Q: Greg when I was young I purchased a brand new 1961 Pontiac Catalina two-door sport hardtop. It was really the coolest cruising car I ever owned. I’d like to buy another ’61 Catalina in good condition or in need of minor repairs or a paint job.
The Catalina I owned had the biggest engine that you buy back then and it had the automatic transmission and a four-barrel carb. What should I expect to find these days in the collector car market? I see your columns in the Canton Repository here in Ohio.
— James S., Canton, Ohio.
A: Glad to help, James. In looking back over my lifetime with cars, one of my best friends back in Vineland, New Jersey, had a neat ’60 Catalina 389 bubble-top automatic, and it ran great. We used to race all the time be it bicycles, motorbikes, off-road buggies or cars. He lives in Cincinnati now and I remember his dad always bought Hudsons from 1950 through 1954 years.
As for that 1961 Catalina, Pontiac offered numerous versions of the 389 V8 in 1961. It started with 267 horsepower from a two-barrel equipped engine to the ultimate 348 horses that featured the 3x2 tri-power setup. The 389 was a potent, multi-task Pontiac engine and made its way into the first GTO in 1964. But back then be it a Star Chief, Bonneville, Catalina or Ventura, there was a 389 lurking under the hood. My neighbor also had a nice 1960 Star Chief, but then traded it for a lip-top 1962 Catalina.
Back to your question and for the sake of simplicity, I will answer based on the 348 with one four barrel, which developed 318 horsepower.
Currently on NADA Classic Car Prices, expect to pay a low retail of $10,400 to an average of $21,200 to a fully restored price of $34,920 for the 348/318 ’61 Catalina hardtop. That 318 horse engine added 10 percent to the cost. The two-door sedan starts at $8,850 and up (that’s the one with a B-pillar post and a lip on the rear of the top), and is worth considering.
However, the more powerful 389 engines up the price radically, even to out of sight categories. Since we’re already talking the 389/318 four barrel, if a ’61 Catalina you find has a 389 with the three two barrel “Tri-Power” putting out 348 horses, add at least 40 percent to the cost. If it’s a 335-horse four-barrel version, add 30 percent. You mention the automatic transmission, and that’s OK, but if you choose one with a three-speed manual, deduct 10 percent from the cost. Additionally, if you find a Catalina with those beautiful eight-lug wheels, add 10 percent. If you can find a four-speed, add another 10 percent.
These are prices based on average retail to a high retail for a good condition Catalina. If by some crazy chance you come across the extremely rare Super Duty 421-inch, 405-horse V8 ’61 Catalina, jump the price by at least 400 percent and expect to pay $145,000 and up for a bubble-top or $97,000 for a pristine lip-top two-door sedan. Yes — these were special built cars for drag racing, and they demand top dollar.
My recommendation is don’t walk away from a nice two-door post lip-top as these are now popular cars for collectors. They also cost quite a bit less than the bubble-tops and I remind all my readers again these prices are not cast in stone. The actual price is what the buyer and seller agree on, many times far less for a 1961 Pontiac sitting somewhere in a garage. Now if it’s a Super Duty 421, then expect to pay big money.
Good luck in your quest to find a nice ’61 Catalina. I recommend you check the noted car magazines like Auto Round-up (I write for them) and Hemmings Motor News (they’ve run my work, too), both of which are available on newsstands everywhere and have nice websites. Also, don’t forget to check the local classified section in your newspaper as you may find a diamond in the rough at a great price.
In ending, every time I get a letter from a Pontiac lover I recommend you check out Jim Wangers “Glory Days” book about all those great years of Pontiac high performance. He is the legendary Pontiac drag racer and publicist from 1960 and up, running numerous Catalinas out of Ace Wilson’s Royal Pontiac dealership in Royal Oak, Michigan.
Hope this all helped and thanks for your letter.
— Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now and other GateHouse Media publications. He welcomes reader questions at email@example.com.