Here's a reminder that the...
Here's a reminder that the GTO was saved from possible destruction in Hurricane Katrina.
If ever there was an example of being at the right place at the right time, Mike Watkins' is it.
After the third grade, Mike spent the summer at his grandparent's house in Mississippi, and has many fond memories of riding around in his uncle Wayne's convertible. A teacher by profession, Mike has resided with his wife in Wilmington, Delaware, for many years now. During the planning of his daughter's wedding, he realized he could actually afford a classic car. With that, he was longing to return to those "convertible" days.
He finally bought a '69 GTO convertible in 2001, and drove it home from Michigan to Delaware. When he researched the Goat, he learned it was restored by Jimmy Whitehead in Gulf Port, Mississippi, whose specialty was GTO convertible restorations. Mike immediately contacted him and they struck up a relationship. After a few years as phone friends, a family wedding brought Mike back to Mississippi, so he decided to visit Jimmy and his shop.
"Jimmy had many GTOs," he recalls, "but one was a real heart-stopper-a red '70 GTO convertible with a numbers-matching engine. It had been off the frame and fully restored with some upgrades. The Cardinal Red body was repainted Torch Red, and the black interior was swapped to white. This was the one I had to have."
Back home, Mike bought and sold old cars to earn money to buy the GTO. By August 2005, he had the cash and contacted Jimmy again, who met Mike and his wife, Melinda, at the airport on the Mississippi Gulf Coast with the "heart-stopper." After a short trip to the bank and some shop talk, the deal was consummated. Only one problem remained-getting the GTO safely home, more than 1,400 miles away, with Hurricane Katrina moving closer.
With little time to spare and a long trip in front of him, Mike couldn't wait for a transport company, so he made the decision to drive the GTO home to Delaware alone. He immediately hit the road, and once in the "safety zone," he stopped to rest and visit some family members. The trip took 14 days, but the Pontiac was saved from probable doom. Incidentally, New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission reports estimate that more than 250,000 cars total in Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama were under water and needed reclassification to "flood car" status on their titles after the catastrophe. Fortunately, Mike's GTO did not become part of that chilling statistic.
Delving into the paperwork, he learned his Goat was originally delivered to Charlie Kittle Pontiac Company in Memphis, Tennessee, on March 2, 1970, and came with an MSRP of $4,302.22. Included in that were $712.47 in options, such as Rally gauges with tach, variable-ratio power steering, power front disc brakes, pushbutton AM radio, Rally II wheels, G70-14 white-letter tires, Formula steering wheel, console, and four-speed manual transmission.
This PHS-documented four-speed convertible features a WT-code 350-horse 400 powerplant. It has 10.25:1 compression; a Rochester Q-jet; cast-iron intake; points distributor; 72cc #12 cylinder-head castings, with 2.11/1.77 valves and 1.50:1-ratio rockers; and cast crank, rods, and pistons in the two-bolt main block. The 067 cam has been upgraded to a R/A-III 068, with 288/302 degrees advertised duration and 0.414/0.413 lift. Standard log-type exhaust manifolds feed into an NOS exhaust system and mufflers, making the Goat sound like it did in 1970.
Though the GTO initially rolled off the assembly line with the M20 four-speed, the previous owner swapped in a Turbo 400 with a His and Hers shifter and console. The original 3.55:1 open rear remains, however.
Though a body-off restoration was completed in 1995, it was beginning to show minor wear, and Mike, understandably, wanted things fresh. Once the GTO was safely home, he contacted C.E. Walls, Interiors, and Tops in Wilmington, Delaware, to rejuvinate the white interior.
Body-colored Judge front and...
Body-colored Judge front and rear spoilers help set off the fresh Corvette Torch Red base/clear urethane paint, applied by Executive Auto Body. A set of larger-than-stock 15x7 Rally IIs were restored and Wide Ovals were added for a vintage appearance.
According to the owner, the...
According to the owner, the original 350-horse WT-code 400 remains but has been upgraded with a Ram Air III cam and a rebuilt Q-jet.
Having owned a '71 GTO when...
Having owned a '71 GTO when he was 19, Mike Watkins knew that this '70 convertible was for him. His first drive, however, turned into a two-week odyssey, traveling from Mississippi to Delaware to escape hurricane Katrina back in 2005.
Executive Auto Body in Elsmere, Delaware, handled the body, paint, and chrome work. Once the bodywork was completed and the PPG 3055 primer was block-sanded until the panels were straight and smooth, three coats of PPG Deltron Urethane in Corvette Torch Red were applied by David Jeandell at Executive, followed by three coats of clear. After it cured, the body was wet-sanded with progressive grits up to 2,000; then polished.
The GTO had a very competent suspension system in '70 with a 1.125-inch sway bar up front, paired with a 0.875-inch rear bar and matched springs and shocks. Although this Pontiac also benefits from front disc brakes and variable-ratio power steering, nothing is immune from the ravages of time. To that end, the chassis was sandblasted and refinished in GM chassis-black paint, and Executive and Mike painstakingly refurbished or replaced all undercarriage wear items, such as the coilsprings, shocks, brake parts, and the like. Even the master cylinder and booster were sent out for a rebuild and refinishing.
Mike remembers, "There were many other details, such as clamps, battery, belts, beauty rings, and chrome, that needed restoration or replacement. My friend Rick Rainey and I handled that work." Once it was all said and done, the total cost for the purchase and restoration work was-what would seem in today's market-an economical $36,000.
Now back at the helm, Mike's favorite aspect of the GTO is how it drives. "It's a great, tight, fast car that feels and performs like brand-new," he says. Mike's heart-stopper is also the only vehicle that can ease his yearning for those summer days as a kid in Mississippi.
GTO convertibles had power...
GTO convertibles had power tops.
White interior had replaced...
White interior had replaced the original black before Mike bought the GTO. He sourced a Formula wheel to replace the missing original one. Though he would rather have the factory four-speed, at least the Turbo 400 was upgraded with a His-and-Hers shifter, so he can still have some manual shifting fun. The AM radio has also been swapped for an AM/FM stereo.