The Great One

August 13th, 2009

An Original Muscle Car Drives Into The 21st Century

MainJ_292_PEGIn late 1963, an event occurred that changed everything. Pontiac debuted its newly restyled Tempest Le Mans, along with a special model named the GTO, and the rest, as they say, is history. The brain-child of Pontiac Chief Engineer John Delorean, the new GTO revolutionized the intermediate segment by using the powertrain from a full-size Pontiac, in-cluding a large displacement 389-ci engine, and raised the stakes by adding multiple carburetion and a 4-speed manual trans-mission to the mix. To say that perfor-mance enthusiasts embraced the GTO is an understatement. The new car was such a big a deal that then fledgling Car & Driver tested the new Pontiac GTO against a Ferrari GTO. The result was a historic cover story from late 1963 that helped launch both the car and what was then a relatively new magazine. Of course, there was some “interpretation” of the shootout rules, and Pontiac PR guru Jim Wangers admitted later that the Pontiac used for the testing was armed with the larger displacement 421 engine rather than a stock 389.

This 1965 edition “Goat,” owned by Performance West Group head Larry Wiener, celebrates the birth of what has become known as the muscle car era. “There’s no replacement for displacement” was the battle cry of the ’60s and the power plant of this car features nothing less than the biggest gun in the Pontiac arsenal of the time; the High Output 421-ci, 376-hp Tri Power. Fueled by the iconic Tri Power setup (three 2-barrel, 250-cfm Rochester carbs), the engine was rebuilt by Van Gordon Racing in Upland, CA, and features a 10.75:1 compression ratio. The period correct 421 V-8 has been treated to a wide range of components, which have upped its power output to an even 400 hp at 5,500 rpm. Complementing the engine is a Magnaflow Performance dual exhaust system. The engine has been dressed up with Year One Inc.’s Tri Power carburetor air cleaner lids, air tub and foam seal and Cal Custom vintage aluminum valve covers. Keeping the big engine cool is a Raceware aluminum cross-flow radiator while the battery came from Optima.

Backing up the power of the 421 is a Muncie M21 transmission enhanced with a Hays clutch, pressure plate and flywheel. Being augmented with a Gear Vendors Under/Overdrive unit means that even at highway speeds the big engine will deliver over 20mpg and never breathe hard. Lastly, the 12-bolt, Posi-equipped third member features a Mr. Gasket finned-aluminum differential cover.

Tire-smoking power is all well and good, but there needs to be more to a car than just horsepower numbers. To that end, this GTO features a full complement of Hotchkis Performance suspension components. The GTO is a big, heavy car but the Hotchkis tubular A-arms, springs, Sport sway bars and Bilstein shocks get all the handling possible out of it.

RearJPEGComplementing the Hotchkis sus-pension is a Stainless Steel Brakes (SSBC) Tri Power package that upgrades the brakes from the stock drums to 4-wheel disc system. With its 3-piston calipers and 13-inch slotted and ventilated rotors, the GTO is capable of stopping as suddenly as it accelerates. Adding the perfect styling cue are the new “retro” wheels from the Oasis Alloy Wheels Masterpiece col-lection. Unlike the original 14-inch wheels, these 18-inch units (Front: 18×7-inch, Rear: 18×8-inch) evoke all the nostalgia of the original Hurst units and features 5-spokes and an offset rim style. Adding to the handling characteristics and overall performance aspect is a set of Toyo Proxes high-performance directional tires (Front: 235/40ZR18 Proxes T1-S, Rear: 295/ 45R18 Proxes S/T). Thanks to a precise offset measuring, this massive wheel and tire package fits the GTO perfectly with no body modification needed.

Another example of Wiener’s “old but better” philosophy is the paint scheme on the car. Inspired by the original Hurst “Tiger Gold” lacquer (which was first offered as an option late in the 1965 model year), Sherwin-Williams formulated its Planet Color “Hurst Gold” as a modern interpretation of the original. Applied by Mike Face Custom Paint, the resulting look is the latest in paint technology coupled with the best history has to offer.

The majority of the exterior items, such as the door handles, taillight lenses and the cool GTO exhaust splitters were obtained from Year One. Another period trick was the addition of the 1966 Pontiac Grand Prix driving lights added to the grille front.

The interior mirrors the theme that runs throughout the car, which is to retain the stock feel but upgrade with new parts. Thanks to Katzkin, the seats feature hand-sewn parchment pearl leather, with stitch-ing that remains true to the original pattern.

As with the exterior, many of the interior parts, such as the headliner and visors, arm rests and door handles came from the Year One catalog. The GTO wood-style steering wheel came from GM. And as with any respectable GTO, a T-handled Hurst 4-speed shifter rows the gearbox. The interior also features sought-after pieces such as the GTO Rally instrument package and the console-mounted vacuum gauge.

The name of a vehicle is, in many ways, the key to its identity. While these cars have been known throughout the years by such endearing names as the “Tiger,” the “Goat” and the “Geeto,” Wiener paid homage to this legendary icon by remaining true to its pedigree and has chosen its most triumphant name.

To him, his vehicle will always be thought of as The Great One.


The heart of the matter for any muscle car is the engine. Producing 400 hp, the Tri Power-equipped 421-ci mill features Cal Custom vintage aluminum valve covers; a Raceware aluminum cross-flow radiator and a Magnaflow exhaust system.
Connecting the three 2-barrel Rochester 250-cfm carbs to the outside world is Year One’s Tri Power air tub and foam seal and topping off the look are the YO air cleaner lids.
Katzkin hand-stitched the car seats in parchment pearl leather, with a look that remains true to the original pattern.

What would a GTO be without a Hurst shifter? Notice the button on the side of the T-handle; it activates the Gear Vendors under/overdrive unit attached to the rear of the Muncie transmission.

A period-perfect vacuum gauge rests on the center console.
The wood steering wheel gives the driver the perfect handle, while the Rally gauge package keeps him informed of the engine’s operation.
Oasis Alloy 5-spoke wheels have been shod with Toyo Proxes high-performance directional tires. Peeking through the spokes, one can see the SSBC Tri Power 3-piston caliper and slotted rotors.

A fully operational Ram Air hood force-feeds the big engine.


Thanks again to Year One and its reproduction houndstooth floormat and spare tire cover; the trunk is just as nice as the rest of the car.
Exiting the spent fuel is done with Year One reproduction Pontiac GTO exhaust splitters.


Wiener has an impressive collection of original memorabilia for this car, including the original owner’s manual, a copy of Motor Trend’s road test issue and Pontiac sales material.


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