Rot-Free 1963 Pontiac Catalina Safari Wagon

The wagons of the mid-1900s were the SUVs of today. They were the people-haulers, the cars to take the family on road trips. Once very common, they fell out of fashion and were generally used up and thrown away. While modern wagons (there aren’t many) are not really considered “cool,” I certainly wouldn’t mind sitting behind the wheel of this classic one! Recently removed from over 40 years of sitting, this 1963 Pontiac Catalina Safari Wagon is up for sale in Tucson Arizona. You can find the listing here on eBay, with bidding at time of writing at $4,415.65. Thank you Barn Find fan Russel for the tip!

This Pontiac is a huge car, coming in at just shy of 213 inches long. For context, that’s over a foot longer than a brand-new Explorer. This would have been an excellent car to take on long trips, with seating for 9 people (including the rear-facing 3rd row), roof racks for the luggage, and huge windows for great views. I’m sure this car has lots of memories from its time on the road, but from what the seller tells us, it was last driven in 1973.

This wagon has some great patina. I know that word is often overused but I think it really applies here. Fortunately, it looks like the rust on the panels is mostly surface-level stuff. The seller has a huge number of high-quality photos, including the frame and underneath the car, and there doesn’t appear to be any major red flags. Honestly, for being outside for several decades, this car has survived way better than I would have expected. Arizona is a great climate for preserving cars.

The car apparently runs, although that engine looks pretty crusty. I couldn’t figure out what would have made it look that way, until I saw this photo – it looks like the whole engine compartment was made into a nest. The seller must have worked pretty hard to get it all cleared out. However, the engine looks complete, with a new brake master cylinder and all the factory A/C components. This engine is a 389 V8, standard for the Safari wagon. It appears to have its original 2-barrel carburetor and a 3-speed automatic transmission, which would have given 230 hp.

The interior is rough, but not the worst I’ve seen. Other than the middle bench row, the sun has taken a toll many of the soft surfaces. The driver seat has several large splits, the trunk area panels have started to disintegrate, the dash has several large cracks, and some of the door panels appear to be warped. The dash itself and all of the gauges and switches still look to be in good shape, although we don’t know how well anything works. There is a night time photo, and at least some of the dash still lights up. There are a few ideas for this car that the seller presents – instead a full restoration, this car could also become a hot rod, a rat rod, or some sort of resto-mod. I like the idea of a new interior, restored drivetrain, and keep the patina. What would you do with it?


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  1. Terrry

    That car had pack rats living in it, pretty common in the southwest desert areas. But it also wasn’t exposed to too much moisture, either. There’s a lot to work with here.

    Like 4
  2. Mike

    Let me guess.. Their driveway was east/west and the driver’s side was facing south when they parked it.

    Like 2
    • Motorsport Whse

      the car was actually facing north south..I helped pull it out.

      Like 2
      • Mike

        Weird. How did the driver side get fried while the pass side didn’t? I was thinking the driver’s side would be facing south for years worth of exposure.

  3. local_sheriff

    Now this is a very cool and interesting find, though I understand I’m biased as I brought home a ’64 Safari a couple years back(in MUCH better condition I may add…). While I won’t dispute this is a big car however for a 60s fullsize it’s not that long – these Safaris have same 119inch WB as same years Chevs in contrast to non-wagon Pontiacs. The Buick+Olds fullsize wagons were much longer vehicles.

    The ’63 Cat has a very nice interior IMO. While it looks like the 2nd seat has cloth inserts I believe that’s only an optical illusion as I don’t think there was a cloth upholstery option for wagons this year. Note the square wiper motor/parallell arms indicating 1spd wipers. Wagon buyers will particularly appreciate the 3rd seat and roof rack options. Transmission should be the Roto Hydramatic and it has the DeLuxe steering wheel (clear with horn ring). 4th digit in VIN ‘S’ indicates Southgate, Cali plant.

    I must say this seller deserves kudos for that album of pics provided. While they show a vehicle needing very much it also appears highly saveable and it will be very interesting to learn how high the 12 bidders will push it…

    Like 3
  4. Howard A Member

    ’63 Pontiac wagons always creep me out. It was President Kennedy’s last ride,,,

    Like 7
  5. bikefixr

    A nice tri-power on a 428. Clean and clearcoat. New interior. new suspension and 4 wheel discs with some wide steelies. YEAH!

    Like 4
  6. Cdice

    My mother had a 63 Catalina convertible…aquamarine blue with white top. Beautiful car. It had an early form of cruise control called Magi-Cruise. I don’t think there was any modulation of throttle to keep constant speed but rather it just set the throttle in one position and would turn off if you touched the brake.

    Like 1
    • Howard A Member

      GM also had what was called the “Speed Sentinel”. It was another needle on the speedo that you “set” at a determined speed, and would emit an annoying buzzer sound if that speed was exceeded. It was needed because, the “Wide Track Poncho’s”, 45mph didn’t feel any different than 75 mph.

  7. Howie Mueler

    Does rot free mean they don’t charge you for the rot?

    Like 5
  8. Mountainwoodie

    Patina, schmatina…we once just called this a rusted neglected hulk. Hundred bucks to tow it away. Now? Over five grand. Talk about inflating value of rusted hulks and deflating value of the dollar!

    Like 4
    • Motorsport Whse

      haters are gonna hate, Im sure yours has less rot though …un restrored.

      Like 1
    • Majik

      From the prices I see on this site and others, 5 grand sounds pretty reasonable. Yea EVERYTHING is gonna need attention to some degree, but body panels aren’t rusting off and it’s complete. Maybe I’m biased due to spending so much time in that rear-facing 3rd row making faces at the driver behind us in the late ’70s. Unfortunately, I have no room. ~ When I hear someone say “Make a rat rod out of it.”, I tend to think they’re not comfortable enough with their skill level and are intimidated by the idea of taking a car so far gone that not many would touch it, and building the image of perfection swimming around in their mind. Building/restoring a car in the past generally meant taking it back to factory stock, or better. Which can be intimidating. Building a rat rod is a far more forgiving option. ~S

      Like 2
  9. Angel_Cadillac_Diva Angel Cadillac Diva Member

    Ah, memories. My aunt and uncle next door that i often refer to when commenting on Cadillacs decided to increase their family so after their last Cadillac, a ’59 Coupe de Ville, they purchased a white 1961 Pontiac Catalina station wagon. After 2 years it got totaled in an accident and the replacement car was a 1963 Pontiac Safari station wagon in blue with blue interior. I always loved Pontiacs dashboard, especially the heat and a/c controls looking just like the radio. We had some good times going to the lake with that car. All the kids would be in the third row and second row. Yeah, lots of cousins.

    Like 3
  10. Gary Rhodes

    Lower it, four wheel disc brakes, LS with a stick shift, blue interior, silver sides and anything between the quarter panel top spears from the tailgate to the grille black. Chrome everything that needs it, polish the rest. Badass restomod

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