Wine And Spice: Gary Heicklen’s ’69 And ’06 Pontiac GTOs

If you’re going to have a small collection of cars, why not have an awesome vintage classic and a modern rendition of that original icon. That’s exactly what Gary Heicklen did – in the guise of a beautifully restored 1969 Pontiac GTO hardtop coupe and it’s modern 2006 equivalent.

THE MAN

Queens native and card-carrying car-guy, Gary Heicklen, has quite the impressive list of automotive accolades. Now retired, Gary’s former career in car sales started when he was a young mechanic wrenching through the ‘70s, and culminated into multiple sales manager positions. Predominantly working at GM dealerships, Gary’s fondness for GM machinery runs deep.

After making his bones on his first car – a ’62 Chevy II, offerings from GM’s excitement division have occupied Gary’s garage and attention ever since. Following his first Poncho – a white ’65 GTO, Gary’s arrowhead album includes a red ’69 GTO, four-barrel, 400ci, four-speed car, a pair of Firebird Trans Ams, and a rare (1-of-1,377), 1977 LeMans Sport Can-Am Edition. Gary’s passion, and experience with Pontiac iron, eventually led to his election as chief executive officer of the Long Island GTO club – an esteemed title he’s held for the last eight years.

ADDING SOME SPICE

Back in 2006, Gary was head of sales at La Sorsa Buick/GMC/Pontiac in Bronx, New York. By this time, the third and final iteration of Pontiac’s Holden-Monaro-based GTO was arriving from Australia. One of the Aussie Goats to roll into La Sorsa that spring was a beautiful one-year-only color, Spice Red (71U) model. The GTO came complete with an LS2/6-speed with wide-spoke 18-inch wheels. Although not a hit style-wise with the purists, the neo-GTOs were never accused of being under-powered. That said, one of Gary’s close friends was a fan of the modern GTO, and soon strolled into La Sorsa and drove out with the Spicy Red sports coupe, quicker than you could say G’Day-Mate.

After cruising in 6-liter bliss for five years, Gary’s friend found himself having to part ways with his beloved Goat. As fate would have it, it struck just when Gary was in the market for a new-age GTO himself. Gary’s administration of the Long Island GTO club was only a year young at this point and many of his fellow Pontiac faithful would relentlessly bust his chops about one single blaring fact – he didn’t have a GTO. Gary still owned the Can-Am he purchased in ’05, but being Goatless weighed heavily on him.

Having owned classic GTOs, Gary was a purist, but being one who sold the new models for a living, he knew they were awesome rides. His favorite aspect of the car was “it’s high-performance capabilities.” Not only was Gary helping out his friend by buying his car, but he says, “I yearned for a modern car, with modern conveniences – one I could take on long trips without worry.” The fact that his buddy had babied the Goat, and Gary could now run the GTO club from behind the wheel of his very own, was icing on the cake.

Already rare, at 1-of-632-made in this color, trans and wheel combo, Gary further-upped the uniqueness of his ’06 GTO by adding a few upgrades. He opted to swap-out the stock mufflers for a pair of SLP’s bullet-style Loud Mouth units, providing a little pop‘n spit on deceleration and a primal growl when dropping the hammer. Keeping things cool, a MishiMoto Performance radiator replaces the stock unit. For added braking performance, PowerStop drilled/slotted rotors reside at all four corners. When rubber needed to be replaced, Gary went with slightly wider, Goodyear Eagles to help the Goat bite. Inside the sporty yet plush cockpit, Sirius/XM satellite radio now increases the entertainment factor. Paying homage to GM’s “Mark of Excellence” chiclets gone since ’10, Gary added them in front of the rear wheels, reemphasizing the moniker’s American lineage. Last but not least, harkening t0 the GTOs of yesteryear, a pair of “Ram Air” decals grace each hood scoop.

FINE WINE FROM ’69

Gary was enjoying his retirement and his two Pontiacs immensely, going to shows and club road trips, when an arrowhead-shaped lightbulb appeared above his head. Feeling that 12 years with his Can-Am were enough, he listed the rare ‘70s car for sale. Gary was just casting the hook, but by August, he got a bite, and just like that, the Can-Am had a new owner. Gary’s Cayenne-coated ’06 became his lone Poncho possession.

Three weeks later, Gary was perusing the array of vintage-Pontiac iron at the Susquehanna Valley GTO Show in Pennsylvania. He claims he wasn’t exactly hunting for a new acquisition, but admits – if the right ’69-’72 GTO presented itself, he’d be a player. That said, a friend’s wife at the show mentioned she came across a nice ’69 GTO just as the owner was putting a for-sale sign on it. Gary didn’t need to be told twice.

Drawn to the shiny wine-colored Goat like moth to flame, Gary was intrigued upon first glance. Striking up a conversation with the owner, it seemed the ’69 GTO was in the process of a frame-off restoration – about 75 percent done. To Gary’s experienced eye and the honesty of the owner, there were mechanical and electrical issues to resolve. The interior was far from complete, but she was a beauty in the making, nonetheless.

Gary discovered the GTO had been a Pennsylvania car it’s whole life and had only two previous owners. After hearing that all-important ‘matching numbers’ term, and seeing the original build sheet that came with the car, Gary engaged his sales manager persona. He eventually came to an agreement on the price and bought the car right then. Trailering it back to New York the next day, Gary knew he had his work cut out for him, stating, “I was buttoning it up for the next year until the spring of 2018.” Regardless, the car was gorgeous, so it was a labor of love.

Gary’s Goat is a hardtop sports coupe, bathed in Burgundy paint and lined with a classy Parchment vinyl interior. It’s powered by a 400ci motor, making 350 hp, 465 lb-ft of torque, and wielded by the optional wide-ratio M20 four-speed. Gary’s new ’69 was also blessed with two iconic options, the must-have hood tach and hideaway headlights.

FINISHING THE JOB

As mentioned, the restoration was about three quarters thru when Gary took the keys, but the final 25% was on him. For this most important task, Gary sought the experience and expertise of old-school Pontiac guru Richie Hoffman. Working out of Moonlight Garage, Inc. in New Hyde Park NY, Richie’s efforts on the Goat’s completion were integral and his work list extensive. Staying true to the supplied factory build sheet, Mr. Hoffman was responsible for tuning the 400ci motor till she purred like a kitten, rebuilding the clutch, shifter, Posi rear-end, reinstalling the original carburetor and intake manifold, sorting-out the electrical system, and finishing the interior. The only deviations from 1969, which Gary chose to add, were the optional wood steering wheel, an FM radio receiver, and upgrading the factory 14-inch Rally IIs to a set of 15-inchers wrapped in modern radial rubber. Completed by Christmas 2017, Gary couldn’t have asked for a better gift. When asked what he loves most about his ’69 GTO, Gary replies without pause- “it brings me back to my youth”-nuff said.

CONCLUSION

Gary alternates piloting his ’69 and ’06 GTOs, frequenting multiple car shows, events, and weekend gatherings. Racking-up the miles all year, as long as the New York roads are clean and dry, he says he’s satisfied with both Goats as they sit. Gary has no mods planned at this time, concentrating his efforts on keeping them both running strong and looking fine. It seems Gary’s definitely found the secret to a healthy retirement – a bit of spice and a little wine.

About the author

Andrew Nussbaum

Pontiac possessed by Smokey and the Bandit at 6 years old, and cultivated through the '80s by GTAs, IROCS and Grand Nationals, Andrew hails from Queens NY and has been writing freelance for ten years.
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