Jerry Eckerle is a Pontiac loyalist who was fortunate enough to be of driving age at the zenith of the musclecar era. And while many of his contemporaries back in the day pored over the relative attributes of PMD’s performance machines in the hopes of someday buying one, this veteran lived his automotive dream. “I bought a used ’67 Firebird 326 H.O. four-speed convertible in July 1967 upon returning from Vietnam,” he tells HPP. “I traded it in on a new ’69 Firebird convertible in December 1968. It was equipped with a 350 H.O., a four-speed, and a 3.90 Safe-T-Track rear.
“Street racing took its toll on the 350,” laments Jerry. “McEntee Motors in Brookville, Indiana, the selling dealer, opened up the motor for warranty repairs on a few occasions. The trunk in the Firebird wasn’t big enough for a spare tire and a cooler, which prompted me to look for a larger car. Being a Pontiac guy, the GTO was the obvious choice.”
While deciding which model to order was easy, selecting the options required more thought. By 1970, insurance companies had caught on to the musclecar movement and levied heavy surcharges on them based on published horsepower ratings. Sure, Jerry would be dinged for his GTO, but he planned to save some money by not ordering a 366 or 370-horse Ram Air engine. Instead, he retained the standard 350-horse 400, but backed it with a Special Order 3.90 rear axle and M21 close-ratio transmission.
The street racer in him also checked off Rally Gauges with clock, hood tach, and the Ride and Handling package, skipping power steering and power brakes. Though creature comforts were few beyond the AM/FM radio and rear seat speaker, he did specify visual enhancements like the Décor Group, Light Group, and others you can view on the reproduction window sticker.
Jerry placed his order in February of 1970. The GTO arrived on April 25, and he took delivery on April 30—just in time for warm weather top-down cruising. And cruise he did, daily, for the next 9 years.
This special-ordered 3.90-geared, Atoll Blue GTO has only known one owner in 42 years. Tho
He street-raced his Goat and drove it to and from work, reveling in the newfound power and the way “the GTO held the road much better than the Firebirds.” He drove it on his honeymoon to Virginia, and when each of his three children were born, he and his wife brought them home from the hospital in the convertible.
When life’s responsibilities increased after the children arrived, the drop-top was forced into early retirement from road duty and was stored for the better part of the ’80s. Once Jerry’s children were old enough to enjoy riding in the Goat, it became “The Sunday Car,” and was driven in clear, warm weather only.
In the early ’90s, after oil pressure dropped to zero during a weekend cruise, Jerry had BES Racing Engines in Guilford, Indiana, rebuild the original code-WT 400 engine. The block was bored 0.030-over, and the stock refurbished crank and rods with new TRW forged pistons were installed.
A factory “041” Ram Air IV cam with 308/320-degrees duration and 0.469/0.469 lift (with 1.50:1 rockers) replaced the stock stick, and the 2.11/1.77 valved No. 12 heads were rebuilt and modified for unleaded fuel. Jerry wanted to retain the 10.5:1 compression ratio, the factory Q-jet, iron intake, Delco points distributor, and log exhaust manifolds. Once the engine was reinstalled, a Gardner reproduction exhaust system was bolted in to restore the Humbler’s growl.
Jerry always did his best to maintain his Pontiac’s appearance and performance, despite the harsh Indiana winters. Back in 1977, when rust began to show around the wheelwells and rockers, he had the areas professionally repaired and repainted.
By the mid ’90s, however, the GTO began to show its age once again, so Jerry decided on a cosmetic restoration. He had the quarter skins and inner and outer wheelhouses replaced, and the GTO was repainted in its factory hue of Atoll Blue with more modern DuPont Chroma base and clear in 1995 by Pulskamp Restoration in Greensburg, Indiana.