Pontiac El Catalina Safari Is Discovered, Restored and Re-revealed

By Mark Williams

Catalina-2Our friends at Hemmings Classic Car magazine found a real beauty this time. Appearing on the cover of the October issue sits a Pontiac pickup truck that’s both ahead of its time and a shining example of the glory of the 1960s.

Straddling the two worlds of cars and trucks — a la the Ford Ranchero and Chevy El Camino — the Pontiac El Catalina Safari has the DNA of the El Camino and Pontiac Safari station wagon. Author Matt Litwin gives a wonderful history lesson for those less versed in all things "hybrid" as he explains the roots of this modern-day retro concept vehicle.

With the help of four separate restorers and three Safari station wagons, this Pontiac prototype finally got restored into the custom one-off you see here. Check out the full story about the restoration and the history of car-based pickups in the late '50s and early '60s at Hemmings’ site. There’s a reason that they don’t make them like this anymore.

In the end, Pontiac decided not to dive into the waters dominated by Ford and Chevy because it was wrestling with a fickle marketplace and was trying to figure out its own brand identity. Sound familiar?

For a modern look at what we were thinking and what Pontiac was going to do about five years ago, click here. (FYI: Jay Leno does not have the last remaining El Catalina as we noted in this archived feature.) And If you want more history, check out our feature on car-based pickups here. Below is an image of how the Pontiac was found.

Pontiac-As found



WOW thats gorgeous!!!! one of my favorite all time cars is the 59 Impala, this most closely represents the 59 El Camino and man i wish they would've built this.......

Ahh! American design and talent at it's finest. The good old 1950s-1970s. Thank you; Chrysler Corporation, Ford Motor Company, and General Motors Corporation for the timeless classics!

They need to bring these back..but not in a weird modern design but that of the orignial.


Can you imagine what it would look like -made of plastic?

Made of plastic...uck!

The name sounds like an oxymoron.

sub-zero cool.

In Australia we had Coupe Utility versions of everything at one stage, including US cars of the 1960's. There had been some EL Camino's and Ranchero's imported in the late 70's early 1980's. We had Utes based on European cars as well.
In the 1930's's and 1940's , you had US Coupe Utilities that were built here.
A 1940 Pontiac Ute

A 1925 Packard converted to a Ute, with crane.


A 1960's Studebaker Ute (based in New Zealand)

Show version of an earlier model



BEAUTIFULL! that probably came from Canada! That is what they should do i Detriot now! bring this idea back!

Elegant. How I miss beautiful design.

@sandman4X4 Ford US has been pressuring Ford Australia to kill off Utes, because they do not fit their "One World " plan. So I do not think you are going to get much support from Ford.
The current Asian Ranger struggles against, the competition from Toyota, Nissan and Mitsubishi. Seeing Toyota, VW, GM and even Hyundai/Kia (who have passed Ford Globally)have no such plan, maybe Ford should try and do the same?

Yeah like Dodge Ram LOL!

Most modern "truckers" would be fine with something like this, but companies today don't know how to market a car-based PU with a real bed. Pity.

Of course, real trucks ride and handle better than they did in the 60s. And nothing looks quite so elegant. Well-made points here about our plastic sleds these days!

I suppose, if the Explorer Sport Trac and Tacoma can get away with using "plastic" composite beds, why not a modern day Caballero/El Camino or Ranchero. Who would really use one of these "lifestyle" vehicles for heavy work, anyway?

@Robert Ryan - Ford's plan is paring down to around 25 global name plates. It makes no sense to kill the Austrailian ute if it still sells in decent numbers. If they truly wanted a "global" product they whould have to kill the NA full sized pickup as well since it only sells here.

I wouldn't want to own one or drive one but it does look good.

When I was a kid my dad bought a used 1960 El Camino. It had some engine work with headers. I recall one of the first rides in it he took it up to 120mph with my brother and I in the front seat. I think mom made him sell it shortly after that. :)

@ Lou,
Could not agree more. The Ford Falcon and Ford Australia were fairly profitable entities, till Ford NA had this great idea of "One World Ford". Since then, there were unexplainable delays in updateing the Falcon and Territory(4,500lb Explorer sized CUV based on the Falcon. People loved the Territory, it was rated above many of its Japanese rivals in , ride, handling, NVH and ergonomics as a result was the best selling CUV/SUV for a while.
When rumours were heard that the "genius's" at Ford NA were thinking of shutting down Ford Australia, to import the US Taurus and Explorer. Ford's sales plummeted.
Let me explain. Previous US Imports which included the Taurus, Explorer and the Brazilian F250, were total disasters. The current Taurus has the cachet of Edsel here and is FWD/AWD, not something Australians like in a full size sedan. The Camry a midesizer sells poorly here, because it is midsize and FWD. The Explorer had some pretty awful reliability (cost Ford Australia a lot in warranty issues). The current Explorer has a small Ecoboost 2 Litre engine and is not rated to tow anything. The current Territory is rated to tow 5000 and 6000lb, using the old 2.7 LR diesel.
Yes US Pickups are the "sore thumb"in Ford's "One World Ford" strategy, but CAFE, falling vehicle sales in the US, could have new F150's resembling the Global Ranger, the "90% of the size of the F150".
The main concern about the new Global Ranger, is its pricing. Ford has signalled spectacular price hikes for the Thai built vehicles.seeing we have a free trade agreement with Thailand, it does not make sense.

where the _ell did I say anything about Ford?, Pontiac was a GM Div. product, that is what I ment by Detriot bringing the idea back is all. Make it out of a nice rear drive platform and with a D.I. Gas V-6 like in te Camaro, CTS, ect. would make a winner!, just emagine a 6' bed, and the ride of a modern car?

@Sandman4 X4
"Make it out of a nice rear drive platform and with a D.I. Gas V-6 like in te Camaro, CTS, ect. would make a winner!, just emagine a 6' bed, and the ride of a modern car?"
Holden already does that with its Holden Ute.

If you look at the documentary"Requiem for Detroit",at approx. 1hr and 3 minutes you can fairly clearly see a two tone yellow/white '59 El Catalina sitting in a parking lot...

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