Home » The Long And The Short Of It: 1968 Pontiac Catalina vs 1976 VW Camaro Thingy

The Long And The Short Of It: 1968 Pontiac Catalina vs 1976 VW Camaro Thingy

Sbsd 6 15 2023
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Good morning, Autopians! Today we’re throwing the rulebook and our normal price range right out the window, along with a good chunk of common sense, and looking at two expensive and bizarre vehicles posted to our Discord server. But first, speaking of no common sense, let’s see whether you liked the cheap Brit or the cheap German better:

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The size-XL Jag takes a comfortable win. I’m not surprised. That’s my favorite of the two as well. Though if I wanted to adopt a broken British cat, it would more likely be a Series III or older XJ6, just to get the full experience.

I was going to save today’s cars for tomorrow, but I had another idea for something special, so we’re going to look at these two today instead. Lengthening or shortening a car’s wheelbase can yield all sorts of weird results, from those truncated Corvairs where the back seat becomes the front seat to the utter ridiculousness of a Hummer stretch limo. Both of today’s cars have had their wheelbases altered, in opposite directions, and one of them has had damn near everything else altered as well. Which direction will you want to go? Let’s take a look and find out.

1968 Pontiac Catalina Airport Limo – $22,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 400 cubic inch overhead valve V8, three-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Middlefield, OH

Odometer reading: 197,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yep

There are longroofs, and then there are longroofs. This eight-door, fifteen-passenger stretched Pontiac Catalina wagon, built by Armbruster-Stageway of Fort Smith, Arkansas, has one of the longest roofs you’re likely to see on a passenger vehicle that doesn’t have a stylized dog on the side of it. It’s an airport limo, the precursor to today’s Ford Econoline-based shuttle vans. Obviously it’s nowhere near as practical as the modern vans, because most of the luggage goes up top on that rack. I guess you’re fine if you’re traveling somewhere the weather is always nice. Where is this thing again? Ohio. Crap. Well, so much for that.

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But it does have something the Econolines lack: presence. A ’68 Pontiac Catalina is a big car anyway; add a couple extra doors per side and the point of that split grille starts to look like the prow of a yacht. In its day, I suppose it would have blended into the scenery as much as the vans do today, but now, fifty-five years later, this thing makes a statement. And forget that clattery drone of a Power-Stroke diesel; this baby is propelled by a 400 cubic inch Pontiac V8, which I’m sure makes an intoxicating big-block throb as you float along from your Pan-Am flight to the front desk of the Howard Johnson’s.

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The seller says this car runs and drives fine, but has an exhaust leak up front that needs tending to, and has inoperative air conditioning. I’m sure the way to fix that would be to yank out all the old hardware and install a new modern system. It would cost you, but it would be the icing on this very big cake. The radio is also missing, but a modern sound system is almost a requirement in something like this anyway.

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But once you fix all that stuff, what the hell do you do with it? I guess if you have a big enough family, this could be an epic road trip machine, as long as you’re willing to dock–I mean, park –it at every stop. Or, with the rearmost seat folded down, it looks like there’s room to sleep in it, so it could be made into an RV the likes of which KOA has never seen. But I think I know the perfect use for it: Band van. There’s more than enough room for a drum kit and a couple Marshall stacks in there.

1976 VW Beetle – I mean, Chevy Camaro? – $20,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.3 liter overhead valve flat 4, four-speed manual, RWD

Location: Ballston Spa, NY

Odometer reading: unknown, but doesn’t matter much

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Runs/drives? Oh yeah.

When I first saw this listing, my first thought was “holy crap, that looks like something out of CARToons magazine.” Just in case you didn’t grow up as a car-crazy kid during the ’60s, ’70s, or ’80s, let me explain: CARToons was sort of like MAD Magazine for gearheads. It featured comic strips of crazy stylized hot rods, with massively oversized wheels and engines, performing impossible (and impossibly cool) feats of performance. Even better, the magazine often featured tutorials on how to draw your own vehicles in the same style. And apparently CARToons is back, although as of this writing, their website appears to be down.

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So what are we looking at, apart from something Dave Deal could have drawn? Well, it’s a Volkswagen Beetle chassis, shortened 14 inches, with a one-piece fiberglass Camaro Z/28 body shell made to fit. I have no idea whether the body is a custom one-off creation, or a kit that was once available for purchase. Neither would surprise me. The body has no doors, and no roof, meaning that entry and exit is strictly a Dukes of Hazzard affair.

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Powering this ridiculous contraption is a 2,332 cc VW flat-four making way too much power for it. Air-cooled Volkswagen engines are a bit like Lego sets; the modular design makes it easy to simply bolt-on bigger cylinders for more displacement, and therefore more power. The builder of this engine has gone a bit overboard, and nearly doubled the size of a typical stock Beetle engine. All that power is funneled through a beefed-up four-speed VW transaxle.

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The entire concept of this thing is utterly foolish, and I love it. I don’t want it, but I very much want to build a model kit of it. I mean, doesn’t this car look like it belongs on a cardboard box with an MPC logo in the corner?

Obviously, neither one of these is something any of us are likely to drop twenty grand on. But let’s just pretend that you’re outside a diner, ready to ride off into the sunset with a pretty shopgirl who was plain and nerdy a few minutes before, and the ghost of Dusty Hill is holding out two sets of keys. (I’d better explain this reference for David’s sake.) Which keys are you grabbing?

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(Image credits: Facebook Marketplace sellers)

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...getstoneyII
...getstoneyII
1 year ago

The Mini Camaro looks fun and appears to have a massive sound system modded in (I already have tinnitus so why the hell not), but here’s where I get confused. I figure you can use a few different techniques to get in, but how the hell are you supposed to get out from behind the wheel of that thing?

Brooks Fancher
Brooks Fancher
1 year ago
Reply to  ...getstoneyII

You have to be skinnier than David Tracy.

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
1 year ago

I’ll go with the VW/Camaro broken rubber one night stand love child. I simply have no space for the Catalina. If I had an aircraft hangar available for storage, then the Catalina would be my choice. I’m not spending that much on a unicorn of a vehicle only to park it outside.

Acrimonious Mofo
Acrimonious Mofo
1 year ago

Wow, that vote is much closer than I anticipated. Anyhow looking at the Catalina filled my head with all kinds of weird wonderful ideas about what to do with it. Looking at that other…thing just made me arch my eyebrows, scratch my head and say WTF?

RootWyrm
RootWyrm
1 year ago

Me initially: “oh god, both of these are pure awful.”

Me after clicking the image: “OH HOLY SHIT YES YESYESYESYES.”

That Pontiac’s a unicorn, and NOT some wacky hackjob thrown together with welders and bailing wire. That’s a factory airport 8 door, designed to compete with the Checker Aerobus (which is better at that job, period.) You’re never going to find anything near as unique as this.

Just so long as you bear in mind, it’s literally a vocational car designed to move 12-15 people and their luggage from the airport terminal to the air stairs and back again. I’m amazed it even has carpet, because these usually just got rubber slapped down. These were not luxury limousine stretches. They were utilitarian people-movers for a 3-5 minute ride.

Highway speeds are purely aspirational no matter how big an engine you put in it. These things weigh well over 8,000lbs empty. 0-25MPH takes over 10 seconds.
Also never attempt it. These have drum brakes. They are not very good drum brakes. Stopping distance is measured in statute miles.
The turning radius is even worse than you think it is. I’m serious. Your rear axle is in a different zip code and actively doesn’t want you to turn.
Those rear view mirrors? Rip them off. Not because what’s behind you doesn’t matter, but because you can’t see what’s behind you without attaching a 20x optical zoom.
The air conditioning on top is a total hackjob, just rip it off. These didn’t have air conditioning anyways. Basically everything attached to that drop headliner is something the last operator duct taped in.

Which I just so happen to know things about! See, this one’s semi-local! It was removed from airport service many, many years ago and has been in the hands of collectors since then, in as-run. Last I saw it, it still had basically zero rust beyond the unavoidable surface layers.
See, this Catalina is being offered for sale by Ben. Ben is the owner of Twilight Taxi Parts, who has specialized for decades in providing parts and service for long ‘obsolete’ taxis like Checker and this behemoth, as well as rentals for movies and the like. One, he’s just plain neat folks. If you know who Joe Pollard is? Ben’s the source for a lot of his parts. Two, he knows the important parts of these things inside and out. Which means this thing is almost certainly in ‘ready for revenue service’ condition. It’s likely had a prior full restoration as well. Sure, it’s not perfect, but what taxi is?

If you’re going to find any Catalina that can actually command $22.5k? Ben’s the one person who I trust could and would do it. If you’ve been to the Henry Ford Museum? The ’81 A11 on display there came from him.

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
1 year ago
Reply to  RootWyrm

You are, as always, informative and likely correct, but I’m afraid that bug thing is just TOO funny. Not 20 large funny, fuck, no, but as it’s imaginary money, well…

InWayOverMyHead
InWayOverMyHead
1 year ago

9 doors versus 0 doors?

Think about how much mulch you could haul in that limo-thingy.

Matt Sexton
Matt Sexton
1 year ago

I picked the Catalina because I’m a Pontiac guy first and because 8 doors. That ought to do the trick.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
1 year ago

That Bugaro takes me back to the late 60s, early 70s when Donruss sold a trading card series called Odd Rods, highly stylized cartoon hot rods by B. K. Taylor that were heavily influenced by the working of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, creator of the Rat Fink hot rod cartoons. There was another series later called Weird Wheels. Odd Rods still has a website.

Last edited 1 year ago by Canopysaurus
MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
1 year ago

If I’ve met a pretty shop girl and willing (or dumb enough) to ride into the sunset with me, then I’m going with the Catalina. Gotta strike while the iron is hot, and the kind of shenanigans referenced here need more space than the Camaro thing.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
1 year ago

I kinda want the Bugmaro, but I have weird feelings about that Catalina.

I really wanna see somebody put some serious power under the hood, make some suspension mods, find a driver with nerves of steel and no sense of self-preservation, and have him send it on a drift course.

Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
1 year ago

That Catalina could carry so much lumber…and kids…and kegs…at the same time.

Arrest-me Red
Arrest-me Red
1 year ago

I will play along as 20+ grand is way too much for either. I would take he Beetlaro as if I had the money to buy something this dumb, I would have beach house and drive this around town.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
1 year ago

I voted for the limo

XLEJim700
XLEJim700
1 year ago

When I was a kid my uncle had a limousine service and part of his fleet was a ’66 Chrysler Newport 8-door “stretch.” I guess I was about 14 when he started running shuttles from Mandia’s Tavern in Rosebank, SINY to Belmont Raceway.

The neighborhood gamblers waited outside (or inside) the tavern and we’d pull up maybe around 9:00 AM and I’d jump out and hopscotch around that rolling cattle car opening doors, smiling, and helping the older guys get comfortable as they lit their cigarettes and spread out their “Tele” for handicapping.

I was usually duked about a quarter which was big time for a kid in 1971. Second to that was a pretty decent equine education as I was all ears during the ride to Belmont.

My hearing became quite sharp because it was nearly impossible to see anything thru the solid blue of cigarette smoke. On the upside, I never really picked up the smoking habit, and didn’t really put much effort into gambling either.

Many of these guys were really good with numbers/odds etc. and were happy to share their knowledge with a young kid. And those quarters added up!

XLEJim700
XLEJim700
1 year ago
Reply to  XLEJim700

P.S. I’m pretty sure the Chrysler was powered by a 383 4-barrel. I think my uncle bought it used from an airport-service outfit, and I have a vague recollection of him saying that they often ran these for 24 hours straight.

The vehicle was a real workhorse and I don’t remember it giving him much trouble. It was at its best running hard.

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
1 year ago

I think I prefer my crazy in size XXL. Factoring in the usual Pontiac bonus around here, it’s an easy win for the Catalina Epic Safari. I love “dubblewhopper’s” idea to paint it Carousel Red, and I’m wondering how it would look with the Grand Prix’ hidden-headlights nose and eight-lugs.

A. Barth
A. Barth
1 year ago

Beetle-maro, please!

The airport shuttle is just… no.

The Fauxmaro would be fun to drive: light weight, short wheelbase, open top – just a psycho go-kart. I would like to know more about the the engine, particularly the cam and head specs.

It’s listed as 2332cc and “pro street”, but it has Weber 44s; I would expect 48s on something like this. It also apparently has a 3300lb clutch, which is a LOT. The first high-performance step up from stock is often the 1700lb Kennedy clutch.

Air-cooled Volkswagen engines are a bit like Lego sets; the modular design makes it easy to simply bolt-on bigger cylinders for more displacement

Yes and no. The block/case has holes where the cylinders are inserted; the maximum displacement that can be achieved [with the stock crank] without enlarging the case holes is 1914cc. Typically the barrel sizes go up in 2mm increments, so (IIRC) 90mm pistons will get you 1776cc, 92mm pistons get you 1835cc, and 94mm pistons get you 1914cc. At this point the cylinder walls are quite thin, which can be problematic on an air-cooled engine, so 1914s aren’t too common. To get to 2332ccs, the builder would have used a longer-throw crankshaft in conjunction with larger barrels; this likely required machining of the case-holes or the use of an aftermarket case, which I think is the case here (ha!).

Last edited 1 year ago by A. Barth
NewBalanceExtraWide
NewBalanceExtraWide
1 year ago

I’ll break my no blue car rule for that btchn cmro. I want to slide a penny onto its back and do wheelies.

Steve Schriefer
Steve Schriefer
1 year ago

I don’t want either of them, but if forced it is the VW. I’d enjoy going to local cruises and irritating the Chevy fanatics. Plus, working on a VW is dead simple and cheap. If the pan is unmolested I can always drop a proper shell on top and have two cars for the price of one.

Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
1 year ago

I’m going to save my Internet money and not spend it on either one. Nope, don’t want them!

Clark B
Clark B
1 year ago

I went Pontiac, even though it’s probably as long as my driveway and I have no clue what I’d do with it. I’m an air-cooled VW guy but VW based kit cars have never really been my thing. Plus, I’m wondering how well the engine cooling works in that configuration, especially with the engine modifications.

Taco Shackleford
Taco Shackleford
1 year ago

I’ll take both. The stubby for when I’m driving alone, and the loooooong roof for the family rides. This seems like a great a 2 car garage.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
1 year ago

Congrats on another epic shit box offering. Both are true shit box turds. And need to be flushed asap.This was not a choice that my feeble brain could make. It’s like being forced to choose between MTG or Bobert, both are nasty and probably smell bad also. Help us Jesus.

Last edited 1 year ago by Col Lingus
Chronometric
Chronometric
1 year ago

My first reaction to the Beetaro was Ewww! Then I decided that it would be more fun than a mullet-hat. I learned to drive in a regular Pontiac Catalina and it was just fine. Twice as big is not twice as fine. Gimme some air-cooled ’80s ironic cool.

Last edited 1 year ago by Chronometric
DubblewhopperInDubblejeopardy
DubblewhopperInDubblejeopardy
1 year ago

I picked the Pontiac, it’s a party bus without being a bus, except the gas mileage. But still, it looks clean and it will look killer in Carousel Red!

Nic Periton
Nic Periton
1 year ago

I think that I want them both.
I also wonder if there is way of folding down all the seats in the Pontiac so as to create a mobile bowling alley?

Sensual Bugling Elk
Sensual Bugling Elk
1 year ago

The best part of driving a really derpy car? You’re making a kid’s day every time they see it out in the wild. It’s the kind of thing that mints future gearheads.

That abbreviated Beetle-Camaro is kind of an abomination, and you are guaranteed to look like a total reprobate while driving it. But your 5-year-old niece will think it’s the coolest thing ever, and that’s the part that matters.

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