Frankly, Chevys are the norm around here, and I don’t think we are alone on this point. Go to a Goodguys show, and you’ll see Novas and Camaros aplenty. Go to a local car show or drag strip, you’ll also see your share of Chevelles. But what about the Chevelle’s brawny, brazen yet refined cousin – the GTO?
The GTO has a long history of thumbing its nose at just about anyone and anything. It’s very name was lifted from Ferrari. And any internal mandates about cubic-inch limitations seemed to have no effect on John DeLorean. For 1968, the team of engineers had yet another extended middle finger to convention; enter the “Endura” front bumper, a “high density urethane-elastomer foam.” Everything was chrome in the golden era of muscle cars, and the GTO came equipped with the body colored bumper five years before it was even offered on the Corvette. With hide-away headlights thrown in for good measure, the ‘68 GTO must have looked like a spaceship when it was first unveiled.
If you are unfamiliar with the platform, the GTO is an offshoot of the Tempest and rides on the the A-body chassis like the Chevelle, Skylark and 442. For ‘68, the A-body entered a new era with a shorter wheelbase and the GTO benefitted. Gone is the defined hipline and long trunk, the ‘68 introduced the sleeker and sportier muscle car era. It was an iconic body shape that defined the era, so it should come as no surprise that it was Motor Trend’s Car of the Year.
Fifty years later it is my privilege to revive one example. I found this car in Southern California, in the San Fernando Valley just outside of Los Angeles, that had been rescued from the crusher some years ago. As nearest I could tell from the DMV records, it was originally from Arizona. I purchased it from a mechanic and Pontiac fanatic. He had a yard full of Pontiacs, including a Tempest wagon, coupe and even a ‘71 GTO. It was a running car with a non-original 400ci Pontiac V8 (with a 2-bbl carb) and a recently rebuilt Turbo 400. It had a Hurst Dual Gate (His/Hers) shifter and a hood-mounted tach. The latter (at least) appears to have been added later. The previous owner appeared to have been a straight shooter, who pieced the car together with parts he had acquired over the years, and was fairly complete.
Looking at the VIN plate on the cowl, this GTO was manufactured in the Fremont, California plant. The factory paint looks to be Verdono Green with a black interior, but we will know more as we dig deeper into the project. The previous owner stated it was originally one of the three green colors offered for ‘68. There were a whopping fifteen color options that year.
Now that you know the “what,” it is time to answer the age-old question of “why.” Growing up and going to car shows, I have always had an affinity for ‘68-’72 A-bodies. To me, those body lines are exactly what I picture when I think of a muscle car. I remember the magnetism that a clean Chevelle, 442, GTO, or GS had for me as a kid attending car shows. Everyday in high school I would pass a mint ‘69 Chevelle – one of those memories that haunts you – that I would oggle with admiration. The attraction was solidified by family history – both of my parents owned A-bodies of this era. In fact, my mother had a ‘68 LeMans that her brother traded for a ‘69 GTO when she moved to Italy.
Fast forward nearly fifty years, and I have owned a few race cars and fast street cars, but never an A-body. Truth be told, the oldest car I have ever owned was an ‘83. And I’ve never even rebuilt or tuned a carburetor. But my greatest fear is not the unknown. It is that the appreciation and knowledge of how to build these cars will die with the generations that came before me. Late models are near the point of requiring an engineering degree and huge overhead to tune one, and if we don’t cling to these bastions of our automotive heritage – you will only see them as six-figure SEMA builds and restorations on primetime bidding at Barrett-Jackson, sequestered in someone’s museum-like garage.
It is time for some payback.
Our 1968 GTO seeks payback on those that left it for dead. And not just this particular Goat, but the entire Pontiac nameplate, those that have dismissed classic muscle cars and those that have abandoned or corrupted the hobby. Much like Mel Gibson’s character in the movie by the same name, Project Payback has dusted itself off and is ready for action. In short, this is one pissed off machine and it’s ready to take vengeance on anything in its path on the track or the street.
As you can tell by the renderings (courtesy of Eric Brockmeyer), we will be plunging head-first into the Pro Touring genre. The GTO will sport big brakes, 18-inch wheels, sticky 200 treadwear tires, and the suspension/chassis upgrades to help it keep up with lighter platforms on the autocross. However, it will also have the power befitting a proper muscle car, which will allow it to slingshot the steel sled past lesser competitors on the straightaways of the road course.
Throughout the build we’ll be honoring the Pontiac’s heritage while using modern technology to improve performance and create something unique. We want a car that both older muscle car fans will embrace as well as newcomers. We want something that will entice a new generation of enthusiasts to enter the fold. We want a muscle car that can keep up with modern Corvettes on the road course and autocross.
Are these goals ambitious? Perhaps. But we like to set the bar pretty high here at Street Muscle. Follow along and see how we piece together this A-body to be a formidable competitor in the Pro Touring scene.
Be sure to check out our project page for regular updates, as well as the Street Muscle Facebook page for some behind the scenes shots. If that doesn’t satisfy your craving, you can also follow Project Payback on Instagram (@projectpaybackgto).