We got the feeling there was an army of woodpeckers around. Tap, tap. Tap-tap-tap-tap. "Hey man, this bumper's not rubber - is it?"

"Just hit it with a hammer pal and see what bounces. You'll be pulling your arm back into its socket for a week."

Wherever we took the groovy looking super car, a 15-minute question and answer session developed. First the bit about the rubber bumper (we were always careful not to mention the line about a hammer to a carpenter).

All we had to do was walk in the door, quietly of course, and announce "There's the wildest looking machine parked outside you ever did see." Whoosh! All the old guys with shiny domes (why do they always come in on Saturday?) throw down the girly books and make it out the door so fast it takes the footwork of a ballet dancer to avoid them. What a kicker! By the time the gents file back in, our ears are lowered and we sail out the door smelling of fresh aftershave. A blast of the horn and a spin of wide ovals, and mighty "tiger" disappears from sight.

That trick won't work for long, but it's good for now. We became as addicted to the GTO as onlookers. It goes, rides, handles, steers, stops and looks like a car should. We halfway believe Pontiac took the best parts of all cars made, poured them into a mixing bowl, and stirred up GTO. But they didn't have to. They've been working their way toward this beautiful result for the past four years.

Niceties abound in this machine. Like the Hurst 4-speed shifter that's standard, and the hood-mounted tach that's optional. The first power shift we threw between first and second was so short and quick, we pushed the clutch pedal back in thinking we'd stopped in neutral and blown the shift. Checking the tach is easier than accepting a free drink. It reposes in a straight-forward position, and not far down from line of sight.

Finding instruments is a snap. They're all bunched in front of the driver, and the wood rimmed steering wheel seems fresh from Ferrari-land. The high positioned console storage bin is softly padded on top, and while being too low for use as an armrest will hold gobs of essentials near-at-hand.

There's a quietness inside reminiscent of a church. Tight window sealing as well as smooth suspension pieces keep all road or traffic noise outside where it belongs.

One thing only smokers will criticize is that when the ash tray is open, it interferes with shifting into or out of first or third gear. Why no one at Pontiac found this out during testing is beyond our comprehension. We know for a fact that some of their engineers support the tobacco industry.

GTO is a beautiful road machine. Speeds of 60 to 80 mph are as steady and firm as a drive through the car wash. Any reasonable speed won't upset its balance. We've had GTOs well over 120 mph-under controlled conditions-without noting any skittishness.

Handling maneuvers will make converts of anyone who ever doubted U.S. cars could go-around-corners. In fact, most domestic supercars will do this, but that's another story and this one's for the GTO. Like the fabled tiger connected with GTO, it paws around corners flat and true, then leaps through short straights, ready to have another go at a seemingly hard turn. Only driver inability will reveal any difficulty in the car's handling spirit.

Straight-line performance is just short of stupendous. After finally breaking away from our fan club at Orange County, we dropped a best of 14.80 seconds e.t. and a speed of 96 mph in completely street worthy trim. This means mufflers, air-cleaner, power assist belts, and street tires intact. We pulled off the air-cleaner and bolted on a pair of Goodyear Super-Stock "slicks" on Ansen Top Eliminator wheels and immediately kicked .3-second off this time, with speed going up to 97 mph. A few more passes through the quarter-mile and we knocked off another .05 second, finishing the evening with a 14.45-second reading and a speed of 98 mph. We still hadn't tampered with any part of the engine, and kept the exhaust running through the mufflers.

Earlier GTO's were outrunning us, but no other comparable car could finish the quarter first. It took a modified GTO to beat us, and we even had the pleasure of getting to a few of these by "reading" the Christmas Tree Chrondek starting lights a little better than their drivers.

We were asked, frequently, "What's the gas mileage?" Not to be facetious, our only reply was and can be, "if you have to ask, there's not much use in knowing." Quite frankly the car isn't built to go far on a gallon of gas. Our low reading was 7.0 mph, while the high was 14.4. This car had the 360-hp Ram-Air 400-cu.-in. V-8 with a 4.33 rear axle gear, and the 14.4 came as more of a shock than the 7.0. Mileage gets progressively better as the power descends through the range of GTO engines, hitting an all-time high with the 265-hp, 2-bbl. 400 V-8.

We had the pleasure of running-in our test GTO, as well as some with milder engines and more creature comforts such as air-conditioning and automatic transmissions. We've owned several other new cars that wore thin on our temperaments soon after their newness wore off - which usually wasn't long after noticing the first scratch. This wasn't the case here. Even when we'd clocked thousands of miles, the GTO still appealed to us as a "new" car, with the thought of its becoming "old" a nearly impossible happening.