1959 Pontiac Catalina: Convertible to Remember

Staff reports
Farm Forum

John Hurne’s first love happened to have four wheels. He was a junior in high school in upstate New York and had a job several miles away from home. His benevolent boss advanced Hurne the money to purchase a used car: a black 1959 Pontiac Catalina with a white convertible top.

The 389-cubic-inch V-8 was crowned with a two-barrel carburetor which served him well. After Hurne married in February 1969, the newlyweds drove to Tacoma, Wash., in the 10-year-old Pontiac. Eventually, the convertible was replaced with a newer vehicle but the 1959 Catalina was not forgotten.

In the late 1980s, Hurne mentioned to his wife how nice it would be to have a car like their old Pontiac. She agreed, and a search for an exact replacement was commenced. For 15 years the couple saw numerous 1959 Pontiacs, but nothing was as impressive as his first car.

In the winter of 2003, perseverance paid dividends when Hurne saw a picture of the car he had been looking for. It was located in a North Carolina junkyard, and it was exactly what the couple wanted.

Hurne contacted the seller, saying he would only purchase the car if it came with a guarantee that the frame was good. With that detail worked out, the Pontiac was trucked to Hurne’s Virginia home. The 3,970-pound car was exactly like his first one, except this one was white.

Hurne scooped out all the trash that had accumulated in the Pontiac and removed the seats, doors, engine hood, trunk lid, front fenders, and inner front fenders. The big engine was removed along with the automatic transmission, both of which were sent off to be overhauled. During the seven years while the car was undergoing restoration, Hurne found and purchased a derelict 1959 Pontiac that he used as a parts car.

The Pontiac was sand blasted to expose any weak spots. Five minor rusty spots were found and corrected. To be on the safe side, Hurne also replaced all of the floor pans, except the area beneath the driver’s feet.

Early in the restoration process both bumpers were replated with chrome and then stored and protected for five years. As work on the car progressed, the rest of the chrome was replated or replaced and the stainless trim was polished to shine like new.

While the interior was being reupholstered, Hurne found a small tag under the carpet with what turned out to be the original North Carolina owner’s name. Hurne has since tracked down the original owner and has spoken with her. She confirms that, when new, the car had a white hydraulic top with a tomato red and off-white interior upholstery with black carpeting.

Optional equipment on the Catalina includes power steering, power brakes, windshield washer, AM radio, backup lights, and a courtesy light switch on the dashboard.

The wide-track 122-inch-wheelbase 1959 Pontiac rides on 8.00×14-inch tires. A total of 14,515 Catalina convertibles like this one were manufactured, each with a base price of $3,080.

When the time came to paint the stripped-down car, Hurne and his wife easily decided the Pontiac should be painted black, just like their first one. Hurne painted the inside of the engine hood, as well as the inside of the trunk lid. A professional painted the rest of the car in shiny black lacquer.

One of the final fixes was completed when the multi-cracked steering wheel was returned from a New Jersey restoration shop appearing like new.

When the car was rescued from the North Carolina junk yard, the odometer read 72,560 miles. The restoration was complete in September 2011. “It’s been on the road a bit since then,” Hurne says. The odometer now counts 89,000 miles.

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