Hagerty.com

These 5 factory-built Pontiac sleepers are riots under the radar


#1

In the world of performance cars a “sleeper” car can be best defined as a car that has all the outward appearances of a standard or base model car, but with added performance. Essentially all go and no show. Even before the introduction of the GTO in 1964, Pontiac had already established itself as a force to be reckoned with on the street and track. This reputation ebbed and flowed in the following decades until its unfortunate demise in 2010. While there are worthy cars not included in this list, we’ve selected five of Pontiac’s best sleepers to hit the streets.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2018/10/09/5-factory-built-pontiac-sleepers

#2

I enjoyed your article on Pontiac. I’ve owned numerous Pontiacs in my life, and currently have a 2009 Pontiac G8 GT. One thing I noticed in your article was an omission of one of the best I ever had. 1965 Pontiac Catalina 2+2. The car came with no options. Only a 421 with a 4 speed and buckets seat. It was equipped with 8 lug aluminum wheels and metallic brakes. The lack of power steering, power brakes, and a clutch pedal that was amazingly hard to depress, all were secondary to the amazing power it possessed. It came with a 140 mph speedometer, that I pushed well past the 140 mph mark. Car and Driver put it in their 50th Anniversary Edition as one of the fasted 0-60 mph cars they tested over their first 50 years. According to Car and Driver, it was built for NASCAR and as was the rule at the time, they had to build a certain number for the public in order to qualify for NASCAR racing. Still miss that cat today.


#3

Glad you enjoyed it! The 421 Catalinas in general are superb sleepers. I mainly chose to highlight the earlier SD cars from the fact that they were leading the charge in factory sanctioned racing back in that day. The idea that you could buy a street legal Super Stock race car from Pontiac is fantastic. I’ve even read stories of guys who bought some of the all steel cars second hand and street drove them to an extent.


#4

The Catalina 2+2 was actually offered for four model years, '64-'67. Buckets were included, as was a trim package with badging, etc., but they could be optioned pretty much like any other contemporary C-body Pontiac. I’ve seen some with power windows and seats, air conditioning, assisted steering and brakes, reverb switch for the rear speaker, etc. And as convertibles.

The most well-known was the '65, with the famous Car + Driver cover featuring a Ferrari 2+2 chasing a Pontiac around a corner, in an artist’s fantasy. Sales were nominal by '67, and it was discontinued.

The Canadians continued to get 2+2-designated full size Pontiacs, built on the B (Chevrolet) platform in Oshawa, through 1970, replacing the “Custom Sport” designation used prior, through '70. These also had Chevrolet powertrains - 327s, 350s, 396s, 427s, and, in the final year, 454s. In '71, the Canadian offerings used the same wheelbase as the U.S. versions, and lost the Powerglide option, but continued to use some Chevrolet engines, as well as “genuine” Pontiac-supplied ones, for a few model years.


#5

In 2009 I worked for a vehicle importer and we regularly picked up and dropped off cars at the auction. One day we picked up a Grand Prix with the 5.3L. It had an aftermarket exhaust and was quite loud. Everyone agreed that it was one of the best sounding cars we’d had through the shop and boy, did it run! Everyone who drove it was surprised how quick it was.


#6

See2xu,

I knew the 2+2 was made in '66 &'67 but didn’t the additional details you supplied. Thanks for that.

I was only 20 years old when I bought my 65, the day after I got married!


#7

Thanks Greg,

The 65 2+2 was one of the cars I wish I never got rid of.


#8

When I think of the number of Gran Prix SJs my buddies and I gutted to use their engine, transmission, rear end, disc brakes, and power steering in '65-67 Le Mans/Tempests, I kinda feel bad. But just kinda. A rusty, dented '65 Tempest with a '70 455, TH400, and 4.10 gears in the 12 bolt, especially if you were careful not to disturb the accumulated grease during the power train swap, was a REAL sleeper, and the ripped bench front seat and column shift were just icing on the cake. Suckered a lot of guys who were sure they had the fastest ride in town.


#9

A friend of mine ordered a 1962 red catalina like the one in the pics. It had a special 421 built by Mickey Thompson. As I recall, it was rated at 425 hp. 4 spd with posi. White interior. It won both drags and shows. Can anyone expand on this?


#10

Nice to see the 69-72 Grand Prix’s on the list. I own one of the 69 428 HO close ratio 4 speed with 3:90 gear.
there were only 22 built. As of about 6 months ago there are only 4 known to left.


#11

Going back to the post war period the Pontiac division had always been GM’s division for performance vehicles. By the early 1960’s when Delorean having to came over from Studebaker to the Pontiac division in 1956 it became very apparent. Look at the names such as Bonneville, Lemans,Grand Prix and of course the Lemans GTO. Even the Chevrolet division (GM’s most profitable division) came up with names such as SS and even Corsa. The 1960’s was all about high performance mid-size sporty vehicles with V8 engines. It was Pontiac that led the way. Prior to that early era there were of course cars like the Chrysler 300, but that was a full size car not a smaller mid-size which of course Chrysler and Ford followed. Yes, Pontiac led the way with some very iconic cars. My favorite was of course the 1964 GTO convertible with the 3 dueces. Nothing compares to that.


#12

Really enjoyed the 1995 Pontiac Bonneville, with Sport option, included the 3.8 li Supercharged, dual exhaust and Alloy wheels. Bomb.


#13

I thoroughly enjoy my '72 PontiacLeMans … again like a ‘judge’ just not as expensive !


#14

The '89 20th Ann. Turbo Trans Am should be included. Looks like a regular T/A but runs 5 flat to 60 and 13s in the quarter which at the time was the fastest American car and as quick as a Testarossa.


#15

A few years ago I ran across a 1961 Catalina Pontiac for sale and so many times I have regretted not buying it. This car was in very good condition, I would say original. I was shocked when I looked under the hood and seen a 389 with 3 Deuces. The seller was only asking $3800 and I really wish I had bought it. But I’ve been a mopar person most of my life and ended up buying a 1968 Barracuda for pretty much the same price. But I love the Pontiacs from that era. When I was 18 I had a 1965 GTO, 389, 3 Deuces and 4 speed. Imagine buying a 65 in almost perfect condition, a maroon color with black interior for $75 plus a 59 Buick Wildcat in trade. I Loved that car but being an 18 years old I drove shit out if it until I eventually blew the motor. About a year after that I bought a 1964 Gran Prix for $250. It also had the 389 but it was an automatic with a 4 bbl. Beautiful Red paint with white interior. That car probably lasted about as long as the GTO, it had transmission problems and not being much of a mechanic at that age it eventually got abandoned and sent to the graveyard. Now I have a 1966 Dodge Charger and I’m much older and wiser so this one will be around for a long time. Especially since it wasn’t cheap like those Pontiacs. I never imagined I would ever pay $15000 for a 1966 Dodge Charger especially since not too many years ago I bought one in good condition for $800. I did some work on that one and sold it a few years later for $3000. I never thought much about the magazine included with the coverage I have on the Charger but I enjoy it. Keep up the good work.


#16

My brother had, what might have been the ultimate 61 Pontiac sleeper. A 4dr Bonneville coupe, Sierra brown color, from the factory with the 389Tripower, 4 speed, and 4.11 locker. Of course, my friend and I were not content with the factory set up so - Isky roller cam, Daytona heads and exhaust, Mallory ignition, .60 over and other tweaks. Conservatively 425hp plus. But the brute would get 20+ MPG over the highway. On a trip across NYS my brother (I was not there) decided to have a kick down race with an unknown vehicle. He nailed it and blew the Muncie box to tiny little pieces. On multiple occasions a 56-7 Chevy would pull up along side the Bonneville, loping on its cam and the driver stare at my brother. He would return the stare, pretend he was shifting the automatic to low, while putting the 4sp in low. They never expected what happened next. Those were the days - should not have done it then and can’t do it now. How I wish I could find a 4dr Bonneville and recreate that beast. Dream on.


#17

That car was on the short list. Ultimately I chose the Firehawk because the Turbo TA actually looks quick and the 'hawk doesn’t.


#18

Yeah, as the proud owner of a pretty well modified 1989 Pontiac Turbo Trans Am Pace car, for a moment, I thought it might be included. However, the topic in this story is supposed to be “sleepers”. With all the badges, door decals and aero styling, the 89 TTA doesn’t really qualify as a sleeper. Even so, there are youngsters in 5.0 Mustangs out there that don’t think that it runs very well because it’s an 80s car. But I’ve been able to correct some of those misconceptions.


In January of this year, as a follow up to the TTA I acquired another “sleeper” called a 1987 Buick Regal Grand National (modified similar to my TTA). Those have a much more widely known reputation. And it’s not a Pontiac of course.


#19

SLP built 25 Firehawks for 1992. There were 8 built with 1991 VINs, and 17 with 92, but all were sold as 92s. Twenty seven were ordered, but #s 18 & 23 were never built. Twenty one were red (20 with dark gray cloth interior, 1 convertible with graphite leather, the only convt.), 1 was dark green with tan interior, 1 was white with t-tops (the only t-top), 1 dark teal, 1 dark jade green. Cars 25, 26, & 27 all had aluminum block 366 cubic inch engines (27 is the convt.). In 2009 they built 34 total G8 Firehawks (5 naturally aspirated GTs with auto trans, 20 G8 GT Supercharged with autos, and 9 G8 Supercharged GXPs, 1 auto & 8 manuals).


#20

This is some pretty good and granular numbers. Do you have a resource they can be checked against so a correction can be made?