One-Owner 1973 Pontiac Catalina Safari Wagon

When Pontiac dealers were showing off their new models in the Fall of ’72, little did they know that the demand for their full-size cars would drop by half in just another year. Then along came the OPEC oil embargo in 1973. Pontiac would sell about 15,000 Catalina Safari 3-seat wagons like this one for 1973. The next model year, they would sell less than 7,000. This is a one-owner vehicle that appears to have been well-maintained and only racked up 85,000 miles in 47 years. It’s located in Antioch, California (east of San Francisco) and offered here on craigslist for $11,500. That’s to Pat L. for finding this tip for us!

The Catalina was a full-size Pontiac product that was in the sales brochures for more than 30 years. It was usually the entry-level model and buyers could work their way up to the Bonneville, if they wished. The fifth-generation would run between 1971-76 and would be the last of the cars in the “gas-guzzling” era. Come 1977, General Motors’ full-size cars would go on a diet and downsize. The seller’s 1973 Safari Wagon hardly looks worse for the wear, including the ability to carry nine people with the third-seat option, like this one. Thanks, HowStuffWorks, for the consult.

This spacious hauler has spent its entire life in California and inside a garage when not in use, which has no doubt contributed to the seller’s claim that the wagon is rust-free. The white paint looks to have held up well, as has the “woodgrain” paneling on the side. It comes with the slide-away tailgate which is a huge improvement over those big doors that awkwardly swung out. The wagon is current on all its maintenance and the tires have meat left on them. There is no mention of any work done to the car, recent or in the past.

When you open the doors, you see a lot of red and all of it is in good nick. If this wagon was used to carry kids to soccer practice, they must be have been angels not to tear things up. It’s a fully loaded car and everything is said to work as it should. Pontiac’s 400 cubic inch V-8 can be found under the hood. This motor was optional on sedans and hardtops, but standard on the Safari. Since SAE net ratings were being used for horsepower, the 400 would have put out 170 with a two-barrel carb and 230 with a four-barrel. We don’t which set up is on this wagon, but neither would have been miserly on gasoline, which would soon jump up in price and availability.

Online pricing sources seem to zero in on $10-12,000 as top dollar for one of these wagons. While the demand for these kinds of vehicles is on the uptick, they’re still considered used cars by many – and ones that take up a lot of room to house. The seller appears to have done his homework in pricing this bodacious beast!


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  1. Big_Fun Member

    I like this quite a bit; the red interior is sharp, but I’m biased. I also like the factory gauges – and the Pontiacs were the only GM B bodies to offer them.
    I would change the wheel centers to the 1972 style; redlective eed ‘PMD’ centers, and bright shiny trim rings. Find a factory AM/FM radio for better choices on the dial (our oldies station went over to the FM band, the AM side is now Christian format). It has a rear speaker, so you can have dual low fidelity monaural sound just like ’73.
    The standard wagon 400 cid should be the 4bbl version
    If you remove (and of course, save) the front (and maybe the rear) bumper guards, it would look *a little* more aerodynamic.
    Nice find….

    Like 12
  2. Michael Keil

    It’s a well optioned car for it’s time period. I like everything about it. The only fix I see it to replace the broken right passenger side sport mirror. Pontiac did try to show it’s performance heritage with a dash full of gauges. And it must be the only full sized GM car with the AC controls between the driver and the passenger that is common now instead of the left side of the steering wheel that other full sized cars had. Price seems reasonable too.

    Like 4
  3. local_sheriff

    This is more or less the 9year younger sibling to the ’64 featured yesterday. I’m too young to remember any clamshell wagons in daily usage so here goes; how well did these tailgates function in the cold, with wet heavy snow or when heavily coated with dust or roadgrime?

    Like 8
    • Jim in FL

      We had a new one every year. Dad would order one for September delivery and sell it as a used car the next September. The clamshells worked great, even in Pennsylvania winters. These were great cars, often used to tow trailers before the dawn of the SUV. We had a GM-sourced pad that was upholstered that fit the cargo area, then had a second fold-down that extended the pad when the second row was folded. We used to sleep very comfortably back there when we camped.

      Like 8
      • local_sheriff

        Thanks Jim – it’s always great to learn from guys who have hands-on experience from back in the day. No issues with scratched surfaces or frozen weatherstrips either…? The clamshell is cool feature but I’ve always imagined it was better on the showroom floor than IRL

        Like 2
    • KS

      My parents had 2 of these style wagons, a 72 Buick Estate Wagon and 76 Olds Custom Cruiser. Both were 455 cars and towed a large pop up (slept 8 if I recall) very well. Never had an issue with the rear gate/window functions. The Buick definitely had more power, but the Olds was more luxury oriented. Don’t ever recall them having an issue with either car.

      Like 1
    • Dan

      My Dad had a friend who was a body man for our local Chevy dealer in the 70’s. He said they had lots of problems with the clam shell tailgate

      Like 1
    • Mike Brown

      My parents bought a brand new1972 Chevy Brookwood wagon with the clamshell tailgate. They swear that 4 year old me picked it out while it was still on the transporter. The clamshell and power rear window always worked flawlessly in all Northwest Ohio weather. Ours didn’t have a 3rd seat but my sister and I slept peacefully through many family weekend road trips by laying the back seat down and throwing pillows and blankets in the back. Dad once told me that it had well over 200k miles when it jumped time in about 1978. It was then given to my uncle who pulled and rebuilt the engine (350) and dropped it into his dirt late model. I’ve always had a soft spot for wagons and I actually have the “twin” to mom and dads old Chevy waiting for me to get working on it. I have a few mods planned for it. Nothing major but dad would appreciate them and mom wouldn’t find them TOO offensive lol!

  4. JW454

    This is one dandy looking people mover. If you want to be in the old car hobby but have a tribe to haul with you…. “This is your automobile”.

    Like 9
  5. Kafka_Esquire

    This brings back many memories.

    My Dad bought this exact model new (in green with “paneling”) in 1973. I was 9 and the second of 5 kids. Our first road trip in the car was from Mass to Florida, followed by others, plus many family Sunday drives that ended at Skips Snack Bar in Merrimac or Hodgies (Amesbury) for ice cream.

    I told him that I wanted it when I started to drive because this thing was awesome. He laughed, and said that we would likely not have it for that many years.

    When he bought a new car, he left this for us kids to use. I learned to drive on this car and my Mothers 1975 Delta 88 it when I hit 16. I learned many things in my small-town farming community. First, you could spin the tires on the Safari beast from a standing stop by cutting the wheel all the way and then flooring it. You could also do killer donuts in the 88. Second, my parents would eventually hear about it. The did. :-)

    In the early 1980s, I started cannibalizing the Safari car for parts to help keep my 1966 Tempest and 1970 Le Mans in running condition (both were “field bombers” unsafe at every speed).


    Like 8
    • Kafka_Esquire

      That’s funny. I thought I was at BAT, not BarnFinds. Disregard “GLWA”.

      Like 3
  6. Scott

    I love those GM clamshell wagons! I think they’re still the heaviest cars GM has ever built.
    This looks like a really nice one.

    Like 9
  7. 4spdBernie Member

    Darn it…sold.

    Like 4
  8. Twinstick

    We once had a 1973 Chevy Impala wagon just like this. It had a 350 in it, though. That thing was a tank.

    Like 2
    • Don

      I think I had a 75 impala clamshell wagon. Not sure of the year, i might have new an earlier model. 350 4bbl, thm400, but single exhaust. Air shocks, and 8 track that I screwed onto the trans hump. Cream on beige vinyl. I sure wish I had it now. Talk about a sleeper. We could fit three overnight. I never had a problem with the power clamshell. I thought it was so cool.

  9. Grey

    This a 73 not a 72. Also I don’t believe woodgrain was available on the Catalina only on the Grandville,I might be wrong

    • BOP_GUY Member

      I believe you’re right. Maybe it was a dealer add-on chosen by the buyer? It has all the power accessories of a Grand Safari, but not the 455 engine. I think the Catalina has the Hydromatic transmission instead of the turbo hydramatic (sp?) but I could be wrong. It’s in great shape!

      Like 1
      • local_sheriff

        No such things as Hydramatics by ’73 for Pontiac’s part – they were both replaced by the TH400 after the ’64 model year. Before that Cats got the 375 Roto-Hydramatic ’61-’64 while Bonnies still used the old 315 Hydramatic

        Like 1
  10. Scott

    My dad had the ’73 Buick Estate Wagon version of this car, complete with an onboard compressor for air shocks and an 8-Track player. We didn’t have the 3rd seat, but that didn’t keep us from riding back there. Pretty much everything else was there same as this Pontiac, though I’m pretty sure the Buick had a 455 in it. One interesting item was a yellow needle in the speedo that could be set as a warning to keep from speeding. And I think this car was the first one we had with seatbelt reminders in the seats.

  11. Bob C.

    I was expecting to see a 455 under the hood. Either way, guzzle, guzzle, guzzle.

    Like 1
  12. Angel Cadillac Diva

    In 1976 I bought a 1973 Chevrolet Caprice Estate wagon. It was only a two row and only had power steering and brakes and the power tailgate. No windows or locks or anything else power. It did have the 400 engine. Blue with Woodside and black vinyl interior. Great car. Lived in Miami at the time so I don’t know about snow, but the tailgate always worked fine. Local_Shariff, I wouldn’t let my tailgate get grimy, so operating it with road grim was not an option. Made about 25 or 30 trips from Miami Florida to NJ and like all the GM cars of that era, it just floated up and down 95 with a cruising speed of around 85.
    One time in Jacksonville, Florida at the naval base, some friends and I picked up around 10 sailors walking down the road. I’d simply pull over, open the tailgate via the power button on the dash, they’d hop in, I’d close the tailgate and off we’d go.
    MPs pulled me over and asked how many people i had in the car. I said, 9. It’s a 9 passenger wagon. They were not amused.

    Like 3
  13. bone

    This GM body style was and still is the kings of the Demo derbies ; its very hard to find one of these in any condition now.

  14. Ron

    One owner with white plates? Probably one family.

  15. JoeNYWF64

    This might be 1 with the GRILL that moves inward when the bumper is hit!
    I remember seeing a demo of that in a tv commercial.
    Back then, it was protect the car at all costs, instead of the passengers..

  16. Gray Wolf

    Hide-away tailgate was great till you had to work on them! If one cable hung-up, you would have a headliner full of broken glass! You had to pull down the headliner to work on the tracks and cables, a real pain! After you get the glass, maybe a headliner or track and cable, you better make sure you have all your ducks in a row, if not the new glass explodes! Not sure if you can get parts for these, maybe on the internet! Not sure I would take the chance, but a nice vehicle.

    Like 1
  17. Don

    I grew up in 60s + 70s with family pontiac dealership. Fuel economy back then was never a real issue if someone wanted a wagon for the family they purchased .
    The wagons were heavy yes in the 5200Lb. Area.
    9 mpg – 13mpg was pretty good.

    1973- 4 dr Bonnevilles weighed around 4600lbs from memory depending on options only got 9 to 13 mpg
    Dont forget weight + cubic inches make a difference.
    This was before overdive transmissions were offered in these years.
    Nice old wagon from the looks
    Its a case if someone wants it .
    They dont care about 10mpg…😁😁

    Like 2
  18. George Mattar

    Someone got a beauty and even the California A.I.R. pump still in place. Americans buy stupid, useless SUVs, which only hold people, no luggage. Great car. How mighty GM has fallen.

    Like 1
  19. JoeNYWF64

    I would think this, for ex., exceeding rare hidden headlite ’68 wagon below would be smaller outside, lighter in weight, carry almost as much, & get better mpg than the bloated ’71-76 full size GM wagons …
    I guess only Ford had the 2 way magic tailgate?

    Like 1

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