The Pontiac Catalina began life in 1950. Catalina was an appellation describing a 2-door hardtop model of the Pontiac Chieftain Eight and Deluxe Eight vehicles. These were the top-of-the-line models in the Pontiac Division of General Motors. They were powered by a flathead straight eight cylinder engine until the 1955 model, when a V-8 was introduced in the Pontiac line. Initially, all hardtop (pillar-less coupe) models, and later convertibles, were designated Catalina;" until the Bonneville debuted as a complete model line in 1959. Catalina then became a separate model, the entry-level Pontiac, below the Star Chief and Bonneville.
Though it was an entry-level vehicle, the Pontiac Catalina was still head-and-shoulders above the top Chevrolet models and ranked alongside the entry level Oldsmobiles and Buicks. The Catalina had better appointments and a larger engine than any Chevy model, though through 1958 the Catalina and Chevrolet shared the General Motors "A" body. In 1959, GM introduced its "B" body that was shared by all divisions, from Chevrolet to Cadillac. The 1959 Pontiac also introduced the split grille front end, a Pontiac trademark until the demise of the division. In later years, the split grille shrunk some and began to resemble the double-kidney grille of BMW.
In 1962, Pontiac took a Catalina 2-door hardtop body, added a deluxe interior with front bucket seats, a big Bonneville V-8 under the hood and exterior trimmings, and then renamed it the Grand Prix. This personal luxury vehicle was intended as competition for the 4-seat Ford Thunderbird. Shortly after its introduction, Grand Prix became a separate model line. The success of the Catalina model line contributed greatly to Pontiac's rise to number three in vehicle sales for U.S. car manufacturers, behind Chevrolet and Ford. The Pontiac Catalina was the third best selling vehicle model, behind the Chevrolet Impala and Ford Galaxie 500. Many other manufacturers were induced to emulate Pontiac's success with the Catalina by bringing out entry-level models of their full-size vehicles.
Pontiac continued to manufacture the Catalina model through the 1981 model year. Internal restructuring and downsized designs dominated the industry, eliminating the need for an entry-level full sized car. Pontiac Division continued on until it was closed in 2010 in an austerity measure by General Motors. GM, under government-supervised restructuring, turned its focus to its core product lines: Cadillac, Buick, Chevrolet and GMC. Two great GM Divisions, Oldsmobile and Pontiac, were shuttered.
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