Al Dixon’s Catalina Cruises to Eights on Engine Alone

For as long as he can remember, Al Dixon has had a passion for cars and a propensity for pumping up their performance, and because of that, he has owned several since the 1960s.

They’ve run the gamut from a 1952 Ford and a 1963 Chevy to a 1964 Chevy and a 1958 Ranchero with an altered wheelbase, and while he raced all of them at tracks near his Amherstburg, Ontario home, it’s the 1963 Catalina he has now that has captured our attention as well as our hearts.

He spotted it while flipping through the pages of the Hemmings Motor News back in 1999, and then purchased the hard-to-find two-door sedan from a junkyard in Tucson, Arizona and had it delivered to his home.

“I had been looking for six or eight months when I spotted the car, and I sure was happy to finally find it,” said Dixon.

After pulling the cool and classic Catalina into his garage, Dixon and his son, Shawn Dixon – an NMCA Quick Lane at Downs Ford NA 10.5 driver whose Pontiac-powered ’62 Pontiac Tempest was featured in Fastest Street Car in 2015 – removed its original 389 cubic-inch Pontiac engine and all of its interior, with the exception of the dash, as Dixon wanted that to remain stock and feature the air-conditioning vents and radio.

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They delivered the car’s bench seat frame to a shop to be re-upholstered, and they hired the same shop to fabricate new door panels to closely resemble the stock door panels they had removed. They then delivered the car as a rolling chassis to Mailloux Chassis, where it received an 8.50-certified cage, full tubs, a four-link, nine-inch Ford with a Mark Williams third-member, 40-spline axles and headers.

When the work there wrapped up in late 2001, the car, which had very minimal rust, was taken to Dominion Collision in Windsor, Ontario, where its Azure Blue paint was replaced with Nocturne Blue paint during a two-month-long process.

Meanwhile, after discussing with Rodney and David Butler his intensions to run various all-motor categories and NSCA Pro Nostalgia, Dixon hired Butler Performance in Tennessee, to build him an engine.

“I knew I wanted a Pontiac engine, and I knew I didn’t want to go over 500 cubic-inches, so they built a 498 cubic-inch Pontiac engine on an aftermarket Indian Adventures block,” said Dixon. “We used Edelbrock/Butler wide-port heads, a sheetmetal intake and two Book 4150 carburetors.”

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As though the cool factor of the car and combination weren’t already through the roof, Dixon decided that he would back up his naturally aspirated power with a Jerico four-speed transmission.

“I wanted a manual transmission because back in the 1960s, all of the cars had four-speeds, and if it had an automatic transmission in it, I didn’t want it,” said Dixon, very matter-of-factly.

As soon as the project was completed in the autumn of 2003, Dixon loaded into his trailer his new prized possession, which was on 14X32 slicks, and headed for Grand Bend Motorplex in Grand Bend, Ontario, to shake it down.

“I hadn’t been in a race car for about thirty years, but because I’m not the kind of guy who wants to take it easy, I let it rip on the very first pass, and I thought my head was going to snap back,” said Dixon. “The fastest I had gone in my other race cars was elevens, but I got this car to run in the high nines that first weekend, and I was pleased, even though I had hoped it would have gone a little faster my first time out with it.”

With help from his son, Shawn, Dixon continued to fine-tune the already well-working chassis and combination until the snow fell that year, and then focused on sorting out the clutch assembly that winter.

“We had been having an issue with the throwout bearing, but it was because of an oversight on our behalf, and we got it worked out,” said Dixon, who raced the car with that combination for about four years, mostly in nostalgia classes at various tracks in Canada and the United States.

By 2008, he had moved from a Jerico four-speed transmission to a Liberty four-speed transmission, and he leapt to nine-flat.

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“I didn’t have to make any changes to the rear-end or anything because the gearing in the Liberty was close to the gearing in the Jerico,” said Dixon. “I did, however, have to modify the floor pan in the car to accommodate the Liberty because it was a little wider.”

With the car weighing in at just under 3500 pounds, Dixon decided to replace its bench seat with race bucket seats at the same time he swapped his Liberty four-speed with a Liberty Equalizer five-speed in 2012. The move helped shed about seventy pounds from the car.

“We then went ahead and put a little more rear-gear in and went to the track, but it made the engine rev a little too high at the finish line,” said Dixon. “So, we swapped the 14X32 slicks for 15X33 slicks, and while it helped with the consistency, it slowed the car down because they were too big for the engine. A couple races later, we went to the 33X10.5W, and the car seemed to like that and picked up a little. That was just last year.”

While Dixon wanted to be the one to introduce his car to NMCA competition last year, he suffered injuries to both of his wrists and was concerned that shifting the transmission would worsen those injuries, so he invited his son, Shawn, to climb into the passenger’s seat beginning with the event at Beech Bend Raceway in Bowling Green, Kentucky in May.

“Shawn tested the car at Milan Dragway in Michigan beforehand, and he went 9.03, 9.01 and 8.95, and then he entered Nostalgia Super Stock at Beech Bend and qualified with a 9.02 on the 9.00 index,” said Dixon. “He lost in the first round. The car is not set up for consistency, because with the weight of the car and the number of cubic-inches, we have to leave aggressively to get it to run the number.”

Father put son in the car again for the NMCA event at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio in August.

“I actually really enjoyed watching Shawn drive my car because I never got to see what it looks like going down track,” said Dixon. “It was just as much fun as driving it myself, and I look forward to doing it again soon.”

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Owner: Al Dixon
Drivers: Al Dixon and his son, Shawn Dixon
Hometown: Amherstburg, Ontario
Occupation: Retired from a tool and mold shop, and now buying and selling classic cars
Class: Various nostalgia classes
Crew: My son, Shawn Dixon, except for when we’re racing each other. A special thanks for their support goes to Denis Standon, my brother, Bob Dixon and wife, Sue Dixon.
Engine: Pontiac
Engine builder: Butler Performance
Displacement: 498 cubic-inch:
Block: Indian Adventures
Bore: 4.37
Stroke: 4.150
Crank: Moldex billet
Rods: GRP
Pistons: CP
Cylinder heads: Edelbrock Wideport
Valvetrain: T&D rocker arms, Ferrea valves
Camshaft: Comp
Carburetor or EFI system: Two Book Racing 4150-style carburetors
Power-adder: None
Fuel brand and type: Mostly Q16 and sometimes C16
Headers and exhaust: Headers are by Mailloux Chassis and I don’t run exhaust
Transmission: Liberty Equalizer 5 speed. It has been bullet proof.
Clutch: 10-inch single disc Advanced clutch
Rearend: 9-inch Ford
Differential: 9.5 inch Mark Williams third member with 5.20 gear
Body and/or chassis builder: Mailloux Chassis
Front suspension: Factory suspension with Competition Engineering three-way adjustable
Rear suspension: Strange double-adjustable
Front brakes: Wilwood disc
Rear brakes: Wilwood disc
Front wheels: Holeshot
Rear wheels: 15X14 Centerline
Front tires: 28X4.5 Hoosiers
Rear tires: 33X10.5W Mickey Thompson slicks
Fiberglass/Carbon body components: Glasstek fiberglas hood, and aluminum front and rear bumpers made by friend Jim Bailie
Safety equipment: Window net, 5-point harness
Vehicle weight: Close to 3500 pounds
Quickest ET: 8.95
Best 60-foot: 1.25
Fastest mph: 149.57
Sponsors: We currently do this all by ourselves

This feature and more photos of the car can be found in the June issue of Fastest Street Car.

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