Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

1950, 1951, 1952 Pontiac Catalina


The Pontiac Catalina featured a toothy grille and silver stripes on the hood.
The Pontiac Catalina featured a toothy grille and silver stripes on the hood.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Styling and technological advances for the 1950, 1951, 1952 Pontiac Catalina were gradual. The 1950s wore a toothier grille, while the 1950-1951 sported a horizontal divider bar with a deep central vee cradling a large Pontiac crest. "Silver Streak" hood and rear deck stripes, a Pontiac fixture since the 1930s, remained much in evidence.

So did the stern countenance of Chief Pontiac as a mascot. Like all proper hood ornaments in those days, it glowed with the headlamps on.

Gimmicky feature names were de rigueur at the time, and Pontiac had its fair share. Interiors featured "Vision-Aire," at least partly because of a larger, slightly curved (but still divided) "Safe-T-View" windshield. Also touted were a "Carry-More" trunk, wider "Easy-Access" doors, dash-mounted "Finger-Tip" starter, and "Tru-Arc Safety Steering" (which was actually slower than before).

Pontiac's main mechanical developments for 1949 included adoption of a 120-inch wheelbase for all models (replacing the 119/122-inch split used since 1941), slimmer channel-section side rails for the X-member chassis, and telescopic shock absorbers all-round (which yielded a "Travelux Ride").

Pontiac's old L-head six and eight soldiered on, smooth running as ever and reliable as the tides. Respective horsepower for 1950 was 90 and 108. For 1951, the six was stepped up to 96 horsepower, the eight to 116. An optional high-compression head (necessitating premium fuel) added four horses to each. Respective 1952 ratings came in at 100/102 and 118/122.

Optional Hydra-Matic Drive gave Pontiac popularity a big boost during this period. First offered for 1948 at $185, it was reduced to $159 the following year and went into 78 percent of total production. Fastbacks were fading from favor, and Pontiac was even quicker to abandon those, dumping the Streamliner series for 1952 and putting wagons into the Chieftain lines.

The Catalinas were another story. Like hardtops everywhere, they sold strongly from the start, and went nowhere but up despite being less than $100 cheaper than Pontiac's true convertibles.

The division didn't record individual body-style production, but it's known that two out of every three Catalinas sold in this period were Eights. This suggested that buyers wanted hardtops with maximum power as well as maximum luxury.

Luxury they got. Like other early GM hardtops, Pontiacs came handsomely upholstered in vinyl and leather. Bright horizontal strips over the headliner seams added to the "convertible feel," an idea contributed by GM's legendary chief designer, Harley Earl.

In all, the first Catalinas stand as elegant symbols of Pontiac's postwar turn from "super Chevy" to a more luxurious car with its own identity. In time, that trend would prove as profitable as hardtops and automatics.

To check out specifications for the 1950-1952 Pontiac Catalina, continue to the next page.

For more information on cars, see:


More to Explore