I’ve always loved the early GTOs, but I wanted one built to my taste rather than stock,” Bill Herder of Finleyville, Pennsylvania, tells HPP. “In the process, I didn’t want to devalue a restorable GTO.” The result is this Pro Touring ’66 LeMans convertible in GTO trim.
Since the Pro-Touring label intimates that said machine can be driven anywhere comfortably while maintaining a high level of performance, we wanted to put the premise to the test on the road.
Sliding behind the wheel places the familiar feel of the factory bucket under you, and the Billet Specialties “GTO” steering wheel and Hurst Twist Machine shifter fall easily to hand. All the Auto Meter dials in the custom dash are easy to read, and the Clayton Machine Works pedals are comfortable underfoot.
This is what $2,800 bought in May 2008. Rough but solid best describes the LeMans when it
A twist of the key immediately wakes up the sleeping 589-plus-horsepower 462, and an authoritative growl is emitted from the exhaust, even at idle. Upon takeoff, the Centerforce hydraulic clutch engages positively with no chatter. Once underway, the exhaust tone wakes up noticeably and all heads turn as you drive by. While a blip of the throttle lurches the LeMans forward in any gear, mashing the pedal into the carpet plants you deeply into the Morrokide seat, as the soft-compound Nitto NT05 steamrollers grip the pavement to aid in acceleration. With the symphony of the underhood machinations competing with the exhaust as both increase in volume with the rpm, a stab of the clutch and throw of the shifter puts the TK600 five-speed into the next gear smoothly.
Upcoming bends in the road would strike fear in the heart of a driver of a stock ’66 convertible A-body, but this chassis was built to tame them. Steering input nets instant response as the 3,700-pound machine dives into the corner. The upgraded springs, bars, bushings, and shocks keep the body flat and the tires in firm contact with the road. Powering out of the curve, it’s evident that the corning ability far outreaches the lateral support of the stock buckets. Luckily, the G-Force belt keeps you from sliding off the seat. Bill has a set of racing seats and a bolt-in roll bar and harness for future competition driving.
Once the high-speed corners are navigated, dropping the shifter into Fifth gear brings the rpm down to a highway cruising rpm of just over 2,000 at 65 mph, and the top-down wind noise begins to overtake the receding exhaust tone. Whenever stopping is required, Wilwood 14-inch front disc brakes with six-piston calipers, as well as 12.2-inch, four-piston calipers in the rear, sans power assist, effectively quell forward motion with moderate pedal pressure.
Real world driveability is much better than expected and Bill’s ’66 does strike a balance between streetability and performance. It reminds you that it’s a convertible because it will flex more than a solid-roof Pontiac, but he gusseted areas of the chassis to stiffen it and added Second Skin Damplifier Pro and Luxury Liner Pro to reduce road noise and vibration.
With the shocks set to soft for the test drive, the ride quality is high, yet so is the ragtop’s handling prowess on twisting, bumpy Pennsylvania backroads, down main street, and on the highway. Now let’s learn why this ’66 LeMans performs so competently.
With direction from suspension expert Mark Savitske, Bill installed SPC billet adjustable tubular upper and lower control arms and Pro-Touring 550 lb-in springs in front. They attach to the stock spindles via Howe NASCAR-style tall ball joints. Alston Varishock double-adjustable shocks help soften the bumps and control the springs, Energy Suspension polyurethane bushings thwart suspension deflection, and a Hellwig tubular 1.125-inch stabilizer bar keeps cornering flat. To improve the steering, Bill upgraded to a Lee 670 12.7:1 power steering box and a Borgeson SS u-joint to replace the rag joint.