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Pontiacs are Hot Rods Too!


Words: John Gunnell


When the car hobby kicked into high gear in the ‘70s, it was rare to see a Pontiac hot rod or custom, but today things have changed. Take Lou Calisibetta’s Old Stillwater Garage in Stillwater, N.J., for instance. He’s famous for redoing the Alexander Brothers’ “Golden Indian,” a radically customized ‘60 Pontiac that Lou owns. He also created a pair of Pontiac “woodies,” based on a rare 1957 Transcontinental station wagon and a 1958 four-door Custom Safari wagon.

In 2010, Lou Calisibett was elected to the Kustom Kemps of America (KKOA) car builders “Hall of Fame.” On the H.A.M.B., where accolades are extremely rare, someone posted this: “Good for Lou! He is a great guy and an amazing builder to boot. That shop sure does turn out some top-notch stuff.”

Still, it is rare to see a Pontiac hot rod. Our guess would be this is because builders go looking for certain cars to modify and Pontiacs just aren’t on their lists. We have the feeling that in a lot of cases, at least for pre-muscle car models, enthusiasts stumble onto a Pontiac and then decide to modify it because it’s easier and cheaper to do it that way than to complete a stock restoration.

You don’t find many parts for early Pontiacs in catalogs. To bring them back original you either have to find good used parts (which is getting hard) or purchase NOS factory parts (which is getting expensive and close to impossible).

We have seen one Pontiac dragster with a sign saying it was a 1926 model, but it was really just an old frame with a fiberglass body and all new power train. One car we’ve seen rodded a lot is the waterfall grille ’36 Pontiac, with its art deco looks. We notice these because we have a stock ’36 in our collection. We had a bear of a time getting parts for our restoration, so we can understand there being a large amount of ‘36s getting the hot rod treatment.

We’ve seen a handful of late ‘30s and late-‘40s Pontiac rods. In fact, we were once driving our stock ’48 Streamliner sedan and passed a ’48 hot rod Streamliner coupe returning from Back to the ‘50s in Minnesota. That car had no windshield washer bottle, but did have the fluid nozzles. We had the bottle and not the nozzles, but unfortunately we couldn’t swing a trade. The modified ’48 had a sub frame, a V-8 and bucket seats, but otherwise it looked pretty stock.

Early ‘50s Pontiacs are hard to customize. Talented builders can do it, but it is much easier to start with a car that has less trim, less weight and smaller tires that look better on a custom. Pontiac rods and customs generally feature only bolt-on items like lakes pipes, sun visors, hood scoops and Moon discs.

With 1957-1962 Pontiacs, you get into an era that better lends itself to customizing. This explains why quite a few of these cars—particularly 1958-1960 Catalinas—are being modified today. With the ’61-up models, you start entering muscle car territory, where any hot rodding usually takes place under the hood. However, if you’re lucky enough to get hold of a Super-Duty or something of that nature, a Pontiac hot rod will look just fine if you do it up in “gasser” style.

Whatever you do and however you modify your Pontiac, you can expect it to get a little extra attention at car shows because you were thinking out of the box and personalizing a car that you don’t see at every hot rod show.


This car appears to have a ’26 Pontiac frame, but everything else is newer.


POCI rod chapter is for cars like this ’36 coach at Grand Rapids convention.


Another ’36 coupe showed up at the POCI Badgerland Chapter meet.



This ’37 coupe was a fixture at Lake Geneva Classic Car Rally.


Lou Calisibetta built his ’57 woodie on a Transcontinental wagon.


Lou Calisibetta also built this ’58 Safari woodie wagon.


Flamed and scalloped ’62 is Alan Maye’s cover car for his book.


Detail views of Lou Calisabetta’s Alexander Bros’ “Golden Indian.”