Rare But Rusty: 1961 Pontiac Convertible

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Rarity, like beauty, can be said to be in the eye of the beholder. What some of us call rare, others will categorize as more or less common. The word “rare” just does not mean the same thing to all of us.

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Pontiac made 12,379 Catalina convertibles in 1961, and given the ravages of time and rust, there are probably not too many of them still on the road today. But compared to a 1953 Corvette or an Allard, a Pontiac like this one is just not a rare car.

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But can we call the seller of this barn find for sale in central New Jersey on Craigslist off base for calling his car rare? Well maybe he can say it’s somewhat rare, OK, but first he calls it “ultra rare” and then adds that it is a “rare opportunity.” For me, that’s just going too far. Of course, the cynics among us will say that calling it “ultra rare” is only the seller’s justification the steep $10,500 ask for what is a very rusty and crusty 55 year old mainstream American car.

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Whether this car is really rare or not, 1961 was a good year for GM designs, and in my opinion, the Catalina convertible is a great looking car. Full size 1961 GM cars were smaller than their predecessors, handled better, and with their weight reduced, were better performers too.

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Pontiac’s 389 cubic inch V-8 was used across the entire line, with variations of induction and performance. This car’s engine has been pulled for rebuilding, but there is no mention of whether it is two barrel or a four barrel equipped. The car is said to have power steering, power brakes and a power top, and “much work has already been completed,” according to the seller, but he does not specify any of the work that was done.

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The car has been stored for 30 years, but clearly was well-used before that, and is suffering from truly major rust and rot, to the extent that you have to question if this car will be worth the effort to restore. The interior looks pretty decent, the chrome also good, and the car does seem complete. But that rust is scary, and at least for me, far outsets the “ultra rare” status the seller is trying to push. Maybe I am being too harsh, but I just can’t go along with this seller’s view of his car.

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Hagerty shows the value of this model at around $12,500 for a car in “fair” condition, and this Catalina is much worse than fair. On the other hand, with not much effort, I found a really beautiful 1961 Ventura convertible from California for sale with only 27,000 miles on it for $25,000, and while I am sure there are people who would enjoy the effort to transform or restore this Craigslist Catalina, I would rather start with a better example I can drive and enjoy.

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So what do you think? Is this car worth saving, or is this a parts car, and either way, what should it go for?

Fast Finds

Comments

  1. Howard A Member

    What makes it really rare is it’s also 4 wheel drive,,,, ( RF snow tire) Yeah, it’s worth it. Just so few of these, and I’m sure people have restored worse. I liked the ’62 styling much better, but this seems pretty complete. I don’t think ’61 was the most popular year for Pontiac, although, they did well at the track. I believe Marvin Panch drove a ’61 Catalina convertible before convertibles were outlawed the following year by NASCAR. Probably worth it, where you gonna find another?

  2. Roselandpete

    Best of luck to the seller.

  3. Glen

    I’ve mentioned this before, you should always have snow tires all around!. Anyway, enough about snow, I guess rare, and collectible ( where the money is), aren’t always the same thing. If Ladas’ were rare, I still wouldn’t want won ! , but I do like this Pontiac.

  4. mr wolf

    Yugo’s are ‘rare’ (they didn’t last and no one kept them) but would you pay 12k for one?

    I doubt it.

    • Horse Radish

      The same goes for millions of VW bugs and look at it now……

  5. Randy

    Rare is a four-letter word.

  6. alphil

    David,A clean,low mileage California 61 Ventura convertible or not for $25,000? WOW. Cost you more than that for paint and bodywork on this one.As always,”wish I hadn’t sold mine”.Phil D

    • David Wilk Member

      There is a similarly “barn found” 61 Catalina convert on Hemmings.com right now for $9,500, and I also found another 61 claimed to be a California no rust car for sale in PA here: http://autos.shopnearbuy.com/222116140611.html for $19,900, and a third sold recently on carsonline.com for $28k so I think it’s possible to get one of these in pretty good condition for less than this one’s ask. All academic for me as I cannot afford any of these.

  7. Woodie Man

    Wish I still had my ’61…anyone in Rifle . Colorado? Its probably still there

    • moosie Craig

      Limo ?

  8. Joe Btfsplk

    I’d rather have a wagon than the convertible.

  9. J Holtsr

    might be first time owner tried to sell, think of having a car like that for 30 years, he never finished it, but he still sees the vision, hard to let go, with that much rust, a lot of metal replacement, does he know how to weld? lots of questions, if i had the $, i would offer 5k and see where it goes, i wouldnt go up much.

    • Horse Radish

      this guy is not the original owner or else it wouldn’t be on the trailer.
      This guy here is a routine flipper.
      You can tell by the language in the ad.
      Cannot even sell it fast enough after jacking it out of some little old lady’s garage and too lazy to even take it off the trailer.

      I would look very hard and very far for another car before considering this one.

  10. Chuck Foster Chuck F 55chevy

    I really like the grille of these Pontiacs, and love convertibles, it seems like project cars are really high priced lately. How about this one on Craiglist for $4500? It had 1996 California tags on it when found in a barn, power windows and seat. (It’s in my back yard)
    http://atlanta.craigslist.org/nat/cto/5584462432.html

  11. JR

    Most of these old convert’s this rough are $1200 – $1500 range as I guy is going to spend $15 – $20 Thous minimum to get it road worthy again if the frame is not rotten which most of the cars of this era are rotten from Eastern US and Canada

  12. ric Parrish

    A guy rolled a brand new 61 Catalina, end over end, he lived across from our church, us kids saw it every
    sunday. It was apparently uninsured, because he went on driving it for years, taped up convertible top and all. It looked like a stock car, until they tried to do some lame body work on it and painted it. That ruined it.

  13. RoughDiamond RoughDiamond Member

    Wow, that is some heavy crap that seller in Atlanta put on the trunk lid of the car for sale.

    • Chuck Foster Chuck F 55chevy

      That crap is the way I found my barn find, all the pics are from a few years ago when I towed it home, I traded a 1980 Camaro for it. I never noticed it had a remote controlled mirror until some guy wanted to buy it for $300. Notice how the door panel is different than the featured Catalina? The pattern is the same as a Bonneville, I read somewhere it was called a Ventura package.

  14. Stephen Werner

    Sure looks like a 2 barrel in the back of the pickup

  15. 64 bonneville

    asking is about $8500 to high. anyone buying should be looking for rust thru in the kick up over the frame. From the pictures it appears that there is not a single body panel that will not need replaced or repaired. For the condition it is in I would be hard pressed to go more than $2000 for it, and only because it is a convertible, and I can do all the work, except top and upholstry, myself.
    Not rare, but maybe, hard to find (in this condition at this price)

  16. rangeroger

    In 1962 my family moved from London,England back to San Diego. We stopped in Ottawa,Ohio to visit family. My aunt had a brand new ’62 Catalina convertible, red with white interior. My cousins, who all owned Corvairs, would take me cruising in it listening to “409” et al.
    Always loved the look of the ’62 vs the ’61.
    Ah yes,hot summer nights in 1962.

    • Steve

      Dad had a ’62 Bonneville in Tan. Wished it had AC. Always loved the styling especially the tail section. Dad said you could put a bowling alley in the trunk. Love the tail section of the ’61 Bonneville as well however to me the front end is just okay. Thinking I would love to have a ’62…about 20 years ago I test drove one a guy for sale and I hated it. I didn’t anticipate the bigger steering wheel and the ride wasn’t very good. It obviously needed suspension work but I didn’t know much about cars back then. I’d rather have a blue ’66 Catalina Wagon (with AC)…the car Dad traded in the Bonneville for because the family was getting larger. They’re almost impossible to find.

  17. Pete

    Rarely have I seen such a car in NJ that wasn’t rusted into a lump of steaming dog ofal. There rare part of this car is that it has most of it’s shiny bits and the interior looks fairly solid. He would be lucky to get 2500 here in NC for that hoopty. Hey I know this car was owned by Gov Christie or maybe Jimmy Hoffa yeah that’s the ticket. LOL

  18. Tony B.

    I still own my first car. A 1964 Pontiac Bonneville Sport Coupe. My wife has her first car, a Pontiac Fiero GT. If it were priced more reasonably…I would rebuild the 389, drop it back in, and drive the hell out of it…as-is. These cars were very solid (I owned a ’59 Pontiac Hearse in high school), and the rust wouldn’t scare me. I think it could be back on the road and enjoyed everyday, without much effort.

  19. Keith

    I would look at it as rare from this standpoint: what are you going to see more of this summer at the car shows you go to: a first year Vette or a 61 Catalina convertible? I’m going ot bet you won’t see one 61 Pontiac Catalina all summer long. This is a Jersey convertible, so be prepared to repair/replace every body panel, floors rockers, parts of the frame, all suspension, chrome, etc.

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