The racing options for '58 were impressive. The single 4-barrel engine for NASCAR competition rated 315 horsepower at 4800 rpm and the tripower engine with all goodies went to 330 biggies. This was enough power to blow everything into the weeds at the '58 Daytona Speed Weeks. One Poncho hit 146 mph on the beach that year and then Paul Goldsmith won the Grand National race.
Pontiac also listed an engine consisting of all the good racing stuff including the solid lifter cam but topped off with the Rochester fuel injection setup. This combo listed out at 338 horsepower at 4800 rpm. Although none was actually ever built, it has been legal in NHRA competition because Pontiac did list the combination for that year.
Nineteen-fifty-nine was the first year of the all-Knudsen Pontiac. It showed in the clean styling, absence of rocketships and even more performance. It was also the first year of the wide track "look."
Top-to-bottom: aluminum exhaust manifolds were the zenith of technical accomplishment for the pro-tubular header days. Units were light and fairly efficient, but were meant for short dragstrip bursts—they melted in street use! Akron Arlen Is now a famous name and he started with Poncho power in the form of his original Tin Indian. The trophies speak for themselves. When Pontiac went out for performance, they went out to win—and did! Two-tones were still in in '57 but this 1957 Bonneville FUEL-INJECTED sports convertible really shook-up the Detroit Automobile Show. Real leather upholstery and 300+ horsepower fuelie mill had 'em mumbling.
It was also the first year that the term "Super Duty" was used to distinguish the competition engines with all their dealer-installed options from the more mundane but nevertheless, spirited assembly line production engines.
A little more stroke on the '59s yielded 389 cubic inches. The production engines were rated 300, 315, 330, and 345 horsepower, the first two at 4600 rpm, the second two at 4800 rpm. The 315 and 345 horsepower engines had the tripower carburetion, the 300 and 330 engines a single Carter AFB. Other differences included the camshafts and exhaust manifolds. Compression on all these engines was 10.50-to-one except the 300 horsepower engine which was 10.00-to-one.
The Super Duty '59 engines consisted of special four-bolt main blocks; special heads with larger valves; either tripower or single 4-barrel intake manifolds made of lighter weight aluminum; no heat risers to the manifold; high compression forged pistons; special, high-flow exhaust manifolds and hot, solid lifter cams (actually Isky E-2 grinds). All this stuff had to be purchased over the parts counter and installed separately. No special horsepower ratings were released for engines with all this special equipment. They were still rated 330 and 345 horsepower, depending on the carburetion.
The most impressive of 1959 victories for Pontiac was the winning of the Daytona 500, the first one held at the new 2˝-mile banked oval track. Fireball Roberts drove the Catalina to victory and Smokey Yunick was the top wrench—a formidable combination.
A slight raise in compression for '60, to 10.25 and 10.75-to-one, raised all the horsepower ratings by three on the street engines. They now rated 303, 318, 333 and 348 horsepower, respectively. The racing parts were continued virtually unchanged for '60, but horsepower ratings were assigned so that the cars could compete in NHRA drag racing competition. The ratings were 348 horsepower with the single 4-barrel and 363 with the tripower.
Engines weren't the only good stuff offered in 1960. Pontiac had a wide selection of heavy-duty springs, shocks, hubs, wheels, gears (everything from a 2.56 to 6.14), limited slips, steering components, etc. It was the most complete list of equipment in the industry. To top it all off, they offered the Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed transmission with floor shift. Previously, only Chevrolet had offered a four-speed.
A buyer could literally custom build his '60 Pontiac on the order blank. He could specify mild or wild engines, custom bucket seat interiors, special rear axle gearing, transmissions, heavy-duty suspension, aluminum wheels and drums. This was the realization of another of Knudsen's philosophies. Have a standard model for the mass market but have long lists of options so that people can tailor their car to their own tastes. In 1960, this was radical thinking in Detroit. No other company had anywhere near the list of options that Pontiac had.
It got results. Pontiac moved into third place in sales. (They were number six when Knudsen took over.) They again won almost everything in sight. Fireball Roberts turned top qualifying time of 151.56 mph at Daytona. At the NHRA Nationals in the fall, Jim Wangers drove the Royal Pontiac four-speed Catalina to victory in the new Super Stock class. His times of 14.14 at 102.04 wiped out all the other cars in the class. His nearest competition was another Pontiac!
In May, 1960, Mickey Thompson went on his incredible speed binge at March Air Force Base, California setting numerous national and international records in all sorts of classes, all with Pontiac-powered streamliners. He was to assault the record books again and again in the next few years with all kinds of machines including a Catalina sedan, streamliners of every description and, of course, the famous Challenger streamliner which went over 406 mph at Bonneville.