudbang ,thanks for posting it.
    mad mikey and loudbang like this.
  17. loudbang
    Joined: Jul 23, 2013
    Posts: 15,433


    GREAT LINK a bunch of good photos. You guys need to take a look
    Ricks Garage likes this.
  18. flatheadpete
    Joined: Oct 29, 2003
    Posts: 9,240

    from Burton, MI

    Bump for one helluva history lesson.
    loudbang likes this.
  19. mutant55
    Joined: Mar 11, 2012
    Posts: 159


    Also don't forget, these cars also got a special cast aluminum center section to save weight as well, I happen to own one in my collection of Pontiac / Olds 9.3 stuff, I understand not all of them got it, and there were 11 cars in 63-64 that did, then GM made 100 to sell over the counter, crazy low production number. I have met several racers that used them in things like funny car applications that destroyed them, so who knows how many are actually left.
  20. Great topic. I love Pontiac stuff. Have Pontiac power in my 34 ford coupe.
    lothiandon1940 and loudbang like this.
  21. Some great photos and information. love threads like this.
    loudbang likes this.
  22. quicksilverart46
    Joined: Dec 7, 2016
    Posts: 324


    There is one more special part unique to these cars. The rear end drop out third member was also made of aluminum!! I had one for a short time in my '46 Chevy sedan delivery gasser that has a big '57-'64 Pontiac reared. The Date code 1963 third had a 4.30 gear and Dana posi and was a treasured addition to my car but fear of breaking it due to the aluminum forced me to put the HEAVY but indestructible iron case back in for racing. I regretted selling it but it went to a good home and is now in one of the remaining Swiss cheese drag Catalina's.

    Sent from my iPhone using The H.A.M.B. mobile app
  23. slowmotion
    Joined: Nov 21, 2011
    Posts: 2,905


    I got to see the one in Don Snyder's collection a few years back. Thought I had a pic, danged if I can find it.
    Cool read, Loud. Thanks for posting it up.
    loudbang likes this.
  24. frank spittle
    Joined: Jan 29, 2009
    Posts: 1,495

    frank spittle

    I purchased a restored Swiss Cheese in '87 and sold it a year later to C.K. Spurlock. I will try to post a picture of it.
  25. mutant55
    Joined: Mar 11, 2012
    Posts: 159


    Here's a picture of mine, it was polished before I got it, so a lot of the numbers are polished off, but other than that it is all date coded December of 63', series 3 safe-t-track, and it came with 4.10's in it.

    Pontiac 421 Aluminum third member 001.jpg Pontiac 421 Aluminum third member 004.jpg Pontiac 421 Aluminum third member 005.jpg Pontiac 421 Aluminum third member 003.jpg
  26. stuart in mn
    Joined: Nov 22, 2007
    Posts: 1,597

    stuart in mn

    Those early cast iron case T-10 four speeds weren't known for their strength and durability, so the T-85 three speed was often a preferred choice.

    The '61 Bonneville in my avatar has one (along with a 425A Tripower engine.) My understanding was the first owner did a lot of street racing with it; when I got the car, first, second and third gears were shelled out. :) I had to replace most of the guts in the thing.
  27. Fordors
    Joined: Sep 22, 2016
    Posts: 1,379


    You raise an interesting topic with your T85/T10 comments, and I do not understand why the 4 speed would necessarily be weaker since the basis for the T10 was the T85.
    I have not seen the gears in a T85 in almost 50 years, since a friend had one in his '57 Ford 300 with a 390. I know reverse gear was put in the tailshaft on the T10 , but did the gears have to be narrower to fit four forward gears in the case?
    loudbang likes this.
  28. Nice piece, would swap right into my coupe olds rear. LOL.;)
    loudbang likes this.
  29. stuart in mn
    Joined: Nov 22, 2007
    Posts: 1,597

    stuart in mn

    Some years ago I had some conversations with Rick Gonser in California; he was a tech support advisor for the Pontiac club (POCI) and had been an active drag racer back in the early 1960s. He told me that when they were racing they went through those early T-10 transmissions like they were going out of style. :)

    Apparently, one of the problems was the aluminum side cover on the transmission was weak and would deform under hard use, which would allow the internals to move around and break. I believe he was also the one who told me that at some point, Pontiac wouldn't warrantee those transmissions if they had any suspicion they'd been used hard (now, this is a second hand story and it was told to me many years ago so I can't vouch for it.) Later versions of the T-10 were upgraded with better side covers and a number of other things, to the point where they were reliable.

    As it was, Pontiacs had enough torque that running the three speed transmission wasn't all that big a handicap over the competition at the time.

    Another person with first hand knowledge of the early 60s Pontiac drag racing scene is Tom Schlauch - he's on the HAMB but I don't recall his screen name here. Hopefully he will see this thread and be able to respond.
  30. pontman
    Joined: Mar 18, 2011
    Posts: 370


    There was a set of SD cast iron exhaust manifolds at the Monroe, WA. swap meet last weekend for $3000.
    loudbang likes this.

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