I grew up in Boise, Idaho in the '50s and '60s, when (in my opinion) cars were in their heyday. As a teen, I admired many autos, and the muscle cars that were just hitting the streets were of particular interest. But on my income, affording a $3800 car was insane, so I mostly settled for quite an assortment of $400 +/- tri-five Chevys. I admit that I was more drawn to Road Runners and Chevelles than the Pontiacs, but I respected them at a stoplight!
I've built many types of rides over the decades since, including 4WD pickups and motorcycles, but I never got above "low-budget hacker level" - building daily drivers as opposed to high-enders or show cars. And I mainly kept returning to the Chevy powerplants That I learned about as a kid. So one day, when I asked our youngest daughter what her favorite car was, I was taken back when she quickly blurted, "A 1966 GTO!" I did a little looking around and told her, "I don't think I can afford to buy a GTO, but maybe I can make one."
And so came the purchase of our '66 LeMans. I sourced a front clip (minus hood) from a junkyard in Oregon. A fiberglass GTO hood, rear tail panel and tail lights were found. My buddy and I did a ton of bodywork and painted it in his garage. I replaced all the front suspension, steering and brakes with items from CPP. I found an interior in a wreck. Now I needed power. You all know that one can find a SBC under every bush, but finding a '60s Pontiac motor in rebuildable condition was quite a chore. Of course, I wanted a 389, but finally settled for a 455 from a '70 Judge, backed by a Turbo 400 tranny. Now after adding a woodgrain dash insert, some badges, and a few amenities, I had a reasonable facsimile of a GTO - and for a LOT less money!
Now purists will look down their noses at me, because my VIN starts with 237 instead of 242. And the 455 didn't exist in any '66 Goats. And blah, blah, blah. But it really has almost everything done to it that a factory GTO had (in 1965, GTO was actually a LeMans option package), except for some correct numbers. And here's the deal: going down the road, it looks every bit as good as any GTO. I never claim it's real - in fact, I register it at car shows as a LeMans/GTO clone. AND - our daughter is thrilled with it, and knows that someday it will be passed on to her. It's fun to drive and the grin on her face makes me feel like a million dollars - pretty good for a low-budget hacker.
If you are a collector of just want those "primo grade A babies", more power to you. But maybe you just want a cruiser to take out on weekends and tool around. Something that your insurance and storage costs won't add up to more than two weeks in Hawaii.
My point is that you don't have to spend a fortune and you don't have to go to a Florida or Arizona auction to get into a good experience with a car. Find something close to what you want, and do some work to make it like you envision it. You can do it, and it'll likely be just as much fun as one of those things that cost as much as my house.
What a great story and car. Congratulations on raising a daughter who has such good taste! If anyone asks, just tell them that this is one of the GTO’s made after the factory stopped making them.
Well, I don't know about the cool father, but she's definitely a cool kid. I never would have built the car without her response to my question. But I'm glad I did - it's been a blast.
Thanks. It looks better in the pictures than it does up close, but it's also brought home a few trophies from small show and shines, so I must have done a few things right. 😋
Great job! Numbers matching is fine for those who just want to look at a car and never drive it. You and your daughter will have 1000 times more fun with your "GTO" than the perfection seekers will with theirs!
Love it! The car looks beautiful and it's a GTO you can drive enjoy and look great doing it! I did a similar thing with a Mopar years ago. Thanks for sharing!
Sweet, 66 Goat is also my favorite. Maybe I can afford one now. In the meantime I am happy driving my wifes zombie( hardly any numbers match) 64 Corvair Spyder.
Yea I agree but you really had to learn to drive and especially brake in an empty parking lot. on wet pavement you could do 2/360s if you hit the brakes hard only going about 30mph. fun but scary on a busy highway !
Just reminded me how cool the GTO really was back then. I remember someone having a stock gold GTO with the chain-link fence grill.
....also a reminder to remember this. Who really care what other trolls think about anything? I Built/ slash perfectly restored an older Bronco2 for my older daughter and later an all stock "89 Z-24 (V-6) Cavalier for the younger one. They loved them both.
But, how about those vent windows! I forgot how totally cool and practical they were!
The loss of wing windows is one of the great tragedies of automotive history, IMHO. However, you gotta be careful to not put anything lightweight on the dash or empty seats if you're gonna drive with them open - whoosh, right out the other side!
Thanks for sharing a wonder story and a cool build! I shrug the purists as well with my 2005 Monaro conversion. It’s all just fun and kudos for keeping it that way! Making memories...
This story reminds me of what it was like to have automotive and driving interests when I was a teenager in the 60s. It was at time you went to the junk yards and service stations with your part time job money and bought junk cars, parts, engines and transmissions and got together with your friends and build a car. Automotive magazines had many articles about kids like us doing the same thing, but nowadays the auto mags are all about rich investor car collectors or 'enthusiasts', whatever an 'enthusiast' is. You are right, you do not have to possess a fortune to possess a ride you will truly enjoy and have pride in its ownership. Wonderful gift for your daughter, dad, and her tastes are perfect for her, and that's all that counts. Now, if I could just find a way to build a 65 Tempest into a Goat!
Ooooh, I'm thinking a 421 and a 4-speed in that Tempest. Forget the Goat badges - it'd be a cool car all by itself 😁
Yes, I too was one of those teens scrounging the junkyards and also the local speedshop, trying to piece together some decent rides in the '60s. Friends, magazines, and trial-and-error taught us how to do a LOT of stuff.
It looks great and the paint job done in a friends garage is very nice. I have done a few in my garage and a few in my drive way, if that one looks that good up close you might want to choose another profession. Enjoyed the story thanks
Oh no, it's a 30-footer to be sure. I'd hate to tell you how many times we re-did parts of it. I think that fiberglass hood was painted 10 or 12 times! But lots of Turtle Wax and Elbow Grease keep it looking fairly presentable.
But the difference in your car and the Mission Beige/Martinique Bronze (probably the only GTO ever in that color as I have looked for 15 years and Ken looked for 20 years before his death in 2018 and never found another) car is yours cand be driven and enjoyed whereas Ken's has not left the garage since the Hilton Head show in 2017.....before that he put only 300 or so miles on it driving to local shows.....,
His car...he can do what he wanted....I'd rather have a resto-mod DRIVER
True, his was for show and mine is for go - but different strokes for different folks. I've no issue with people who want something they will not drive. Not my cup o' tea, for sure, because I'm a "for fun" driver. But to each his or her own. The beauty is that we can do what we want and both types can be happy about it. (Besides, I ain't got a hundred grand 😁)
Sorry about your friend's passing, but sounds like he was happy doing his thing, which is about all we can ask before we go!
Well told story! Whenever you can enjoy the journey to find, fix and/or create a fun car with family it is the best! Thanks for sharing and I hope to see you at car shows sometime!
My Grandfather had a 66 Bonneville. He let me drive it to the gas station to fill it up for him, alone. I remember him telling this 16 year old to "Trump down on it". I was impressed for such a big boat the power it made. Miss those days so long ago. Your making wonderful memories now. Hats off to a great story and build!
Thanks! I have lots of great car memories from the '50s and '60s and all the way up to the present. Power is made differently nowadays, but I still like the rumble of the older V-8s and the roar when you "trump down on it"! However, I think I'm going to be able to get excited about EVs, and some of their performance makes my old hot rods seem like a horse and buggy!
Well, someday my car might not be allowed on the streets anymore, but your kid will be on the right track. Computers rule the world!
I'm lucky that 3 of our 5 kids appreciate cool cars. Middle boy is just completing his '64 El Camino.
I checked all of the replies up till now. I agree with everyone!
Funny, I joined Hagerty just to legally drive my 60 year old dream come true. A beat up old Model A Ford similar to the 1931 Coupe I started this old car hobby with back in 1959. But, so far, stories like this are worth way more than an insurance policy! These replies alone brought back a million old memories of how this hobby really got beyond a few hot rodders on the west coast. There was no internet, fancy parts catalogs, or even many automotive stores with replacement old parts. The junk yards, friends, and learning from mistakes was how we built our cars.
Now old and almost forgot how to order from a catalog, I'm starting over with MissDollie, our 1931 Model A phaeton, that dream car from way back when I sold my 1931 coupe. No, it's not gonna be a show car or a trophy. Like everything else I've built, it'll be a driver, hopefully on sunny summer days.
Miss Dollie looks great! You've almost gone full circle with the A-Bones. Some of my best teenage times came gathered around the engine bay on someone's rod in some garage or other, trying to make sure that car would be able to make it down to Main Street on Friday night. I still hang out with friends I made while doing that.
Some of the smartest people I ever met were parts people who new just what page to turn to in those 5 or 6 huge thick catalogs they had on the counter before them.
But you know what? I've got a grandson who is building his own gaming computer, and is consulting his buddies via the internet to get the scoop on specs and parts. I look at him and say, "How is he any different than I was?" He's just doing the same thing with different tools and a different finished product. But his experiences and memories will be similar, no?
Don’t worry about the purists! I’ve got a ZZ502 in my 67 GTO and someone always has something to say about it at shows. It’s fun to drive, and it’s mine so I’ll do what I want. I do still have the 400 that I’m building over time. It’ll find it’s way into the engine bay eventually. Fantastic build my friend, and you’re a great dad for giving your daughter the car she wanted. I got to build mine with my father, and spending that time with him was one of my top highlights of my life
Now this is a great story, both car-wise and family-wise. Congratulations to you for a victory in both. My only suggestion – and it applies to both – is to provide this daughter with a manual transmission. I think she would appreciate the car more and build her driving skill. My son, my daughter, and my wife all drive manual transmissions (known these days as millennial anti-theft devices). All the guys my daughter dated were amazed and intimidated with her ability to drive a stick. None of them could, except for the last one, and he is now her husband.
Before she got her license I also forced her to take the Skip Barber full one-day driving school at Laguna Seca. She learned panic and threshold braking in 5-speed Dodge Neons, had four and a half hours on the skid pad in 5-speed Dodge Rams with bald tires, and muscled through two autocross sessions in a 6-speed Dodge Viper. She was exhausted at the end of a 9+ hour day but gained a new appreciation for what it means to handle a huge hunk of metal.
As for your clone GTO, I am envious. My first car of my own (I did share ownership of a 1930 Model A couple, which my brother still has) was a 1963 Pontiac Le Mans convertible with bucket seats, a 326, and a 3-speed on the floor with non-synchro first. What I wouldn't have given for a 1964 Le Mans with a real, all-synchro 4-speed. Mine was bought in Milwaukee when it was six years old with painted-over rust and it eventually rusted away.
I originally had planned on a 4-speed (behind a 389 tri-power, of course), but when I found the motor, the guy wouldn't sell it separate from the tranny. He thought he'd have trouble selling a trans with that Pontiac bellhousing bolt pattern. So I figured that since I had the TH400 already, why not just use it? And I'll admit, it has been kinda nice when I do street cruises. She can drive a stick - I taught all the kids how. But I don't think we're missing out on anything with the automatic.
Thank you for the warm fuzzies. Great story. She’ll always cherish that car. And that whole thing about building a clone? Not a worry. The folks that appreciate it the most won’t know the difference and if you tell them, they won’t even care. The point is that it’s a bitchin’ ride.
My first introduction to the muscle car genre was when I rode in the very first GTO that my friend bought new (1964?). Been a car guy ever since. And because this is NOT an original but more of a cruiser I suspect that you did the safety upgrades like better brakes, upgraded suspension, etc.
All tubular front suspension, power discs, coilover assists in the rear, new brake tubing - all up to today's standards. I'd have made those changes even to an original - this is my daughter we're talkin' about, here! 😁
Maybe I drove around in sketchy builds way back when. But I sometimes give my grandkids rides in it, and I care way more about them than I apparently did about myself when I was younger...
I totally agree with you. I was taught way back then that HP is only good when you can control it so ever since I went down the path of autoxing and road racing where all the components are critical. Even my tow vehicle (2007 Yukon) has been upgraded in every aspect for maximum handling (along with all that is needed for towing like cooling everything) which translates to safety and reliability. Enjoy riding with your family.