My 1970 Pontiac GTO Convertible Story
Why did I choose a 70 GTO
While in the service in upstate Illinois in the early ’70s, several of my friends were from the St.Louis area. We drove each other’s vehicles all the time, I had a 72 Ford Bronco that everyone wanted to use and play in the mud.
A friend (Dan) had a 70 black Judge, Ram Air 3 auto and air. This was a car I drove home one weekend. I had a blast driving this car and never forgot the feeling of power when you pushed the go pedal. A snowplow hit the front and it sat in an alley until it was towed to the junkyard. Dan paid $800 for this car in 1973.
Life makes many turns to get to the end
Life takes many turns, I am no different. Another friend (also Dan) had a Yamaha 650. He left it one day when he borrowed my Ford Bronco. He did not leave the key for his bike with me. I used a butter knife to turn the key on and got on and rode around town. I had been on several dirt bikes before, how hard can it be. I had a good time.
A couple of years later I bought my second street bike a 76 Kawasaki 900. It was faster than the GTO. Someone stole this bike at work and it was never recovered. I bought my first Harley in 79, then 2 more. Hurt my back at work in 81 and doctors said if I did not stop riding my motorcycles, especially my 56 KHK that was a hardtail, I may not walk in a few years.
After back surgery, I sold my 3 Harleys. A friend at work said he had a 68 GTO that was wrecked in his parent’s garage. He stated that they had bought it new at Vincel Pontiac in ST. Louis.
I went and looked and $600 later I own a car without a driver’s fender, the roof pillar on the driver’s side folded back to the top of the driver’s seat, and no driver’s door.
It did have a ho Pontiac 400, m 21 Muncie 4 speed and 3.90 rear gear. This gear was almost top of the line for power in 1968 GTO’s.
It started right up, I made arrangements with a friend to go to southern Missouri with me to pick up the car. With a cutoff tool, overalls, goggles, and gloves in hand, off we went. Cut off the pillar so I could sit and drive. Going up 55 I got a lot of looks, me with my motorcycle goggles and white jumpsuit, even one highway patrol officer.
When we got home one of the kids started crying, he wanted to know where the goat was that we were bringing home. He was too young to know that it was just a car.
This car was too far gone to fix, I stripped the car of anything that was of any value and was not damaged beyond repair.
I purchased a green 68 Lemans for $600 in ST. Charles Mo, with a black convertible top. I wanted to use the running gear and GTO stuff from the GTO to build a running cow. One weekend I drove the Lemans to my dad’s garage with the 350 auto with a floor shift.
My brother and a couple of friends came over to help work. On Sunday we all took a ride in the convertible with the 400 4 speed and 390 rear axle ratio. I added the GTO hideaways, endurance front bumper, tail lights, and other emblems before I had the car painted white for about $1000, the color of the original GTO.
One of my neighbors owned a red 65 GTO that he drove a lot. He came by when I was working on the 68 one day and said his dad had one like it in his junkyard that he was closing down. He told me I could take whatever I wanted off for $15 in one trip.
Off I went with my 65 Chevy pickup (this is another long story), I removed everything I could in a couple of hours off of a 69 GTO that the motor was blown and had been pushed around with a bulldozer several times. It had plates from 1973 on it.
These parts were very useful in the future as I traded for a lot of parts for the 70 GTO and other cars I built.
Dash was traded for a fiberglass front bumper for the white car as the original bumper was too bent to fix. It was floppy on the ends and I finally traded for a regular endura bumper before I had it painted.
I traded the air conditioner compressor for a Muncie 4 speed with shifter out of a 70 GTO, the guy wanted an auto to get better times at the track and needed a compressor to make all of his belts work.
I even gave a set of heads to the Gateway club when I moved to Florida.
I loved to drive this car and wanted a real GTO. Went to get a haircut one day driving the 68 GTO, some workers were working on sewer pipes with a backhoe and blocking the road. After my haircut, the lady driving the backhoe stopped me and asked if I had any trouble with the top blowing fuses, she had a 70 black convertible that the top did not work and the fuse was blown each time. I asked her to bring it the next day, I would look at it.
When looking at it, I noticed both pistons were bent. This was the cause of the fuse problem. She stated she wanted to sell this car, she bought it for her son and he wanted an SS Chevelle. After looking at the numbers and confirming that it was a true GTO, we worked out a deal for $1500 for the car, a couple of days later it was mine.
The first day I had it, my cousins and I went to a school to play basketball. When we were done I backed out and into a tree stump that was too short to see out the mirrors. Thus the bent back bumper and broken taillight lens.
What did I start with
I was now the proud owner of a 70 black GTO, white convertible top with a stock 350 hp 400, 400 auto column shift, power brakes, power steering, buckets seats, rally II wheels, plenty of duck tape, and the worst bodywork I have ever seen.
Pieces of steel were riveted to the back wheel wells to fill in the space that was rusted away. If you did not hit the spare tire putting things in the trunk, it would fall on the gas tank or hit the ground.
Opening the hood was not much better, there was a bird’s nest on the intake manifold in front of the carburetor and it leaked gas out of the carb, I removed the nest so I did not have a fire under the hood..
The fuzzy covers on the seat hid the duck tape holding them together and the carpet was worn through in a few places. Carpet on the door panels was faded and coming off.
One of the first things I purchased were the pistons for the convertible top. The top motor worked fine after I got the air out of the lines.
I sent my $25 off to get the PHS paperwork to see what I purchased. The papers matched what was left of the GTO. I started to look at numbers and the original motor, trans, and rear end was still in the car.
The engine serial and body plate matched. It did run strong, just used a lot more gas than the 68, which I still had. I sold the 68 for $4000 to use the money to start working on the 70. I drove it for 7 years and used several rolls of duct tape during this time holding things together.
First engine rebuild-what did I find
One of the first things on my list was to rebuild the motor. I purchased a carb at a swap meet because the original leaked so badly, I still have the original carb in a box in the garage. All motor parts went to my machine shop in town and when they came back, I set them up on the kitchen counter one at a time, except the block, to take pictures of all of the date codes.
I had borrowed a camera from a friend that would use black and white film. I documented all of the parts before putting a coat of paint on them.
I found all the date codes to be “I”. In the Legend, I was a GTOAA.member by now 1988, that this date code was not used in production engines. My car was built in the third week of September 1969 according to the paperwork from PHS, an early one. Later in another issue of the Legend, someone else sent in pics of his “I” codes on some of his engine parts to confirm that this code was used.
I drove this car after putting the engine back together to Ohio, Kentucky and Minnesota GTOAA nats. The bodywork, interior, and top looked really bad, but I had a real GTO.
While working on the radio one day, a little smoke started coming from under the dash. The wire that sent power to the door switch for the interior lights shorted out and I pulled these wires out with my hands. I unplugged this so I could work with the doors open. It was many years later that the wiring was replaced.
Road trips before the repaint
I have made many road trips in the GTO. Before the body was redone I made a trip to the GTOAA nats in Ohio in ’89. The car overheated very badly, I called my dad and had it towed home behind his camper on a tow dolly, the one the front wheels sit on.
Somewhere in Indiana on the way, the pin came out of the hitch. I was looking out the back window of the camper and noticed the car was not attached to the camper except for the chains.
I told my dad to slow the camper down slowly to avoid big damage to the front of my car. He unhooked it the rest of the way and got a pin at a gas station at the next exit. Watched it very close the rest of the way home.
Purchased the front fenders at Louisville swap meet, had to put them in the back seat for the ride home. Did get some looks as the rear windows would not rollup. Have you ever purchased something and then wondered how you were going to get it home? I think I have a habit of this.
On the way to Minneapolis in ’91, I stopped by the dealer that the car was purchased at in Sterling Illinois. They were very rude, but I did take a picture of the sign outside.
I did take in a ball game at the Humphrey dome and parked across the street from the stadium in the GTO. I was a Judge for the Concours class for 68 to 70 convertibles at this meet. I learned a lot about how my car should look.
Gathering parts from swap meets and junkyards
I started gathering parts for sprucing up the body, it would take a lot of parts. Trunk from Rolla swap meet-$50, rear wing from Lincolnshire IL-$100, a whole rear clip from a 71 Lemans hardtop from Whites in Rolla-$350, floor shift console from Miami-$75, floor shifter from Key Largo-free, rear bumper from a dealer (original GM)-$200, doors from a swap meet at Louisville GTOAA meet in 91-$75 each, traded a 69 GTO hood for a floor shift steering column, rear turn signal lens from a swap meet-$25 each, and other parts from a junkyard, and some smaller parts from Year One, Ames, Bob’s and other restoration parts people.
The rear clip was a process getting home to Illinois, I took a couple of 2 X 4’s to lay across the bed of the 71 El Camino I had at the time and tied it down and drove it home. It was in its second garage by the time I got it to the body shop.
Some parts were ordered from the ads in the back of the legend. I had parts everywhere and we moved to St. Peter’s in 91. I built a shelf in the top of the garage to hold all of my GTO parts. My rear clip was strapped to the rear wall in the garage. It looked like a junkyard of parts in all different colors.
My dad had retired and moved to the middle of nowhere in Illinois it was close to Mt. Vernon. He was looking for a body person while finding new friends around his new house. He said a body man that look at doing the bodywork and paint it for $3500.
I went to talk to Gary Klutter in Sessor about doing the work. His story was that he just purchased a plasma cutter that he was trying to learn how to work, this would be the perfect project to learn on.
He said he would do the work for this price if he could fit it in with his other work, I did not know that it would take 13 months. My car and the pile of parts went to Sessor Illinois in the spring of 92.
When discussing the paint color with Gary one day it was decided on the darkest black that we could find. He also said that he would like to try and paint it with a clear coat finish, something that I had never had done on any of my cars before, remember this is 1992.
Many trips to my dad’s would include a 20-minute drive to the shop to look at the progress. 13 months later, after much stress on my part, I moved the car across the street to an upholstery shop. The guy put on a new top and redid the seat foam and covers. I had purchased the foam and seat covers from Ames, the upholstery guy supplied the top. This only took one week, I was ready to take my car back home. The top and labor cost less than $1000.
I had purchased new material for the door panels and the rear convertible panels. I installed them at my dad’s before I drove it home. New rear ashtrays were also installed.
I took the rally wheels to a Corvette shop in St Peter’s and the guy sandblasted them and then painted them. After a new set of tires, they were ready for when my car came home. I paid $20 each to get them refinished.
Trophies for the popular vote class at GTOAA Nationals
My first time showing my car was in Indianapolis. My brother drove his car to help with any car problems as this was my first trip after the body shop. On the way home the rubber fuel line on the fuel pump started leaking. I pulled off to repair it and one of the guys went by from the club holding a trophy in the window. At the next meeting, he told me I had won second place. I was thrilled. Next came the 3rd place in St Louis, then another 2nd place in Niagara Falls.
I added wheel well chrome from Year One after Indianapolis. I continued to add things almost every year that I have had the car.
Why a second engine rebuild
Going to Niagara Falls, I drove to upper Michigan and went across Canada. I stayed in Niagara Canada for the night before the meet. The weather was nice in the mid-80s. When it was time to head home, it was a lot warmer. Going through Ohio, it was over 100. Do you know what it’s like to bake in a car with no air at this temperature? The engine would not stay cool either and was using a lot of water.
When I finally got home, I decided I would have the head checked for cracks. I took the motor out and took it to a Pontiac engine shop in Granite City. No cracks were found, I had hardened seats installed to run on today’s fuel and the motor balances. The engine shop assembled the motor this time.
Before the engine was done, I was offered a position near Tampa at twice the money I was making, I had to leave in a week. How was I going to get my car and its engine back together? Chris Simmons from the Gateway club lived not too far from me and I worked out a deal with him and my cousin Jeff to get the motor installed and ready to move to Florida.
Work took a lot of my time while in Florida for six years, did not make many local car shows and only made it to the nationals in Atlanta in 96.
Came back to Missouri in 01. The dash pad had a crack in it from me putting a temp gauge on it to monitor overheating. I sent the dash pad to a company in Texas, the one they sent me back was an AC one from a 72.
After many conversations and stress, I did receive the correct one. I installed the dash pad along with rally gauges, this involved a little wiring change, floor shift steering column, Formula steering wheel, new under dash wire harness, heater control cables, auto floor shift console, floor shifter, and dash insulation that was purchased from Year One.
The floor shifter involved changing a lot of things to make things work. Had to make sure a rod was running from trans to the steering column to make sure the car would start, the backup lights still do not work, it is on my list of todos.
Latter I installed all new knobs for the dash and the pull knobs for the fresh air, this car does not have AC, in the lower kick panels.
I had the date code correct carburetor that I purchased out of an ad in the Legend rebuilt by Jonathan Havens. It would not idle properly and he looked at it at the Springfield GTOAA Nats and told me to replace the original return spring. This fixed this problem.
I decided to refresh the engine bay, it was never painted when it was installed in 1996. For more information on the refresh of the engine bay, look at my post here.
I indexed the water pump divider plate to get a better handle on heat from the engine. There are several articles online about this and mine had too much room between the water pump and dividing plate.
I refreshed everything on the engine under the hood. Everything came off down to the water pump, intake manifold, spark plugs, valve covers, distributor, and all wiring to the engine.
I reinstalled the TCS switch. windshield washer hoses, heat risers for the air cleaner, exhaust heat riser plate, and the spark plug wire holders that had been in a box since the first engine rebuild.
What have I added to make it mine
Several items have been added to making the car look better to me and keep track of things. Some are my personal preferences from previous cars. All items added are correct for a 70 GTO.
Gauges from an add in the Legend magazine. Center console from an add in the Hemings magazine, picked up in Miami, brought home on the plane in a duffle bag. While in Miami I drove to Key Largo and saw a 70 GTO sitting in a lot with no wheels and broken windows, my cousin and I removed the floor shifter.
Dash tach from Year One. Formula steering wheel from a local ad. Mounting pieces for Formula wheel from Ames.
I added 15-inch trims for the rear, one from a spring swap meet and another one from John Johnson from the Gateway club. I had them sandblasted at a gravestone place in Fenton and purchased stencils, painted them to make them match the 14’s that came with the car. I put on 255 60 15’s on the rear to reduce gearing so it runs better on the highway.
I do have a correct AM/FM radio on the bench that I wish to install one day. I have replaced the speaker under the dash, the AM radio does not work very well and I have installed a radio in the glove box for long road trips.
I am glad that I had the bodywork, seat covers, convertible top, most of the engine work, and exterior paint when the price was not so high as it is today. To redo this car today it would cost 10 times the money I have spent so far.
Today’s needs and wants
The Carpet that I installed needs to be replaced, I did purchase a cheap carpet to cover the holy one back in the ’80s. Repair and repaint of the front bumper and rear decklid, the paint job from 1992 is starting to show its age.
The backup lights do not work properly, I will have to trace the problem to its source. I hope that I do not have to remove the steering wheel to fix the switch.
This car is made to drive, I have driven to many GTOAA Nationals and other car shows. My favorite drives were the trip around the Brickyard and driving across Canada. I hope to be able to have the time to do more car shows in the future.
In the future, I will share some of the procedures for doing some of the work I have done and will be doing in the future on this car and the 2009 G8 GT that I currently drive as my daily driver. I think the G8 is much faster, I get more comments on the GTO when it is out.