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  1. #1

    Question Preparing To Purchase a 1963 Full-Size. Help?

    Hello, all.

    I'm preparing to buy either a 1963 Catalina or Grand Prix withing the next few months to a year. To me, 1963 was the pinnacle of full-size styling - the lines, the forward-leaning headlight bezels, the in-the-moment futuristic dash... Need I say more? I really wanted a Bonneville as the spears just ooze "class", but I had to come to the hard realization that I simply do not have the extra garage clearance for it.

    My grandfather was a mechanic at Jack Roley Pontiac in Belle Vernon, PA and passed away when I was younger, so I never really got a chance to turn wrenches with him. Everyone that knew him thought of him as amazing mechanically. So, I never grew up to be a "car guy" even though I've always wanted to. My mother's 1968 LeMans ohc6 cammer is sitting in my uncle's garage and that's my ultimate grail, but I want something I can enjoy in the meantime.

    Now armed with some disposable income in my early 40s, I'm hitting a sweet spot where I'm done buying diapers and a few years from braces. I knew POCI would have the people and passion to answer my questions, so I joined at the beginning of the year. There's only so much that watching YouTube videos and going to local shows can do. I need people who live my hopeful reality every day.

    I've scrutinized Craigslist ads, then used my Ames/OPGI catalogs and KBB/Hagerty to come up with what I deem a proper valuation. I attended the Ames Performance Tri-Power Pontiac Nationals this past year and was in love. I have the bug, but I just need a little guidance:

    1. How afraid should I be of the ol' Slim-Jim Roto-Hydramatic?
    2. Are there any problem spots to look for besides rust in typical pans, quarters, etc?
    3. Any/all advice that could more inform my purchase

    Thank you in advance for all of your help and consideration!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Central New York


    Welcome aboard! Didn't catch your name. I owned a '64 cat in the past and yes the "Slim Jim" is a problem child. If I had kept the car by now I would have swapped in a turbo 400, which I understand is a nice fit. The only problem is the the indicator would have read incorrect since the slim has reverse on the bottom. The big problem area to watch for is the frame. Make sure you get a good look at the frame of what you're interested in. Great cars and love the stacked headlights. I'm sure others will chime in to help you with your decision. Great picture in your avatar, twins? I have twin boys myself and yes it's a great thing when the diaper train stops.

    Last edited by GpFreak; January 12th, 2019 at 12:44.
    Steve Naresky

  3. #3


    Thanks for the response, Steve. My first name is John ,but I go by my middle name which is also Steve! My boys are 5 and 2, but my goodness is the younger one ever advanced as a result of his older brother. I couldn't have went to a store and picked out better kids and, they love to go with daddy to car cruises!

    So, how many miles would I expect to get out of a rebuilt RH 10? From what I've found out, there's a guy semi-locally that will work on them. What is the actual weak part of the design?

    Also, when people add a passenger side mirror, are there any repops or are they from a parts car? The earliest side mirror repros that I've seen are for '64s.

    Also, gas door filler guards- I see them on a lot of '63 full-sizes. Are they unique to Pontiac that year or are they the same across the GM B-body platform?
    Last edited by jsslifelike; January 15th, 2019 at 18:47.

  4. #4


    Hi Steve, glad to see a new guy interested in 1963s, I have had mine since 1982. Regarding the Slim Jim, I guess you are aware that the Bonneville had the older design Jetaway (Super) hydramatic that is better if you actually can fit a Bonneville in the garage. It is an odd quirk of history that the lineup was divided between the two, I bet there is a story there somewhere. Anyway, remember that an old car going 800 miles a year on summer Sunday drives lives a different life than a regular used car going every day year round. If I got a fresh rebuild from someone who knows what they are doing I would not worry too much, just don't take it to the drag strip. But do not believe anyone who says it is easy to swap in a Turbo 350 or 400, a good gearhead can do it but it is not easy for an inexperienced guy. GPFreak is right about the frames too, BTW.

    Regarding the mirrors, they were kind of all over the map back then. Most were dealer installed and if you find a car with manual door mount mirrors the 1964 repro would be a suitable look and they say they can be used on left or right side. The 1963 and 1964 Pontiacs were unusual in using the fender mounted remote mirror, especially on Bonnevilles and Grand Prix. I think they had a unique right side remote version too but they are pretty rare and certainly not reproduced.

    Regarding the gas door filler trim, I think they will fit 1963 and 1964 Pontiacs (not 100% sure) but I am pretty sure they will not fit other GM cars. You are right that for some reason lots of 1963s have them, I do not know why. Hope you find one for you, they are great looking cars inside and out, Todd C

  5. #5


    Man, a bunch of great info! Thanks, Todd. This is the precise reason I'm here. I wish I could fit a Bonnie in my garage- I even bought 128 square feet of overhead storage racks last year in preparation to get everything up off of the floor to maximize space. This spring, I want to epoxy the garage floor. I've been slowly gearing up for this purchase for a couple of years now.

    So, what is it exactly about the GPs/Catalinas that makes the tranny swap so difficult? From my research, I've read that the tranny tunnel is too narrow, the crossmember isn't shaped correctly for more modern transmissions(or both), block starter issues and of course, driveshaft modifications I assume. Sounds like a giant pain in the you-know-what.

  6. #6


    So, I got my first issue of Smoke Signals yesterday(what a nice mag, BTW) and this bugger showed up in the mail today!


    Steve C. in PA

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2017
    Russells Point, OH


    You're headed toward on of my sweet spots! My first two cars before being bit by the Corvette bug were Pontiacs. My first was a '55 Star Chief (and no small coincidence, my current project is a '55 2 door hardtop Star Chief). My second car was one that I have been watching for a reasonably close match for years and have yet to find one. It was a '63 Catalina 2 door hardtop, with a 389 (Offy 3x2 intake), 4 spd, posi, 8 lugs, black w/Ventura tri-blue, bucket seats and console interior. I really wish I still have that car but I sold it to partially pay for my first Vette. I'm with you, I LOVE the styling of '63's! Good luck in your quest.

    Allen in OH

  8. #8


    Thanks, Allen! I love those cars, but I'm not gonna lie - that Slim-Jim scares the heck out of me. I've considered later years because of this, but I just can't bring myself to do it. They don't captivate me the way the '63s do. I'd much rather take the potentially bad with the good than regret a purchase like this.
    Last edited by jsslifelike; February 17th, 2019 at 10:47.

    Steve C. in PA

  9. #9


    Here's a question that I forgot to ask all of you experts about:

    One of the first things that I want to do to my purchase will be adding a passenger side mirror. How does one accomplish this? Is a donor mirror needed and the remote cabling cut or disconnected?

    Steve C. in PA

  10. #10


    Quote Originally Posted by jsslifelike View Post
    So, what is it exactly about the GPs/Catalinas that makes the tranny swap so difficult? From my research, I've read that the tranny tunnel is too narrow, the crossmember isn't shaped correctly for more modern transmissions(or both), block starter issues and of course, driveshaft modifications I assume. Sounds like a giant pain in the you-know-what.
    It is all of those things, not impossible but not as easy as some would tell you. The initial problem is any 1964 and earlier engine did not have a starter mount and any 1965 and later transmission did not. So if you put a later trans on an earlier engine there is no starter mount, you pretty much need to transfer a whole later engine/trans combo which is what I did. I have a later engine with a Turbo 350. The engine is indeed pretty much an easy bolt in, uses the original 1963 engine mounts, everything bolts up as I recall. The trans is wider than a Slim Jim and the floor hump must be bent out to fit. The trans crossmember is removable anyway and can be slid into place under the Turbo 350, drill new holes for the mount and the brackets to hold it in place and bolt it all down. BUT it ends up where the parking brake parts are and deactivates the parking brake. For the driveshaft I used one from a 1967 Chevy and it fit. The linkage to the factory shifter has to be refabricated. So it can be done but it is not easy for the inexperienced, good luck with yours, Todd C

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