Airport Coach: 1961 Pontiac Catalina Safari

Given the attrition that occurs over 60 years, you don’t see all that many 1961 cars these days. But you almost never see one that was converted into a coach to transport passengers to and from the airport. Such is the case with this 1961 Pontiac Catalina, which was a Safari wagon that was retrofitted by Armbruster Stageway many moons ago. This may be one of just 200 built and it’s been sitting behind a storage container for about 10 years. The Pontiac can be found in Yucaipa, California where it’s available here on eBay and just one bidder has dipped his toe in the water at $2,000. Thanks, Larry D, for another cool tip!

In 1961, Pontiac built some 12,595 Catalina 6-passenger station wagons. At least 200 of them were apparently shipped to Armbruster Stageway in Fort Smith, Arkansas to be converted into limousines or funeral coaches. According to their website, Armbruster has been in that business for more than 100 years. They began building and restoring horse-drawn wagons until the internal combustion engine was invented and they were the first to transform a bus into a limo. Somewhere along the way, their portfolio must have included making airport coaches.

We don’t know what this limo has been up to the past 60 years, but since it was based on a Catalina Safari, the airport shuttle idea makes the most sense. This is not a luxurious model like you would find today taking folks to weddings, bachelorette parties, and the like.  At some 23 feet long, this thing is huge and has seven doors, including four on the right side. The body may be okay, with rust apparent in at least the hood which doesn’t seat properly. It gives the indication of being white in color, to begin with, and received a rattle-can blue paint job later. I’d have to wonder about the structural integrity of the stretch portion of this vehicle because – when fully loaded – there would be a lot of weight on the mid-section.

It’s hard to ascertain the condition of the interior, but there’s a lot of seats there to have to recover and quite a few yards of carpeting. At least four bench seats are present which would add up to a people capacity of 12. Behind the fourth seat should be a storage area for luggage as there are no racks on the roof for suitcases to be tied to. Under the hood is likely a 389 cubic inch V8 and the seller says the engine has fired since installing a new distributor. To take it home, perhaps it can be towed with a rope as I’m not sure of what kind of trailer set-up would handle a beast this long.

If you were to acquire this thing, what would you do with it? It will probably take a small (or large) fortune to restore it and you could buy something far more practical for less money if you wanted to go into the airport shuttle business. If you wanted to use it as a vintage limo, more effort would be required to put in far more creature comforts than it had when new. Or maybe you could just give it a spooky look for a lawn ornament at Halloween.

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Comments

  1. Fahrvergnugen Fahrvergnugen Member

    Gad! Forget about stuffing surfboards in this one. Would be great to see an 8 man shell and all the sweeps up top, with the crew inside!

    Like 9
  2. Fahrvergnugen Fahrvergnugen Member

    Gad! Forget about stuffing surfboards in this one. Would be great to see an 8 man shell and all the sweeps up top, with the crew inside!

    Like 2
  3. Steve R

    The auction link in the write up has ended, it’s been delisted with the same opening bid of $2,000 plus a reserve. Looking at the sellers completed listings shows the initially had this wagon listed for $10,000. When it didn’t sell they tried an auction, with reserve. It would be surprising if the reserve is much less than the original asking price, at least for now. This is likely a case of unique, not meaning valuable.

    Steve R

    Like 14
    • Ralph

      Well said Steve. Again thanks for your detective work.
      I see this as a high end chicken coop somewhere in Arkansas.
      Still sticking at 42K for my 71 Pinto wagon though…

      Like 4
  4. 86_Vette_Convertible

    I’ve seen something like this one in the past. The airport limousine company where I used to live had something similar to this one they used. It was an absolute beast, not because it was fast but rather because it was huge. I don’t know what you could use it for other than as a mass number transport.

    Like 4
  5. Fred W

    Some of the larger car museums have limo sections with interesting vehicles, mainly those that carried Presidents or other famous people. I can see this displayed as an example of an everyday airport limousine . I can’t see much other use for it. Maybe Nashville party bus? But the logistics of getting one of these through a 90 degree downtown intersection are huge.

    Like 3
  6. Husky

    This Pontiac would be the perfect veichle for the strip. It doesn’t have to travel far at all to reach the quarter mile. He’ll it’s almost there without starting the engine🤪

    Like 12
  7. Cliff Crabtree

    Wow!. It’s not often the vehicle parked next to a shipping container is as long, if not longer,than the shipping container !!.

    Like 6
  8. BR

    I remember seeing these on the tarmac at SFO shuttling flight crews for UAL.

    Like 3
  9. Steve Clinton

    A car you could park curbside in front of the Pan-Am and United terminals at the same time.

    Like 9
  10. 370zpp

    Sure son, you can get your driver’s license. And I have the perfect car for you to use for the road test.

    Like 9
  11. Mike

    Looks photoshopped

    Like 3
    • Ron

      How so?

      • Mike

        Looks like a picture of a regular car that got stretched out in photoshop by a bored nerd. (Yes, I know it’s a real car)

  12. Kenn

    Would make a great fraternity bus.

    Like 2
  13. local_sheriff

    While definately unique again that doesn’t equal valuable. I remember it listed at 10k so I wondered who the heck they were trying to sell it to? The sad thing here is what sets it apart is also what makes it a behemoth – its massive size. I mean, you need a hangar to store it and that WB makes it almost undrivable in many intersections. So unless you’re into some cult prohibiting contraceptions its a completely useless vehicle for typical ‘classic car’ duties.

    As a fan of vintage vehicles I almost cringe when I say this, but it’d be interesting to investigate how much work it would be to revert it into a regular wagon – ’61 Pontiac wagons are fairly rare and I think it’d be much more desirable as such. Question is whether it was born as a wagon in the first place, since many coachbuilt vehicles started out as commercial chassis or even sedans – their rear sections would be fab’d at the coachbuilder anyway.

  14. Steve

    Perfect wine tour vehicle!

  15. angliagt angliagt Member

    Now THIS is what you call a “Longroof”.

    Like 5
  16. Aaron Carlson

    I remember going to the airport in Chicago as a kid in the ’60’s, and seeing the Checker version of this many times. Good memory.

    Like 1
  17. Paolo

    Use it for intercity jitneybus service in some underserved part of the county?

    Like 1
  18. Amorypaz Amorypaz

    It ran when parked! I’ll give you $7,000 for it.

    It’s a deal, but the doors need replacing.

    In that case 9 bucks.

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