Driving this Pontiac GTO is an experience of a lifetime

Written by DriveShare member Chris Gebhardt

[Editor’s note: Chris Gebhardt has been a Mopar nut all of his life, and he enjoys sharing his experience and his cars with other enthusiasts who may not have the means to own one of their own. Thanks to DriveShare Members like Chris, passion for these vehicles will continue to live on through the generations. Here is his story.]

The 1967 Pontiac GTO has been a part of my family since we rescued it from a salvage yard in 1990.  As a Gen-X’er, I had never experienced the original muscle cars when they were new.  But for my dad, that was his dream car.   The GTO was always the king of muscle cars, and for him, the ’67 was the peak of style and performance.  His enthusiasm for the car rubbed off on me and I was hooked.  My dad and I put it on the road and it was my daily driver, taking me back and forth to school and all around town throughout my high school years.  There were plenty of Camaros, Firebirds and Mustangs around, but my GTO was one of a kind at my school.  It didn’t matter to me that a previous owner had apparently hand-painted it in a dull gray finish or that the drivetrain had certainly seen better days.  The GTO has always been something special.

After being involved in a minor parking lot dust-up, a quick repair turned into a full frame-off restoration in 1992.  Nothing on the car was left untouched except for the original headliner and rear seat covers.  After emerging from an 18-month restoration, the car hit the show circuit fresh out of the body shop.  Although it received plenty of attention and I’ve made some life-long friends from those days, my attention was quickly drawn to the performance aspect of the car.  The car has been down its fair share of 1/4-mile and 1/8-mile tracks around North Texas.  Over the years we’ve been through different combinations of wheels & tires, rear-end gear-ratios, exhaust, carburetors, ignition systems and tunes. 

When I got married, the GTO came to live with us.  My bride Rebecca was quick to recognize the special bond I had with the car and was supportive right from the start.  Our first home – a small one-bedroom apartment – wasn’t much, but she made sure that there was a garage for the GTO.  We were active in the car hobby and have both served as officers in our local Pontiac club.  Rebecca has even helped organize the Pontiac Southern Nationals, putting in the hard work behind the scenes while I mostly enjoyed the sprawling event with the rest of the participants.

After a severe mechanical mishap in the name of quicker track times, the engine was pulled from the car in the early 2000s. Enter the typical story of a young couple building their careers, household and family life, and the GTO was pushed to a dusty corner of the garage where it sat for several years.  When we lost the lease on the garage space we found a new home for the car and transported it with most of the engine components in the trunk. The car continued to sit, waiting for its chance to roar again.   Eventually, an opportunity presented itself when members of the Hagerty team visited the garage and helped get the GTO back on the road. Matt Lewis and Davin Reckow, known together as The Wrenchmen, spent the weekend lending insight and know-how (and a fair amount of elbow grease) and put the beating heart back into the beast, where it roared to life.

I had a lot of time to think about the car and what I would want to do with it when it was road-worthy again. Show and shines are fun and drag racing is always a blast but for me, the car’s natural habitat is pounding the pavement around town. These days the classic Pontiac GTO, along with its 1960’s and 70’s muscle car brethren, has reached a status where they tend to get hoarded up and socked away by those who can afford their price tag. I decided that this GTO would return to the street, and I vowed to drive it. Really drive it. Not every day, because who could afford the gas? But do the things that one does with a car without worrying about knocking off show points.

Although I’ve stayed mostly true to the GTO’s originality, I’ve gone with some modern American Racing wheels and performance tires in a nod to modern style and handling. A tasteful burble from the performance cam through 3-chamber Flowmasters hints that this 400-cid 4-barrel may not be one to tangle with at the stoplight. For all its bluster, though, the GTO is a real pussycat to drive. The 3-speed automatic transmission is easy to operate and the power steering takes just a feather-touch  Sure, the car feels big. By today’s standards, it’s enormous. But the GTO is a mid-size car of its day and as such is not at all difficult to manage. What does stand out is the difference in handling. Cars have gotten a lot stiffer in the 50+ years since this GTO was new. I tell people that if the yellow “Curve Ahead” sign says 35 MPH, pay attention. With no driver aids like lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, traction control or even anti-lock brakes you’ll do well to always be focused on driving when behind the wheel.

Most cars today look, perform, and function pretty similarly to one another, and that’s really a credit to how far the industry has come. The basic people-mover of today will match or exceed the capabilities of nearly anything built just a few decades ago. Improvements in safety regulations and efficiency influence not just the mechanicals but styling as well. An old muscle car is just a completely different animal. It looks like nothing else. It has a sound, a feel, and even a smell that’s all its own. To drive one is just an experience, and it can’t help but put a grin on your face.

What I love about the DriveShare program is that it allows others to get a taste of what cars like this are all about. I can’t take the car anywhere without getting a thumbs-up from the guy next to me at the stoplight or a grin and a wave from the kid on his bike. The high-school girls at the ice cream place have no idea what this car is but they know it’s something special and they ask about it. I love that I can put the keys in someone’s hand and even if it’s just for the day, they’ll know what this car is and what it’s all about. Not every renter is excited about giving the car back, but they all come back with a giant smile on their face. I’m hard-pressed to think of something I’d rather share. 

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