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1962 Pontiac Catalina - The Phantom Bubbletop

Pontiac Changed The Catalina Roof In 1962. Today, David Greene Changes It Back.

Photography by Steve Magnante

Change isn't always a good thing. In the case of the '62 fullsize Pontiac lineup, loads of people cried foul when Pontiac stylists replaced the graceful bubbletop greenhouse used in the '61 with a squared-off, box-top treatment. Among the dissenting voices was then 20-year-old David Greene. "When I first saw the new Catalina at the dealership back in 1962, I really thought the redesigned grille, bumpers, and body lines were nice improvements over the '61 model. But when I asked the salesman if I could order one with the '61-style bubbletop, he told me they were gone for good."

Sure, Dave could have walked to the local Chevy dealer and bought a bubbletop Impala-where the unique greenhouse survived for an extra year, but he's a hard-core Pontiac man. There would be no Impalas, 409 or otherwise, parking in his teepee.

Dave vowed to one day fix what Pontiac broke way back in 1962. That day arrived in 2007, when he combined a solid '62 Pontiac Catalina with the bubbletop greenhouse from a mangled '61 Catalina. Some call never-offered, what-if cars like this "phantoms." The funny thing is, Dave says only the more devoted Pontiac fans notice the amazing combination. The average GTO and Firebird guys aren't dialed into the fullsize mind-set and just think it's a nicely rendered Super Stock tribute car. But they're only getting half the picture.

Though it seems scary, Dave says the roof swap only takes about two weeks, and if you're careful, a bare minimum of freestyle fabricating is required. "If you're lucky and have access to rust-free cars and parts, you can slice out the needed parts from the bubbletop, carefully make room for them by trimming the '62 body, and get a result that looks factory."

But because Dave has been drag racing and generally hammering his Pontiacs for more than 40 years, the showroom stock thing just wouldn't cut it. So he added a subtle blend of early Super Stock cues to the mix. The resulting potion could be right at home in the staging lanes of the '62 Indy Nationals sitting next to Dyno Don's Impala and Gas Rhonda's Galaxie.

And speaking of dragstrips, Dave says his father, Hubert, had a brand-new '59 Star Chief with the hot Tri-power 389 and three-speed stick. Dad knew way better than to let young Dave borrow the car, but for some reason he felt safe handing the keys to Dave's big sis. Before long, Dave and Big Sis worked out a deal where they'd swap cars: Dave's beater for Dad's Tri-power. Dave would hit the local dragstrip while Sis went cruising with her pals. "I won a lot of trophies at Quaker City in Salem, Ohio, but could never bring them home for fear Dad would catch on to my trick. So I ended up giving most of them away at the track at the end of the day." Dave says the Pontiac never broke, so he managed to keep his shenanigans discreet until the '05 Pontiac Nationals. As Dave and his dad walked the show, a friend ran up and shoved an old dog-eared photo of Dave wheeling the big '59 on the strip right under Dad's nose. Buuust-ed. After 46 years of secrecy, the jig was up. Luckily, Dad laughed it off instead of tarring Dave's backside.

We'd say Dave is a lucky man. In addition to the wild home-brewed Catalina bubbletop, his garage holds two real Super Duty '61 Catalinas, a factory-issue '61 Bonneville bubbletop, and a 348-horse Tri-power '62 Catalina. Dave says, "I like the GTOs and Firebirds, but my roots are with the fullsize cars, so that's why I build, restore, and collect them."

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