Michael Bruck of DeLand, Florida, is no stranger to high-performance vehicles. He grew up in North Royalton, Ohio, and during the '60s it wasn't uncommon to find area Pontiac dealers campaigning their own Ponchos each weekend at area dragstrips.

It seemed as if every red-blooded American was caught up in the muscle-car craze that Pontiac initiated with the introduction of its GTO for '64.

Michael arrived on the scene with a new '64 Tempest Custom, powered by a 326ci and a four-speed manual transmission. "Even with a two-barrel, it was a nice performer. [Later] I installed a factory 389ci Tri-Power [performance] camshaft, and it ran really well," he recalls.

For Michael, a '66 Olds 4-4-2 came next, and then a pair of 427-powered Corvettes. After his first Corvette was stolen and he had an incident with the second, he found himself without transportation.

"I started looking ... Pontiacs were popular, and the GTO had a strong performance history. The '68 GTO was selected Motor Trend's Car of the Year. I thought it was gorgeously styled and really liked the Endura front bumper. I decided it was perfect for me."

Michael ventured to his nearest Pontiac dealership, Lou Meliska Pontiac, which was about 10 miles away in Parma, Ohio. "It was August 1968, and I found it was too late to order a '68 and too early to order a '69. The dealer had some '68 GTOs on the lot. I wanted a four-speed, so that eliminated about half of them. One was April Gold and I really liked the color. It also fit my budget at $3,348, so I made the purchase and drove it home that night."

The golden Goat was equipped with Pontiac's code-WT base 400, rated at 350 hp at 5,000 rpm and 445 lb-ft at 3,000 rpm. It was backed by an optional M20 Muncie four-speed row box and a limited-slip differential fitted with a 3.55:1 gear. Power steering and brakes helped him maneuver the GTO in traffic, but it wasn't equipped with weight- adding air conditioning.

"I'd say it had adequate power," Michael says of his GTO's performance in stock trim. "It was smooth, predictable, and pulled rather well."

In 1971, he decided it was time for a performance boost. "I was seeking better e.t.'s at the dragstrip. I knew the parts-department counterman at Jack Shaw Pontiac in Lakewood, Ohio, and the dealership was known for being tuned in to hot rodders."

By comparing the factory cam specifications, Michael learned that the 067 originally installed in his GTO featured 273/289 degrees of duration and 0.410-inch valve lift with 1.5:1-ratio rocker arms. The 041 cam, which was first specified for the '681⁄2 R/A II and then the '69-'70 R/A IV, was rated at 308/320 degrees and 0.470-inch valve lift. "The 041 cam cost me $69.95 back then. The counterman also sold me a set of Crane lifters, matching Isky valvesprings, and a Cloyes timing set."

Michael installed the new valvetrain components in an afternoon. "The cam went into my GTO easily, and I immediately noticed a significant increase in the amount of idle lope when I started it up for the first time. The 400 seemed to run and drive as well as it did with the stock cam in normal conditions, but it pulled much harder through the entire power band to the redline of 5,200."

The modifications didn't stop there. "The counterman also recommended an L88 Chevy 11-inch clutch-disc and pressure-plate assembly. I bought and installed that around the same time as the cam. Pedal effort was smooth and light, but when compared to the stock unit, clamping was much better.

"The original Hurst shifter would often hang up between Second and Third gears, so I replaced it with a Hurst Comp Plus unit. It provided a noticeable shifting improvement. I also added Hooker headers and connected them to the factory exhaust system."

The new components provided exactly the performance enhancements Michael was after. "I can't recall its quarter-mile times in stock trim, but after the modifications it ran a best of 13.47 at 104.9 mph at Norwalk Raceway in June 1972."

Michael drove his GTO in the summer but always had a secondary car to drive in the winter. "It's been my baby its entire life and I always intended to keep the miles low, so it only came out on nice days."

Over the next several years, he experienced job-related relocations to Wisconsin, Florida, Michigan, and back to Florida, where he finally roosted. The GTO followed, but it sat for the most part.

"There were periods when I started it to maintain its mechanical condition, but never really moved it. The relocations weren't kind to it either," he admits. The general wear associated with moving left the original exterior finish in need of refinishing. "With less than 20,000 miles, the GTO's body wasn't rusty or dented. I simply wanted to preserve its original condition and repainted the exterior."

Over the course of 12 years, which included the time to settle in after each move, Michael separated the body from the frame and refurbished every part of the vehicle. He stripped the frame of its suspension and fuel- and brake-system components, and dipped it to remove the scaly rust that accumulated. It was then painted in Centari chassis black.

The original front- and rear-suspension components were in excellent condition, so they were reused, but the rubber bushings were replaced with urethane pieces. For added grip, Michael replaced the rear axle's lower control arms with boxed units from YearOne and added No-Hop traction bars from Lakewood. Stainless-steel fuel and brake lines replaced the originals.

Michael had a body shop in DeLand, Florida, prepare the GTO's shell for a fresh application of April Gold. The factory-applied finish was sanded away before an epoxy primer base was laid down, and several coats of Sikkens base/clear followed. The original stainless trim was buffed before reinstallation, but the rear bumper's original chrome plating was so perfect, it required nothing more than a general polish. A new black Cordova top was also installed.

Beyond the addition of the 041 cam that Michael installed more than 40 years ago, the 400 remains just as Pontiac assembled it. The No. 16 heads have never been off the 4.12-inch-bore block, and the cast piston-and-rod assembly rides on the journals of the original cast, 3.75-inch-stroke crankshaft. A rejetted 7028268 Rochester Quadrajet sits atop the original 9794234 cast-iron, four-barrel intake manifold.

Michael added oversized Ram Air exhaust manifolds and a mandrel-bent exhaust system with 2.5-inch- diameter piping and an x-type crossover. "I went with Summit Racing mufflers. They're very low-restriction units designed for racetracks subjected to noise-abatement laws. I think they sound awesome with the lumpy camshaft."

The successful preservation attempt commenced in 1998, and Michael says his GTO is now relegated to a semi-retired lifestyle. He drives it about once a month to cruise nights and car shows. Its appearance and attention to detail is certainly stunning—and others agree. It has received countless Popular Vote awards, as well as taking First Place in its class for three consecutive years at P.O.C.I.'s Dixie Chapter show held in Jacksonville, Florida.

When asked what he likes most about his GTO, Michael responds with one word. "Performance!" He explains: "This particular car seems to have been a real jewel right off the production line. I have been fortunate to own and drive several muscle cars over the years, and this particular GTO has always been special. The acceleration and overall performance is dialed in to a point where it is smooth and almost effortless thanks to Pontiac engineering. Driving it is simply thrilling."

In all the years that Michael has owned the GTO, his most memorable moment was racing a well-equipped import that had nitrous oxide. "These cars are modern-day muscle cars to the younger generation, and this kid was certainly surprised when a 40-year-old Pontiac schooled him. He had nowhere to go when the old GTO blew past him and he was spraying it with every ounce of nitrous oxide he had left!"

"Owning and driving this GTO over the years has been an absolute pleasure and a lifelong passion. I've been fortunate enough to have been its only owner from new. I can say that no one else has ever driven it, and that includes when taking it in for service work. It's an honor to own, and I'm at the point where I don't take chances with it anymore because I couldn't ever replace it."

As the saying goes, they're only original once. And in this instance, it still includes the owner!