Ron Cherry: Getting his Goat again
March 9, 2018
For many car guys, their first car holds a special place in their hearts. For Craig Thomas, it was his second one, a GTO, termed in the car community the Goat.
"I was going to junior college and had a '57 Chevy," he said. "It was nothing special, stock with a 283 (cubic inch engine). But then I saw a GTO and had to have it."
He bought a '65 GTO and drove it for two years, selling it when he was drafted.
"That car made me a GTO guy," he said.
After his military service, Craig returned to college. Although he had American muscle cars and Porsches over the years, he never bought another GTO. But when he was set to retire about five years ago and wanted a project, he turned back to his favorite car.
"I thought, you know, I want to get back into a GTO," he said. "I went to more car shows than usual and got to know a guy with a '67 GTO. He put me in touch with a guy who knew a guy who had some for sale. He was a collector with a number of GTO's and was culling the herd."
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The GTO that interested Craig was a '67 hardtop that had been sitting for about four years with a non-op. Although it had been running when he bought it from the second owner, he'd pulled off the carb for another car. One quarter panel had extensive scraping, but the body was mostly rust free, having only the usual dents and dings.
It had originally been painted Tyrol Blue, but not much of the paint was left. The car had few options, with a standard 335 horsepower 400 cubic inch engine, but had a Turbo 400 auto trans with a Hurst Dual Gate "His & Hers" shifter.
The idea was that guys could shift through each gear while gals would let the auto trans do the shifting. Way too sexist a concept nowadays, but the shifter is still called that. It had a posi rearend with 3.55:1 gearing. Although not a basket case, the car was rough inside and out. But a perfect project car.
Although not technically a frame-off restoration, Craig had the body lifted off the frame enough to put in new body mounts and repainted the frame while he did. Next, he had all the paint stripped off the car. His body and paint man found some rust under the vent grills on the cowl. There was no other rust and he fixed that. He also put on a new quarter panel rather than bondo-ing it.
"He redid all the body gaps," Craig said. "The fit and finish is far better than factory."
Then the body man painted all the inside of the body, roof and trunk with coating similar to Rhino bed liner to prevent rust and give a little sound insulation. Craig was not in love with the original color, but wanted to keep close to it.
"I looked at a lot of color charts and chips," he said. "I finally settled on an Alfa Romeo color, Cobolto Blue that has some metallic, with a couple coats of clear on top. The painter was fantastic and I'm very pleased."
Safe & efficient
Craig's theory in the rebuild was to be as original as possible, but make his Goat safe and efficient. When Craig had the engine rebuilt, he kept it stock, but used the optional HO cam and exhaust manifolds from that year to boost horsepower. Not able to find a decent original Quadrajet carb, he opted for a modern Holley throttle-body fuel injection unit. Sitting under an HO air cleaner, it's hard to know it's not a carb.
On eBay, he found a very rare, original Delcotronic pulse amplifier for the ignition from a GTO, but it was selling for $500.
"I don't need one that badly," he said he told himself.
Then he found an NOS (New Old Stock, new parts that didn't sell when made) one for only $45. One of the ears for a fastening screw was broken, but he heliarc welded it back on and it looks perfect. He still wasn't getting enough spark for the FI unit, so he changed to a Mallory HEI distributor. That required more efficient plug wires.
"I could find them in about any color but black," he said. "Finally I found a place back east that made them in black, like the car had in the '60s."
The trans with the 3.55:1 rearend was not freeway friendly, so he put in a TH200-4R trans with overdrive and rebuilt the rearend with original 3.23:1 gearing, but kept the Hurst shifter.
"At 70 MPH, it was pushing 3400 RPM," he said. "After the changes, it's 2000. My gas gauge loves it."
Although the car didn't have front disc brakes, they were an option that year, so Craig found ones from a GTO and installed them with a bigger power booster.
It needed a non-stock vacuum pump to work right, but he hid it in the frame rail. His car did not have optional air conditioning, so he put in a modern Vintage Air system, but original vents to install in the dash.
"Even GTO guys can't tell by the dash it didn't come with A/C," he said.
After tossing the junky aftermarket stereo the car had, he found an original slidebar AM/FM radio. Then he changed the antenna from one on the front fender to a rare, restored rear fender electric one, a factory option.
It took four years for Craig to get his Goat to where it is now. Everything has been rebuilt or replaced, including the complete interior, all the suspension, all rubber parts and even new glass.
"I used NOS parts when I could find and afford them," he said. "Otherwise I went for quality repros."
While it looks finished, he said, "It's never really done."
He takes it to cruises and shows around NorCal, including Cars and Coffee, an informal gathering of car lovers which happens from 8-10 a.m. every Saturday at the K-mart parking lot off McKnight.
Now that he's got his Goat again, he's going to ride it.
Ron Cherry's books, including the Morg Mahoney detective series, are available on Kindle and in print copy at Amazon. His new book, "The St. Nicholas Murders," is a Christmas mystery that takes place in a small town in the Sierra Foothills that is remarkably similar to Nevada City and is now out in paperback and Kindle on Amazon. Check out his website at http://www.rlcherry.com.
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