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Old 12-28-2012, 11:51 PM   #1 (permalink)
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The Way It Was

I wanted to begin a discussion about "real world" experiences before the term "muscle car" became a cult term and before these high performance cars became on par with the gold standard. My experiences fallss between the late 1970's and early 1980's. So many web sites seem to make it out that the Pontiac engine is a delicate flower and needs an assortment of aftermarket add-ons to make it live. Not so in my experiences with factory type engines, most of which were worn out already. These cars were fast in stock form and had plenty of horsepower and torque, and handled my abuse - which was all the time. Mine were always flat to the floor either smoking tires or getting me tickets.

My first car at 16 was a 1956 Pontiac 4-dr ht Chieftan with 316 CI and dual range hydramatic (4 speeds) for $150. I learned how to turn a wrench, do bodywork, smoke tires, and get tickets in this 20 year old car. The car was plenty fast at a time when speed limits were 55mph. This was the car that launched my need for speed. I used to pass everything with this car.

My first true "fast" car was a worn 1967 Firebird, $300. The car was all original except the 326 was replaced with a 350/Quadrajet. It had buckets and 3-sp manual trans. No problem spinning 6,000 RPM regularly on the Sun tach and smoking the bias ply tires through the non-posi rear. Went through a lot of right rear tires, street raced a lot of cars. My foot was always in this car and I use my cars, never babied them.

First GTO was a worn 1967 convertible, $800. The car was identical to the 1967 GTO advertisement found in National Geographic. It was Iris Mist (special order paint for 1967) with black interior, AM-FM radio. Factory 400 CI with dealer installed ram air hood & tub, 4-sp close ratio, and non-posi 3.90 gears with the factory upper and lower control arm braces. The ram air tub and 4 bbl had been replaced with a 1966 tri-power. The car had a quick repainted of navy blue. This car would pin you back in the seat. Gas mileage was 10 mpg and out went the 3.90's for 3.08's. Kept burning up the inexpensive Napa rebuilt clutch kits they used to sell back then so in went a Turbo 400. The old 4 core radiator sprung a leak on the former wife and she boiled it over, badly. So badly that it developed a rod knock. Out came the original 400 with 670 heads which eventually went to the scrapyard. Sold the tri-power for $35. The Muncie went to my brother which was ultimately stolen. I abused the heck out of this car, always smoking tires, out ran the police twice with it, and got a few tickets too. Replaced the timing chain as this was a given on any old Pontiac going over 60,000 miles. Parked the body in my yard. Meanwhile, I had bought another driver, a Canadian manufactured 1970 GTO Judge, Pepper Green, Saddle interior, 4-speed, 3.55 posi with 1972 400 -7K3 heads, $350. This one was in good shape and my favorite GTO.

I will continue the Judge story later.
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Old 12-29-2012, 07:36 AM   #2 (permalink)
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the first car I remember was my Father's 1962 Catalina with a 389 and three on the tree...bought from Clarke Pontiac in Oak Park, Illinois...he had to sell it in 1966 (my Mother had developed arthritis and could no longer operate the manual transmission) and it was purchased by a young man who planned to work it over and race it...

I recall the buyer being a mechanic type and he talked with my Father about racing and even gave us kids a lot of racing decals (I was wearing my red nylon jacket with racing stripe down one side and an STP patch on the other...I was 5...)...

I remember several guys in my neighborhood and the car wars that wen on at this bought a Chevelle, then the other bought an Impala...another bought a Tempest and they each seemed to one up each other until one bought a Corvette...then it seemed the buying stabilized and the tuning began...garage doors open and all these guys working and improving their rides...what a time...I was too young to drive then but I really enjoyed all the hustle and bustle going on instilled a love for cars...I wish the mechanical gift had happened for me...I can watch all of you work and know what you're doing but have no talent to do so myself (beyond the minor things)...I sit in awe of those of you with the mechanical gift...but what a time...

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Last edited by silversport; 12-29-2012 at 07:47 AM.
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Old 12-29-2012, 07:51 PM   #3 (permalink)
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The Way It Was Part 2

I bought the 1970 GTO Judge just over the state line in Rhode Island. It had no mufflers and was not registered. I put an old plate on it, and the wife at the time in the '67 GTO convertible followed me home to Connecticut where we lived, about a 45 minute ride. I parked it as the '67 had not yet lost its engine. When the '67 developed the rod knock, the '70 Judge was put on the road. With the 250 HP 1972 engine and 4-speed, it was no slouch. Again, tire burning performance out off it and with the front and rear sway bars of the Judge, 120 MPH on the highway was as steady as a rock. Put a Torker manifold on it and an old Thermoquad I had - "just because"- and it really woke that engine up. Gas mileage suffered and I went back to the stock manifold and Quadrajet. I drove it about 6 months and brought my first born home from the hospital in it. It got parked and I pulled the engine and trans to get the '67 GTO convertible running again.

I ran the '67 for the summer and bought a 1968 GTO, $250. It was painted light blue house paint, had rusted through in the rear quarters and trunk, and the hood was kinked. Original 400 CI with the His and Hers Turbo 400 and 3.55's. It had white interior, 8-track, and a factory hood tach. I still have the firewall data plate and vin tag. The guy sold it to me thinking the engine was blown as it had a bad skip. Found a rocker arm had slipped off, put it back on, and that worn out car would squeal tires every time on a full throttle blast when it shifted from first to second. I parked the '67 GTO again and put the '68 GTO on the road. The timing chain let go after about 3 months of hard use. I installed a new timing chain & gear set I had gotten for free. The car never would quite catch. I now suspect the set may have been earlier Pontiac with different alignment marks. It got parked and parted out. Made money on it. Meanwhile, I had bought a 1965 GTO shell,$100. No drivetrain or interior, but a perfect body and top. Originally a 389 tri-power, white body, black interior car.

I had begun to disassemble the '67 convertible to rebuild. I was at that time doing bodyshop work and had a garage at home where I could work. Sold the 1972 400 engine out of it to make a little cash flow. In my yard was now parked my 1956 Pontiac (which was out of commission due to a bad accident), 1970 GTO Judge, 1967 GTO convertible, and the recent 1968 GTO. My goal was to collect one of each year, 1965 to 1970. With the '68 down and out, I was out of a daily vehicle. Luckily, at that time, I worked 1/4 mile away at a factory. Borrowed a vehicle to go shopping. Rode my bicycle a lot! I had been bitten by the 409 bug and was in process of assembling one to go into the former wife's 1965 Chevy Impala SS convertible. I had it up and running in a couple months time. Fastest car I have ever owned. I could pull the front wheels off the ground in that convertible. The dual quads got 8-10 MPG. The stories I can tell with that car! That car would run circles around my GTO's. Many street races and tickets to boot.

I sold the '70 Judge to a guy in Massachusetts who wanted to restore it. Bought my first set of torches with the money. Sold the '65 GTO convert. to a friend who dropped in a 400 CI and 3-speed manual, and put in an interior. He sold it to another guy who wanted to restore it. The '68 GTO was parted out and scrapped. The 409 was killing me on gas, so I bought a 1973 Mercury Capri with V-6 and parked the 409 (by that time I had 4-409 engines, 3-348's, and a pile of parts). I pulled the 409 and set it in the '67 GTO convertible using Chevelle motor mounts. Got it up and running and man did it fly. Only problem was that I could not get it to shift without sever gear grinding. I had used a Chevy to Pontiac trans adapter to mate to the 3-speed Pontiac stick I had put in it. The 1/2 spacer would not allow the clutch to make a clean disengagement. Never knew they had different length pivot balls I could have gotten to cure my woes. So it never hit the road again. I kept the '56 Pontiac and found a friends yard to park it after having to sell the home and move into an apartment. I pulled the 409 and sold the '67 convert. to a truck driver and Pontiac enthusiast in Massachusetts who was going to rebuild it. The 409 would later find a home in a 1967 Delta 88 body I bought when married to my second wife.

I also had purchased a 1957 Pontiac 2-Dr Sedan with some of the money I made selling my cars. I think that was $400. It had a 347 CI and automatic. A little rough, but good from 25 feet, I installed a factory 1956 Pontiac 285 HP intake (which I still have) using one carb and one dummy carb for looks. I added a Trans-Am hood scoop, my 1956 Pontiac sunvisor, and a gold stripe down the hood of the black car. It looked "bad", and ran pretty good. Drove that for a good 9 months before getting another car and pulling the engine and trans to go into my damaged '56. Scrapped the body as it was pretty rusty. Got tired of moving the '56 Pontiac from buddies house to buddies house as they would only store it for me a few months or so. At least they tried. The car was running and I had installed a 1955 Pontiac front clip on it. Called up a friend and told him to meet me with a jug of water. I got out my camera, he in the car, and we proceeded to smoke the tires off until I hit cord. Got some great pics of that car engulfed in tire smoke. Then I called the junk man and off it went after about 10 years of ownership, 2 of them actually on the road as a driver.

Owned a few more Pontiacs, 1975 Catalina, 1977 Lemans, 1962 4-Dr with bad engine and mint black body, 1975 Lemans, and a 1977 Can-Am that was totaled in the nose. Some were drivers while others were collected and eventually sold off or scrapped. It took about 20 years to get my life in order after 2 divorces and 4 children and could actually afford to buy a "toy" to put on the road. Found a 1968 Pontiac Lemans Sport for $900, factory 350 and 3-speeed on the floor. It is beat. About 8 years ago I installed a warmed over 1972 400 with the 7K3 heads, rebuilt the front end and rear, all the brakes, and made it a dependable driver that looked good from 25 feet. It was a screamer, but never had good oil pressure. After 8 years and 25,000 hard miles, oil pressure quit. Now it is undergoing rebuild number 2. Bigger and badder than anything I have owned in the past. Also going through the body with many mods. It won't be restored to original by any means, but it will be awesome when its done. This is my 2 year project. It has only taken me 30 years to get back to performance Pontiacs!! HaHaHa. What memories.

Last edited by PontiacJim; 01-04-2013 at 06:16 PM.
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Old 12-29-2012, 09:52 PM   #4 (permalink)
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My first car was a 63 Ford Galaxie 500 XL with a 390, second was a 65 Impala SS with a 396, traded the Impala in on a new 69 Z28 Camaro. The Z28 got hit hard in the rear at a traffic light when it had about 5,000 miles on it, so after insurance settlement went and bought my first Pontiac. It was a new 69 GTO and I absolutely fell in love with it. Guess I got bit by the Pontiac bug early on and have had several since then and now in the process of buying a 69 GTO Ram Air III. Great cars and lot of memories for sure.
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Old 12-30-2012, 01:13 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Great Posts, and thanks for sharing. JIm, you and I came of age in the same era. I will respectfully decline from sharing most of my history in the early days. Let's just say that tire changes were as frequent as new u-joints, and transmission/clutch replacement/repair was as commonplace as my visits to traffic court. My very first car? A faded out, platinum silver '66 GTO 4 speed hardtop with a black gut, console, gauges, and wooden shift knob that I traded my RD350 Yamaha for at an all night party. It had a junkyard '67 400 and a 3.55 posi, and it was a real terror. Just one ride in that car caused 3 of my friends to go out and buy their own GTO's!!
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Old 01-13-2013, 07:18 PM   #6 (permalink)
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I have owned many cars, as evidence of my photos, but Pontiacs have always been my preference. I read many articles,books,posts,blogs, and websites that seem to make out that the Pontiac engine has several "weak" spots that need to be addressed when building up an engine. Here is my two cents worth.

The "old" Pontiacs are not as the new generation of cars are. You were doing good to get 90,000 miles out of a non-performance car engine, and even then it was probably a real oil burner. The hi-performance GTO's, Firebird's,2+2's, etc. were lucky to get 60,000 on the engine if you were one for using it. This is why so many had their original engines replaced. I always see that it is said the rods are weak. In a stock 400 engine, which was rated at 5,200 RPM and 5,400 for the Ram Air the stock rods (in my experience) are not a problem. It is only when you plan on building more HP, bigger cubes, and higher RPM's that the rods may become questionable and for security a set of aftermarket steel rods might be in order. I had a rod bearing let go once, not the rod, because the engine had a lot of hard miles on it and I added to them, so no surprise here. But, the engines are still pretty tough in stock form.

I installed a1972 400 CI with 7K3 heads rated at 250 HP with 8.2 compression in my 1967 GTO convertible. One of the best engines I experienced with plenty of power to smoke tires and pull like a bear, all on lower compression. One night I was fit to be tied mad and decided to take it out on the car. I did not care if I blew the engine, as that was part of my aim. I recall smoking the tires through first and rowing through the 4-speed with command. I watched the tach needle swing past 7,200 RPM in every of the first 3 gears, came to a panic screeching stop, and repeated. Might have done a couple doughnuts too. Did this for about 20 minutes. The engine was so hot when I finally stopped that the exhaust manifolds glowed a deep red in the darkness and I boiled the anti-freeze out of the 4 core radiator. That engine was popping and banging as the metal was cooling. After I cooled down and the engine cooled down, I added 2 1/2 gallons of water and drove home. Drove that car for months with no problems and sold the engine to another GTO guy.

One of my theories is that lower compression exerts less force/pressure on the rod bearings and they last a little longer. High compression squeeze engines put added pressure on the rods bearings and they wear out sooner - given the factory RPM's are observed. I have never heard of a rod going bad, just its bearings. Now if you spin it way past its factory RPM range, you may have a rod failure, but I have never experienced this in all the Pontiacs I have tortured. So if you are on budget, prep your stock rods using better aftermarket rod bolts and let it go at that. Cast pistons are fine as well if you don't plan on going crazy with RPM's. Never had a problem with them. And, you won't have to spend extra money on re-balancing your engine. Built my last engine, by chance a 1972 400 CI/7K3 heads, on a budget using stock rods, cast replacement pistons with a good cam & valve springs. Spun 5,700 RPM when I wanted to really lean on it and it had plenty of pull. You don't have to build a 500 HP engine to make you Pontiac go fast, the factory guys knew what they were doing.
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Old 01-14-2013, 10:54 AM   #7 (permalink)
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A couple of things: I have seen and worked on a TON of Pontiac engines with over 150,000 miles on the clock that still ran well, as long as the timing chain had been serviced in the first 50-70k miles. My '67 GTO had 173,000 miles on it when I tore it down for its first rebuild, and it didn't actually need a rebuild. It was all in spec except for burnt exhaust valves. These were high nickel blocks, and well made, and have and do go the distance if maintained. I have seen Pontiac rods break in half. A friend had a '67 GTO and that is what happened. Absolutely destroyed the engine. My take is this: Pontiacs are able to rev much easier and higher than is good for them. They can wind up there like a small block Chevy, but can't hold together at those RPMS. So, rev-limiters and aftermarket rods are a good idea.
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Old 01-14-2013, 11:54 AM   #8 (permalink)
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I was born in the wrong ERA! Lol... My 1st car was an '87 GTA Trans Am. At age 19. (26 now)

Thats Probably why I have a SBC in my car. Cause I havent really got to experience a true fine tuned pontiac engine yet. Until I got my Lemans I didnt really know there was a huge difference. The 326 that was in it left a bad taste in my mouth cause it leaked everything it could leak. Didnt run well either but come to find out it was a number of things wrong as far as setup. Relatively stock 326 with a single plane intake on it and the carb wasnt opening the 4bbl all the way.

Hoping to someday build a mild 455. See what happens.
Jarred "Hot Rod" |1970 Pontiac LeMans Sport | Just a 350...
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Old 01-16-2013, 01:37 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Thanks Pontiacjim for starting this thread
Brings back a lot of memories of my younger days.
My dad moved our family to a small town in the N.W. corner of Wa. state in 1954. His first job out here was working as a painter for a Pontiac, Buick dealership. I remember him bringing home die cast model cars for the upcoming new model year, he would give one to each of us boys.
I got a slide somewhere of his 1957 yellow and white Pontiac 2 door hardtop, it was a pretty car, lots of stainless and chrome.
In around 1958 he quit working for the dealership and opened a body shop in a old Richfield station adjacent to the Pontiac dealership. I can remember him working on a lot of Pontiacs in those early days.
I started working at his shop sometime in the early 60s. After school instead of getting on the bus , I would walk the couple of blocks to his shop, seemed like he always had something that needed wet sanding.
When a truck load of new Pontiacs showed up the truck would park right out in front of my dads shop. I can still remember, like it was yesterday, the day the dealership received their first GTO. It was bright red 2 door hard top , created quit a stir in our small town. Back then everyone in town knew if someone had a new car coming in.

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Old 01-16-2013, 10:58 AM   #10 (permalink)
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My first street ride was a Honda 550 super sport.
I wasn't allowed to get a car till after I was 18 and out of the house.
My first car was a `67 VW bug.
My first ride in a GTO was a friend of my dad who had a `70 GTO and he had a spare engine in the trunk. I remember him doing a hole shot and from the back seat I could only see sky!! I knew I had to have one one day.

Restoration pictures password is 'GTO'
Burn-out videos.
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