Pontiacs have always been a part of Joan Kennedy’s life. Her grandfather was a Pontiac dealer in Kansas in the ’40s and early ’50s, and her husband, John, raced a ’60 Catalina.
It made sense then that just after they were married in 1965, they would order one—not just any Pontiac, but a Tri-Power, four-speed GTO with air conditioning. “I think John wanted to get married so badly because I had the down payment for the car!” Joan exclaimed. “I told him no racing with this one, as it was a family car.”
Like a dutiful husband, he complied with his wife’s wishes. He ordered all of the go-fast stuff for his satisfaction and some luxury equipment to keep Mama happy as well. No doubt he knew what he was doing.
The original shifter knob, which Joan thought looked ugly, was replaced with a ’66 unit. S
John ordered the GTO with everything that a performance-oriented buyer would want: a 360-horse 389 Tri-Power, floor-shifted four-speed, Rally Gauge cluster, transistorized ignition, and a 3.23 differential with Safe-T-Track. There was a nice mix of luxury options as well, including air conditioning, tilt wheel, console, accessory light group, and an AM radio with rear-seat speaker. All in all, it was a really nicely optioned car that made for a ’60s-style American Grand Tourer … and a very collectible car today.
Soon after the Kennedys took delivery of their Pontiac from Byron Stout Pontiac in Wichita, Kansas, they made some minor modifications to it—the kind of thing that we now refer to as “Day One.” The original wheels, hubcaps, and shocks were taken off and safely put away. In their place, they bolted up a set of E-T mags (with a set of wider tires to improve handling) and a set of air shocks to raise the tail up for towing their boat. The stock white Hurst shiftball was replaced with a wood-grained ’66 unit. Joan still has the original.
They used the GTO as their daily driver and took it on many trips over the years, including Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Arkansas, Kansas City, and Dallas. One trip that they took when towing the boat sticks in her mind even to this day. “We towed a big inboard boat, and one time in the Flint Hills, the boat started swaying,” she recalled. “I was on the floorboards, but John downshifted and punched it, and the power of the engine straightened out the boat. It was awesome!”
Another time, they were using the GTO to tow a two-horse trailer. Upon driving into a pasture, a horse walked over to the car and bit the hood, leaving a large scratch in the process. “Whoa, what was that horse thinking?” she said to John. “Fortunately, he was able to rub out the scratch.”
The GTO remained their daily driver until the late ’70s, when it was retired and put into long-term storage. John always wanted to restore it, take it to shows, and relive his youth, but he passed away suddenly before he had the chance to get around to doing that, unfortunately.
“After John died, several people approached me about buying the car,” Joan said. “Instead of someone else having [it] after storing it for so many years, I decided to have it restored. John wanted to restore it but felt guilty about the money it would take. I restored it because I felt guilty he didn’t get the chance to enjoy it.”
With the help of John’s cousin, Robert, and his brother, Bill, they began the restoration. Even though the GTO was John and Joan’s daily driver for more than a decade, it remained in very good condition. Still, there was a lot to be done.
The engine was removed and sent to Tom Wilhite of Wilhite’s Auto Service in Derby, Kansas. Tom and his wife, Sharon, race Pontiacs, and he was able to expertly rebuild the 389 Tri-Power. The block was bored 0.030-inch over and fitted with TRW forged replacement pistons, which are fitted with Sealed Power chrome moly rings and swing on rebuilt cast connecting rods. The stock crank was polished and reused with a new National rear main seal.
RPO Option 504 Rally Gauge cluster added a tachometer, water temperature, and oil pressure
The original wheels, tires, and Deluxe wheel covers were replaced with a set of E-T five-s
The original No. 77 heads were rebuilt with a set of stock-sized Milodon Megaflow stainless-steel valves and Comp Cams valve-springs. A Comp Cams “068” replacement grind actuates Comp Cam lifters and roller rocker arms, as well as Sealed Power pushrods. The rest of the engine is stock, and flows through a custom-fabricated, 2.5-inch, dual-exhaust system.
The front suspension was rebuilt using new bushings and Delco shocks. The rear suspension was similarly rebuilt, but retains the Delco Pleasur-Ride air shocks that John added for towing.
Steve Nicholson at Classic Body Works in Peck, Kansas, handled the bodywork and paint. The GTO had fared well over the years but needed some attention in a couple of areas, most notably the corrosion that had accumulated around the back window due to its leaking. The driver-side rear quarter was also realigned to properly repair a parking-lot fender bender from decades ago. After that work was completed, the car was repainted using a modern basecoat/clearcoat system. The chrome and stainless trim were not polished or otherwise prepped as it wasn’t needed.
The GTO’s original window sticker shows the unusual combination of performance and luxury
Joan still has all of the original paperwork for the purchase of her GTO. She and her husb
Inside, the original interior has remained in excellent condition, needing only new carpeting and a replacement package shelf. The driver seat had one strip welt on the outside of the seatback replaced. Randa Upholstery in Derby, Kansas, performed all the interior work.
Since its completion, Joan has not driven her GTO very much, but takes it out when the sun is shining and the wind isn’t blowing debris around. “In Kansas, that doesn’t leave a big window of opportunity,” she explains. “I try to drive it often enough to flex the tires and move fuel through the engine.”
Still, she is a member of the GTOAA and the local chapter, the GR-RRR’8R Wichita GTO Club. She has shown the car at local events and received some award plaques in the process. Perhaps the most significant is the Cars Magazine plaque at the Automobilia Old Town Car Show & Street Party in Wichita. There were approximately 1,200 cars participating at that event. Not bad!
Many Pontiacs are much more than the metal that makes them. For their owners, they represent a history of their own lives, the memories that were made while in these cars, and the people affected along the way. For Joan, this ’65 GTO represents the happy years of marriage she and John had, and also the devotion of their family to return it to its original splendor. It is a rolling monument to her husband, and she plans to continue sharing it with people for as long as she can. That’s what the Pontiac hobby is really all about.