No Reserve Bubbletop: 1961 Pontiac Ventura

Yesterday, in a post about a ’65 Ford Galaxie 500, I speculated about full-size car design in the ’60s and how 1965, in particular, set the direction for new looks that were the way forward for the ’60s. In the case of Pontiac, perhaps I should have backed it up a bit. Regular Barn Finder local_sheriff has discovered this 1961 Pontiac Ventura and it definitely evokes the image that I assigned to the ’65 models but Pontiac nailed it right at the dawn of the decade. This Pontiac is located in Emeryville, California and is available, here on eBay for a current bid of $6,000, with eight bids tendered as of this writing.

The ’50s continued into 1960

By ’61, Pontiac was in the third year of its Wide-Track stance program, and the distinctive “split” front grille reappeared after first showing in ’59 and then being dropped for ’60 – it was a Pontiac styling hallmark that would remain with them all the way to the end. But the big difference to my eyes is that the ’60 versions looked like ’50s, chrome festooned hangovers, while the ’61, with what would be known as a “bubble-top” greenhouse, was blazing a new future path. And this Pontiac, being a Ventura, was positioned below the Star Chief, and just above the entry-level Catalina, so stainless trim excess was held to a dull roar.

The listing for this Ventura is all too typically light so the pictures will have to do the explaining. It is listed as a low, 50K mile example but there is no supporting documentation to back up that claim. The exterior is in fantastic shape! It’s probably a repaint as the front driver’s side fender liner is showing signs of white overspray. No worries though, one would expect new threads on a 60-year-old car that presents itself this well. There is no indication of crash damage or rust – perhaps a benefit of California residency?  The clean treatment carries over to the stainless, chrome, and glass.

The interior is where things fall apart and its condition belies the 50K mile suggestion, it needs help! The tri-tone upholstery is pretty well shredded (I never found duct tape to be a viable repair tool), the steering wheel is disintegrating, the carpet has seen better days and the kick panels may need to be replaced. These things are easy enough to repair and it stands to reason, that with the exterior being as sharp as it is, somewhere else would need attention. Always good to see is the original Delco radio that is still in its proper place.

There are no images of the engine but the seller informs us that it is a 389 CI V8 with a two-barrel carburetor and it “runs“. That being the case, horsepower output should be 267 gross with power connectivity through what Pontiac’s sales brochure described as a “completely new, lighter, compact and simplified Hydramatic transmission“. That’s indicative of the presence of a “Roto-Hydramatic”, also known as a “Slim Jim” automatic unit.

On the surface, this Ventura looks good but the lack of an engine image, and any real operational information other than a laconic “runs“, just invites more questions. And mechanical foibles would certainly extend to the transmission too as we’ve previously discussed, in earlier posts, the demerits of the Roto-Hydramatic. Still, this is an easy Pontiac to appreciate and I applaud their vision for the ’60s, as projected in this Ventura’s design.  At its current bid, this Ventura could prove to be a reasonable buy, wouldn’t you agree?

Fast Finds


  1. Arby

    IMO one of the cleanest, best designs to ever come out of Detroit.

    Like 16
    • Bill Potts

      I love the Pontiacs of1961. My first car was a battered Bonneville convertible. All the models are beautiful. I didn’t have the right lug wheels,just hubcaps like this. The “slim jim”, was replaced with another from a salvage yard. Wish I still had it

      Like 2
  2. 4spdBernie Member

    I’m a huge fan of these beauties. But this one seems to be parked in front of an Earl Scheib, lol.

    Like 8
  3. 19sixty5 Member

    I hear it screaming for 8-lugs!

    Like 6
  4. Howard A Member

    Dog gone creepy as it gets, and why I frequent this site so much. If some may remember, my late uncle had this exact car, maybe more cream colored. I have a paper pic somewhere,, you may remember my Uncle Marv, he graduated HS( in mid 50’s) went in the Army reserve, got out, got a job at Briggs and Stratton in Milwaukee, and lived at home and put in like 45 years at Briggs, never married and never moved out. His 1st new car was this exact Ventura. I was merely a lad ( 6 years old) and barely remember the car, except it catered to my uncles heavy right foot, and compared to my old man’s overly cautious driving. It was always fun in Marv’s Poncho, 4 lane Hy.41 was new, and it was left lane all the way. Thing I remember most, was it had a 389, kind of a “spider” intake, and in the “valley” was a huge screwdriver, that must have been left during assembly, because short of removing the manifold, we couldn’t get it out, so left it. Marv replaced his “bubbletop”, which, at the time, was no big deal, really, with a ’65 Catalina 2 door. Still a nice car, but not near as nice as the ’61. Great find, a classic totally worth whatever is thrown at it. These were the absolute best “Chief’s” to be made. Thanks, Jim, made my day!

    Like 14
    • Will Fox

      Howard, your uncle lived at home with his folks for 45 years, never married or moved out? That has to be a record of some sort. I gather he inherited his folk’s house when they passed?

      Like 2
      • Howard A Member

        Hi Will, not really, I knew several of his friends, that lived at home and never married, as well. Actually, it was longer than that, more like 80 years. He lived at home after my grandparents died, and went in a nursing home at 80. It was kind of sad, he didn’t remember his ’61 Bubbletop.

        Like 3
  5. Will Fox

    The good news on this rare `61 is, replacements are available for the steering wheel that’s seen better days, the seat covers are being reproduced, and carpets are available! So if a buyer can swing for those, you’re well on your way to rebuilding what otherwise appears to be a very solid Ventura.

    Like 6
    • 1-MAC

      EAsier than repairing rust

      Like 1
  6. Jack

    1961 was a great year for all GM cars

    Like 5
  7. Morris Bacon

    Sold as is probably means it is not running. Too few details in description on eBay ad.

    • Steve Clinton

      Especially since it’s being offered by “samsfreetow”. LOL

  8. Wayne

    Great style, engines and terrible transmissions. So many of these that were in great shape got the 1965 and newer treatment. (new bolt pattern for the “NEW” 400 Hydromatic, so engine change and transmission change at the same time) If you ever want to see a bunch of these. Go to Bill’s Backyard Cars/Classics? in Amarillo Texas (I could have the name slightly screwed up.) He is a 1961 Pontiac freak and has several of these with the 8lug wheels and factory 4 speeds? Now that would be a fun car!

    Like 1
    • local_sheriff

      Pre TH400 Pontiac engines have the same bellhousing bolt pattern as their later siblings. Problem is that the engines that were coupled to the Roto-Hydramatic or Super Hydramatic don’t have any provision for a block-mounted starter as it’s rather installed on the transmission. Hence the need to swap both engine AND tranny when doing a transmission upgrade in early 60s Pontiacs (or an $$$ adapter).

      It’s generally accepted that the ’64 model year is the change-over for when Pontiac added the ‘ear’ for block-mounted starter. Both to streamline engine production due to the introduction of the LeMans that used newer types of transmissions but also to tool up for the TH400 that would arrive next year in Pontiac fullsizers

      Like 1
  9. Bud Hennessy

    I agree with Wayne. The Slim Jim 3 speed transmissions in the Catalina series was the weak point. The Bonnevilles had the Olds Hydromatic that was a much sturdier trans. I liked the Catalina series because it was lighter and smaller, but needed the 4 speed manual to really make it a better car.

    Like 1
  10. mainlymuscle

    I would love to comment but got stuff to do …,
    Starting with head on over to Evil Bay to bid on one bubbly Pontiac !

    Like 1
  11. MNguy

    Jack, you are right. 1961 was a great year for GM. I had a Chev Impala conv in college, 283 Glider but great car. Turned out to be my honeymoon ride too.

    Like 1
  12. Steve Clinton

    Seeing pictures of this car makes me long for the good old days before every car was a silver jelly bean.

    Like 2
  13. Lowell Peterson

    Hmmmm! Emeryville is middle of or next to nowhere but there is a very high end classic car dealer there. Jus’ sayin’.

  14. Lowell Peterson

    Mayby try givin ‘sams’ a call?

  15. mainlymuscle

    Well,I was the high bidder at 8 grand for 3 hours,and was prepared to pay 20 at least.Someone paid $30 k and ended the auction.I am also bidding on the one over at BaT.

    Like 1
  16. Maestro1

    I don’t have time to read the comments this time, but hello to Howard.
    Somebody jump on this car. I don’t have the room. Give it what it needs. Parts
    are everywhere. But save it and drive it. If you live in a warm climate simply add Vintage Air and Heat, and if you are an older person Power Windows
    (Johnson Controls) can easily be installed. One of the best designs and cars out of GM.

    Like 1
  17. JoeBob

    My brother bought a Bristol blue 61 Catalina tri-power 4-speed new. He used to complain that when banging gears, his knuckles would smash into the dash. Eventually, the factory shifter broke off a few inches above the shifter boot. Until he replaced the shifter with a Hurst, he found some straight copper tubing that fit over the stub of the shifter and used it. When he parked it, he’d pull the tube off and shove it under the seat. Didn’t other to lock it then.
    I always thought that the 61 Catalina was the prototype for the 63 and 64 Tempest. A great body style.

  18. Bob

    Had one of these: black, 318 hp, 4 speed and the 8 lug wheels. Same exact interior if I’m remembering correctly.

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