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Extracting A 1963 Pontiac Catalina Safari Wagon

The Barn Finds Community honestly has to be one of the most amazing group of car nuts out there! We recently sold this Pontiac Safari as a BF Auction, but flat tires all the way around was going to make shipping the car to its new owner a bit of a challenge. Thankfully, we have some amazing readers out there that are willing to help their fellow readers out! I emailed several readers that had provided us with their info in the past in case someone needed an inspection done, so I sent out an email to everyone in the Phoenix area hoping at least one person could help the buyer and seller out with getting this car rolling. To my amazement, every single person I emailed responded that they could help in some way. Well, reader Todd Z offered to go over and help both parties extract the car and was available to do it right away, so I sent his number over to the car’s new owner, and in no time, Todd was there to save the day. I’ll let him tell you the rest of the story in his own word!

From Todd Z – Some time ago,  Barn Finds had a posting asking if readers would be willing to help fellow Barn Finders in their area with minor tasks such as inspecting vehicles, etc.  Since I have little to no spare time on my hands but can’t resist helping fellow car enthusiasts with assistance whenever I can, I replied that I would be willing to lend a hand in the Phoenix area.  Call it a bit of good karma/the golden rule – I’d like to think there are others that in turn would help me if I was looking at a car in Nowheresville that I couldn’t easily check out myself. Having nearly forgotten I had signed up for this bit of Good Samaritan activity, I was surprised to get an email from Josh last month asking if I could assist a fellow reader who had purchased a car in the area and was having trouble getting it picked up by the transport service.  Apparently, car haulers don’t like to venture into backyards and extract cars that haven’t moved for decades.

I replied that I might be interested, depending on the location and the circumstances.  An email from the buyer indicated that the car was located 20-25 minutes from my house and creatively located “on my way home from work” so I decided to give it a shot.  So why couldn’t the seller help him with the extraction?  Well, the seller lives in the PNW, and this house, as I understood it, was just a second home of some sort, so he wasn’t onsite either.  I wondered if the tires could just be aired up and the car pulled out. No one seemed to know for certain, but it was doubtful.  Later I found the link to the car in question in the Barn Finds Auctions.

Since my passion is off-road travel and exploration, my trusty ’69 Bronco is well-equipped with a C02 tank (Power Tank), and all manner of recovery gear, including a winch.  For my exploratory visit, I took along the Power Tank, a battery-operated impact wrench, wheel pattern template, and some PB Blaster.  The buyer had noted that the driver’s side lug nuts might be left-hand thread.

With instructions from the seller, I got through the two gates into the far back yard of the unoccupied home and immediately saw the car in question – a very crusty ’63 Pontiac wagon in the far corner of what was essentially an overgrown field – flush with a pungent growth of grasses from our wet winter.  Apparently the seller really likes ’63 Pontiacs as there were 5-6 others on site along with a large mid-50s Pontiac sedan.  Despite its sub-baked appearance, the car appeared to be rust-free and I could understand why the buyer (in the Rust Belt) wanted it.

As I walked up the wagon, I realized my hopes of quickly airing up the tires was a pipe dream.  The tires, old bias plies with gaping holes in the sidewalls, had probably last held air during the Carter Administration.  The car had essentially sunk into the earth up to the rims, with only a few inches between the body and the rock-hard earth below it.  As the temperatures had started to rise here in Arizona, my thoughts also drifted to what critters might be making this sun-baked metal carcass their home.  I sprayed PB Blaster on all the lug nuts and quickly checked to make sure they could come off easily.  Thankfully, they did, and those driver’s side lug nuts were indeed left-hand thread.

The next task was to try and actually move the car.  On my next visit, I came back again with my Bronco and my plethora of recovery gear.  I made sure the column-shifted 3-speed was in neutral and then crawled under the car and put my tree strap around the car’s front cross-member.  To that I attached my tow strap via a soft shackle and then attached the strap to a D-ring in the receiver in my Bronco’s bumper.  I’m always a bit leary of what it’ll take to move something like the old Pontiac so I gingerly just tried with the Bronco in 2WD at first.  With all the soft recovery gear in my setup, it was rather like stretching a giant rubber band at first – with disappointing results – it didn’t budge!  OK, time to get serious now.  The front hubs were locked, the transfer case shifted into low range and 4WD, and the transmission shifted into first gear.  Still more rubber band action!  Back and forth 5-6 times and this old beast just wasn’t moving.  I was beginning to wonder if this was a fool’s errand?  Maybe this thing was so entrenched in the desert dirt that nothing was going to break it loose.  A few tugs with increasingly strong pushes on the throttle pedal and then I felt it and saw the Pontiac’s grille rise a bit in my rearview mirror.  Eureka!  I knew I had it.  Then it started to move – for the first time in decades.  The tires, basically molded with flat spots after all these years, made terrible noises as they rotated and the car looked like a facsimile of the Flintstone’s car as it thumped about 50 feet to a clear spot in the field where it would be easier to change the tires and wheels and get my jack under the body.  I quickly did a jack test to make sure I could jack up the corners of the car and that too proved successful

I checked in with the buyer and told him that rather than removing the existing rims and finding a way to put the car up on blocks while I found some tires for it, I thought finding 4 old tires/wheels at local junkyards might be an easier option.  Knowing they were a 5×5 pattern, I focused on looking at Chevy Astro vans and Chevy 2WD pickups.  This little venture turned out to be more difficult than I first imagined but after visiting 4 local stuff-yer-socks, I had found 4 tires/wheels of the proper size that held air and could be mounted on the car.

Another trip to the house with the tires and wheels, floor jack, and the impact.  About 20 minutes later and the car was a roller again.  I checked in again with the buyer – who had one last request – can you pull the car out front so the transport company can load it up?

One more trip to the house, again, “on the way home from work”, the next day – this time it was a towing job with my Super Duty and a tow strap.  Ever tow a car with a strap with no one to help you steer it?  And oh, it doesn’t have brakes either so it doesn’t really stop when you want it to stop either?  It probably looked a little bit like the Keystone Cops with me stopping every 6-8 feet to reset the steering wheel on the old Pontiac, but with some resets and a bit of work, I got the old wagon out in front of the house – ready for its new home 2000 miles away! Just another adventure for a typical Barn Finds reader!

I want to personally thank Todd for taking the time to help a fellow reader out and for sharing the experience with us! The buyer was having a difficult time finding a way to get the car moved for shipping and Todd went above and beyond. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s all of you amazing readers that make this site such a fun and interesting place to be, so let’s add Todd to the list of BF Heros! I’m putting together a care package to send his way to say thanks, but I honestly don’t think it’s enough to show just how grateful I am that he came to the rescue.


  1. Avatar photo Sam61

    Let us know if you find Steve Douglas’s (Fred MacMurray) pipe and briefcase. Nice find.

    Like 11
  2. Avatar photo NW Iowa

    Big smile on my face reading the entire write-up. I LOVE this car! I fondly remember the two 1963 Pontiac Catalina’s I owned back in the 1980’s. My nice driver ($1200) was a 4 door in this wagon’s original color, sand-ish off white. I had installed white spoke wheels that came from my ’72 Chevy pickup. The other car ($300) was ratty and brown and also a 4 door with 389. The latter though, had posi and would bulldoze through 3 feet of snow, never got stuck. Oh and, the brown one had just a short pipe after the manifold and louder than heck. It wasn’t licensed so when I did occasionally drive it, I borrowed the plates, registration and insurance card from the other car. I got pulled over for speeding on US18 just short of my gravel road and quickly shut it down. After the warning ticket, I waited until the cop was gone before starting back up. They’re long gone, including the pickup, wish I’d kept them.

    Like 6
  3. Avatar photo Big C

    You meet the nicest people that drive Fords. I commend you sir!

    Like 7
  4. Avatar photo Troy

    Nice write up and follow up to what is happening with this

    Like 5
  5. Avatar photo Stan

    ⛱️ 🏄‍♂️ 🌊 🏄‍♀️ 🎸 🎙 🎶 🎵

    Let’s go surfin’ now
    Everybody’s learnin’ how
    Come on and safari with me
    (Come on and safari with)
    Early in the mornin’ we’ll be startin’ out
    Some honeys will be comin’ along
    We’re loadin’ up our Woody with our boards inside
    And headin’ out singin’ our song
    Come on, baby, wait and see (surfin’, surfin’ safari)
    Yes, I’m gonna take you surfin’ with me (surfin’, surfin’ safari)
    Come along, baby, wait and see (surfin’, surfin’ safari)
    Yes, I’m gonna take you surfin’ with me (surfin’, surfin’ safari)
    Let’s go surfin’ now
    Everybody’s learnin’ how
    Come on and safari with me
    (Come on and safari with)
    At Huntington and Malibu, they’re shootin’ the pier
    At Rincon, they’re walkin’ the nose
    We’re goin’ on safari to the islands this year
    So if you’re comin’, get ready to go.. 🌊

    Like 6
    • Avatar photo Yblocker

      Except it ain’t a Woody.

      Like 2
  6. Avatar photo DaveCVGNYC

    A very cool story (and giant karma job by Todd) but I have one issue.
    This isn’t a barn find.
    It’s a cactus find. The size of that thing(!).

    Like 7
    • Avatar photo Todd Zuercher

      Maneuvering around that cactus was another reason I didn’t want to try and change the tires where it sat.

      Like 12
      • Avatar photo Rjspokane

        Great job, Todd,
        You are probably who I should talk to about getting the 63 Bonneville out of that backyard, still trying to find someone to haul it since it is non-operable.
        Great stories on here.

        Like 4
      • Avatar photo Robert Harmon Jr

        Nice job Todd. Our car hobby has wonderful people and you are high on the list! Have a fantastic day, you deserve it!!👍🙏

        Like 4
    • Avatar photo Rex Kahrs Member

      I saw that cactus too. You could get stuck getting that car un-stuck!

      Like 0
  7. Avatar photo pixelpusher

    My first car in 1972 was a 1963 Catalina two door in white with a red interior. I loved that car. This story found a soft spot in my heart. Todd is the kind of person we all know is out there, but rarely gets credit, often not looking for any. Thanks Todd for your hard work on this. It’s obvious you were prepared with the various tools/toys on hand, but still a lot of work and sweat went into this. I do hope the new owner understands how far you went on their behalf! Be well friend!

    Like 6
  8. Avatar photo dogwater


    Like 0
  9. Avatar photo Hammer

    Good job Todd. A real car guy! If ya know , ya know!

    Like 5
  10. Avatar photo ACZ

    Congrats on a job well done. That’s what this hobby is all about.

    Like 3
  11. Avatar photo HotWheelsCarol

    Kudos to Todd for helping out!! Good idea about wheels and tires from the wrecking yards!
    The big 70s Lincoln Continentals and Town Cars also use the 5 on 5 lug pattern; this is a good source of finned aluminum wheels if you don’t mind them being 6″ width. My Dad had some for trailer wheels and they worked well in that capacity.
    Good catch on the different threads on the driver’s side; I was not aware that GM ever did that. I thought it was only on Chrysler products built before the late 60s.

    Like 1
  12. Avatar photo HotWheelsCarol

    I go to the Lone Star Roundup vintage car show in Austin, Texas every year(I live near Houston so it’s not too far). There are usually several wagons there as people have figured out they make great family cruisers. Several years ago, there were two ’63 Pontiac wagons there, both pretty nice. One looked like it had driven straight out of the brochure! That car was driven by a guy, younger than the car, from somewhere in Wisconsin!
    I have that same floor jack; it’s a great unit and I can pick it up easily to put in the back of my Burb or pickup. Can’t do that with my big jack, it is cast iron and weighs about 85#….

    Like 2
  13. Avatar photo OldCarGuy

    I laugh mao, every time I run across LH threaded wheel nuts. I’ve often wondered why they didn’t make all the fasteners, on the LH side of the car, LH thread. What were they thinking?

    A big thumbs up to you, Todd, and I hope you will always find a similar soul when you need one. I always carry water, jumper cables, and, for the last few years, one of those drycell emergency packs with short cables and an air pump. Had it just 3 weeks when it went into duty. Some 15, or so, years ago, met Irv Gordon, the chap with the 3.2 million mile Volvo P1800S, on the side of Hwy 401, just east of Oshawa, with a burst lower rad hose, and no water, which I had. He did the repair quickly, and we had a pleasant conversation meanwhile. He carried almost everything, one might ever need, with him, including a pic of him with the car. Nice fellow.

    A bit of advice for those buying cars that are distant: I bought a car in Texas that had been sitting for 15 years, and the tires were rotted. Wanting to make it easy for the transporter, I order 4 new tires form a local tire shop. They went to the sellers driveway, put the car up on blocks, took the wheels to the shop, installed new tires, re-installed them, and, instead of using a torque wrench to tighten the nuts to spec, just held the trigger down on the impact gun. I’d forgotten to specify that procedure, but, if they are professionals, one should not need to do so. Anyway, the result is that I have a 74,000 mile car here, with 4 new tires, mounted on rims that have been ruined by over-tightening the nuts. To make matters worse, I got shafted on the tire price, and was not able to get the car to Canada, for over a year, due to Covid. I never thought of having auto wrecker rims installed. Good idea.

    I did, finally, locacte an excellent shipper, but am not sure if a Canadian shipper can pick up and then deliver a US vehicle to a US location; I think not. I will inquire on Monday.

    Like 2
  14. Avatar photo Joe Macrina

    As one of the bidders on this wagon, I was particularly excited to see a follow-up article on its extraction.

    First off, kudos to Todd for going way above and beyond in assisting a fellow car enthusiast merely for the sake of doing so. Good “carma” indeed! But, as most here know, that’s generally a large part of what the old car hobby has always been about.

    Going forward, it would be great to see what becomes of this unique, standard shift, V=8 powered Catalina wagon. Like so many of the Barn Find cars, what ultimately becomes of them has always piqued my interest. It could almost become a stand-alone website of its own: Barn Finds Found and Finished? Barn Queens? Barn Bound No More? I’m sure there are more clever names…….

    Like 4
  15. Avatar photo John E. Klintz

    Thank you, Todd Z; you’re awesome!

    Like 2
  16. Avatar photo Steve

    This Pontiac wagon was outstanding in its field.

    Like 5
  17. Avatar photo tadah23 Member

    A tip of the hat to you Todd.

    Like 1
  18. Avatar photo Howard A Member

    President Kennedys last ride. Sorry, as a 8 year old kid, to me, a ’63 Pontiac wagon will always remind me of that fateful day.

    Like 2
    • Avatar photo Yblocker

      I was 6, school let out early

      Like 1
  19. Avatar photo CVPanther Member

    I’m a little late, but nice job, Todd! I am sure that karma will come back to you.
    What a great follow-up story!

    Like 1

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