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Mickey Thompson 1963 "Swiss Cheese" Pontiac Catalina

The car is presently in the care of Nick Smith

As the 1962 drag season was coming to a close, it was obvious that Pontiac’s position at the top of the Super Stock hierarchy was weakening. Ford, Chrysler and Chevrolet were gaining on the Chiefs with bigger engines and an ever-increasing supply of special parts, including weight-saving aluminum components and body panels. Pontiac engineers realized they had to have a lighter, more powerful car for 1963, and it came in the form of a special Catalina bearing some serious modifications. First the chassis was altered by cutting the top section away from the boxed rails, leaving a U-shaped section. Then approximately 120 holes were drilled in the sides of the frame rails, removing as much material as possible while maintaining a semblance of structural integrity, resulting in the “Swiss Cheese” moniker that remains today.

Further mods involved deleting the front sway bar and substituting an aluminum bell housing and third member for the original pieces. It did not stop there: insulation and sound deadener was dropped, aluminum body panels were used wherever possible, including the hood, inner and outer front fenders, splash pan, radiator bulkhead, bumpers and brackets. Plexiglas windows were also available to further reduce the car’s 3,308lb shipping weight. Even the cast iron exhaust manifolds were replaced with special high-flow aluminum units with integral cutouts. These proved suitable only for short periods of use given their tendency to melt under prolonged operation.

The 421 engine used in the Swiss Cheese Catalina was treated to 13.0:1 Mickey Thompson pistons, a #10 McKellar camshaft, lightweight valves in reworked heads, heavy duty rotating assembly and a lightweight flywheel. Carburetion was by twin Carter AFBs atop a special aluminum manifold. Rated at 410 horsepower, the engine brought the car’s total weight to 3,308 pounds and propelled it to 12-second times at 120mph. The cars were originally equipped with the Borg Warner 3-speeds with aluminum tail sections and 4.30:1 Positraction differentials; most were converted to close ratio BW 4-speeds and either 4.56 or 4.88 rear gears.

Mickey Thompson took delivery of the first two Swiss Cheese Catalinas. The first one, offered here, served as a promotional display car and backup, while the second was run in regular competition. While the promo car never saw competition in Thompson’s hands, M/T driver and fabricator Jess Tyree is known to have used it with some enthusiasm as a parts chaser for the many projects always on the go at Mickey Thompson Enterprises.

Thompson sold the car along with the rest of his Pontiac inventory after GM announced its corporate ban on racing involvement. It subsequently went through several owners before joining the Pat McGroder Collection in Phoenix, where it received a full frame-off restoration. Thanks to its original role and extremely limited use, the car had accumulated very few miles and was devoid of the damage to the frame and control-arm pickup points that typically affected these cars. The freshest and newest-condition Swiss Cheese car on the planet, it remains in concours condition and is faithfully as original down to the last detail, an extraordinary and historically significant piece of Pontiac’s fantastic Super Stock heritage. According to former McGroder employee Doug Hughes, who prepared the Catalina for its sale from the McGroder Collection, this car is very probably the lowest-mileage example of the 14 factory Swiss Cheese Catalinas and the only one never to have seen competition. Its crowning attribute as a collector vehicle is its history as the first built and owned by Mickey Thompson.


- The first of 14 swiss cheese super duty's produced
- Assembly date was January 9th, 1963 at the Pontiac, MI. assembly plant
- 421 CID engine was rated at 405 HP at 5,600rpm
- Blueprinted & prepped: 500 HP at 6,000 rpm
- Lightweight aluminum components
- The perimeter frame had approximately 120 holes punched in the side sections & the side of the box section was removed, hence the "Swiss Cheese"
- Plexiglas windows were also available
- Factory shipping weight was 3,308 lbs. (dry) without Plexiglas installed
- Borg Warner heavy duty T-85 3-speed transmission (2.10 low gear)
- 4.30 Positraction
- Full frame-off restoration in 1990/1991


Information in this article was contributed by and is copyrighted by Doug Hughes.



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