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Only 7,998 Catalinas came with the 2+2 option in 1964.

After hearing of the car through a friend, Mark Tilson had to wait two years before the previous owner would allow him to even see the car, let alone discuss the sale of it. It took another two years to reach an agreement to buy it.

By 2003, it had been in storage for about 20 years and needed extensive restoration.

1964 Pontiac 2+2 convertible - Mark Tilson shows that good things really do come to those who wait

By Society Staff – reprint with permission only

Though GM had pulled out of racing in January of 1963, Pontiac was not about to let their carefully crafted reputation for performance fall by the wayside. In the fall of 1963, they released the GTO to much acclaim by the media as well as the buying public. Racing was out, but street performance was still part of the game.

On the full-sized front, things hadn't gelled quite as decisively. Back then, Pontiac's top performing machines were the Super Duty factory race cars, and, truth be told, they were outfitted like taxicabs in an effort to hold the weight down. Any sophistication they had was under the hood as it certainly wasn't in the interiors.

While bucket-seated Venturas were offered in previous years, the full integration of a true full-sized performance package began with the introduction of the Catalina 2+2 in 1964. Though it began as a bucket seat interior and appearance package, it soon evolved into a true performance model.

When it was first introduced, the powertrain offerings were the same as any other Catalina, from the base 267-hp, 389 2-barrel right up to the top dog 370-hp, 421 Tri-power. In 1965, though, the 2+2 became a true performance offering, with the base engine becoming the 338-hp, 421 four-barrel, hooked to a 3-speed Dearborn Top-Loader manual transmission. By the time U.S. production ended in 1967, a burly 376-hp 428 HD was the top option for the 2+2, and despite its large size, it was a formidable performer and often able to better the mid-size street competition.

In that first year of production, however, the wider choice of powertrain offerings made it possible to order a unique vehicle, and, with the low overall production figures, a truly rare machine could be built.

That is just what happened with Mark Tilson's 1964 2+2 convertible. With just 7,998 Catalinas receiving the 2+2 option that year, the rarer convertible body style and the mating of the 306 hp, 389 4-barrel to a 4- speed manual transmission makes this particular vehicle an exceptionally rare machine today.

The story of how Mark came to own this car is also as interesting as the car itself. "Around 2003, a customer of mine kept telling me about this old Pontiac his uncle had. It had been in storage since the early 1980s, and it had a really nice interior," Tilson explained in a recent phone interview. "He didn't know if it was a full-sized car or a GTO, but he said his uncle bought it new."

It took about two years before Mark even saw the car as the owner couldn't be convinced to allow the car to be seen. Finally, the nephew showed Mark the Pontiac when the owner wasn't around. "I peeled off the car cover and saw the 2+2 badges on the fender and I was really excited, he explained. Then I saw the 4-speed shifter in the console and just about had a heart attack-could there be a Tri-power under the hood?"

As it turned out, there wasn't a trio of 2-barrel carbs under the hood, but rather a single 4-barrel-not a bad find either way. The car was pretty rough, though, as years of storage had taken their toll, and rust was everywhere. Even so, the interior remained nearly perfect.

It would be another two years before Mark was able to come to an agreement with the owner to sell the vintage Pontiac. Mark promised him that the Cat would be returned to its former splendor no matter what it took. Apparently, that did the trick, and, four years after hearing of its existence, the '64 2+2 convertible was now his.

Once the droptop was safely at Mark's, the real evaluation began. The 2+2 was optioned very modestly-no power steering or brakes, just the 4-barrel 389, 4-speed, Safe-T-Track rear end, and spinner hubcaps, all verified by Pontiac Historical Society paperwork.

Mark quickly came to the conclusion that the restoration process was going to be extensive and beyond what he could do on his own. Due to the deteriorated condition of the car, a complete disassembly and body-off restoration would be the only viable approach to bringing it back. "The more we looked, the more rust we found. It was a typical Ohio car," Mark said. "Just about every body panel needed patches or some level of attention."

As one would expect, there were more surprises to be uncovered. For example, the bare frame was sent out to be sandblasted and was destroyed in the process. "It came back as Swiss cheese-and not the good way," he recalled. "I felt like we had nothing to work with, but the body shop came through and found a rust-free replacement." He added that, due to the body mounting points, the frame is a one-year only design. A '63 is similar but not interchangeable. Even the serial number on the replacement was close to this car's."

The restoration was nut-and-bolt correct, though Mark added power steering and brakes, as well as the 8-lug wheels, which were the only deviations from the build sheet. The original Yorktown Blue was re-sprayed in catalyzed urethane enamel and radial tires replaced the original-spec bias plys - after all, this car is driven.

The results have paid off handsomely. Finished just days before the 2009 Convention, the 2+2 took a Junior Gold and, later, at the 2009 Ames Performance Pontiac Nationals, the Cat caught the eye of the editor of Smoke Signals, the newsletter of the Pontiac Oakland Club International, Editor's Choice Award.

This year, Mark took the big Poncho to Charleston, South Carolina, where it took another Gold, though points were docked for the radials. While there, the engine experienced some bottom-end troubles, which fortunately didn't prevent him from Points Judged competition. Those problems are being addressed now that it's home, and it should be back on the road before the end of the season.

Though it has been more than seven years since he first heard about this rare machine, Mark Tilson is convinced that good things do indeed come to those waiting to grab onto their first-year favorite.

Additional 1964 Pontiac reference material available on WAC:

  • 1964 Pontiac magazine advertisements (here)
  • 1964 Pontiac magazine road test articles (here)
  • 1964 Pontiac sales brochures (here)

 

Mark's 2+2 sports a 389 4-barrel rated at 306 hp and mated to a 4-speed manual transmission.