There is no doubt which is the most famous Pontiac GTO in the world. Though many of us Pontiac fans might look at the original ’64 Royal Bobcat or perhaps one of Arnie “The Farmer” Beswick’s racecars, the truth is there is one even more well-known—one that has woven itself into the fabric of American pop culture.
The ironic thing is that most people don’t realize the Monkeemobile was actually a ’66 GTO. Of course, legendary customizer Dean Jeffries heavily modified it, but the car that helped launch the stardom of the America’s answer to the Fab Four was, in fact, a GTO.
Many of you already know the story of the Monkeemobile, but for those just tuning in, we’ll lay it all out here. First off, there were actually two cars built. The one you see here is the No. 1 car and it was used in the filming of the original TV series and in the 1997 TV reunion special, Hey, Hey, It’s the Monkees.
Monkeemobile No. 1 was built at Pontiac’s Fremont assembly plant and equipped with the code XE 389 four-barrel with A.I.R. It was Martinique Bronze with a black top and Fawn interior. Options included power steering and brakes, two-speed automatic, power windows, and console.
The fenderwells were cut and extended to allow for a quartet of exhaust pipes. Only two ar
Though the engine looks ferocious, it’s a stock 389 four-barrel hooked to a two-speed auto
This close-up gives an insight to the immense amount of sculpting and reshaping done to th
A second Monkeemobile was built as a promotional vehicle, and it toured the country in support of the show. It was identical to the first vehicle except it came from the factory with air conditioning. It was displayed at shopping centers and fairs to help promote the show and the Monkees’ merchandising machine. It was not used in the filming of the show because it was always on the road. That one was recently sold at auction by customizer George Barris, who was not involved in building either of these two originals.
The actual catalyst to the project was George Toteff, who at the time was the CEO of Model Products Corporation, better known as MPC. Toteff had customizer Dean Jeffries on contract to design customizing parts for its line of annuals and model-car kits, and to consult on other projects as well.
At the same time, Jeffries was also contracting to Universal Studios, which would produce the Monkees’ TV show. He was chosen to build a customized car for use on the show, which at that point hadn’t begun production, and a car had not yet been chosen.
Jeffries had mentioned these developments to Toteff, who in turn told his friend Jim Wangers about the opportunity. At the time, Wangers was working for Pontiac’s advertising agency, MacManus, John & Adams, and he instantly saw the show as a huge promotional opportunity for Pontiac. He quickly cemented the deal with the show’s producers.
Wangers ordered two base-engine, automatic-transmission ’66 GTO convertibles to convert into Monkeemobiles. The deal also stipulated that new Pontiacs would be supplied to the stars of the show and the producers. It was a win/win, because the cost of eight or ten cars would pale in comparison to the amount of exposure Pontiac would receive in return.
For his help getting the deal together, Toteff was granted exclusive rights to market a Monkeemobile model kit. More than seven million MPC Monkeemobile kits were sold, so he received his payday as well.
Meanwhile, back in Detroit, Wangers knew the cars were to be heavily modified, and that the overly conservative GM management was not going to like what Jeffries was going to whip up. They didn’t have a real understanding of the youth market and were often resistant to promotional ideas outside their comfort zone that were nonetheless working in the marketplace.
The extreme rear section has a third-row seat that will fit two people in place of the tru
Anyone who questions this car’s authenticity will have a hard time explaining this away. I
A second row of production GTO bucket seats is also added in place of the rear seat. While
As he anticipated, Jeffries’ design was much more radical than anyone at GM’s design studios had envisioned. He did not follow the sketches that GM Styling had drawn up as a guide. Wangers knew he would have some explaining to do to his superiors. But Jeffries knew exactly what he was doing. Knowing that he was under contract to Universal and not to GM, he was well aware that he had to please the show’s producers, and if GM didn’t like it, so be it.
While the front end was easily recognizable as a GTO, the rest of the car was heavily customized, featuring extended and hooded front fenders, Cibie rectangular headlamps, heavy resculpting and lowering of the nose, a sunken hood, and a rolled pan where the bumper once was.
To further alter the look, Jeffries added a very tall, split windshield; a third row of seats in place of the trunk; a T-bucket-type convertible top; large fender flares; exaggerated taillamps; and even a parachute. The show’s producers wanted a one-of-a-kind look, and Jeffries delivered a bright red carnival on wheels. Both cars were completed in less than one month.
There were also mechanical modifications. A 6-71 supercharger was put on the engine in the first car, and they solidly mounted the rear axle. Jeffries also put weights in the rear so it would wheel stand. It had too much power for the suspension and was a difficult car to drive, so a dummy blower was installed after about a day of dealing with its unpleasant nature.
Monkeemobile No. 1 had a very interesting life, many years of which we will probably never know about. Here’s what has been uncovered: It was sent to Australia to accompany the Monkees on a concert tour. For some reason it was left Down Under. It was rumored that the producers didn’t want to spend the money to have it shipped back. Jeffries tried to retrieve the car, but it was too difficult to get the job done from Hollywood. It passed through a series of owners before showing up in Puerto Rico, where it was used as a hotel courtesy car for several years.
It was next seen in May 1992 in a government foreclosure auction in Puerto Rico. As it turned out, a sharp-eyed bidder made the $5,000 minimum bid for the now-pink Pontiac, and the car was sold to him—no one else knew what it was. It was brought back to the mainland and now resides in the metropolitan New York City area with its current owner, who wishes to remain anonymous.
Fortunately, the Monkeemobile was in great shape and only needed minor work to bring it up to snuff. At some point, the solidly located rear axle was rehung on leaf springs, but everything works as it should. The owner had it repainted and “The Monkees” door decals were replicated. A new top was also fabricated.
Monkeemobile No. 1 was reunited with the band back in 1997 for its ABC-TV special, which aired February 17 that year. The car was temporarily converted into a low rider to satisfy the script, but it was converted back to stock before it was returned to the owner. It made some appearances at shows on the East Coast for a year or two after that and was featured at the ’97 GTOAA Eastern Regional Meet.
After that, it went into long-term storage. Only in the last couple of years has it been brought out. The owners contacted Tony Rota of Log Cabin Service in Tenafly, New Jersey, to handle the repairs necessary to get it back in working order after being dormant for so long. Tony has made every effort to maintain its authenticity, while at the same time keeping it in good working order.
To be sure, the car has quite a bit of patina, but it runs and drives very nicely, as I was delighted to find out firsthand. Your author had a chance to ride shotgun in the Monkeemobile at the 2013 POCI-GTOAA Co-Vention and it was like meeting up with an old friend. I had not seen it since I was hired as a production consultant for the ’97 Monkees-reunion TV show, and it was a treat to see it looking so good.
Riding around in it was such a thrill. I couldn’t help but think of the lyrics to the Monkees’ theme song. We really did get the funniest looks from everyone we met. The car caused a panic as it rumbled around. People were waving and shouting out to us. It was really fun to ride around in such a legendary machine. It is something I will remember for the rest of my life.
Monkeemobile No. 1’s owners are planning to bring it out to some shows in 2014, including GM at Carlisle. If you can work out a chance to see this iconic machine in person, you really owe it to yourself.