Pontiac Catalina Safari


At the heart of every cliché resides a resounding truth. And the one about everything being bigger in America is no exception. Stumbling across the behemoth that is the Pontiac Catalina Safari at the side of the road that leads to the coast at sleepy Half Moon Bay makes humbles an Englishman. Even one who owns an old Jag.

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All images Michael Fordham

I must admit, I had never seen, nor heard, of this car until it appeared in our peripheral vision like a continent yesterday. Owner Rick (pictured), proudly announced that he had driven all the way up from Ventura along the spectacularly twisty and totemic Highway 1. “It’s no problem at all, he told me, once you get her going, you just point the nose in the right direction and she does the rest.”

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This particular car, according to Rick, is a 1960 model, and has a 398CI (6.4l) V8. “I’d had it in the garage for a long time not doing a lot at all,” he told me, “We had started a family and didn’t have much time, so it just sat there. But I thought it was a crime to let her just rot away.”

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So after an engine overhaul, a new exhaust system and the addition of some attractive new booties Rick had just given this battlecruiser its maiden voyage – to a music festival in nearby Big Sur. He and his young family had, apparently, camped down and used the car as a base. And while it’s not exactly a campervan, it’s obvious that with that big box like structure (and that lovely flat roof) you could fit a quiver of big old surfboards, a few kids and some bikes etc in there no problem.

“You gotta do it in style”, said Rick with a smile and a thumbs up, before we jumped back in our, now diminutive looking, Chevy Astro.

We couldn’t agree more.

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