What's the best way to showcase your buildup of one of the rarest engines in Pontiac history? How about vintage hot rod meets Factory Experimental in one of the Division's hottest models? That's what Nunzi Romano was thinking when he built this '65 GTO.
Most any enthusiast following fast Pontiacs within the past four decades is likely familiar with Nunzi, as his contributions helped carry the Pontiac performance torch during the dark days of the '70s and '80s. His personal story isn't one that's well known, however.
This '65 GTO started life...
This '65 GTO started life as a Montero Red coupe and was originally loaded with performance options. Wanting to re-create the appearance of a primered '60s hot rod, the body was finished in PPG Hot Rod Black. The original chrome bumpers and stainless steel trim were thoroughly polished and detailed, but otherwise remain original.
Nunzi was born in Southern Italy and studied automotive mechanics, cutting his teeth on high-end Italian race cars. He immigrated to America in the late-'50s and has called Brooklyn, New York, home ever since. His first Pontiac, a '55 two-door sedan, was purchased from the Brooklyn-area Pontiac dealer at which he worked, and he began tinkering to improve its performance. His immediate success gained him notoriety as a performance guru with the hot-rod crowd, which led to the opening of his own specialty garage.
As was much of America in the early-'60s, Nunzi, too, was enamored with Pontiac's Super-Duty program, and the GTO when it debuted in 1964. "Pontiac was on top at the time, and I remember talking to a salesman at the dealership about the GTO before it came out," the retired engine builder recalls. "He told me that it was a performance model with scoops on the hood, and that's all I had to hear. I ordered a Starlight Black '64 with a 389 Tri-Power and four-speed manual transmission. I really liked the car and raced it all the time, but the '65 GTO is my favorite."
General Motors' corporate edict on factory-backed racing eliminated the Super-Duty program, so Engineering fought back and introduced super-strong street engines, including the GTO's 389 Tri-Power in '64, the 400 H.O. and Ram Air in '67, the R/A-II in '68, the R/A-IV in '69, the 455 H.O in '71 and the SD-455 in '73 for the Firebird. The 421 H.O. and 428 H.O.s motivated the quick Big-Cars of the day. Many owners brought such Pontiacs to Nunzi for his magic touch, and though they ran well in stock trim, minor tweaking extracted even more performance from them--a feat noticed by members of Pontiac's engineering team.
The suspension remains stock,...
The suspension remains stock, but urethane bushings replace the original rubber units. Modern Firestone Firehawk tires in 225/70R15 and 255/70R15 on black 15x7-inch steel rims are used front and rear. Nunzi chose '73 Pontiac wheel covers for the "baby moon" effect. The 12-bolt GM axle houses a Moroso Brute-Strength limited-slip differential and a 4.56 gearset.
A Bit Of R/A-V History
Competition amongst manufacturers was fierce in those days, and Pontiac had a reputation as a performance leader. The maximum-performance combination, dubbed "R/A-V," was Engineering's attempt at maintaining its status. Conceptually designed as a 400 (but also available in 303 and 366 ci), the R/A-V featured a reinforced block with four-bolt main caps and forged-steel internals. It was topped by newly developed Tunnel-Port cylinder heads like those Ford used with large, round intake ports and individually spaced exhausts. The combination included a high-lift mechanical camshaft, a cast-aluminum intake manifold, and a Holley carburetor. It was a true high-performance mill with 7,000-rpm capability.
Most likely due to emission regulations and internal procurement, the R/A-V program was abruptly cancelled as it neared introduction. No such engine was ever installed into a production vehicle, but because most components of the combination had been cast and their part numbers cataloged, assembled engines and individual components were sold over the parts counter for several years.
Acquiring The Parts
Nunzi took immediate interest in the R/A-V and began accumulating many of the unique components that remain in his collection today. "I purchased several complete R/A-V engines and cylinder heads back then. I also picked up a few different R/A-V intake manifolds, including a dual-quad tunnel ram and a medium-rise, dual-plane dual-quad unit that's extremely rare. I think it was a prototype used by Pontiac for testing. Others may exist, but I've never seen or heard of one