1953: Catalina built for cruising

By David Fleet
Brandon Twp. —  Bob Blow vividly recalls his 16th birthday present almost six decades ago, a 1954 Chevrolet 150 economy/fleet model.
“It was the most plain-Jane car ever,” recalls Blow, now a Brandon Township resident. “My grandmother wouldn’t drive it. Well, maybe after dark.”
Despite the ongoing disdain for the basic two-door Chevy, Blow drove the car through the early 1960s at Edsel Ford High School and while commuting to the General Motors Institute in Flint where he earned a degree in electrical engineering.
Blow would sell the Chevy before graduation and continued with a career at General Motors, Milford Proving Grounds, a one-year GM assignment in Australia before settling in at General Motors Tech Center until his retirement in 1997.
Over the years, Blow always wanted something better than the vanilla 54 Chevy. So much he offered a bount

y for finding the classic car.
“If anyone found one, I was going to pay $500,” he said. “I really didn’t want a rusty-Michigan fixer upper. Not That was all that I could find.”
Then a 1953 Pontiac showed up during his search.
“I thought this is kind of like the Chevy’s fancy sister,” he said. “Actually I thought I was going to die before I found that car.”
Blow discovered the 1953 Pontiac in Troy that had been in storage for more than five years.
“The owner had some health issues and was reluctant to sell,” he said. “I liked the looks of the car but mechanically it was a disaster, it was derivable but there was plenty of blue smoke.”
Blow brought the old Pontiac Catalina back to his township pole barn for a restoration project that would span a few years which included COVID.
The massive Pontiac 268 cubic inch L-head straight eight cylinder engine was pulled out and rebuilt. A Flint-based machine shop bore the cylinders out and replacement pistons and rings were found in Texas. The 118 horsepower high-torque engine was replaced in 1955 with a V8 after more than 20 years of production. The first generation hydramatic transmission was rebuilt in Livonia and dropped back in the Pontiac.
“The Pontiac was built in Pontiac and was Chieftains at the time,” he said. “But the two-door hardtops was a Catalina. The original color was milano ivory with a laural green, that was the only two colors available. It was also the first year for power steering, much needed for the heavy 10 feet long car.”
As an electrical engineer, Blow rebuilt the stock AM radio with a few new items including BlueTooth. The carpeting was replaced but the seats are original.“The trunk holds more luggage than my Cadillac SUV,” he said. “The Pontiac zips down the road at 70 mph no problem and rides amazing. It really was built to be driven, not in some museum.”

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