When Chevrolet introduced its Impala Super Sport for 1961, it was a performance package that evolved into a nicely trimmed cruiser with bucket seats, console, and premium trim the following year. Ford joined the act with the 1962 Galaxie 500/XL and Mercury Monterey S-55, and Chrysler gave us the Plymouth Sport Fury and Dodge Polara 500. And Pontiac? The Grand Prix was introduced in 1962 as well, but it was more of a personal luxury coupe that was in a whole different price class.
So it’s somewhat unusual to see Pontiac late to the game, as the brand didn’t introduce a mainstream buckets-and-console car until 1964. This car, the 2+2, would eventually become the GTO’s big brother, but the GTO’s rocket ship success also overshadowed the 2+2 as the market was demanding mid-sized performance cars.
The 1960s was clearly Pontiac’s decade. Sure, Chevrolet ruled the world, but Pontiac was General Motors’ rebellious upstart whose image of style and performance made it America’s number three brand, knocking Plymouth out of its traditional slot. After Bunkie Knudsen’s reorganization of Pontiac (with elbow grease from John DeLorean – yes, the John DeLorean) in 1955, things began to change for the brand that previously was thought of as the vehicle of choice for librarians. With solid performance credentials from trysts in NASCAR, Daytona, and sanctioned drag racing, Pontiac was making a name for itself in performance circles. On the street, Tri-Power became a Pontiac trademark, and the 1961 Tempest made waves with clever engineering that resulted in Motor Trend magazine’s Car of the Year award. The juggernaut continued with the Super Duty 421s cleaning house in drag strips across America and, in 1963, the Grand Prix set new standards for American style that was the envy of the industry.
And then the GTO appeared.
The story’s been told endless times, but the introduction of the GTO package in 1964 was one where the planets were aligned, as Pontiac perfectly captured the zeitgeist of the time. The difference between the GTO and any other performance car was image – here was a car (mid-sized, no less) packaged for performance with its own identity. Yet in the GTO’s shadow was the new 2+2 package, which was available for the Catalina two-door hardtop or convertible.
Considering Pontiac was always on the forefront of performance and style, it was curious that the brand would introduce a buckets-and-console car after everyone else. The 2+2 package consisted of bucket seats, console, “custom” steering wheel, and 389 two-barrel rated at 283 horsepower when equipped with a four-speed (no three-speeds for the 2+2) or 267 horses when paired with Hydra-Matic automatic transmission; the 389 four-barrel, 389 Tri-Power, 421 four-barrel, and two 421 Tri-Powers were optional. Identification was limited to subtle badges on the front fenders and trunk lid. In total, 7,998 Catalinas were ordered with the 2+2 package.
With the roaring success of the GTO, it was only natural for Pontiac to give the GTO treatment to its full-size cars. The 1965 was now more than just a sporty package – it was now the GTO’s big brother. Pontiac claimed, “If sports cars came big and beautiful and comfortable and capable they’d be 2+2′s.” Still only available on the Catalina two-door hardtop or convertible, the 2+2 package included a 338-horse 421 four-barrel tied to a Hurst-shifted three-speed manual transmission on the floor (this time, without console), bucket seats, seat belts, full carpeting, dual exhausts, 3.42 performance axle ratio, and heavy duty springs and shocks. For visual impact, custom pinstriping and fake vertical louvers on the front fenders differentiated the 2+2 from run-of-the-mill Catalinas (which also were available with the 421). Optional power was the 421/356 with Tri-Power or the 421 HO putting out 376 horses with Tri-Power. Optional was the obligatory four-speed manual or new-for-1965 Turbo-Hyramatic three-speed automatic.
Car and Driver magazine, which had showcased the infamous Pontiac GTO vs. Ferrari’s GTO comparison in 1964, organized another bout between the Italian and the American. As if the GTO comparison wasn’t outrageous enough, the 2+2 vs. 2+2 folks at C&D once again had a test car that received Royal Pontiac’s famous “Royal Bobcat” super tune. The big Poncho with the four-speed 421 HO pulled a 13.8 ET, but the most amazing feat of all was the 0-60 sprint in 3.9 seconds. For a super-tuned car weighing 4400 pounds? Whatever the case, the 2+2 was a capable beast, even able to give plenty of smaller performance cars a run for their money. Only 11,521 Catalinas had the 2+2 package, split between 6,205 automatics and 5,316 sticks – the latter an amazing number for a big car.
For 1966, the 2+2 evolved from option package status to its very own model. With a graceful facelift that cleaned up the styling, the 2+2 now had its louvers on the rear fenders. Engine choices were the same as before, but it was becoming clear that the market was demanding mid-sized performance cars as an astounding 96,000 Goats were sold versus 6,383 2+2s.
Nineteen sixty-seven was a big year for Pontiac for so many reasons. Most notable was GM’s decision to kill all multi-carb motors save the Corvette’s. That meant that Pontiac’s fabled Tri-Power was no more, although Pontiac claimed the new Rochester Quadrajet four-barrel wasn’t giving up any power. The big Pontiacs were also redesigned, with the hardtop coupes having a sleek new semi-fastback roofline. The 2+2 lost its model status, and now the package featured an upgraded 428. Standard was 360 horses with a three-speed manual on the floor, with the 376-horse 428 HO being the only option. The fake louvers moved back to the front fenders, and bucket seats, carpeting, and special suspension completed the package as before.
A neat option making its debut on all Pontiacs was the hood tachometer, as well as Pontiac’s Rally II wheels. High-Performance Cars magazine tested a Royal-prepared 428 HO car with a four-speed, 4.11 gears, and 8.50 x 14 M&H cheater slicks. Weighing in at 4080 pounds – a good 500 more than a GTO – the big Poncho turned 13.37 at a blistering 106.01 miles per hour. Alas, performance enthusiasts were clamoring for smaller cars, including the newly introduced Firebird, so it stands to reason why only 1,768 2+2s were built; according to the GM Heritage Center, 280 of those were convertibles and 261 of both body styles were 428 HOs. The 428 HO continued through 1969, but 1967 was the last year for big performance models like the 2+2. Or was it?
In Canada, big Pontiacs were built on the Chevrolet chassis with Chevy motors and French-Canadian names like Parisienne and Laurentian. Canadians also had a 2+2 but it was like the package America had in 1964 – buckets, console, and trim. These were available with the basic Chevy motors up to full-honking 409s and 427s, with the top motor being a 454 by the time the model was phased out after the 1970 model year. But for a few precious years in the 1960s, Pontiac’s image as America’s performance brand was envied by all other manufacturers (even those within General Motors), and no car had a style/horsepower quotient as large as the 2+2′s.