Car of the Week: 1966 Pontiac GTO

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By Brian Earnest

Gary Pietraniec still remembers fondly how much fun he had shopping for a new muscle car back in 1969, not long after his hitch ended with the U.S. Army.

More than four decades later, Pietraniec had a similar itch, and he was back in the market for a vintage piece of 1960s American muscle. And just as he had been back in ’69, Pietraniec wasn’t just muscle car shopping, he was “Goat” hunting. The first time around, the Dearborn Heights, Mich., resident opted for a 1968 Pontiac GTO. For his latest Goat, he went back a bit further, landing a 1966 hardtop that has clearly fit the bill nicely as a nearly original muscle machine that makes for a dandy weekend driver.

“This time I wanted a turn-key car,” Pietraniec said. “I didn’t want a car to show. I used to [do] show cars, and I was really into 428 Cobra Jet Mustangs, but I don’t want to do that stuff anymore. My thing is, to have fun you’ve gotta drive them. These cars were built in Detroit to drive, not to be car art.”

Not that the early GTOs couldn’t pass for artistic masterpieces for many muscle car fanatics. When the 1966 Goats were unveiled, a good argument could be made that they were the finest muscle machines created up to that point. It was simply hard to beat the GTO’s combination of great looks, charisma, comfort and vertebrae-cracking performance. After being unveiled as an option package on the Tempest in 1964, the GTOs became their own official series for 1966, and they were wildly popular, with nearly 97,000 cars rolling off the assembly line and into the hearts of the buying public.

Pietraniec admired the cars then, and he was twice-bitten from the moment he picked up his latest GTO in 2010. “It’s just a really nice car. It’s beautiful, with that color combination,” he said. “I’ve had it up on the hoist and is super-nice underneath. Everything underneath is like new. All the metal on the car is original. Nothing on the body has been replaced. The interior is 100 percent original. Even the carpet is original.

“It’s got about 130,000 [miles] on it, I think, and it was obviously taken care of. It’s never really seen a full winter, from what I can understand.”

Pietraniec had owned dozens of muscle cars before he picked up his latest GTO — which he didn’t buy until he sold his 1969 Plymouth Road Runner. Over the years he’s owned “about 20 Mustangs — 428 Cobra-Jets. And I’ve had 14 Corvettes. I’ve driven them all — everything out there!” And when it came time to look for a Pontiac, Pietraniec didn’t have to look far for advice. “I have a lot of friends with GTOs. We call them the ‘Old Goats,’” he said. “So I just let everybody know I was looking for one, and they helped me find this one.

“I was pretty confident [I’d find one],” he added with a laugh. “My buddies always laugh at me because if I’m looking for a car, I don’t care what it is, it’s within about a 200-mile radius of my house. I will put a compass on Dearborn Heights and make a 200-mile circle around it, and I’ll find a car within that radius.

“This one, I had actually seen before. It turned out it was only, like, seven miles from my house. I had been looking for a 1964, a ’66 or a ’67 because I think those are the nicest style for GTOs. I know a lot of people like the ’65s, but I think the ’66s and ’67s are the best. I call it luxury-muscle. I think they are just bigger, better-riding cars. ”

Pontiac’s mid-size A-body cars had a new, smoother and rounder appearance for 1966 with wide wheel openings and a recessed split grille. It was the last year for the Tri-Power option with three two-barrel carbs.

A distinctive new mesh-style grille incorporating rectangular parking lamps characterized 1966 GTOs. Standard features included newly redesigned bucket seats and a fancier woodgrain dash with the ignition moved from the left to the right side of the steering wheel. The GTOs also included a single hood scoop, specific ornamentation, dual exhausts, a heavy-duty suspension and 7.75 x 14 red-line or white-stripe tires.

Coupe prices started at $2,783 and 10,363 were built. Hardtop prices started at $2,847 and 73,798 were built. The $3,082 convertible found 12,798 buyers. Sales included 77,901 cars with the base 335-hp V-8, 18,745 with Tri-Power 360-hp engines and about 30 with 360-hp Ram Air Tri-Power engines. Most GTOs (61,279) had manual gear boxes.

Pietraniec has plenty of documentation on his car, and it shows that the Pontiac was originally bought by a woman at Golden Pontiac in Yakima, Wash. “The Protect-O-Plate says April of 1966, is when she got it,” he noted. “She was a school teacher and she bought it brand new, and she had it until 1988.” From there the car went to another man in the Yakima area, then was eventually sold again. The third owner died, and the car was sold off as part of his estate to a GTO fan in Florida. It changed hands twice more before Pietraniec took possession.

“The guy I got it from, he bought it for his wife, but she wouldn’t drive it,” Pietraniec said. “It was too long for her, too fast for her and she was afraid of it. She just wouldn’t drive it.”

The car had one repaint to its Marina Turquoise exterior. Other than that, the only real change to the Pontiac was a new engine block when it was still young. “The lady who bought the car originally, her name was Marcia, she threw the timing chain on it — which Pontiacs are famous for,” Pietraniec said. “What Golden Pontiac did was replace the original block with a date-coded 1966 bock, and it’s a WT block, which means it’s a four-speed block. That’s the only part of the car, really, that’s not original, and that’s just because she threw the timing chain and somehow damaged the block when the car was, like, 6 or 7 years old.”

The car has a matching turquoise interior, a 389-cid with the four-barrel carburetor, the original two-speed transmission, custom seat belts, AM radio with reverb, Rally I wheels with red-line tires, a center console, power steering, Safe-T-Track rear end, lamp group and mirror group.

Pietranic said he is “toying” with the idea of adding a vacuum gauge, and definitely plans on swapping out the Rally 1 wheels for a set of vintage-looking Cragars. “That’s what everybody did back then,” he said with a chuckle. “I like the Rally I’s, but I’m not a purist.”

Pietranic figures to be polishing those aftermarket wheels a lot, because the GTO won’t be hiding in the garage all summer. “Oh, I put 3,000 to 4,000 [miles] on it last summer,” he said. “I’m not going to drive it in the middle of winter or squeeze in between two cars in a parking lot, but it’s definitely going to be a driver.

“I mean, it’s like having a girlfriend. What good is having a girlfriend if all you’re going to do is look at her?”

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