Couple keeps their first car in original condition
Fresh out of college and eager to buy his first car, George Zielinski had a hankering for high power. It was 1965 and his starry eyes were set on Ford's superhot 427 Galaxy.
His blue oval energy faded fast when the young man learned Dodge's news for 1966: a 426 Hemi Charger. Fired up with interest, he spun by legendary Chicago dealership Grand Spaulding Dodge for the full scoop.
"They told me the engine was only warrantied for 90 days," said George, who now lives in Des Plaines. "If I spun a bearing or something, the motor was mine to cover."
Taking that kind of financial risk wasn't easy for the new grad, who decided to keep looking. A Pontiac ad in the newspaper then sparked interest.
"The engines weren't as potent but still good," said George, who in August of '65 went to Peter Epsteen Pontiac in Skokie. There, (after paying $4,657) he special ordered a Starlight Black 1965 Catalina. George ticked the box for the high-output, 421-cubic-inch V-8, but the desire to haul didn't stop there.
With plans to take his future family camping, he also selected the trailer package and heavy-duty battery, springs and shocks.
The big, beautiful coupe was delivered just before Thanksgiving, and while grateful, George had only a few short months with it before shipping off to his new Army assignment in Fort Leonard Wood in the Missouri Ozarks. His girlfriend (and now wife of 52 years), Judy, regularly drove the Catalina down to see him.
"I willed it to her when I shipped out and thankfully, she even took over payments," George said. "What I made in the service wasn't enough."
His next tour of duty was at Fort Carson, near Colorado Springs, Colorado, and again, loving Judy was rolling (now west) in the Pontiac for R&R with her darling BF at the base. Not long after, George returned to Chicago, was wed and began commuting in the car from the Norwood Park Township family home to downtown.
"It needed high-test gas and I stopped at one Sunoco station so much, the owner let me use the wash bay once a week for free," said George, who chalks up the car's great, unrestored condition to those regular hose-downs.
That wasn't the end of the car's open road motoring: George, Judy and their two boys drove all over the country, visiting such spots as the Tennessee Smokey Mountains and the Rocky Mountains. Back home, they'd be found at drive-ins and hangouts like Skip's or Russell's, both off North Avenue.
The Catalina could also be seen in the lot of Elmwood Park High School. "Judy was the math teacher and whenever she'd bring it in, the kids would go nuts," George said.
Maybe it was all those fawning looks that prompted Judy to want to keep the classic even more than her hubby. On two different occasions (George's entry into the military and in the last five years), George had thoughts to sell.
"I didn't have a plan to keep it," he said. "But I'm sure glad I did."
• Matt Avery's new book can be ordered at COPOthebook.com. Share your car's story with him at email@example.com.