Chris LaCasse's GTO was refinished right down to a restored license plate. He now faces a
"Even though my '65 GTO has been modified heavily, I wanted it to look mostly stock to the casual observer," says Chris LaCasse. "I didn't want them to notice [certain] parts didn't belong there since I didn't build it to show off aftermarket pieces." One look at Chris' Goat should reinforce his stated intent. But did the 42-year-old automotive and Harley Davidson technician go too far? Is the Pontiac too pristine to enjoy now that it's done? This is one decision that its owner is currently wrestling with due in part to his satisfaction with the finished project and also his reverence toward Pontiacs in general.
Should he decide to "show only," his garage certainly offers respite from non-Pontiac influences in the form of other road-going Ponchos. Inside you'll find a '70 GTO convertible with a R/A-III and a four-speed, a '61 Catalina Bubbletop, and a '71 GT-37 four-speed car.
This obsession came naturally to Chris whose dad raised him with the belief that Pontiacs were above all other forms of transportation. "My father has had them all his life," he says. "He even still owns the '79 Firebird he bought new."
Initiation for Chris came with the cost of a '74 LeMans Sport. From there he picked up a '70 GTO after college, and then got really carried away after moving to Rocklin, California, in 1991 from Clifton Park, New York. "I found quite a few Pontiacs to buy, and quite a few I didn't," Chris says. "I passed up this '65 GTO the first time around because it was too expensive." In 1992, he received a call from a friend at a shop asking if he wanted the very same '65 GTO for $1,200. Chris agreed, and the car was trailered to his shop so that he and the GTO could get reacquainted.
It was in solid shape, but all of the original driveline pieces had been replaced with poor substitutions. The decision was made to bring the Goat back from parts-car hell, so Chris began a five-year search to collect as many desired pieces as he could for his new project. When the final item was located, the Pontiac was stripped to its bare shell and set for a "frame-on" makeover.
Upon the A-body's arrival post media blasting, Vice's Collision in Sacramento, California, went to work. "The owner, Jay, fixed a couple of dings in the body panels and made the GTO laser straight," Chris says. "He then semifilled the firewall for me." It was afterward that Jay Vice could show his painting skills. It was sprayed with PPG acrylic primer in three coats then block-sanded and sealed. Next, PPG Cabernet Metallic Pearl from the '97 Jaguar line was applied in four coats. Then came multiple coats of clear. With the car cut and buffed, it was time to move onto the suspension.
Deceleration is assisted by a Power Brake Service dual-diaphragm brake booster, while acce
Next, all of the hand-picked frame and suspension parts were simply coated in Rust-Oleum from rattle cans so they looked somewhat stock. Suspension mods up front included '69 GTO front spindles and A-arms, and a Hotchkis 15/16-inch stabilizer bar. Out back, boxed lower control arms to accept a 1-inch rear stabilizer bar were mounted. Aiding in keeping the GTO flat in the twisties are Hotchkis springs at the four corners--KYB gas shocks tame pavement irregularities. If that's not enough, Polygraphite bushings reduce deflection and ward off squeaks.
Bolted to the business end of those Chevelle (12-bolt) upper and GTO lower rear control arms is a 12-bolt Posi rear out of a '66 Chevelle donor, fitted with 3.31 gears. Its Moser axles add durability and provide a mounting flange for the rotors of a '79 Trans Am disc brake system. Following the brake lines reveal Aeroquip braided brake hoses connecting to the calipers and 10.9-inch front disc brakes donated by the aforementioned '69 GTO. Dot 5 Harley Davidson fluid, a dual-pot master cylinder, a Power Brake Service dual-diaphragm brake booster, and a disc brake combination valve completes the system.
A WS-6 steering box from a Second-Gen Trans Am was bolted in to keep the Wheel Vintiques 16x8s pointed in the desired direction. Of course, the rear 16x9.5s are happy to follow in tandem. For sure grip and to fill the wheelwells, Chris went with BFGoodrich 245/60R16 Radial T/As in front with the rears measuring 265/60R16. He says no modifications were required to fit this no-rub wheel and tire combination under the GTO, just 4-inch front and 53/4-inch rear backspacing.
That beautiful paint is actually a '97 Jaguar color reproduced by PPG. Under the moniker C
Gauges are restored stockers, as is the radio block-off plate, but the steering wheel is f
Seatbelts are from Crow, while the seats are swap-meet specials fitted with custom-fabrica
While Chris won't have to look far for admirers, he will have to reach far to change the t
While it sounds as if Chris had all his ducks in a row, it was quite the contrary. After receiving the body from Vice's Collision, he plunged into a burnout phase and moved on to other projects. For five years the '65 sat, waiting for the day Chris would begin again, renewed. In the interim, he was constantly pestered by his friends about his half-baked Poncho. "I didn't want to rush it," he says. "This GTO was going to be my keeper. I was building it to be the car I would never sell." As such, he decided to go with the philosophy of "all good things come to those who wait," and so it was in 2004 that this good thing was jumpstarted!
With the chassis work previously completed and the body straight, the motor was the next cog in the wheel to grease. A healthy 455 was cherry picked out of a '72 Grand Prix SJ and deemed a good starting point upon which Smedding Performance in Rancho Cordova, California, would base a buildup. Up top you'll find an 850-cfm Holley carb, with a Performer RPM manifold underneath. Gasket-matched GTO No. 16 heads are bolted on either side, the internals replaced with stainless 2.11/1.77 valves, hardened seats, and bronze guides after a pocket porting was completed. A Crower cam with 296/305 degrees of duration and 0.510/0.525 lift (108 degrees LSA) bumps steel pushrods from the same manufacturer, along with Comp 1.5 rockers and springs.
The 455 grew to 462 cubes with a 0.030 overbore to clean up the cylinder walls. Its nodular iron crankshaft was fitted with Crower forged steel rods and custom Ross dished pistons to drop compression to 9.5:1.
Keeping everything well lubricated--even in the turns due to the suspension mods--a baffled oil pan is secured to the bottom of the engine. Working in its confines is a Milodon high-volume oil pump and larger pickup.
To keep the fires lit, a Joe Hunt magneto look-alike electronic distributor with an internal coil sends pulses down MSD wires to Autolite plugs. After the explosion, the spent fumes rush through Ram Air exhaust manifolds, down 21/2-inch mandrel-bent galvanized steel tubes to Flowmaster three-chamber mufflers, and out of 2.5-inch tails. The entire system was custom bent by Si Standridge of American muffler in Roseville, California.
Transferring the twist to the 12-bolt is a '70 Muncie M20 with aid from a Centerforce Dual-Disc clutch and a Hays billet flywheel wrapped in a blow-proof bellhousing, all assembled by Rich Grob. Thanks to a stock '65 GTO Hurst shifter poking from the center console, mixing gears is made easy.
With the engine work completed, the next pairs of hands to touch the car belonged to Phil Nemanic and John Caveza at Greater Sierra Upholstery in Rocklin, California. While an Ames carpet and interior kit was employed to replace worn stock items, for a one-of-a-kind look, Chris picked up a set of swap-meet-special Toyota Celica GT buckets and had Phil and John recover them in black vinyl. Utilizing new cloth inserts found in the Z-24 Cavalier, the rear and front seats were matched to the paint through the maroon zigzags dotting the landscape of the material.
Topping it all off, a Grant mahogany steering wheel was mounted on the stock steering column. Stock '65 GTO Rally gauges peek from the dash, the entire set returned to factory perfection by the guys at Redline Gauge Repair.
With the old Goat back on the road, Chris finally has had some time behind the wheel. How does this now-finished project car feel? "It's extremely solid," Chris says. "It accelerates very hard and decelerates the same way. Everything is right then and there. It's tight." When we inquired further about what he likes the most, Chris told us, "It's very clean and crisp. I like that it has an aggressive tone, but at the same time it has a lot of class."
Even after building his perfect Pontiac, Chris did find one problem, "I made it too nice," he says. "I'm now scared that somebody is going to do something to it." Accident, or otherwise, Chris currently takes his GTO out sparingly, reporting just 150 accumulated miles as of this writing.
In the meantime, while waiting for the newness to wear off the '65, Chris has already started his '70 GTO Judge hardtop. Will this R/A-III auto with A/C A-body be too nice to drive as well? Only time will tell.
A Be Cool aluminum radiator with four rows keeps the internal temperatures at manageable l
For modern performance hidden in a nostalgic wrapper, a Joe Hunt magneto look-alike electr
Improved handling and braking were paramount to the project. Stock parts were augmented wi
In the rear, Chris installed a 12-bolt Posi unit with 3.31 gears, and added boxed control
Nothing adds to the crisp, clean look of this Poncho like its Wheel Vintiques 16-inch rims
How's this for attention to detail? In the trunk, an interior-matching tire cover sits on