Rusted Resurrection: A Slinky ’53 Pontiac Catalina Built To Drive

There’s just something about a Pontiac. Back in 1953, the Poncho Division’s sales rested in the middle of the road for GM —less the Chevy and Buick, but more than Olds and Cadillac.

These days, they’re elusive at car shows and we seldom see them on the road, but whenever they do come out, they always catch our eye.

The signature Pontiac "waterfall trim" that goes down the hood and the trunk is part of what makes this car look so good.

This particular ’53 Pontiac Catalina has a couple dents, a couple dings, and a little rust—and that’s exactly what we love about it. It’s got a great patina look going for it that took years to ripen into the perfect combination of old paint, rust, and natural decay. The owner of this beauty is Steven VanDusen of Maple Valley, Washington, and he’s had the car for a almost a decade.

Steven said that this is the most photographed piece of his car, and yes, it does light up.

“I’ve owned it about 10-years,” Steven said, “And I’ve been driving it about 8.” When he bought it, it had been sitting in the previous owners yard for at least two-decades and it was in pieces. “It was missing a few parts, some trim pieces and stuff like that.” He had it in his garage for about two-years before he started working on it, and during that time he sourced some of the missing pieces.

It was also missing the original straight-eight engine and transmission, so he put in a small-block 350 cubic-inch V8 and a turbo-350 automatic transmission that he had in his shop. His intent was to put some serious miles on it so he wanted simple, reliable, and easy to get parts for. Since he finished it, he has put and impressive amount of pavement behind his tires, and in fact, the year that he was working on it the goal was to get it on the road before memorial day weekend when he planned on driving to California for a show. “I’ve driven it to multiple shows in the Southwest”

The classic hotrod powertrain: a 350 cubic-inch small-block Chevy and a turbo-350 automatic transmission.

In addition to the new drivetrain, Steven has made a few other changes to the car. He added Fatman drop spindles to the front and modified the factory control arms to accommodate air bags. In the rear he took out the original leaf springs and replaced them with a triangulated four-car setup with air bags as well. He also completely rewired the car and added a custom stereo. “I just wanted a car that was more modern and completely reliable, because I knew I was going to be driving it a lot,” he explained.

You may have noticed that it sits just a tad lower than the factory had it.

The stereo is a cool addition because it’s Bluetooth enabled so he can play whatever music he wants on it, and the controller fits right where the factory clock would have been. The interior otherwise is almost completely original, but he does plan on redoing it someday. Twenty-years of sitting outside unused will wreak havoc on the old vinyl and fabric. “The interior is my next major project on the car,” Steven explained. “I just want to make it more comfortable to drive. I’ve cleaned it up enough to use it for now.”

The interior will be the next big project that Steven is going to tackle.

While the visor look has always been a popular add-on to these cars, this Pontiac came equipped with the visor, so it already had that going for it when Steven bought it. Someone familiar with these Pontiacs though may have noticed the subtle change that Steven made to the front fenders and headlights. Steven wanted a more custom look to the headlights, but he didn’t want the standard frenched style, he wanted something different.

The Oldsmobile fender top and headlight bezel look really cool on this car, but they also blend in with the look because it fits so well.

He replaced the simple circular bezels that the Pontiac came with the headlight bezels off of a ’56 Oldsmobile, which is easier said than done since they don’t just fit right on. So how did he do it? The easy way of course, he cut the entire top off the Olds fenders and replaced the top of his fenders with those instead. The benefit of this is that the headlight bezels now fit perfectly, and they have the peak that the Olds had.

In the eight-years that he’s had the car on the road, Steven figures he’s put somewhere around 25,000 miles on it. That’s a lot of miles for a car like that when you consider that some have had their cars on the road twice as long as him and have driven it half as many miles. This is a really cool car that we love the look of, and it makes it even cooler that he really drives it—a lot.

About the author

Kyler Lacey

A 2015 Graduate from Whitworth University, Kyler has always loved cars. He grew up with his dad's '67 Camaro in the garage and started turning wrenches at a young age. At seventeen, he bought his first classic, a '57 Chevy Bel Air four-door, and has since added a '66 Plymouth Valiant and '97 Cadillac Deville to his collection. When he isn't writing for Power Automedia, he's out shooting pictures at car shows, hiking in the forests of the beautiful Pacific Northwest, or working on something in the garage.
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