By Bill McCleery
For old-car enthusiasts everywhere, other priorities in life sometimes compete with their passions for the classic vehicles they so lovingly own and drive.
For Indianapolis resident Tom Triol, the recent experience of a foot amputation resulting from a years-ago injury has led him to contemplate parting with his cherished 1966 Pontiac GTO convertible.
It’s not that his health forces such a move. He is doing great following his surgery — quickly adjusting to his new prosthetic lower leg and surpassing his doctors’ most optimistic projections. A former TV cameraman, he is back at his current job as a photographer and videographer for the Indiana State Police.
His medical journey, though, has caused him to ponder life with a fresh perspective. He admits he has not driven the GTO as much in recent years as he once did.
“It’s sitting a lot more than being used,” he said. “And we built it to drive it.”
Going forward, he foresees other pursuits consuming more of his time and that of his wife, Shelley.
“Our interests have changed a little bit,” Tom explained. “We’re getting ready to retire soon, and we want to travel.”
The time has come, he said, to let someone else get the same kind of enjoyment out of the car that he and his wife have gotten from it over the years.
“We want to see it go to a good home, where somebody will drive the daylights out of it,” he said.
One factor that makes selling the car a hard choice is the fact that Tom’s history with the GTO goes back more than 45 years — to 1975, to be precise, when he spotted the burgundy ragtop pull into a new neighbor’s driveway near his parents’ home in West Orange, N.J.
At that time, Tom was just preparing to move to Indiana for college.
“Every time I went home to visit, I noticed the GTO sitting on blocks in the single-car garage,” Tom recalled. “I would always yell to the neighbor, ‘Tony, when are you going to sell that to me?’ And he would just laugh.”
Such back-and-forth kidding continued for years until one day, in 1995, when Tony — now paying college tuition for an offspring — asked whether Tom was serious about wanting to buy the car. Tom enthusiastically affirmed that his interest was genuine.
“At the same time, my wife and I were working on plans to build a new house, and we needed to know about the GTO,” Tom recalled. “Did we need a three-car garage or a two-car garage?”
Then Tom received a call from Tony, who told a disappointed Tom that, after taking the GTO for a drive, he just could not bear to let it go.
So the Triols built a house with a two-car garage.
A year later, in 1996, Tom’s father passed away. Tom and Shelley traveled back to New Jersey for the services. At the visitation, Tony approached Tom and offered to sell him the car if he still wanted it.
“I turned to my wife,” Tom remembers. “I said, ‘Shelley, get the checkbook!’ And we became the car’s third owners.”
At that time, the GTO showed about 37,000 miles. It was parked in the prized spot in the Triols’ two-car garage while Tom’s daily driver was relegated to an outdoor existence.
For several years, Tom and Shelley enjoyed the GTO as it was.
“It was kind of barely drivable,” Tom said. “It had been sitting in a garage for a long time. It had a radiator leak and a cracked head. We took it to some shows and entered it as an ‘ugly duckling.’”
The Triols also became involved in a local club — the Indy GTO Association.
“There’s not a nicer guy than Tom,” said Bill Sanders, the club’s longtime president. “Right from the beginning, he and Shelley were always very eager to participate. They took a special interest in some of the charitable work we do with an organization that supports children and adults with permanent brain injuries. They are just always willing to go the extra mile.”
The Indy club has about 60 members, Sanders said.
Involvement with the club led to quality fellowship and friendships, Tom said.
“I learned so much about GTOs from all the other club members,” he said. “We all know each other’s needs and are ready to swap and share any parts that might help a fellow club member. A lot of the fun of owning the car has been being part of that whole world of people in the hobby.”
One memorable club event, he said, occurred when members drove their GTOs around the track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Each car was photographed as it crossed the start-finish line.
Freshening an old friend
In 2003, the Triols made a major commitment. They decided it was time to make the GTO new again. Thus commenced a full-scale, body-frame-off restoration in which Tom farmed out different aspects of the work to the best craftsmen and mechanics he could find while also doing some jobs himself.
“It took several years to accomplish the work, because we had to budget for it,” Shelley said. The restoration was completed in late 2005, she added.
During this time, Shelley began to function somewhat as the project’s finance manager, she said.
“One of the most valuable lessons I learned when Tom would ask if he could order something,” she said, “was to respond with, ‘How many?’”
She recalled one particular case in point.
“He once asked about ordering something called Cragars,” she said. “I asked him how much, and he said ‘$125.’ I said, ‘Go ahead,’ but when the bill arrived, it was four times that amount. I sort of panicked and told Tom, ‘They’ve charged us for four of them.’ Mind you, I had no idea at the time what Cragars were.”
Tom assured his wife they were not being over billed, Shelley recalled.
“He said, ‘Yes, we needed four of them.’ I reminded him he said they were $125. He said, ‘Yes, apiece.’ I told him he didn’t tell me that part. He responded, ‘Well, you should know this stuff by now.’ We laugh about that. Now.”
During the rebuild, the original 389-cid V-8 was punched out to become a 400-cid engine. The car went from having one four-barrel carburetor to a tri-power setup with three two-barrel carburetors, which were optional on GTOs in 1966.
To handle the increased horsepower and torque, Tom converted the GTO’s rear differential to a Positraction setup.
In replacing the transmission, he specified the ratio of gears he wanted to get just the kind of performance he desired.
Also on the long list of upgrades were disc brakes on the front and stainless-steel exhaust, brake lines and fuel line.
To top it all off, Tom changed the car’s color from the muted burgundy hue to a bright yellow.
“I made it my own,” he said.
Now he’s prepared for someone else to add their own touches and make it theirs.
“And we’ll always enjoy the memories,” he said.
“For years,” she said, “we’d use any excuse to drive the GTO. ‘Let’s go get popsicles!’ ‘Let’s go drive around for an hour and see where we end up.’ ‘It’s sunny and 70 degrees and the GTO needs a dose of Vitamin D!’ We will always, always love this car. But now, we realize it needs to take a new family out for adventures.”
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