Car of the Week: 1966 Pontiac GTO

Owner bought a pristine red '66 GTO because, "His old man had one!"
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Car of the Week 2020
Redline tires on a red GTO make for a timeless and classy look.

Redline tires on a red GTO make for a timeless and classy look.

Dan Staehle had plenty of reasons for grabbing his beautiful 1966 Pontiac GTO hardtop almost as soon as he saw it. It’s a stunning car in almost every way. It had been very nicely restored, wears a gorgeous red with a black interior color combination, and, well, almost everybody likes a classic GTO.

But the best reason of all? His old man had one.

“Yeah, my dad had the exact same car, that he bought brand new in 1966. It was the same color and everything. So yeah, I had to have one just like my dad,” chuckles Staehle, a resident of Brownsville, Wis. “He had traded his in on a ’71 Buick [GS], and I think he kicked himself in the butt for a lot of years because the Buick wasn’t that good of a car.”

Dual exhaust announces the '66 GTO's arrival.

Dual exhaust announces the '66 GTO's arrival.

It took him about 37 years to do it, but Staehle found just the right “Goat” to adopt. He says it helped erase some bad memories of seeing his father’s car leave the family.

“When my dad got rid of his in 1971 I was 7 years old and I just remember we got into that Buick Gran Sport and seeing my dad’s GTO staying at the dealership as we were leaving,” he recalled. “I was only 7, but I was just sad to see that car go, and I always wanted one."

“When I found this one it was like, ‘Yes, I’ve got to go see this car!’”

GTO No. 2 was for sale in Wilmington, N.C., which was about a 1,100-mile drive from Staehle’s Wisconsin home. After making the trek with car trailer in tow, there was no way he was coming home empty handed.

A good look at the iconic GTO recessed split grille.

A good look at the iconic GTO recessed split grille.

“I showed some pictures of it to my dad [Jack] and he said, ‘Yeah, that’s a pretty nice car,’” Staehle said. “And one weekend I took the trailer and went down to Wilmington and I saw the car, and I liked it. It ran OK, surprisingly, because of the gas being stale. I had asked him some questions about the car and he said he basically never drives it. He bought it to have a show piece in his garage. He was elderly and it was time to move on. As far as I can tell I am the third owner… He bought it from somebody in Ohio. The funny thing is, he had Crager SS rims on this car, and he says, ‘Oh, by the way, would you like the old rims?’ And I said old rims? What are you talking about?’ Well, they were Rally 1’s, 14-inch, which you cannot buy today if you wanted to! So I said, ‘Yeah, I guess I’ll take them off your hands!’ [laughs]

“He bought it with the body already restored from the other guy in Ohio. He bought it just to have garage candy. He didn’t drive it. When I bought it had 69,000 on it — I don’t know for sure, it might have been 169,000. It had been restored, I could tell. There were some panels that had been replaced. When I had the car appraised the appraiser said ‘Whoever restored this car did a top-notch job. You can’t get any better than this.’”

1966: The Goat legend grows

Smooth new styling touches, added power under the hood and some outstanding new exterior paint colors made the ’66 GTO the one of the top dogs in muscle car land. “The GTO always surprises Car Life drivers with its ability to perform well,” said Car Life magazine in its May 1966 road test.

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. GTOs were in their own series. It was the last year for the Tri-Power three two-barrel-carb option.

A distinctive new mesh-style grille incorporating rectangular parking lamps characterized 1966 GTOs. Standard features of the high-performance model included front bucket seats, a single hood scoop, walnut grain dashboard inserts, specific ornamentation, dual exhausts, a heavy-duty suspension and 7.75 x 14 red-line or white-stripe tires. Elongated V-shaped badges were mounted behind the front wheel openings, GTO lettering appeared on the deck lid and rear fenders, the upper beltline contour was pin striped and horizontal twin-slot tail lamps were used.

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.

360 horses came by way of the Tri-Power configuration. It also hammered out a stump-pulling 431 lbs.-ft. of torque. That is more than enough to put a smile on any lucky GTO owner's face.

360 horses came by way of the Tri-Power configuration. It also hammered out a stump-pulling 431 lbs.-ft. of torque. That is more than enough to put a smile on any lucky GTO owner's face.

Car Life asked for and almost got a “standard” GTO to test drive. Pontiac supplied a two-door hardtop or sport coupe with the 389-cid/335-hp four-barrel engine, four-speed manual gearbox, a console, tinted glass, rally gauges, a tachometer, rally wheels, a radio, a remote rearview mirror and air conditioning. It booked out at $3,589, a bit more than the coupe’s base price of $2,763. The car had a 3.08:1 rear axle and a dual reverse-flow exhaust system with mufflers and resonators.

The 389-cid V-8 had a 4.064 x 3.75-inch bore and stroke. It featured a single Carter four-barrel carburetor, a 10.75:1 compression ratio and hydraulic valve lifters. Its output was rated at 335 hp at 5000 rpm and 431 lbs.-ft. of torque at 3200 rpm. Car Life’s 3,950-lb. GTO carried 11.6 lbs. per horsepower and delivered outstanding performance. It went from 0-to-60 mph in 6.8 seconds and did the quarter-mile in 15.4 seconds at 92 mph. Another publication test drove a heavier ’66 GTO convertible with the heftier 360-hp Tri-Power V-8 and did not do any better, running 0-to-60 in the same 6.8 seconds and using 15.5 seconds to cover the quarter-mile.

Staehle's interior work is top notch.

Staehle's interior work is top notch.

BIG RED SURPRISE

Jack Staehle has since passed on, but his son will always have a fun story to tell about showing him his ’66 GTO for the first time. It took some restraint, but Dan kept the car a secret for a little while.

“I got the car home and got it cleaned up and never told my dad, or my mom, that I had the car. Then one day they were over for Sunday dinner and he asked, ‘So whatever happened with you looking at that GTO?’” laughs Staehle. “And I started smiling and he said, ‘You bought it didn’t you!’ And I said yeah, ‘Do you want to see it?’ He said, ‘Heck yeah!’ So then he finally got to see it.”

The body and paint on the car looked great, but Staehle decided to upgrade everything else on the GTO and make it as nice as he could. That included new electrical, new interior and a going through of the engine and all the running gear.

No doubting this is a GTO!

No doubting this is a GTO!

“I redid all the upholstery myself, which was interesting. I re-wired the whole car front to back because some of the wiring underneath the dash, the wires changed colors three or four times [laughs]. It was just taped together, and the wiring was so rotten. Then I ended up rebuilding the engine and rebuilding the transmission; new driveshaft, new exhaust. But I have not touched the body at all."

“I replaced the walnut veneer. You can buy kits and it’s real wood and it was fun to do. Then I added the three gauges at the bottom, just because I like gauges, rather than idiot lights that go on when it’s too late [laughs]. I got temperature, oil gauge, then voltmeter. And the center gauge is the original vacuum gauge… It’s got the AM radio, and instead of a clock I have a tachometer. That was an option. Normally the Tempest or GTO would come with the clock.”

Jack’s car was a four-speed, so Dan made sure his ’66 had the same. He generally treats the car very gently, but also makes sure all the gears get used. The car still gets some spirited exercise from time to time.

“The car surprisingly enough gets about 13 miles to the gallon, unless you decide to get a little crazy. It’s basically a two-barrel. The only time the front and rear carburetors kick in is if you floor it. And you have to do that to get the gas out of there, otherwise it will get stale! [laughs]” he says. “They say this is a touring car. It’s definitely a touring car. It just floats. Just a little turn of the steering wheel and the car is real responsive. It’s got suspension where you hardly feel any road bumps at all. It’s just a great handling touring car. It’s just fantastic.”

“And you know what I really love are those louvered taillights! I just love the look of those. The ’67s didn’t have those.”

Dan Staehle next to his '66 GOAT

Dan Staehle next to his '66 GOAT

Staehle says he still keeps photos of himself in his dad’s GTO, when he was very young, hanging in his garage. He probably doesn’t need any reminders to hang onto this one, but the photos only strengthen his bond with the red Goat. His collection also includes a beautiful 1954 Lincoln Capri, 1969 Pontiac Firebird convertible, and his dad’s Model A Ford. You get the impression that the GTO might be the last to ever leave.

“I’ll be hanging onto this one for a long time,” he says with a grin. “That’s for sure.”

SHOW US YOUR WHEELS!

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