Paint code P for 1965. If you are a true Pontiac aficionado your heart just skipped a beat. That's because you know as well as I do that code P was in fact Iris Mist, a one year only hue for Pontiac that is legendary amongst those in the know. The color has a mystique all its own. No other Pontiac pigment ever looked like it and even the color itself has an iridescent chameleon-like quality that makes it ever changing with the light that it reflects.
Rumors have floated around for years regarding how hard it was to match and find cross-reference codes for Iris Mist. People spoke of paying $1,000 for a single gallon of paint to replicate the enchanting hue. And this brings us to our tales of two Iris Mist '65 GTOs--one a convertible, one a hardtop.
They are as different as night and day. The ragtop features a 389 four-barrel engine backed by a column-fitted Super Turbine 300 transmission and a 3.23 open rear. The hardtop runs a 389 Tri-Power with a stick and 3.55 cogs. Convertible owner, 48-year-old Norm Warling of Golden, Colorado, picked up this '65 in 1995 as an all-original one-owner Goat, literally from the proverbial little old lady. Half a continent away, 56-year-old Don Ruckle of Hunlock Creek, Pennsylvania, first bought his '65 GTO in 1967 after returning from a tour of duty in Vietnam. Our drop-top has been restored to concours gold status and the undercarriage features original components that were detailed. Our hardtop has been restored, too, but the emphasis was on a fast ride with a nostalgic twist so all underpinnings are new and some are not stock.
These two Pontiacs are as different as they can be, yet a single thread of likeness binds them, aside from both being '65 GTOs--that color. It's a hue that they will forever have in common and that will forever make each the talk of the event, regardless of the location or time.
Norman Warling's '65 Drop-Top
Norm Warling likes his GTOs, all five of them, including a '64 coupe, a '69 convertible, a '69 Judge, and a '71 hardtop, not to mention this '65 and he enjoys showing them. Being a member of the GTOAA, Norm is no stranger to building concours quality show cars.
After the diatribe that you've just read, you may think that Warling was simply so enchanted by the color when he saw it in 1995 that he just had to have this Goat. Well, that's not true. When Norm first heard about the GTO, he wasn't even looking for a '65 and when he went to see the Goat it was blue with a white top. However, when he read the cowl tag and saw code P for Iris Mist, well, then he had to have it.
As Norm explains, "It did not take long to rebuild the GTO because everything was there and was original. Knowing the Pontiac was supposed to be Iris Mist, I had it repainted in 1996 by Pat Riley in Illinois who also repaired some light rear quarter damage and installed a new black top. The paint wasn't as tought to get as some say. Chevy had the same code P in 1965, but they called it Evening Orchid. We used Sherwin Williams paint. Once I got the GTO back, I replaced the carpet, cleaned the Parchment interior and had the stainless polished. I also replaced the exhaust and detailed the undercarriage, the 335-horse, 389 4-barrel engine and the transmission and added Rally I wheels." As a result, the '65 received a silver award in Concours Restored at the GTOAA Nats in 1996. In 1997 at the POCI Convention in Denver, the GTO took home another silver.
After poring over the judging sheets for the previous two seasons, Norm got more serious for 1998 and fixed everything that lost points and replaced the interior. In Wichita at the GTO Nats, the '65 got the gold in Concours Restored and then it went to the racetrack where Norm put about 15 passes on it. Talk about a dual purpose Pontiac. Though the GTO is not a super stocker with its standard engine, two-speed trans, and highways gears, it's still a great driver according to Norm. The author had about 30-minutes seat time during a photo shoot in Denver this past year and I can tell you the '65 drives beautifully on the open road especially with the top down.
Warling says, "What I like most about the '65 is the color and the fact that it's a convertible. It's great to put the top down and go cruising. Despite owning four other GTOs, I put 4,000 miles on this one in the last 3 years. Even on the bias plies it handles just fine. And cruises on the highway at 75 while getting 18 mpg. You can see why I feel that this GTO is a great ride." He would like to thank Pat and Gary Reily and Sharlene Jung.
Don Ruckle's '65 Hardtop
Don Ruckle's introduction to the alluring quality of Iris Mist came while he was on the way to buy another Pontiac. Would you believe the recent returning veteran was actually on his way to a Pontiac dealer in November 1967 to pick up a '67 GTO when he saw this '65 up for sale as a used car at a Chevy dealer? As Ruckle puts it, "After test driving the '65 GTO, I was sold on it so I cancelled the '67. For $1,700, Don got a '65 GTO with a transplanted '66 389 four-barrel engine backed by a four-speed trans. Only one week later the GTO was the bride and groom car when I married my high school girlfriend. We drove it to our honeymoon in the Poconos and then on to Fort Belvoir, Virginia, where I completed my remaining 16-month army tour."
The GTO continued to be included in all memorable moments as it transported both of Ruckle's newborn children home from the hospital in the '70s and was the primary transportation until 1979.
When more room was needed for the burgeoning family, a new Catalina was purchased and the 127,000-mile GTO was sold to one of Don's friends for $900 on the promise that Ruckle would always have first consideration to buy it back.
And buy it back he did in 1990. Don recalls, "[My friend] did some restoration work to the GTO but was unable to keep up with the deteriorating condition of a Northeastern road salt victim." Parts were collected and other projects finished over the next few years and then in 1997, Don turned his attention back to his first GTO. "Despite the advice of many friends and knowledgeable people that I forget this car and buy a less needy GTO, I wanted my original GTO for all the nostalgia that it held for me," Ruckle confided.
To that end, a 3-year and 10-month project ensued. Don completely disassembled his GTO and mounted the body on a rotisserie. The rotted frame was deemed beyond help so a suitable replacement was located. It was sandblasted and industrial epoxy primed, followed by black industrial epoxy paint for a long lasting finish. All new suspension components were installed and front springs two inches higher than stock were chosen for the nostalgic up in the air look. Rear springs intended for a station wagon rose the tail to equal the front and air shocks were installed out back with Monroe gas shocks forward. The stock .938-inch front stabilizer bar was reinstalled as were rebuilt factory 9.5-inch drum brakes at the four corners. A dual pot master cylinder, power booster, and lines were pirated from a '67 GTO to add another measure of safety to the braking system.
To complete the nostalgic look, a set of 15x7 Cragar SS wheels shod with 225/70-15 blackwall BFGs up front and 15x8s with 235/70-15 tires of the same brand in the rear were bolted on for the proper stance. Ruckle even changed the speedo gear in the trans to correct the readings for the taller meats.
The body required major surgery and all of it was performed by Don and friend Gene Whitaker in Ruckle's garage. A section of floor pan from a LeMans was welded in and repro panels like the rear quarters, trunk floor, and inner wheelhouses were installed. The entire body was taken down to bare metal and all rust was repaired and all dings were removed. Then the GTO was moved to Gene's shop, Gene's Paint in Hunlock Creek, where it was refinished using PPG products. Four coats of primer were applied with each block sanded. The body was sprayed with a sealer, which was followed by three coats of PPG Deltron DBC custom mixed Iris Mist (DBC50693 Iris Poly), which Don had to research to arrive at the proper color. Then came two coats of clear that were dusted with color and finally two coats of straight clear. All of the body chrome was redone and the stainless trim was polished.
Inside a new headliner, door panels, and carpet were installed, and the seats were repadded and recovered by Mark Turchin owner of Summit Station Upholstery in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. The dash features standard gauges with a '64 tach added and a stock AM radio in it and AutoMeter dials under it. A Hurst shifter juts out of the console and a '64 four-spoke wood wheel was installed because Don prefers it to the '65 3-spoke model.
Under the hood, is a '66 389 engine, rebuilt by Al Kovish, replete with 092 heads and sporting a '65 Tri-Power unit. The block was bored .030 over and the bottom-end was rebuilt to stock specs including resizing the cast Arma-steel crank and rods, installing .010-inch oversized bearings for the mains and rods, and .030 TRW forged pistons. Its oiling system remains stock as well. An "068" cam (288/302 degrees duration, .414/.413 lift) was installed to match the transplanted Tri-Power's needs. The heads were rebuilt to stock specs and feature 1.96/1.66 valves, which are actuated by stock pushrods and 1.50:1 stamped steel rockers. The Tri-Power unit is fitted with .073-.071-.073 jets, the Delco points distributor still lights the fire to the tune of 32 degrees BTDC and factory log manifolds with 2 1/4-inch pipes and Dynomax mufflers usher out the combustion remains.
A replacement 10.4-inch clutch connects the rebuilt M20 wide-ratio four-speed to the engine and the factory driveshaft sends the twist to a 3.55-Richmond geared refurbished Safe-T-Track 10-bolt rear.
Currently, the GTO's odometer shows 145,000 miles and it increases about 1,500-2,000 miles each year. It cruises effortlessly, yet it can traverse the 1,320 in 13.82 at 102 (with headers and slicks) launching a 3,000 rpm with Don shifting at 5,000 rpm. Of course Don would like to recognize the help from friends and family, particularly, Al, Chuck, Rick Post, Rick Popek, Gene, and his wife Lora. Ruckle sums up the project thusly, "Since the completion, the GTO has won many top honors and has garnered a lot of interest at local car shows and cruises, but I'm just glad that my old Goat is on the road again." Well put Don.
This is a very cool pair of...
This is a very cool pair of photos. The top is Don's GTO with his wife Lora up front and his mother-in-law in the background circa 1968. The lower photo contains the same cast, car, and location in 2002.
Here's Don Ruckle's hardtop...
Here's Don Ruckle's hardtop in the throes of restoration.