RCL Exclusive

Pontiac Only Made One 1959 El Catalina and This Is It

The unique half-car-half-truck was a different kind of hybrid and it's hitting the auction block.

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One moonlit night in 1959, a Ford Ranchero and Chevrolet El Camino drove to a scenic overlook and had a little fun in the parking lot — without using a seatbelt for protection.

Nine months later, the first El Catalina was born. Sadly, the ‘59 prototype was also the last.

Actually created by Pontiac as opposed to a romantic rendezvous, the El Catalina was a hybrid concept vehicle that was designed to capitalize on the notoriety of the Ranchero and Camino.

The only completed El Catalina prototype produced by Pontiac (Mecum Auctions)
The only completed El Catalina prototype produced by Pontiac (Mecum Auctions)

A half-car-half-truck by design, the El Catalina was birthed by mating the cabin shell and pickup bed of an El Camino to the architecture of a station-wagon chassis from a Pontiac Catalina Safari. The windows and doors were then modified by hand to fit under the Chevy’s roof.

With a red, white and silver interior pulled right from a Catalina Safari, the hand-built El Catalina was blessed with a four-speed Hydra-Matic transmission mated to a 300-HP V8 engine.

Despite its beauty and brawn, when the El Catalina was shown to Pontiac general manager Bunkie Knudsen, he decided to end the project and scrapped an in-construction second model.  

The only completed El Catalina prototype produced by Pontiac (Mecum Auctions)
The only completed El Catalina prototype produced by Pontiac (Mecum Auctions)

Thankfully, instead of sending the original hybrid to the great junkyard in the sky, Knudsen sent it down to the basement of the Pontiac Retail Store Parts Department which it occasionally exited to serve as a delivery vehicle.

After a later stint serving as the college car for the retail store’s son where it took on significant wear and tear, the one-and-only El Catalina was purchased by Darrel Lotridge, who then set about restoring it.

Due to the lack of blueprints and appropriate parts, putting the rusted-out El Catalina back together again proved to be a difficult undertaking and Lotridge went through a number of restorers over the course of multiple decades, never finishing the rebuild, he told Hemmings.

The only completed El Catalina prototype produced by Pontiac (Mecum Auctions)
The only completed El Catalina prototype produced by Pontiac (Mecum Auctions)

The lack of success eventually led to Lotridge selling the vehicle to another restorer who, by remaking the interior from scratch and sourcing parts from a Bonneville, was able to bring the El Catalina back to its unique glory in time for the 2011 Pontiac Oakland Club International meet.

At the meet, the one-off Pontiac scored 400 out of 400 points and claimed Best of Show, a result that, at least partially, justified all the blood, sweat and elbow grease that went into its revival.

The automotive unicorn went on to capture a number of other awards and honors, including the Concours of the Americas Spirit of the Automobilist Otto Rosenbusch Memorial Award in 2014.

The only completed El Catalina prototype produced by Pontiac (Mecum Auctions)
The only completed El Catalina prototype produced by Pontiac (Mecum Auctions)

Now, in accordance with the saying, the owner of the El Catalina is letting his labor of love go by setting it free via Mecum at at the auction house’s ongoing Indy Auction.

Expected to fetch between $85,000-$125,000, the El Catalina is the first, and last, of its species.

Register to bid here.