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How to restore a GTO in 25 easy steps     by Sean Mattingly, who knows it ain't that easy

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Rough draft as of 3/99.  Most of the text was
provided by the members of the GTO Email List on the Internet.
Don't be confused:  Where you see the word "I" in the text,
it does not refer to Sean.  This is a compilation of many
people's ideas.  This document is unfinished.  Please
contribute to it.  Send your ideas to Sean@UltimateGTO.com
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Let's assume you have just gotten a GTO. You have verified it is a real GTO by checking the VIN number through Pontiac Historic Services.

Now, you're on your way to restoring the car!

The most important thing you gotta do is THINK. Before you turn that first bolt, think about the beginning of this restoration. You will find the hardest most gut-wrenching decision you will make.

Examine the condition of the car carefully. Put on your thinking cap. Let's figure out what the finished car will be used for:

(A)  A rarely-driven car that could take honors at ANY show.
     This car will probably remain in a garage most every night.
     (25 steps for this)
 
(B)  A driver.  You will drive the car several days per week.
     You will leave the car outside in the driveway quite often.
     The car will get rained on and/or snowed on occasionally.
     It will sometimes be parked in a supermarket parking lot
     among the shopping carts.
     (25 steps for this)
 
(C)  A fixer-upper to resell.  (25 steps for this)


The first step should be deciding how far into the car you really want to go. You don't want to start a frame-off type (A) restoration only to decide six months later you just wanted a driver.

Next you need to go over the car completely and write down everything you're going to need to fix the car to the point you want it (type A or B) If you don't do this you may end up in way over your head. One easy way to do this is to pick up a Year One restoration parts catalog. Start at the beginning of the catalog and ask yourself "Does my car need one of these?" "How about one of these?"

Be realistic and only put down that you need the part if you really do (unless you're doing a complete resto and you have stacks of cash), this list will add up into large amounts of money very quickly. Once you have done that you should have inspected almost every part of your car and you should have a pretty good idea how much it will take to get your car to the point you want it. Then ask yourself, "Can I really afford to do this?" You may have to spread the restoration out over a few years, even for just a type (B) driver.

Note that doing a car to be a type (A) will usually require more money than the car is worth. This is an important point to ponder. If you were to take a notepad and write down all the parts, supplies, and incidental costs of making a car a type (A), it will add up to more money than what a normal buyer would give you for the car at the end. If you're comfortable with being on the minus side of this equation, go ahead, make a type (A) car. You'll enjoy driving it and showing it. You'll probably KEEP it.

Don't forget, you will need to add in things like any labor that you will farm out, glass, tires, paint and chrome plating.

And I agree, don't get in over your head. If you can't do the work, you might want to just look to buy a driver and sell your project.

It took longer, but one person said they learned how to restore a GTO: "I started by rebuilding a LeMans to learn about the car, *then* I was ready to get a GTO and restore it."

I would recommend that you join all the groups. The Pontiac Oakland Club International (?is that correct, International?) abbreviated POCI. The GTO Association Of America abbreviated GTOAA. Also join a local GTO club. You will make friends who share your common interest. Don't be surprised when they offer to come over to your house and disgnose a GTO problem for free. (Or maybe costing a 6-pack of beer)

Do as much of the mechanical restoration/fixing as you possibly can BEFORE doing any of the cosmetic stuff.

I asked the members of the GTO email list for their input on this. No matter whether your car fits description (A), (B), or (C), someone jokingly mentioned the first step should be:

1. Get money. Lots of money.  It's even better if your wife can work two jobs to support you and your car "habit"!

The above suggestion is not too far off the mark. You have a Pontiac GTO. Parts are not cheap. Sure, there are reproduction parts you can get, but they are by no means plentiful or cheap. If you want to restore a car on a very limited budget, pick a more common everyday car like the Ford Mustang. Reproduction parts have been available for the Mustang for many more years. The parts are much cheaper and plentiful. I have found that it is about 60% cheaper to restore a Mustang to completion. Let's say you are not scared to open up your wallet and empty it quite often. You are a brave GTO restorer. Read on.

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Stuff common to ALL restorations:
====================================================

Information is important. Get GTO books, get as many as you can afford and get good ones. Some recommended books would be:

1964-74 GTO Factory Service Manual, Owners Manual, and Brochure. (contingent on the year you own)
Complete Guide to GTO's 1964-74, it has everything you need in it, with pictures, it shows differences between a 68 and a 69 speedometer etc.
How to fix up old cars by Roi something, a good general auto- motive restoration book, it tells you about typical problem areas on older cars, some of which you might overlook.
GTO ID Numbers, helps tell you what you just bought.
Subscription(s) to Pontiac magazines, for encouragement.
Company catalogs such as Year One, The Paddock, Performance Years, Eastwood, and Original Parts Group (O.P.G.)

TIP: GTO books can be purchased online at The Ultimate GTO Picture Site. In association with Amazon Books, most titles are available at a discount on the section called GTO Bookstore. The place to go is... http://UltimateGTO.com

Get LOTS of business cards from swap meet vendors, especially POR-15 guys and parts guys. In some parts of the country, it is rare to see a Pontiac at swap meets, so going cross country for parts is the rule rather than exception.

A little help from your significant other always helps, even if its just words of encouragement. (Some spouses and old cars just do NOT mix for some reason)

It seems to me that they all would need the brakes, suspension, exhaust, etc. work. The driver may need some extra mechanical stuff (engine/tranny rebuild, etc), some amount of interior fixing (headliner, carpet) and maybe a paint job. The same goes for the show car, except the show car would need additional interior/exterior work and maybe some extra detailing on getting the "right" parts along the way.

Don't start something you haven't the ability to finish.

Join the GTO Email list. Members of the list discuss GTO restoration topics non-stop. They know everything from tire sizes to compression ratios. To join Peter Howey's High Octane GTO email list, go to... http://www.kirtland.cc.mi.us/stimpy/gto/

* Don't try to save money by getting a cheap car, in the long run you won't....
* If it's your first rebuild, don't tear the car apart all together, go step by step, engine this year, paint next year etc.
* Most important; build the car for your own pleasure, no one elses... (just as long you stay away from the ch*vy-parts  :-)  )
* Don't forget room. You will need lots of room and empty boxes to store parts in.

Let's tackle the first one...

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(A), building a rarely-driven car that could take honors at
    ANY show.
======================================================================

I am building a '64 GTO that some people would consider a "trailer-queen". This car is going through a complete frame off restoration and I've gone so far as to even paint things like the brake springs the right colors. BUT.....Just because this car is going to be a perfect as I have the ability to make it does not mean that it will ever see the floor of my car trailer. I plan to drive this car as much as I have my Firebird and that is a lot (8 different states so far).

So, just because someone restores their car to "trailer-queen" status, does not mean that their car is in fact a trailer queen. I simply want my car to be as nice as the day it left the factory. After-all, the day it left the factory it was in trailer-queen status, but it still got driven, and that's what I intend to do with mine. It'll even see time on the strip, restored brake springs and all.

For a 30 year old car, I would expect that a show car would require a frame up restoration, unless it is in really incredible shape. My Dad used to have a 1960 Corvette that was a real show-quality car; you could eat dinner off the frame. He also had a driver-quality car, and you could really see the difference in the way he treated them. The show car got the best of everything, the driver got maintenance. Drivers and fixer-uppers just need to me mechanically sound, while show cars need to be excellent in every detail.

Show car usually is able to be taken off the road for a while, disassembled, and then re-assembled, i.e. a 'frame off' restoration. safety stuff takes a lesser priority than it would if you have to drive the car. Also, it's a lot easier to do a show restoration than a driver restoration, because the more you drive, the more stuff is prone to break and the more likely some !#!@#!%$#% is to hit you with a shopping cart at the grocery store.

Steps:

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10. etc...

Next let's look at doing...

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(B) A driver.  You probably will drive the car at least 4 days
    per week.
==============================================================

You might want to start by reading this moving testament to our favorite muscle car. It is a source of inspiration. The following was written by a guy named Jason...

I have a 1967 Pontiac GTO. In it's day, the king of the road. The Great One. The muscle car that every other muscle car followed after. GTOs are IT. They are the beginning and the end of everything having to do with what's fast, beautiful, and intimidating. This is why I cannot understand why some choose to make, what I refer to, is a life-sized model out of their GTO. In other words, a 'trailer queen'. A GTO that is not to be driven is not a real GTO at all because of what that car stands for. It's literally like having a stuffed tiger on your porch. It's dead, so who cares. It needs to roam free on Woodward, manhandling all in it's path. People have to listen to, and learn to respect and fear the true bad ass that it is. When I get in my car, after busting knuckles (among other things) and start that thing up, I swear to God-sometimes I almost start to tear up. It's the most beautiful sound in the world. If I couldn't hear it and drive it, I'd rather not have it. The paint's not great and no, I can't comb my hair in the reflection of the frame, but my goat and I are ONE (don't tell my wife that). I know I'm rambling like a psycho but you have to drive those cars! Get that engine right first. Don't worry about anything else until that's perfect. Then do your brakes, shocks, and front end-in that order. Take her out and drive her-fix the rest as it comes. The car's 31 years old, so it'll always be something. Most of all, get her out on the road. If you don't, you're missing the whole point. - Jason

Amen!

Some needs for a driver/fixer-upper (no particular order)

- pan to catch oil drippings under the motor
- time
- patience (don't know how many times I've screwed
  things up by being in a hurry)
- a place to park it for the winter
- AAA Plus (really, it's saved me a couple of times)


Really what works for me is taking out the engine, painting the car, then doing the interior, and putting back in the engine. I know this is pretty simplified, but it's really the process I think about when buying a car or restoring one.

It depends on how much time you want to spend if you're going to do it yourself. I'm doing a 1968 ragtop right now. I didn't pull the chassis because the frame and underbody was in great shape. I sandblasted it all with a $60 sandblasting gun and a 5hp compressor. I started it in Nov '97 and I spent every weekend in the garage. Didn't think I would ever see the light at the end of the tunnel. After you sandblast you have to go with a etching primer. I used Dupont which I wouldn't use again. I found out after I had the bottom done that if you left it out in the rain it would rust. I think Ditzler makes an etching primer that won't rust. Over that I'm spraying a urethane primer. Both are quite pricey at $139.00 a gallon and urethane is $195.00 a gallon. On the body I used aircraft stripper along with sandblasting. BE SURE THAT YOU TAPE YOUR SEAMS if you go with a stripper or else it will bleed out after you have the job finished. Good luck. This is what I did which worked out for me.

The third type of car we are looking at is the...

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(C)  A fixer-upper to resell.  (25 steps for this)
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Mostly, you will want to present a clean car to the prospective buyer.

Steps:
1. Clean the engine and undercarriage with steam. Then detail the engine compartment, painting anything that looks rusty or old.
2. Jump in the interior and clean the vinyl with protectant. While you're in there, replace the carpet if needed. It's only $99, so why not?
3. Give the car a tune-up. If you have a badly-running engine, you will be faced with explaining the engine problem to the buyer. He will offer you less money for the car. If you think you'll lose a significant amout of money on the deal, spend what it costs to fix the engine to good running condition.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10. etc...

How not to SCREW UP!
====================

Some cars get stuck in garages for many years. A lot of people I know get overwhelmed by starting too many things at once, then they get discouraged altogether. By doing things step by step you get to look forward to your next "project" but may still have the ability to drive your vehicle between steps and get that enjoyment that makes you want to go to the next step.


Free shipping on all orders over $50 at Eastwood!
Handy restoration supplies for a GTO
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Air compressor (get the biggest one you can affford)
Welder. Jon Hare (jon.hare@snet.net) of Advantage Sheet Metal Mfg. suggests the following: "For garage welders, go with a 250 amp tig welder. Tig is definately the way to go, just a little practice to fill seams right. Also, 250 amp should be enough for the larger jobs."
POR-15 coating (expensive but worth it)
Parts cleaner fluid (you're soaking in it! Ha ha!)
Zip-Lock baggies for storing parts in (Label each one now)

[I need more suggestions on supplies]

FEEDBACK: Added 9/10/98

From Robert J. Smith (rjjsmith@ix.netcom.com) of Carol Stream Illinois who says:

Sean - As I prepare to restore the '65 convertible I recently bought, I pulled up "your" 25 easy steps. Though incomplete, I found it somewhat helpful. Most importantly, it prompted me to think through the various phases and steps of my own work. I am attaching a copy (of mine to) use as you see fit. A couple of words.

One, I would reorder some of the work if I had more space and/or wasn't starting this going into the winter months. Second, though I haven't inserted any time frames for each task, I expect to take about eighteen months to do all this. Afterall, I have to make the money I plan to sink into this puppy.

ROBERT'S ACTION PLAN

GTO Restification

 

 

Phase/Task Sequence

Time -

Weeks

Time-

frame

Cost

($ís)

Comments
Phase I: Disassembly: RemoveÖ
  1. Obtain Phase I & II needs, including manuals
  2. Body bolts
  3. Bumper and rear assemblage
  4. Interior and move to Momís
  5. All trim (labeled)
  6. Engine and trans; move to Momís
  7. Convertible Frame
  8. Remove front clip and doors
  9. File-out hood scoop
  10. Take sheet metal & convertible frame to Chuck
  11. Empty/air gas tank
  12. Discard exhaust system
  13. Make appoint for sandblaster
       

 

 

POR, air compressor, etc

Except #2 RH and #7 LH

 

Phase II: Preparation:

  1. Order Phase III parts
  2. Tow car to sandblaster then Chuck, then home
  3. Order sheet-metal as needed
  4. Weld in z-bar assembly (Chuck to do)
  5. Sand and clean frame/suspension
  6. Block up and remove wheels
  7. Paint frame
  8. Get/paint convertible frame
  9. Clean and paint interior components
       
 

Phase III. Rebuild Chassis

  1. Replace rear drum brakes
  2. Install front disk conversion kit
  3. Replace brake lines
  4. Install poly-graphite suspension
  5. Install steering box
  6. Put temporary wheels/tires on
  7. Replace fuel line/clean gas tank
  8. Replace exhaust system
  9. Get parts re-chromed
       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bumper, dash, door handles et

 

 

Time -

Weeks

Time-

frame

Cost

($ís)

Comments
Phase IV: Body Ė Part One
  1. Mount body to frame
  2. Replace rubber/weather-stripping
  3. Mount convertible frame to body
  4. Repair/install convertible top motor
  5. Install rear bumper.
  6. Polish all glass
  7. Install remote mirrors.
       
 

Phase V: Electrical

  1. Install rally gauges/dash/switches
  2. Replace radio
  3. Take in AC Components for re-build
  4. Run wire harnesses
  5. Hook-up dash, back-up lights, run leads, etc
  6. Obtain, begin installation of electronic ignition
  7. Order engine rebuild kit
       
 

Phase VI: Drive Train

  1. Take in heads/tri-power
  2. Take in four-speed for re-build or trade
  3. Have block honed
  4. Rebuild block/assemble motor
  5. Install motor/transmission
  6. Install linkage and shifter
  7. Connect electrical to engine/install sensors
  8. Install/hook up cooling
  9. Connect brakes
  10. Connect exhaust
  11. Order interior
  12. Install (rough) AC unit
       

 

 

Need cam/lifters for tri-power

 

 

Phase/Task Sequence

Time -

Weeks

Time-

frame

Cost

($ís)

Comments
Phase VII: Body Ė Revisited
  1. Order interior components
  2. Complete windshield/wiper unit
  3. Install front clip and front bumper
  4. Mount good wheels/tires
  5. Install Ram Air
  6. Replace all emblems
       
 

Phase VIII: Interior

  1. Replace panels with wiring
  2. Install carpet
  3. Install console
  4. Recover/install seats
  5. Install visors, belts, glove, etc
  6. Install trim, handles, grab bar, etc
  7. Wood wheel
       
 

Phase IX: Drive

       


Vance (Vanmor@aol.com) says there is a fourth kind of car to restore. He comments:

You left out one type of car. The flogger. I consider my '68 a flogger because the kid that had it before me used it strictly as a hot rod. The car has been run hard and put up wet. I want to drive my car and tromp on the throttle. I even plan on taking it to a local 1/8 mile strip and give it a run. Most of all, my car or project is originally intended to draw attention to the "PARENT PROJECT". I have seen many cars on your picture site that are major street pounders. I bet some of these people have more money than a good restore can cost. I am glad to see that there are enough GTO owners that are willing to restore and trailer these cars. I'm glad there are people who are willing to have daily drivers. I'm also glad there are people like Randy Adler who kick but daily in the street and strip wars. ( Randy runs an OLDS engine. At least he didn't run a Che*#@$%.) Most of all Sean, you know how it is with a car like mine. It is the type of project that can easily go any of the ways mentioned. I will flog the car for a little while and then consider a frame off restoration after I get a new house. Just a few personal comments.


11/98. I just heard about some restoration project management software called AutoResto. Their web site has screen shots from the program. Go to http://www.wyattcon.net/autorest.htm
4/99. I just got a message from The Bushleys (bushley@zigs.net) which reads:
(1) After you have bought your GTO you need to buy your other half something they want to keep the peace.
(2) The next important thing to buy is a PARTS CAR!!!! Preference should be given to the same year, or group of years i.e. 66-67 or 68-69. This is for those little nuts, bolts, and screws that you WILL lose (MURPHY'S LAW). Also this is for "I don't remember how this went back together because I took it apart 6 months ago."

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END OF ROUGH DRAFT
Send your ideas to Sean@UltimateGTO.com
The most current version of this document is available at
http://UltimateGTO.com
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Here's a comment from a recent visitor...
Says Greg Tuggle (XXtremePlayer.@AOL.COM) - "The G.T.O. is the Holy Grail of car ownership. I've never seen one except at shows, and with any luck, I'll own one before the end of the world."