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."
Who: David Greene
What: '62 Pontiac Catalina bubbletop conversion
Hometown: Lenoir City, Tennessee, where the first settlers were Overhill Cherokee Indians. Knowing that, we could have titled this feature "Hatchet Job" . . . but we didn't.
Short-block: It's a stock rebuild of the original Trophy 389 bottom end. That means a cast nodular iron crank and Arma Steel rods with cast 10.25:1 pistons, certainly not Super Duty stuff, but tough enough for the job. The hotter-than-stock Comp flat-tappet hydraulic cam has 280/280 duration and 0.507-inch lift.
Heads: The '62 vintage No. 177 heads are lightly ported and feature stock-size 1.88/1.60 valves and 68cc chambers. Hardened valve-seat inserts assure unleaded survival.
Valvetrain: The stock stamped-steel rocker arms-which GM engineers developed in conjunction with those used on the '55 Chevy small-block-are retained but chrome-moly retainers, Comp springs, and thick-wall pushrods boost rpm potential and reliability.
Induction: The super groovy vintage Mickey Thompson Power Ram intake manifold was found under a friend's workbench. It swills premium fire water through a pair of box-stock 1405 Edelbrock 600-cfm carbs. Dave says it idles smoothly at 1,100 rpm and delivers 12 mpg if he doesn't hammer on it.
Exhaust: A set of standard Trophy 389 cast-iron manifolds send smoke signals to dual 21/2-inch pipes and Flowmaster mufflers. Each head pipe has a dump plate that can be uncapped for a few extra horses and a bunch more decibels.
Real Bubble For comparison, this stock '62 Catalina has the redesigned greenhouse Dave's
Cooling: A rebuilt four-core station wagon radiator and high-volume water pump keep it nice and cool-even in heavy, low-speed traffic. That's the charm of a mild mill.
Drivetrain: A formed steel blow shield contains Zoom clutch goodies and is coupled to an aluminum-case T10 four-speed. The rebuilt 3-inch-diameter driveshaft feeds the burly Pontiac differential, which packs a rare Eaton Safe-T-Track limited slip and 3.63:1 gears. Offered under option code 691, Safe-T-Track originally cost $42.50; today it sells for 20 times that.
Chassis/Suspension: The standard Catalina frame got a set of fresh body-mount biscuits, but Dave kept the hole saw in the tool locker; there's no Swiss cheese here. The station wagon-spec springs and sway bars are from Ames Performance, so body roll is no problem.
Suspension/Brakes: The big 'Cat originally had standard 11-inch iron drum brakes, but Dave stepped up to a set of gennie eight-lugs. Originally sold as option code 694 for $122.66, the cast-aluminum drums feature integrally cast-iron friction linings. Dave says the gorgeous finned brakes are a direct bolt-on deal. The front drums share the same spindles, wheel bearings, and backing plate as the standard brake package, while the rear drums fit over the existing brakes and bolt to the axleshafts. The aluminum brakes even share the same brake shoes as the standard iron drums. Unfortunately, none of this big-car stuff fits GTOs or Firebirds, so stop dreaming.
Pontiac Tech Tip As long as you don't drive the brake shoes down to the rivets, the integ
Wheels/Tires: Front rim hoops are stock 14-inchers, while Dave whipped up a set of custom 15-inch rear hoops. Tires are Coker redline radials, 225/75R14 in front, 235/75R15 out back. Dave says the only hassle with the hoop-style rims is making up a flat plate so the tires can be balanced.
Body: Besides the custom scalp treatment, the body is all stock. The paint and bodywork were handled by the guys in Dave's shop, Greene's Classic Cars, while the vinyl retro lettering was done by Scott's Graphic in Loudon, Tennessee. Ironically, Pontiac Super Duty race cars and Ford Super Duty trucks shared the same hoodscoop.
Interior: Greene's shop refurbished the interior panels and seats in the stock vinyl pattern, and the stick-shift floor tunnel and pedals were swapped in from a donor car. The trunk-mounted utility light was a popular Pontiac option and sold for $7.10 ($5.50 wholesale).