Automotive history books are brimming with iconic vehicle names, both domestic and foreign, that have left an endearing legacy in the minds of millions. They’ve originated from all eras, no matter how narrow or broad each is defined: brass, prewar, postwar, and so on. And while each era can arguably claim a rich legacy like no other, perhaps some of the most indelible names appeared when the first, true postwar designs from Detroit emerged in the late 1948-’51 period.Take General Motors, for instance, and its collaboration with Fisher Body that resulted in the first mass-produced hardtop body style.
Buick took full advantage of it in 1949, using it first in the Roadmaster series when the Riviera moniker was applied to the striking design. Cadillac called its hardtop the Coupe de Ville within the Series 62 line, while Oldsmobile chose to name its hardtop the Holiday coupe. Chevrolet’s Styleline series received the Fisher hardtop a year later and called it the Bel Air. The same year, Pontiac’s Chieftain Eight and upscale De Luxe Eight lines received the hardtop, which was bestowed with the Catalina name.In due time, nearly all the carefully selected hardtop names—which obviously or subliminally provided a greater sense of exotic driving pleasure— graduated from trim level nomenclature to full-fledged stand-alone series.
Among them was Catalina, which became Pontiac’s new entry-level model when it replaced the Chieftain line in a calculated move that coincided with GM’s corporate-wide 1959 redesign. The all-new Catalina, offered in five body styles (in addition to six- and nine-passenger station wagons), all with a bevy of standard equipment and a price tag that ranged between $2,633 and $3,209, attracted 231,561 buyers in its freshman year. It also eclipsed the prior year’s Chieftain series by nearly 103,000 units.