Pontiac Catalina Super Duty

“These engines are special-purpose engines only and are not intended for highway or general passenger use.” This disclaimer, found on the order form addenda for 1962 Pontiac Super Duty engines, essentially said to performance car enthusiasts, “If you can afford it, you have to buy a car with this engine!”

Once again, the world can thank a sanctioning body rulebook for creating some of the most radical factory-built street machines of the 1960s. Before 1962, industry practice was to ship regular production cars to top-drawer drag racers with the “special” parts in the trunk or separate crate. Mickey Thompson, who received many of these do-it-yourself racing kits from GM, or another team owner would have his crew tune and tweak the car until it was all but unrecognizable to the public, then go on to dominate Super Stock competition.

It was Thompson’s driver, Hayden Proffitt, who piloted an “Optional Super Stock” Catalina with a 421-cu. in. Super Duty V-8 to victory in the 1961 NHRA Nationals in Indianapolis. That car was so fast (12.55 seconds at 110.20 miles per hour) that it forced NHRA to rethink its rules and redefine the term “production.”

For the ’62 season, NHRA declared Super Stock off limits to any engines that were not available to the public through a dealership. Pontiac’s response was to offer its NASCAR-bound 389-cubic inch SD V-8 (rated at 395 horsepower) and NHRA-friendly 421-cubic inch SD V-8 (405 horsepower) as options on its Catalina and Grand Prix models.

Upgrades to the 421 SD included pistons by Mickey Thompson, 11.0:1 compression, four-bolt bearing caps, one of Malcolm “Mac” McKellar’s solid-lifter camshafts, Moraine aluminum bearings, a lightweight flywheel and a laundry list of heavy-duty parts.

Although they probably spun many a tire in anger on the street, the SD engines were not meant for everyday driving. They were typically set up loose at the factory to minimize friction, so there was a good deal of piston-slap noise when cold. The aluminum manifold, on which a pair of Carter four-barrel carbs sat, was not warmed by exhaust heat. And the unique pulse-flow exhaust manifolds with three-inch outlets and side exhaust dump would wake the neighbors, for sure.

A crash diet trimmed pounds off the front, if the right boxes were checked on the order form. Aluminum fenders, hood, bumpers and radiator mount could give the SD engine quicker strip times by shifting weight rearward during acceleration.

Many of the 1962 Catalina’s options and accessories could be ordered with the SD engine, although air conditioning and an automatic transmission did not make that list. Buyers could specify either the standard three-speed or a $234 Borg-Warner four-speed; either transmission was hooked to a 4.30:1 rear axle gear.

According to Pontiac’s records, the company built 240 of its 421 SD engines and placed 177 of them into 162 Catalinas and 15 Grand Prix’s. The rest were sold as replacements engines.

This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in November of 2010 at the Robson Estate, Gainesville, Georgia.

405 hp, 421 cu. in. 11.0:1 compression V-8, dual four-barrel carburetors, four-speed manual transmission. Wheelbase: 120"

Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Darin Schnabel

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