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The Ultimate Pontiac GTO Picture Site By Sean Mattingly.
There's no bigger GTO image collection anywhere!
FRAME-OFF RESTORATION GALLERY
Let's do a frame-off on a 1969 GTO hardtop
In words and pictures.
This is a rare treat. This is probably the first web site EVER to show you step-by-step
how to do a frame-off restoration on a GTO. And most people would agree that car magazines
only scratch the surface of this lengthy subject with their black-and-white photos. Dan
Zabetakis (DAN@cbmse.nrl.navy.mil) shows us the guts of his 1969 GTO in living color. He's two
years into the restoration, and totally blew his estimated cost of $22,000. The current running
total is $56,000. He tells us in his own words - how he did it...
I took possession of my 1969 GTO hardtop on June 12, 1998. The previous owner
said that the car was purchased from Admiral Pontiac in Glen Burnie, MD,
in 1969, and has never been more that 50 miles from where is was built.
He bought the car from the original owner in the early 80's, and used
it as a teen-age hotrod. He sold it to a friend in the 90's, but
subsequently bought it back. I am the fourth owner, or the third
different person to own it.
I shopped around with some expert assistance. An expert, if you know
one, can be invalueable. My restorer is a semi-pro. He's done several
full restorations, and many partials, with lots of body work experience.
Even if you have a critical eye, it can be hard to pick out the damage
and rust without the experience of having torn apart several cars. We
looked at a 1967 Firebird that seemed to me to be in fine shape. A
little rust here and there. My friend said it wasn't, and proceeded to
point out a dozen problems that I had overlooked. He showed me where
the quarter panels had had polyurethane foam sprayed up under, no doubt
to keep them from falling off due to rust. The paint had bubbled up in
several places, which my friend said was a sign that the car had
been given a recent paint job (it did look nice) to obscure the fact
that it was about to fall apart.
We settled on the GTO.
It was in somewhat rough shape. Some rust was
apparent, but not as much as could have been in a Maryland car. There
were dings and dents apparent throughout most of the car, which isn't
unusul in hotrodded cars. My friend was mostly impressed with the
engine, which ran smoothly and powerfully, and showed signs of having
been cared for. The exhaust was a newish flowmaster setup with 3" pipes.
The interior was servicable, but needed new carpet and headliner at
least. The overall shape was fair. The cost was $3,400. The estimate
for restoration was $20,000.
We have liftoff.
First Inspection -- As soon as the previous owner was out of the way we started a complete
inspection of the car inside and out. Most of the trim had been removed
from the car, but was provided in boxes.
The interior was in variable condition. The carpet had been replaced,
but never secured or properly molded. It was loose and ragged. Same
was true for the headliner. One door panel had been off the car for
some time. The seats were in acceptable shape, but would definately need
to be replaced when the rest of the car gets in great shape. No concrete
plan for the interior at this time. Perhaps I would change to a lighter
color to keep the interior from heating up too badly in the sun. The
car does not have A/C, but we can remedy that.
The dash was cracked, as is not unusual in 30-year-old cars.
Aftermarket gauges had been added but they didn't work. In fact, none
of the instrument panel seemed to work. The speedometer was inaccurate.
One defect of concern was cracks appearing through the paint at the
joint between the quarter panels and the roof. Dave said that the
cracking is due to filler separating from the metal. We knew we would
be replacing the quarter panels, but these cracks caused two worries.
First, the crack indicated that there was excessive filler used in
this joint, meaning that we don't know how much damage it is covering.
Secondly, replacement quarter panels available today do not come up
all the way to the joint.
The roof itself is not perfectly smooth. It has some "oil canning".
These are slight depressions in the metal that are hard to remove.
They come, according to Dave, from someone standing on the car or
storing heavy things on it.
Another area of concern is the tail light lens bezels. Replacements
for these are not produced, and they are supposed to be chromed. Mine
are rather unfortunately pitted and corroded. According to some GTO
guys, this is a big weak spot in GTO restoration. Bezels in good shape
and rare and very expensive. No decision on what to do about these.
Perhaps they could be painted body-color and black rather than chrome.
This is where tranditionalist restorers are going to start getting
uppity. My plan is to replace the stock Rally IIs with modern thin
five-spoke wheels. Something like the SLP 17X9.5s that they put on
their cars. This issue is left pending for now. There will be plenty
of time to worry about that.
The wheels on my car are pretty ugly, but fixable. A little surface
rust and paint deterioration are the main problems. That and the fact
that some lug nuts and some center caps are missing.
Also visible is rust damage around the wheel well. If you look closely
at about 10 o'clock from the wheel is a cluster of holes in the panel
from where a dent was pulled. The quarters were full of this sort
of minor half-repaired damage.
The underside is in relatively good shape. There is only limited
physical or rust damage to the frame and underside components. The exhaust
system, with 3" pipes is in fine shape. The previous owner said that
he had replaced the rear end with one from a Chevelle. He provided the
orignal rear end. The suspension is completely worn out, and probably
should have been replaced years ago. The tranmission cover is not
the original, but the orignal with matching numbers was provided. It
had been repaired when (somehow) two flanges were broken off.
My plan calls for the replacement of the four-speed with a modern
six speed overdrive manual transmission.
Next up: The first (and only) test drive.
The engine was a little dusty, and showed some rust around the
headers, but was otherwise in good shape and clean. To people who
have not been around hot rods a lot (such as myself) the Pontiac
400 is an amazingly powerful engine. It's hard to imagine that
engines of this size were common once. The three inch exhaust really
lets it breathe too. Gun the engine and it blows small pebbles down
My plan for the engine is to upgrade to the Edelbrock Performer RPM
setup. That should cost about $2500 for the heads, intake, carburetor,
and assorted gaskets and connectors. I also plan to put in a Ram Air
IV setup. I'm pretty dubious of the claims made by Pontiac on the
performance enhancement of the Ram Air (then or now), but I want to
put a Ram Air decal on the hood scoops (and make them functional) and
I wouldn't want to fake it. I object, on principal, to cars that
have hood scoops or other features that are not functional. That
Once we get the engine apart, we'll decide if it needs any machine
work. Either way we'll have it "hot tanked" and all cleaned up; and
then do a complete rebuild. I'm not going to paint it Pontiac Engine
Blue, which I hate, but either red, orange or yellow depending on
what the body color is. I want to paint as much as possible of the
engine compartment the same as the body. Add stainless steel hoses,
and it should look pretty good.
We took it out the day after purchase. The first discovery I made
was that I cannot drive a manual. It's really not as easy as I thought
to get moving in first without stalling. Stalling is something I'm
particularly good at. Dave drove the car out to an industrial site
where we had lots of empty parking lots and roads to practice on. This
GTO really moves.
After a bit of practice, I stalled it out and it wouldn't restart.
We tried to push-start it, but were facing uphill and couldn't get it
going fast enough. After a long while of fooling with various things
Dave (who showed remarkable foresight by stashing a big toolbox in the
truck before we left) hotwired it. The probability, he said, was that
the starter solenoid was just too hot, and the wait cooled it down
enough to work.
Dave took over and we drove around for a bit until we heard a
popping sound when Dave did a hard shift into fourth. Thereafter it
wouldn't go into fourth, and we limped over to Dave's brother's place
which was nearby. After jacking the car up, and much discussion they
decided it was the sychronizer. Oh, well. I wasn't unduely upset as I
had already decided to replace the transmission anyway. We limped back
over to Dave's on the back streets (with 4.10:1 in the rear it wouldn't
go too fast).
I had planned to spend a few more days driving it, but there seemed
now no reason to delay. We plunged right into the dissasembly.
While Dave finished up the metalwork on a 1969 Camaro, I set about
taking out the seats, trim and bumpers. The first thing I observed was
that there is an astonishing number of different parts in an automobile.
Be sure to bag and keep together all the little parts and fasteners
that are under, around, between or attached to the bigger stuff that
you think of as "a car."
The front floor pans look in pretty good shape, but there was enough
rust, particularly around the braces to warrant their replacement. Note
the piece of grey metal that had been crudely riveted over one brace.
The rear seat area was in good shape. The seatbelts had been put in
bags and stashed under the seat. They still showed signs of age, so that
was done either after the car was ten years old or so, or aged anyway
with the rest of the car. Someone, nevertheless, had thought of a
restoration for this car before. A total of $0.23 was found under the
seats and carpet.
The parts of the disassembly that I did took about 12 hours over
several days. I left the engine removal and electrical system for
Dave. Removing the glass from the side rear was a real challenge.
I'm sure there is an easy way to do it, but I didn't find it. Moments
before reaching for a hammer, I got it out.
Note the shop dog in the foreground. Incompetant photography. This
is why I'll never get my car into Hot Rod Magazine.
Nice shot of the engine compartment. By this time I'm getting
pretty sick of taking cars apart. Fourtunately, Dave takes over at
From here the tear-down becomes more complicated and difficult. Dave
removed the engine and exhaust, the drivetrain, and electrical system,
taking note of where everything was installed and connected.
The engine and front fenders have been removed.
Close up shot of the right front brake and suspension. I'm going to
add front disk brakes. I would like to add disk brakes to the rear too,
but that is more involved, and I don't know if it would be worth the
expense. During the short test drive, one thing I did notice was that
the brakes were pretty vague. I'll probably also add a power brake
booster. That and the disks should give me some nice sharp stopping
Close up of the rear suspension and some bad rust damage on the
inner wheel well. The suspension seems completely sprung. I'm not
an expert, but I don't think the shock absorbers should come completely
down when the car is supported by the frame, especially when there are
not wheels installed. But I may be wrong. Also visible is the GM 12-bolt
rear end. We had the cover off to count the gear teeth to verify that
it was a 4.10:1. It was. It had 41 teeth on one gear, and 10 on the
Here it is, Poncho Fans! This is a genuine numbers-matching Pontiac
400. Not bad for a 30-year-old engine, huh?
Same engine, different view.
A view of the business end of the carburetor. The carburetor was
certainly one of the most complicated parts of cars until the advent
of microprocessor control. In essence it is an analog computer. It takes
input from the gas pedal and from how hard the engine is working (via
the vacuum pressure) and calculates how much air and fuel to let in.
If it weren't for the easy sophistication of microprocessor controls,
we would have seen the carb take on the requirements of fuel economy
and pollution control over the last 30 years. I wonder what it would
look like if multi-point fuel injection were done purely by mechanical
After disassembly was completed, the car was taken to a local shop
that does media blasting. To assure that the bottom of the body and the
top of the frame were well blasted, Dave lifted the body off and added
spacers. They charged $100 per hour, and clocked 14 hours on my GTO,
so it isn't cheap. But there probably isn't a better way to remove the
paint, grease, grime and rust from the whole car all at once. Even
better, it removed body filler from wherever it had been used.
This shows the car after the blasting. Note the spacers between the
body and the frame. Since the quarter panels were going to be replaced
we saved some money by not having them blast there. That's Dave behind
the car. Further incompetant photography.
Here is the front interior looking almost surgically clean.
The rear interior. The black stuff on the floor is the blasting
media. By this time the car had been primered, so the stuff you are
seeing was originally trapped behind the wheel well, and blown out when
Dave started working on the quarters.
Only trailer queens have undersides this clean. Note the driveshaft
loop. As you can see it was welded on, but not very completely. In
fact, Dave said it could just about be pulled off by hand when he
removed it. We'll put it back on, and secure it better.
Front end all cleaned up. Gone is 30 years of grease and grime. We'll
be modifying the firewall to accomodate air conditioning. Yeah, I
know it's not original, but I have no intention of driving around in
a car with a black interior in 95 degree heat and 100% humidity.
Close up of the front end. Compare to previous picture of the same
area to get a feel for how well the blasting removed the paint and
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