Countdown to Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale 2016: 1963 Pontiac Catalina ‘Swiss Cheese’

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1963 Pontiac Catalina “Swiss Cheese” | Barrett-Jackson Photos

Editor’s note: This is the 21st in a 30-day sponsored series featuring cars to be sold January 23-31 during Barrett-Jackson’s 45th Scottsdale auction.

The Collingwood Motors “Tonto VI” 1963 “Swiss Cheese” Catalina may share the same external envelope as every other Catalina of similar vintage, but its four tires bear down on Earth with only 3,300 pounds of weight. That’s nearly 900 pounds less than its regular production equivalent.

Built for sanctioned drag strip competition in the NHRA’s B/FX ranks (Factory Experimental class, category B, 9.00 to 12.99 pounds per cubic inch), the 14 Swiss Cheese Catalinas built in early 1963 benefitted from the most aggressive weight-reduction program in Pontiac history. The smallest platform in Pontiac’s full-size model range, each Swiss Cheese car was built without sound deadener or insulation, and comfort and convenience options were eliminated.

Pontiac used a single lightweight muffler and tail pipe to comply with the NHRA regulation requiring a street-legal exhaust system.

Knowing that frontal weight reduction placed more static and dynamic mass on the rear tires during takeoff, Pontiac chassis engineers replaced the stock steel fenders, hood, numerous inner panels and both bumpers with aluminum replicas. The stock perimeter-type steel frame was lightened by punching the side beams with nearly 130 evenly spaced holes, tied together by as little metal as possible. These frames were so delicate, assembly workers temporarily inserted lengths of wooden two-by-fours to prevent kinks during manufacture.

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Side profile of the 1963 Pontiac Catalina “Swiss Cheese”

Pontiac also focused attention on the frequently overlooked differential carrier and exhaust manifolds. While Ford, Chrysler and Chevrolet SS and FX machines retained hefty cast-iron gear cases, Pontiac shed 50 pounds by swapping to an aluminum replica. Up front, the potent 421 Super Duty exhaled through streamlined exhaust manifolds – like its 7-liter competitors. But instead of iron, the S.D. items were cast from aluminum and slashed weight from 72 to 27 pounds per pair.

Following the NHRA’s 1963 eligibility mandate requiring a street-legal exhaust system, Pontiac used a single lightweight muffler and tail pipe, a trick Chrysler copied with its 426 Race HEMI sedans of 1964 and ’65. Each exhaust manifold included a removable cap that bypassed the rest of the exhaust system for race duty. Another detail that’s often overlooked is the fact Pontiac shipped the Swiss Cheese Catalinas to buyers with the rugged 3-speed Borg-Warner T-85 manual transmission. It was up to racers to upgrade to the 4-speed Borg-Warner T-10s that saw duty in most Swiss Cheese Ponchos within weeks of delivery.

Pontiac drag racing superstar Arnie “The Farmer” Beswick posted regular 11.7s at 123 mph in his match-race-prepared ’63 Swiss Cheese Catalina, regularly defeating competing SS and FX machines of every type.

Where more hitting power was needed, Pontiac explored the other end of the power-to-weight scale with its same-year 421 S.D. Tempest package. Designed for A/FX drag racing, 14 of these compact-based monsters were also built. They’re another story altogether. Between the two 421 S.D. powered machines, Pontiac’s prospects for the 1963 race season looked good … until January 24, 1963.

That’s when top GM management issued a corporate-wide edict banning all subsequent racing activity. Federal anti-trust watchdogs had been eyeballing GM’s growing domestic market share: 47.5 percent in 1961, 53.9 percent in 1962 … and counting. The executives figured pulling out of racing would lower corporate profile and appease the trust busters. It worked and the break-up never materialized.

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Rear of the 1963 Pontiac Catalina “Swiss Cheese”

“’Tonto VI” was built on April 2, 1963, several weeks after the ban. No clone or tribute, this PHS-verified rarity retains all of the exotic Super Duty and Swiss Cheese hardware described above. Records show it was ordered by Pontiac Engineering, supposedly for internal research use, but somehow it quickly joined a shipment of new Pontiacs destined for Collingwood Motors in Greybull, Wyoming. If you’re smelling a sneaky factory work-around to get one final Swiss Cheese car into circulation, you’re not alone.

One detail that sets “Tonto VI” apart is paint. The 13 Swiss Cheese Cats built earlier wore Silver Fire-Frost, a Cadillac hue. But when this final unit was needed weeks later, the factory applied standard Pontiac Silvermist Gray. Could it be the post-ban builders didn’t want to attract unwanted attention with a special order paint job?

Could be.

Completely restored by Diver’s Street Rods of Startup, Washington, this final slice of Super Duty glory debuted at the 2013 Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals, where its combination of history, quality and rarity rightfully captured Concourse Gold honors. This 1963 Pontiac Catalina Super Duty certainly will attract some attention when it crosses the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale block in January.

Barrett-Jackson’s 45th Anniversary Scottsdale Auction, January 23-31 at WestWorld of Scottsdale, will feature over 1,400 vehicles, most selling at No Reserve. For information on becoming a bidder, visit Barrett-Jackson.com/bid or call 480-421-6694.

3 thoughts on “Countdown to Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale 2016: 1963 Pontiac Catalina ‘Swiss Cheese’”

  1. Looks like Pontiac played a belated April Fools joke on the Federal Watchdogs. Sure do miss the Pontiac Excitement

  2. Those were the days. My dad’s midnight blue ’63 Catalina tri-power 389….wagon! Surprised lots of guys at the lights. Plus that giant sucking sound at full throttle sans air cleaner was mean. Yes, we miss the Ponchos.

  3. Very cool rigs, they had the field to themselves from ’61 to ’63 by a long way. If gm had let them continue their high performance program they might have kept the winning tradition well up through the late ’60’s

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