Green Stick Shift: 1970 Pontiac Catalina Wagon

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Once upon a time in America, big station wagons were everywhere. And for some reason, it seems that a lot of the surviving full size wagons of the sixties and seventies are green. This very green 1970 Pontiac Catalina is for sale here on craiglist in Raritan, New Jersey and is a very good example of the kind of wagon so many of us grew up with.

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This big Poncho comes with the solid performing 400 cid big block, power steering, power brakes, A/C , and a power front bench seat. However, what sets this car apart is that unlike almost every other Pontiac wagon sold that year, this one has a 3-speed transmission on the column.

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The seller claims that only 113 stick shift wagons were built in 1970. That may be true, but you will have to check with PHS (Pontiac Historic Services) to find out more about that issue.

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The seller says the car was in a barn for many years. I can’t quite make out the plates it is wearing – can anyone here identify them? They don’t look like New Jersey plates to me.

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That is a very green interior! The car does come with its build sheet, which is a nice thing. It also has a new dual exhaust system, new rear shocks and springs, new battery and four new tires. The interior is said to be in excellent condition with only one split seam in the drivers seat and the photos do show a nice clean interior, and what looks to be a fairly clean body. Seller says the floors and frame are rust free, but there is some work needed in the quarters; since this is a Northeastern car, it may have had rust repair done on it in the past. A close inspection will be required, especially since the seller is asking a fairly hefty $9,950 for the car.

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This Pontiac is a great example of the everyday cars of the seventies that are now highly desirable collector cars. With its stick shift tranny and dog dish hubcaps, it will stand out in any crowd of older cars and should be a really fun car to use as a summer cruiser that will fit your entire family and all your stuff, wherever you are headed.

Fast Finds

Comments

  1. Randy

    They look like New Hampshire plates.

  2. Eric

    Yes those are old NH plates.

  3. Paul Duca

    I didn’t think you could get the Ventura trim option on a wagon…

    • stigshift

      You could, but they were hardly ever ordered. This is the last year for the full-size Ventura. Add a power seat and it is no doubt a one-of-one.

  4. wagon master

    Interesting drive train combo. It’s screaming for a 4 on the floor Poncho “upgrade”! Ambitious asking price if you ask me … or even if you didn’t ask me ….

  5. Charles

    This one will be a hit a the Pontiac shows, just due to the three speed manual.

  6. Chebby

    Last year I saw a 1970 Buick Electra 225 Convertible in mint condition on eBay, it had the 455 and a 3-on-the-tree. Some one must have special-ordered it, I’d never seen another car of that size and high trim level with a manual.

    This car looks like a lot of usable coolness, but it’s still a big frumpy green wagon. Not sure how much I’d want to pay for one.

  7. Texas Tea

    I worked in every department of new car dealerships from the 70’s until the the early 90’s. I promise, if anyone would have ordered a bastard like this, with a three speed column shift they would have been fired, or made to buy it. Very odd……………………. And yes, I do know about special order vehicles. I did all of the ordering in the pickup/truck department.

    • Bill

      Right, odd indeed. On the other hand, its difficult to imagine why someone would special order this configuration. Any ideas, Tex? Good price, perhaps? Friends with the dealer?

      • Texas Tea

        Bill, your guess is as good as mine. We did do some special orders for some off the wall odd combinations, but only with some hefty up front money. We did end up with some weird optioned vehicles from time to time, but usually by human error. Not intended. These usually stayed on the lot for over a year before we took a hit (loss) just to get them moved.

        I don’t dislike this Pontiac wagon. It’s actually cool, but would have been a problem in it’s day.

  8. Rick

    What a cool and unusual wagon. love the fact that it has what had been commonly known as “standard” transmission before automatics took over. Back in about 1977 for $250 I bought a “66 Chrysler Newport 2dr hjardtop with a 383 and 3-on-the-tree, had super tall gears in the rear too. I got it from a wheat farmer in E. Washington state that had special ordered it new. Never have seen another one. That car would just boil the hides, and you could go up to 90 mph in second before you had to shift to third. I kept it for awhile and flipped it, think I got $700 for it.

  9. Jim Mc

    What an awesome find. A three-on-the-tree wagon with a 400 in 1970?! That’s your unicorn right there even in its current survivor condition. And fully optioned with AC? Suddenly $9550 doesn’t seem too far off the mark. Whatever it goes for, that is the market value unless another one turns up. I’m surprised it’s not at auction. I’m an old MoPar guy and even I think this is a beautiful car.

  10. Luke Fitzgerald

    Once saw for sale a 68 Bonnevile – coupe – 400 – wind up windows – 3 speed on column – they should be banned

    • grant

      Why? It sounds cool.

  11. Pfk1106

    My english teacher in hs had a ’65 Catalina 2 door coupe. It was burgundy with black interior. It was fully loaded, with a 3 speed, and bench seats. It had factory air, which required a slightly different dash as the main vent was in the middle of the dash and created a hump on top. It had power windows too.

  12. Luke Fitzgerald

    Sorry Grant – just my insecurities – hate the things – because every one I’ve owned/ driven was stuffed – saying that, I bought my son a 63 valiant with one – he loves it – God knows I wish it was a 904 – – that poncho would super dooper rare tho’

  13. Keith

    From the moldy oldies file: Pontiac *limo* with a 389 and 3 in the tree. You’re welcome :-)

    http://www.curbsideclassic.com/cars-of-a-lifetime/coal-1965-pontiac-bonneville-limo-one-unique-poncho/

    • Charles

      That’s just about to strangest option list ever.

  14. Ralph Terhune

    I have a 1966 Mercury Montclair 4 door hardtop with a 390 2 barrel and 3 on the tree. Power steering and power disc brakes. All factory. Oddball car. I love watching people do double takes when they look inside the car at shows.

  15. Charles

    There is a fellow who shows up at the Pontiac shows with a 66 Grand Prix with a 421, tri-power, 4 speed manual, bucket seats, console, PS, PB, and factory A/C. An unusual car for sure! The car has less than 50K miles and is original except for rubber parts like hoses, tires, belts, and such. In those days one could order a car just about any way one wanted it.

  16. Howard A Member

    Wow, that is an odd option, column shift on a car like this. Shows some people refuse to change. Apparently, the last column shift vehicle offered was the 1986 Chevy pickup, and cars probably the late ’70’s ( someone buying a ’78 Nova with column shift had to pay for the car up front, as the dealer knew they’d never sell it) I’d bet this baby would put down a strip of rubber. Cool find, but my shifting days are over ( except for that TR-6 someday)

    • Ed P

      Column shift only seems to work with 3 speed transmissions. As 3 speeds faded away so did column shift. 4 speeds only seem natural on the floor. Some European cars had 4 speeds and column shift, but they seemed awkward to operate.

      • Jim Mc

        It’s because first and reverse are on the same trans drive gear and second and third are on the the other. There’s no good or practical way to integrate a fourth forward gear onto a column shift. A column shift is a simple sideways ‘H’ pattern. Beyond that, a floor/stick shift makes much more sense.

  17. jim s

    love the plain look with small hub caps. another nice driver. seller is taking offers. dealers in my area, back in the day, stocked cars/trucks with 3 on the tree. stopped stocking them when the factories stopped making them. nice find.

  18. charlie Member

    I ordered a ’68 Chevelle wagon, 327 (w/4 barrel), 4 on the floor, economy rear axel, bucket seats, heavy duty suspension, clutch, radiator, battery, to pull a horse trailer but get reasonable economy on the road without the horses. Was about $3500, dealer made me put $1000 down in case I backed out, since he said nobody else would want it. Other than inadequate brakes (the ’69’s got discs in the front) it was a great car, slowed to 55 before a toll booth, since that is all the brakes were good for. But without the trailer it was fast and handled well. I could have ordered the 350 or the 396, you could get what you wanted in those days. Clutch was a bear in city traffic but was still good at 135,000 when the car burned up.

  19. John Heeg

    Back then 3 on the tree was standard equiptment on a lot of GM cars. Automatic was an option, along with a/c.
    My Dad bought a new 1969 Chevy Impala off the lot that also came that way, 3 on the tree, 327 2 bbl, no a/c.

  20. Bill McCoskey

    While living in the Washington DC area, I worked for a Ford dealer in the ’70s. We had a bunch of Ford Granada Ghia sedans traded in. They were from the local GSA [Federal motor pool] and all were exactly the same: Beige paint with brown vinyl top, and beige vinyl interior. They were loaded with options, power everything, except they had 3-speed stick shift on the floor.

    The sales manager had handled the delivery of the cars when they were new, and said the government negotiators failed to realize that the Granada Ghia didn’t come standard with automatic transmissions. Those cars sat on the lot for months, then quietly disappeared. With the V8 engine, they were quite peppy for a car of it’s weight/size.

    • Charles

      The government employees likely cussed those cars. The second owners probably had lots of fun with them.

  21. Bill

    Hey Tex,

    That’s no good that the dealer had to eat a poorly configured car. I can’t tell you how many times I would think about the other side of that transaction: the retard that ended up with the car.

    For example, those stupid Ford Fairmonts with the Pinto engine. You look at the factory production numbers, and lots of people ended up with those ridiculous cars, or also the strange odd-balls in your lot that nobody wanted.

    On the other hand, not everybody cares about machinery like us. Perhaps the buyer was clueless and never gave it a second thought. Never gave it a first thought!

    • Bill McCoskey

      I learned early in life that there is a car for everybody, it’s the used car salesman’s job to put the two together!

  22. Dubois

    Commun shift were common in 70’s cars in France like Peugeot 404 or 204 and Renault 16 .
    My daughter’s daily is a 204 Peugeot with this type of gear and not more difficult than floor shift .

  23. Jubjub

    Love it. Kinda steep admission though. Quite the unicorn. There was always that one weird car like this that drove through the neighborhood all of the time. Love the front end on these. The pinnacle year of big Pontiacs. Front end styling got too disjointed after this.

    My brother had one of these but a four door post and sold it to my sister. For an old granny, grocery getter it hauled ass. It was a loved vehicle until my sister ran it into the ground delivering pizzas. Looked just like it inside except that extra pedal.

    My childhood best friend’s grandparents had a bright red ’70 Bonneville four door hardtop with white top and interior and fender skirts. Wasn’t necessarily something to awe at then but would be cool now.

    I’d like to see a close up of the PRNDL block out.

    Somebody on the A Body site had a weirdly optioned ’73 LeMans wagon with a 400, 4 speed that he was going to restore. Hopefully he did.

  24. Little_Cars Alexander Member

    The Lemans wagon you mention has been offered on eBay in the past 3-4 years, or at least one optioned in a similar way. Surprisingly low price if I remember correctly. I seem to recall the car looked perfectly muscular restored, except the seller had applied Judge stripes on the fender arches. It’s out there somewhere.

  25. Nova Scotian

    It’s a cool old wagon. Not a fan of 3on the tree. Dressed up, this rig would be a real looker. Other than that, why bother.

  26. Charles

    In 2002 I lucked up on a odd-ball F-350 that was created when the dealer checked off the wrong boxes on an order form. At the end of 2002 Ford announced that they would discontinue the tried and true 7.3 Liter Powerstroke diesel for the new 6.0 Powerstoke that Ford would produce itself rather then purchase the engines from International Harvester.

    I had been wanted to purchase a new Super Duty crew-cab dually 4×4 for several years and wanted a 7.3 engine. I also wanted a ZF6 manual trans as the 4R100 automatics were known to be problematic. I figured that the new 6.0 would be a fiasco, and it was.

    So the search was on. The first quarter of 2003 models would offer a 7.3, however after 01/03 the 6.0 would be the only diesel offering. I talked to the local dealer about ordering a fully loaded truck with a 6 speed manual truck. They told me that most of the trucks equipped with manual transmissions were contractor models with few options. They required a substantial deposit to order a loaded XLT or Lariat with a manual transmission.

    I preferred to find a new 02 model in stock to take advantage of the year end clearance sale and factory rebate, however every dealer I talked to said that I was looking for a needle in a haystack. Our local dealership did a nationwide search for trucks with manual transmissions and there were three listed nationwide. One was in VA. The truck was a well optioned Lariat with a manual transmission. I called and found out that it was a special order unit for a regular customer. Truck number 2 was a contractor work type truck in the XL package with bench seats, and no options. Number 3 was the was the winner.

    The truck was in stock at a dealership in SC and was only 130 miles away. It is an XLT with every option box checked off. Dual six way captains chairs, center console, back up monitors, Cruise control, upgraded CD6 with factory subwoofer, all power, all electric, tinted windows with privacy glass in the rear, best camper and tow package, alloy wheels, lots of chrome, you name it. It even sports electronic shift on the fly 4×4 with a stick shift transmission, which was not supposed to be available.

    Looking at the option list a little closer and the real weird stuff became apparent. The truck was ordered with both an Ambulance package and a Wrecker package, which are not supposed to be available on the same truck. Both packages included some overlapping options. The ambulance package included a beefed up cooling system and wiring. The wrecker package included a digital throttle control and PTO on the transmission. Both packages included 4:10 gears with limited slip diffs front and rear. The thing that really makes it odd is that this is a pickup with an 8 foot box and dually fenders.

    The dealership admitted that they made a mistake when they ordered the truck, and that it had been sitting on the lot for six months. They figured that eventually someone would want it, and that someone was me. It is oddly configured, and has a few items that I will never use, however there are some really cool options on this beast that makes it a super durable RV hauling monster.

    The dealership offered a nice discount in addition to the factory rebate, and we bought the truck on the spot. We still have the truck and it has been a great vehicle for 14 years now. I used the extra wiring designed for an Ambulance for extra options on our camper. The PTO can power a 16KW generator made for just this sort of application, and the digital throttle control makes it easy to control the generator output.

    Sometimes these odd ball vehicles can be the perfect for that certain buyer. I can’t think of any reason why someone would purposely buy a large Pontiac wagon with a three speed manual. It could have been someone who preferred a stick shift, or the dealer messed up when ordering the car and someone got a good deal for an odd ball.

    • Ed P

      Charles, the 6.0 Powerstroke was produced by International. It was this very engine that caused the lawsuits between Ford and IH. Ford has since developed it’s own diesel and no longer buys from IH.

      • Charles

        I stand corrected. The 7.3 was trouble free. The 6.0 wasn’t.

    • Bill McCoskey

      I ordered a ’73 dodge B200 van new, with 318 & stick. Also ordered cruise control. Problem was if I pushed the clutch pedal in, the engine would rev up. So I put a brake light switch on the pedal rest bracket, & thru a relay it would cut the power to the cruise when the pedal was pushed

      • Charles

        The cruise control deactivates if the clutch is depressed, so apparently Ford worked that out. I have seen other F-350’s with a manual trans and cruise control. I have not seen another pickup with the wrecker package, ambulance package, and a digital throttle control.

  27. Pete Phillips

    I own a 1970 Buick Wildcat 4-dr. hardtop with the high compression 455 V8 and three speed stick shift on the column. Have had it up to 70 in second gear. It gets an amazing 21 miles per gallon on the highway with its 2.78 rear end. Is one of 7 1970 Wildcats made with stick shift. I love oddball cars.

    • Charles

      Is first gear in the transmission a low ratio? One of the only issues that I have seen with a column shift car is when the differential ratio is a highway gear. With a three speed first gear can be a little higher ratio than on a four speed. Often one has to ride the clutch a little to get the vehicle moving. The GMC pickups we had back in the day were mostly set up that way. If one does much towing, the clutch did not last very long. Boat ramps were the worst! I guess it does not matter much in a car. That 70 Buick sounds like a nice unique ride!

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