“You can sell a young man’s car to an old man, but you can’t sell an old man’s car to a young man.” Semon Knudsen knew exactly what he was doing the moment he took over the reins at Pontiac in 1956. A younger man who should’ve walked straight through the front doors at GM into a cushy job thanks in part to his father being a former GM President William Knudsen, “Bunkie” should’ve been a shoe-in. Instead, he busted his butt and ascended the ladder on his own terms, and at the age of 43 became one of the youngest general managers at GM. Pontiac wasn’t in great shape when he got it. Not that the cars were bad, it was a reputation thing…Pontiacs were seen as “Old Faithful”, or the old man’s choice. In a few short years, some minor tip-toeing around GM’s ban on racing activities and some major redesign work turned Pontiac’s fortunes around nearly 180 degrees from where it had been.
Knudsen’s changes affected two major key areas: performance and looks. Knudsen was all about cramming ten pounds into a five pound bag when it came to the engine bay, and he toned down the chrome ornamentation that Pontiac had been known for while chasing a wide-stance look. The 1961 Catalina Safari you see here is peak Bunkie: A fresh design that was light-years away from 1956, low and wide. The bubble-shaped front window and the last little vestiges of tailfins out the back, and a cheat line in the doors to break up the side enough. Dog dishes and a 389 under the hood. (The Tri-Power setup has been added on.) This is the kind of machine you had a chance of talking Dad into when you went with him to the dealership…it was practical, it looked good, it would be easy to drive and it’d rock a hell of a lot harder than the Trophy-4 Tempest that he had originally been planning to buy.
Resto-freaks might cringe at the added-on Tri-Power, especially for such a clean wagon, but they can yelp all they want. This wagon gives us the sweats…we’re in love.