This story is about the restoration of a classic Pontiac Catalina by Ralph Ronzello, a district manager of the Harris Teeter food chain. Ronzello wanted to restore his '61 Catalina to resemble a Super Stock drag racing car from the mid-1960s in Detroit. He believed that many restored Pontiacs in the hobby today are done to factory-stock specifications, but he wanted to capture the era when owners would modify and race their cars on the weekends. In 1961, Pontiac produced two models of the two-door Catalina: the sport coupe nicknamed "Bubbletop" and the pillared sedan called "Batwing".
While the Bubbletop was preferred by NASCAR drivers for its aerodynamics, some drag racers believed that the Batwing was lighter and thus better suited for the strip. For the restoration project, Ronzello consulted Pontiac restoration specialist Scott Tiemann. They found a '61 Catalina in Tiemann's neighborhood that had been sitting there for 25 years. They decided to make it look like a car that was bought in 1965 and converted for drag racing. The restoration process took 700 hours.
The car was stripped and any rust was repaired. The bodywork was done, priming and blocking were performed, and the car was painted a vintage-cool Coronado Red color. The interior was also restored with a one-off "deluxe" interior, and period-correct graphics were applied to the exterior. The 389 engine was rebuilt, and the Tri-Power setup was installed. The exhaust system was modified, and a four-speed conversion was done to push the power to the pavement. The car was completed and displayed at the '08 Detroit Autorama, where it won First Place in Factory Nostalgic.
Ronzello was amazed when a buyer approached him at the show and offered to buy the car, even though it hadn't been driven yet. This spoke highly of the quality of the restoration performed by Tiemann. In conclusion, whether restoring a Pontiac to factory-stock specifications or modifying it for drag racing, it's important to decide the theme before starting the restoration process. The key is to work with a restorer who understands and can deliver on your vision. Ultimately, the goal is to restore a Pontiac that pleases the owner and others who appreciate the nostalgia and beauty of these classic cars.