Sunday, February 16, 2020

1976 Pontiac Catalina: low price, full style, grandma or gangster?

A greenhouse to envy or a home to sun worshippers? No, a 1976 Pontiac.

Another Catalina! We love Pontiacs. We love weird window glass. We love unique and classy chariots of Pontiac fame. So how is it that after all these years we overlooked the beauty and styling cues of the 1976 Pontiac Catalina? Well, we did until Jody and I stumbled upon this forgotten full-size classic in the parking lot of Vintage Garage in Harpersville, Alabama.

From that point on, smitten by the luxury appointments and the overall “wow” factor that Pontiac lovers know so well. The factory options fit their place in this Catalina eloquently. The big Poncho two-door was just layed out so well.

You know what we didn’t know well? This entire car. It occurred to us that we had seen very few of them even though the greenhouse glass had us at “hello.” We still don’t know much about these Catalinas, being just recently smitten. As the world turns, the collector car circles seem to have forgotten about this one. It is a fine fine day for a reunion.

Four flat tires and weeds growing through parking lot cracks around car.
Weeds and flat tires can't keep us away from this 1976 Pontiac Catalina 2-door in light blue with white vinyl top.

Eight is enough

Code “P” in the VIN tells us that there is Pontiac motor waiting for us. The 165 horsepower Pontiac 350 was not what we expected. Really, we were betting on a 400 Pontiac. The next safe bet would be the 455 Pontiac, seeing that it was the last year available and if you were to find one, it would be nestled between the fenders of a full-size luxury car. 

Don’t let that discourage you from enjoying the rest of this Pontiac. The 350-V8 was indeed a hardworking powerplant that has a following of sorts. So, maybe it had to work a little harder than larger engines, but it did it. This discarded little brother of the larger engines was indeed a great and long lasting engine. You would be surprised at the enthusiasm this seemingly forgotten engine enjoys today.

A small quarter window meets the back edge of the door glass.

Sunny in there?
A good roof designer is valuable. The Pontiac design team that dreamed up these wild windows was a hero to all fans of strange automobile glass. Dig the aerodynamic rear window design. Fall in love with the rear quarter windows. Fall in love quickly, because they could disappear with the push of a button… that's right… POWER rear quarter glass! 

1976 Pontiac literature refers to this as a “hardtop” but it seems to us this conflicts somewhat with the idea that this could have been a sedan. Junkyard Life loves odd car roofs. We are not sure we would call this design a “hardtop” by definition. We are only sure that we love it. 

Tri-spoke Pontiac steering wheel in view as we peek through the glass.
Driver's seat cover has seen better days but is still cover in original white vinyl. 1970s big clock/100mph speedo combo gauges.

Options: Whatcha want, Shorty?
It appears whoever ordered up this car went wild checking options… or did they? We learned many things came standard on this car. It was not hard to get many of the goodies that made day-to-day life enjoyable. Power everything, tilt this, cruise that, 15-inch wheels with what Pontiac called the “Deluxe” wheel cover. *(Fun fact warning: This hubcap was available across the Pontiac line, except on the Sunbird and Astre. Basically anything that had a 15-inch wheel except the Trans Am. When the exclusive Grand Prix was ordered with this wheel cover, it was the same hubcap but with a “GP” logo on it.) The 1976 Pontiac brochure also makes mention of a power pedal extension available in all full-size models to make the vertically challenged more comfortable. Oddly, NOT available in a full-size station wagon.

Much like late-1960s Cadillac coupes, these windows slide side-to-side.
A power window switch in the back seat tells us that those power quarter windows ramp up the "wow" factor on this Catalina. They slide side-to-side.

Final thoughts
We found a unique Pontiac that is seldom found on the road or in the junkyard. A 1976 Pontiac Catalina in a two door with amazing glass! This color (Athena Blue) suits it well and has a subtle, yet powerful presence. We have learned a lot about Catalinas here at Junkyard Life recently (Emma Goose) and it is safe to say… we dig them! This example has fallen into the right hands and will be something to behold once again. We certainly hope so!

Ron Kidd
— Junkyard Life: The Story Beneath the Rust

(Editor’s Note: Ron finds a way to work a Grand Prix into everything, doesn’t he?)

Need some Vitamin D? Crawl up onto the hat rack and stretch out in the sunshine.

Pontiac used variations of wide, 3-line tail lights for many years on big, small and performance vehicles.

Big 1976 cars often landed in demolition derbies. This one has survived with super stout bumpers intact.

Montgomery, Alabama dealership emblem reveals a lot about this 44-year-old Pontiac. Now in Harpersville, sitting just 75 miles away from where it was bought new.

A cool white interior color was needed in a car with this much glass. It looks original, and I could almost make out either 102k or 82k on the odometer.

Sun-bleached paint turns to rust on the top surfaces of the trunk lid of the 1976 Pontiac Catalina. Just a big Cat lying in the sun. Grandma and the gangsters would be envious.

Got a great car story? We want to know it. Send us details! Send emails to Jody Potter at and Ron Kidd at