1964 Pontiac Catalina - Sentimental Journey
Sentimentality-it has value to which few owners could ever apply a dollar amount, and Ray Kehr of Omaha, Nebraska, certainly never envisioned the unequivocal dividends that his $3,800 investment in early-summer 1964 would pay after his passing. No monetary offer to his family could ever be great enough for them to even consider parting with the '64 Catalina that he purchased new, and is now symbolic of Ray.
The Decisions
The Catalina's tale begins like many others- in 1963, Ray and his wife Charlotte were looking at vehicles to replace their '56 Chevrolet. "We decided on a new car, and Ray wanted a Pontiac-a big one with a big engine," says Charlotte. "We went to McKenzie Pontiac in Omaha, looked through the dealer literature, and ordered a Catalina. Ray picked the performance options, and I got to pick the color."
With an endless array of optional equipment available on the various '64 Catalina models, Ray ultimately chose a 389ci engine with Tri-Power induction to motivate his Sport Coupe, and he backed it with a four-speed manual transmission. Charlotte selected Marimba Red for the exterior, and Ray added tri-colored Ventura interior to complement the rich finish.
Memories In The Making
The Catalina was scheduled for production at GM's Kansas City, Missouri, assembly plant on April 27, 1964. It was then shipped to McKenzie Pontiac where the couple took delivery a few weeks later. "The price was $3,843, and we had to make monthly payments on it for three years, but Ray was so happy the day we got that car," recollects Charlotte.
For the next several years, he drove the Catalina regularly-when weather permitted. "It was always garaged, rarely driven in the rain, and he never drove it in the snow," she says. "It was his first new car, and it was his baby. He was so particular and always kept it very clean."
She continues, "He taught me how to drive a manual transmission so I could use it, and it took a while for me to get used to shifting. The clutch pedal was really stiff, and I wasn't ever comfortable driving it, so I didn't use it very often. I took routes with the fewest hills when I did, and I vividly remember how much power it had!"
Daughter Roberta recalls how proud of the car her father was, and a trip the family took to Estes Park, Colorado, with it in the '70s. "I remember riding in the back seat of the Catalina and how much fun that trip was," she says. "I also remember how poorly it ran in the thin mountain air, and how relieved Dad was to get it back home safely."
Ray retired the Catalina from regular service in the late '70s with just 38,000 miles on its odometer and took it to the family farm for long-term storage. Though he made recurring pilgrimages to visit his Pontiac and maintain its overall operating condition, he never drove it again. Ray's dad, Alfred, owned the farm and subsequently passed his meticulous nature on to his son-he regularly cleaned and waxed the Catalina for Ray, never giving it a chance to get dirty.
As years progressed, Ray's father passed away, and then his own health took a sudden turn for the worse. Unexpectedly, Ray died in September of 2004, at the age of 61, and his prized Catalina sat dormant while the family regrouped. In May of 2005, Roberta's husband, Dave, offered to maintain the Catalina for Charlotte, and asked if she'd consider bringing it back to her home. She agreed, and, unexpectedly to him, went one step beyond that-she told him that the Catalina was his and promptly had the title transferred into his name.
The Homecoming
Dave was ecstatic to have been bestowed such an honor and ventured to the farm to retrieve the Catalina. Upon arrival, however, he found that its engine wouldn't fire. "I enlisted the help of my dad, Dick," says Dave. "He was always mechanically inclined and, after I described the symptoms to him, he told me that it sounded like the float was stuck, and suggested that I gently tap on the center carburetor. I did, and sure enough, it fired right up."
Once the Catalina was back in Omaha, Dave and his dad found that it needed only minor repairs to make it roadworthy. "We took the car to Performance Auto and had the radiator and carburetors cleaned to rid them of any internal deposits that accumulated while it sat. We also found that the fuel gauge was stuck in one position, and narrowed it down to the sending unit. I really didn't want to replace the original, and was happy to find that it was just coated with varnish. After a thorough cleaning, it worked like it was supposed to," he states.
Since given ownership, Dave has added roughly 500 miles to the Catalina, occasionally taking it out to stretch its legs or attend various local-area shows. "It's an awesome performer, and it doesn't take long to get it going," he says. "It definitely has an 'old' feel to it though. The manual steering and drum brakes take a little getting used to, and the push-button AM radio isn't exactly exciting, but that's what driving an old vehicle is about. I love the steering wheel and tri-colored interior, and the classic body lines draw looks wherever we take it."
"It has as much sentimental meaning to me as it does to Charlotte and Roberta," Dave adds. "My dad was very excited to help me get it running, and we worked on it together for a while. It wasn't long after that he too passed away, and that really enhances the emotional ties our entire family has to the Pontiac. Even though the title is in my name, it's still Ray's car, and I'm just its keeper. My job is to preserve it for the family."
Future plans for the Catalina include little beyond any required maintenance to aid the preservation. In the meantime, the family has another Pontiac project looming on the horizon. For Roberta's 16th birthday, Ray had given her a then late-model Solar Gold '78 Trans Am that she still owns and, though it has just 51,000 miles on the odometer today, it needs fresh paint and minor interior work-both of which it will receive within the next few years, and it will serve as yet another remembrance of Ray Kehr
While some may view cars as inanimate objects that are nothing more than transportation, others consider a vehicle an extension of their personality and, if a person keeps one long enough, it tends to become a symbol of them. This Catalina has assumed that role to those whose lives Ray Kehr touched. The 39,000 miles it currently shows isn't indicative of how far it's traveled down memory lane and, with continued care always in its future, this Pontiac is nowhere near the end of its sentimental journey.

Photo Gallery: 1964 Pontiac Catalina - High Performance Pontiac Magazine

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