How Pontiac Works

By: the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide

Pontiacs of the 1960s

Pontiac's massive models included this 1965 Pontiac Grand Prix,which had a 121-inch wheelbase.

Pontiac was building some of the best-looking, best-handling standard cars in all of '60s Detroit. The public loved them. Sales were both strong and consistent, starting at about 396,000 for 1960 and reaching near half a million by '65.

Pontiac began the decade with facelifted versions of the successful "Wide Track" '59s, bearing high "twin-tube" taillamps and a Vee'd, full-width horizontal-bar grille. A fourth series was added that year, the Catalina-based Ventura, a hardtop coupe and Vista hardtop sedan priced just below Star Chief at around $3000. Ventura was dropped for '62 in favor of the bucket-seat Grand Prix, an elegantly tailored $3500 hardtop coupe, also on the Catalina chassis.


GP sales flirted with the 73,000 mark in 1963, then gradually eased off through '68 with the exception of a tiny spike in 1967, when a convertible was added. Offered only that year, the ragtop has since become a minor collector's item, as only 5856 were built.

Big-Pontiac styling kept improving, at least through '66, thanks to the efforts of William L. Mitchell, who had replaced the legendary Harley Earl as GM design chief back in 1958. Pontiac's distinctive split grille returned to stay for 1961, along with crisp new styling on shorter wheelbases: 119 inches for Catalina/Ventura and all wagons, 123 for Star Chief/Bonneville. Catalina added an inch for '62.

Even cleaner machines with stacked quad headlamps and narrow, split grilles were issued for 1963-64. The '65s were well executed but massive, with a bulging front and billowy bodysides. Wheelbase was lengthened to 121 inches for Catalina/Grand Prix/wagons and to 124 for Star Chief/Bonneville. The forceful looks were slightly muted for '66.

Regrettably, the '67s had a heavy look highlighted by bulky, curved rear fenders. Model-year '68 introduced a huge bumper/grille with a prominent vertical center bulge and a return to horizontal headlamps. The snout was toned down for '69, when another inch was tacked on to wheelbases. The following year brought an upright twin-element grille faintly reminiscent of the '30s, but far less graceful.

Full-size model choices in these years were as consistent as their popularity. Catalinas in all the usual body styles were offered throughout, as were the midrange Star Chief sedan, hardtop sedan, and -- from '66 -- hardtop coupe.

 The latter three types, plus a convertible and four-door Safari wagons, made up the top-line Bonneville group. (A four-door sedan joined in for 1968.) A bucket-seat "2+2" option package bowed for 1964's Catalina convertible and two-door hardtop; it became a distinct series for '66, then vanished after 1967 in the fast-fading market for sporty full-sizers. One change involved Star Chief: It tacked on the Executive name for '66, which then replaced the Star Chief label through 1970.

Big-Pontiac V-8s were equally consistent in the '60s, with numerous horsepower variations but just four basic sizes -- two large and two "small" -- all based on the original '55 block. The small ones comprised a 389 available through 1966 and a bored-out 400 from '67. These were base equipment for all full-size models. Power ranged from 215 to 350, with the latter standard for Grand Prix starting with '67.

The larger mills, optional on most models, were a 421 for 1963-66 and a 428 for 1967-69, after which a huge 455 took over. Horsepower peaked at 390 for 1968-69, then began waning with federally mandated emission controls. A "Super-Duty" 421 powered a handful of dragstrip-oriented lightweight Catalinas built in 1961. It then became a bit easier to obtain and eventually topped 400 bhp, but it was expensive, rarely ordered, and thus dropped after a few years.

For more on the amazing Pontiac, old and new, see:

For more on the amazing Pontiac, old and new, see:

  • Pontiac New Car Reviews and Prices
  • Pontiac Used Car Reviews and Prices