For '70, Pontiac produced 40,149 GTOs,but only 4,146 of them came equipped with the 455 H.
When you think of San Francisco, what comes to mind? Sourdough bread, cable-driven trolley cars, or the ever-constant fear of earthquakes? To Paul Lesiczka, a 45-year-old union sheetmetal worker in Plaistow, New Hampshire, the City by the Bay instantly brings to mind a three-number/three-letter combination: 455 GTO.
"My '70 GTO was sold new in the heart of San Francisco," Lesiczka told HPP. "It's a true California car and has its California-only smog-equipment still attached and working."
Painted in Granada Gold, a '70-only color option, the GTO was special ordered by 67-year-old Ree Oliver Casentini of Burlingame, California (coincidentally, he lived on a street called Granada Drive), and built at the Fremont Assembly Plant on November 6, 1969. Shortly thereafter, it was delivered to Boas Pontiac in San Francisco and prepped for its new owner.
The GTO came loaded with the options that make every Pontiac fan envious. Of course, there's the famous L75 455 H.O. D-port mill, rated at 370 hp and offered for the first time in '70. Other options include (A01) tinted glass, (A31) power windows, (C60) air conditioning, (D55) a floor console, (JL1) pedal polish trim, (JL2), power front disc brakes, (N33) a tilt steering column, (N34) a Sport steering wheel, (N41) power steering, (N98) Rally II wheels, (U35) an electric clock, (WS6) the power assist group, (W63) a Rally gauge and clock cluster, and (Y96) firm ride and handling.
Though Casentini has passed, the story of his love for this GTO was handed down to the second and third owners, and finally to Lesiczka. "The original owner kept his GTO for 25 years and was often seen driving in San Francisco with a peculiar habit. He kept one foot barely on the brake at all times, and so the GTO always had its brake lights on," Lesiczka said. "Nathan D. Bemont, of Mooresville, Indiana, a San-Francisco-based airline pilot, saw the GTO often, and one day in the late-'80s, he gave Casentini, then 90 years old, his phone number in case he wanted to sell. Casentini told him his GTO was not for sale, but he gave the pilot's name and phone number to his wife."
Check out the reproduction Goodyear Polyglas G70-14 tires, wrapped around original JL-code
"Seven years later, Casentini's wife gave Bemont a call. She explained that at 97, it was getting harder for her husband to drive the GTO. She offered the car and he bought it. That was 1993," Lesiczka said.
The GTO changed hands in 1999 to George Visnick of Avon, Indiana, another airplane pilot, and then again in July 2004, to Frank Tobin, a friend of Lesiczka.
"Frank knew how much I love Pontiacs and we restored the GTO together in his home garage over the next two years. His expertise led the project, and I learned from him as we went," Lesiczka said.
Because the GTO had been a California car for most of its life, there was absolutely no rust damage. The men decided on a frame-off restoration with the intent of returning the GTO to how it looked when new.
They took the body off the frame, stripped the frame of its suspension components, and then sandblasted it until bare. The men used PPG DP90 epoxy primer followed by Dupont Black Satin paint to restore its factory look. Then they glassbead-blasted the suspension components, primed them with SEM Self-Etching Primer, painted them with Satin Black, and reinstalled them on the painted frame.
Next, they stripped the body to bare metal using aircraft-paint stripper; it was then that Lesiczka was pleasantly surprised. "I saw things that I had never seen before on any Pontiac I have ever restored, including original spot welds, factory lap seams, and factory firewall markings. It was amazing to witness a 34-year-old Pontiac with its sheetmetal still looking like brand-new," he said. Afterwards, the men put the body on a rotisserie and sandblasted its bottom, followed by more priming and painting.
Though this GTO didn't come with a hood tachometer, the owner added a factory-correct unit
This GTO earned a Concours Gold Award at the 2008 GTOAA Nationals, scoring 385/400 points.
The YA-code 455 features a 4.15 x 4.21 bore/stroke and is rated at 360 hp. It's augmented
Tobin called Bill Lamb of Lowell, Massachusetts, to his garage to align the body panels, repair a few dents and dings, and prepare the GTO for paint. He prepped its body with three coats of House of Kolor KP2CF Epoxy Primer, each layer followed by block-sanding, and finally, PPG's DBC basecoat/PPG 2021 clear system in Granada Gold and 3M's Perfect-it polishing system.
For reassembly, the team used new weatherstripping, body mounts, door felts, and window seals, sourced from Ames Performance. They also installed a new Cordova top, using hard-to-find NOS material.
The 455 H.O. (code YA) was rebuilt by Steve Foster from Tyngsburo, Massachusetts. "We tried to keep the motor as original as possible," he said. "We were able to hone the engine and reuse the 4.15-inch original pistons, grind the 4.21-inch crank 0.010/0.010, and only needed to buy a set of CAT connecting rods. Comp Cams makes a nice '067' replacement with 273/289-degrees advertised duration and 0.410/0.413 lift, and we used it to replace the factory stick."
On the original No. 64 cast-iron heads, Foster also stayed as close to factory specs as he could. He performed a three-angle valve job (45-degree valve, 30-degree cutdown, and 60-degree relief) and installed SBI stainless steel 2.11/1.77 valves.
Fuel is fed from a Rochester Quadrajet (code EES7040568, rebuilt by The Carb Doctor in Line Lexington, Pennsylvania) into a Pontiac dual-plane cast-iron intake (code 9799068). A code-1112012 Pontiac distributor (upgraded with an internal Pertronix unit) sends spark through datecoded-correct wires to AC Delco R45S plugs.
When the engine was completed and broken-in by the builder, the two men installed it into the frame, reconnecting it to its original Turbo 400 and 3.07-geared 12-bolt open-rear end, which they also restored.
Factory-correct cruise control was bought N.O.S. from eBay and added by the current owner.
This GTO's interior is code 255 Saddle with reproduction seat covers, carpet, and headline
The factory California-only emissions system was painstakingly hand-restored by the curren
Bringing the California-emissions smog equipment to show quality was a challenge. "We hand-restored every component of the California smog system, including the gas tank, because no reproduction parts were available at the time," Lesiczka said. "It would have been easier to remove the smog equipment altogether, but it was especially important to me to restore the car with all of its original equipment."
This GTO was ordered with a code 355 Saddle interior. Though most of the pieces are still original, the seat covers, seat foam, carpet, and headliner were replaced with reproduction pieces sourced from Ames. "The original interior was near-perfect," Lesiczka recalled. "For the most part, we just had to clean it up and reinstall it." At the same time, the AM/FM "Redeye" radio was restored and reinstalled.
Shows And Awards
Tobin and Lesiczka completed the restoration in 2006, after which Lesiczka bought the GTO from Tobin and showed it at the GTOAA Nationals in 2008 in Saratoga Springs, New York, where it earned a Concours Gold award. "The most impressive part of the whole show was the fact that the top restorers in the country were coming to my car and could not believe that we restored it in a home garage," he said.
Other national awards include three consecutive Best of Shows at the World of Wheels (Boston, 2007-2009), as well as the event's coveted "Top Show Car" Crystal Award, and numerous other local and regional First Place accolades.
One acknowledgement, which is more important to Lesiczka then his trophies, came from Pontiac historian John Sawruk, now deceased. "At the 2008 GTOAA Nationals, he asked if there were any California-emissions GTOs since they had to be scored separately. When he learned that I had one, he was very excited, and told me it was the first California GTO to be professionally scored by the GTOAA in seven years. He then told me that HPP contributor Quint Stires, also deceased, would have to judge my GTO. Afterwards, even though he was very ill with cancer, Sawruk took the time to lie underneath my GTO and personally inspect it. He said to me, 'You did an amazing job.' "
Though it's easy to rate this GTO among the world's finest concours-restored Pontiacs, Lesiczka is not afraid to take it out for a summer drive too. "Last summer, my wife, Lynn, and I enjoyed driving it to the beach and taking it out to get ice cream. We really liked putting about 1,000 miles on it, especially with the A/C and the cruise control on," he said.
There's one trip that Lesiczka would consider even more special for his California-born GTO-a return to San Francisco and a drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, something its original owner did with his GTO many times. "It would be interesting to go back to where it was sold new and try to locate the original salesman," Lesiczka said. "I'd sure like to know the first owner's thoughts as to why he custom-ordered the GTO in 1969 and what was his reaction was when he took delivery of it."
Only 4,146 GTO 455 H.O.s were produced in '70, and it's unknown what percentage of these were California-built "smog" cars. Nonetheless, it's safe to say that this GTO's special-ordered options and build location make it a unique find in the Pontiac hobby.
Paul Lesiczka gives special thanks to Frank Tobin for his expertise in the building of this GTO.
Upon disassembly, Lesiczka found the factory's original broadcast sheet for this GTO glued
The partially restored body is hovering over the unrestored chassis.
The completed rolling chassis shows the attention to detail the current owner put into thi