By Brian Earnest
Mike Bruck’s long love affair with his 1968 Pontiac GTO isn’t one of those “love at first sight” stories. Truth be told, Bruck didn’t even really want to buy a new GTO, and the one he wound up getting wasn’t even his first choice among some slim pickings on the new car lot.
“I actually had to buy one. I was involved in a mishap and was without a car, so I had to go buy a new one,” Bruck recalled. “It was at the end of the year and the ’69s were not out yet, so we had to buy what was available on the lot. I bought this one off the lot.”
If he had more cars to pick from, Bruck admits he might never have gone home with the handsome gold-and-black hardtop coupe. And he says he definitely wouldn’t have gone home with it if he had just $250 more in his pocket. “I was GTO shopping or Firebird shopping. It was between this one and another GTO,” he said. “The other one was a red one and it was a Ram Air II and it had disc brakes, which was a rare option in 1968. But it was like $250 more, and $250 was a lot of money. A lot of money. I paid $3,347 and change for this one and took it home right off the lot.”
The story certainly has a happy ending. Bruck’s GTO has never been far from his side for the past 43 years, going with him as he criss-crossed the country for a series of job-related moves. Eventually, he took the car all apart and embarked on a lengthy restoration that finally concluded in the late 1990s. The car is a stellar specimen today with hardly a flaw to be found anywhere — even in the car’s original interior.
Bruck is a Pontiac fanatic who has bought and sold plenty of nice collector cars in the years since he bought his GTO, which partly explains the car’s fantastic condition. For the first couple years he had it, though, the “Goat” was Bruck’s daily driver and weekend quarter-mile drag car. “It was just normal driving, summers, no winters, because I had a second car for winter,” he said. “I put about 10 or 12,000 miles on it then. The rest have been since then. And I used to race it, but after the first couple years I just babied it, so to speak, and then it sort of sat around for many years. That’s why I had to refinish it — because we used to just throw boxes on top of it.”
Bruck bought the car when he lived in Ohio and it followed him to Wisconsin, then to Florida, then Michigan, then back to Deland, Fla., where he now lives with his wife, Laura. All the while the car was still in good original shape, but growing older as the years went by.
Bruck finally started working on the car in the mid 1980s, but he wasn’t in a hurry and the restoration turned out to be a long one. “I did a body-off on it and that was actually started in about 1984-’85,” he said. “It took me six months to get the car apart and ready, and it took 12 years to put it back together again!
“I [restored it] just for preservation. I needed to replace all the body mounts, and it’s a lot easier to work on the suspension and everything when the body is off. The frame was all cleaned and refinished. I had the frame dipped. Ready-Strip is what it used to be called. Then we put it back together, rebuilding things as need be. The interior is all original. The only thing that’s not original is the carpet. I still have it, but from the years of storage, it gets that odor to it and you can’t get rid of it. You can’t get rid of that musty smell, so I took it out and put a repro in it. The paint was refinished in its original color. The paint and the vinyl top were replaced about seven, eight years ago.”
When he was finished with it, Bruck’s GTO probably looked every bit as good as it did when it rolled it off the lot at Lou Meliska Pontiac in Parma, Ohio. The car was equipped with the 400-cid, 350-hp V-8; four-speed M-21 transmission; Safe-T-Track rear end; power steering; and power brakes. The black Cordoba top accented the April Gold paint and the car’s Deluxe hubcaps were stored in the trunk. These days, when Bruck shows the car, he sometimes leaves the hubcaps in the same place — opting for the blacked-out look that reminds him of the way the car looked when he bought it. “People ask, ‘Where’s the hubcaps?’ I say, ‘They’re in the trunk. That’s the way the car came!’” Bruck says.
The GTO was also equipped with a console, Soft-Ray tinted windows, a push-button AM radio and a rear seat speaker.
Pontiac built more than 87,000 of the popular GTOs in 1968, the debut year of the second-generation Goats and the same year that Motor Trend named it its “Car of the Year.” Base prices for the two 1968 models (there was no longer a “post” coupe) were $3,101 for the two-door hardtop and $3,996 for the convertible. Production of these body styles was 77,704 and 9,980, respectively. Although the Endura bumper was the hit of the year, those who didn’t like it could get the standard 1968 Tempest chrome bumper by deleting the Endura bumper from their GTO.
GTO production figures for the 1968 model year included 2,841 hardtops and 432 ragtops with the 400-cid/255-hp two-barrel V-8 and automatic; 39,215 hardtops and 5,091 convertibles with the 400-cid/335-hp four-barrel V-8 and automatic; 25,371 hardtops and 3,116 ragtops with the 400-cid/335-hp four-barrel V-8 and manual transmission; 3,140 hardtops and 461 ragtops with the 360-hp 400 HO V-8 and automatic; 6,197 hardtops and 766 ragtops with the 360-hp 400 HO V-8 and stick shift; 183 hardtops and 22 convertibles with the Ram Air 400 V-8 and automatic; and 757 hardtops and 92 ragtops with the Ram Air 400 V-8 and a stick shift.
The most obvious change in the 1968 models was the signature Endura rubber-clad front bumper (a GTO exclusive). GTO emblems, distinctive tail lamps and twin hood scoops were also part of the package. A long new hood and short deck design highlighted a more streamlined-looking Tempest line. Two-door models, including all GTOs, were on a shorter 112-inch wheelbase — three inches shorter than the previous generation. As standard equipment, GTOs added dual exhaust, a three-speed transmission with a Hurst shifter, heavy-duty underpinnings, red line tires, bucket or notchback bench seats, a cigar lighter, carpeting, disappearing windshield wipers and a 400-cid/350-hp V-8. A new Ram Air II package became available at midyear and offered 366 hp with either a close-ratio four-speed manual or the three-speed automatic.
Bruck is clearly proud of how well he has preserved his lovely Goat, but if you take a ride with him, it is quickly apparently that he doesn’t treat it with kid gloves. He’s just as likely to stomp the accelerator now as he was in 1969, and he still gets the same kick out of listening to his Goat roar. “It’s still a rush,” he says. “That second gear — anybody who likes Pontiacs loves second gear. You hit second gear and that thing just leaps!”
The ’68 GTO shares garage space with several other cars in Bruck’s Pontiac-laden garage. He also owns a low-mileage 1969 Safari station wagon with the 389 Tri-Power and a four-speed, a 1965 Tempest, 1963 Catalina, a Fiero and some Cushman scooters. “I drive this one the least,” Bruck says of his GTO. “I take it to shows, and if they are close enough I drive it. If it’s within 100 miles, I like to drive it.”
Bruck says he has been approached many times by other Pontiac enthusiasts who would like to wrestle the keys and title to the GTO away from him. He admits he’s come close to parting with it a few times, but he’s proud to be the car’s only owner. “It was maybe only three or four years after I got it that I thought, ‘Maybe we should just keep this little thing,’” he says. “But there were times I almost had to sell it, and didn’t. Everybody tries to get it away from me — everybody! The problem is, who do you sell it to? I’ve kept it all these years and do you sell it to somebody who’s going to tub it? Is it going to go overseas? I probably don’t want to be around when it’s gone. I don’t want to know when it goes.
“The car is even in my prenup! My wife agreed that I always get to keep the car.”
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