A total of 5,335 GTO coupe notchbacks were produced in ’74, making them more common than t
When factory high-performance was toughing out the last days of the first musclecar era, Pontiac boldly introduced the ’74 GTO on a compact-car Ventura platform. Based on the X-body also shared by Chevy Nova, Buick Apollo, and Oldsmobile Omega, the Division’s designers and engineers overcame the models’ close kinship with the WW3 GTO option.
It upgraded the entry-level Ventura two-door coupe or hatchback with a Pontiac 350/four-barrel engine, M11 three-speed manual floor-shift, E70x14 black-sidewall tires, dual sport mirrors, Rally IIs, dual exhaust, special suspension, specific black grille with parking lamps, functional Shaker hoodscoop, and GTO callouts. They referred to the new GTO as “[Pontiac’s] Tough Little Road Car.”
There were only 7,058 of these GTO-optioned Venturas produced, and today they stand out as the final statement of the classic GTO’s 11-year run. In that regard, they’ve earned a dedicated following amongst some Pontiac hobbyists.
“I thought that it would be neat to own one from the last original run of GTOs,” recalls Jim Fautsch, a retired auto body shop owner in Avon, Minnesota. “They are rare, so you do not see very many of them around.”
Upon a friend’s lead in September 2001, Fautsch found a ’74 GTO sitting outside behind a boat fiberglass-repair shop in his nearby town of Little Falls. The owner was asking only $500 for the nearly complete and somewhat rusty car (the Shaker was missing). The low buy-in made it an easy decision. After closing the deal, Fautsch returned for the GTO a few days later, loaded it onto his trailer, and transported it to his body shop.
According to PHS Automotive Services records, this particular Ventura GTO was built on April 19, 1974, at Pontiac’s Van Nuys, California, assembly plant. In addition to the code-WW3 GTO option, it was outfitted with the following extra-cost items: E70x14 white-letter fiberglass tires, power steering, AM radio, body stripes, carpet, front and rear floor mats, window moldings, and a cigar lighter. It was delivered to McKenna Pontiac in Junction City, Kansas, with an MSRP of $3,674.90.
“I wanted to do a low-buck restoration and enjoy driving the GTO, without worrying about the investment,” Fautsch says. “I began working on it in my spare time, so it was a fun restoration.”
This GTO originally came with a three-on-the-floor manual stick, but gear rowing is now a
First came the engine build. He removed and stored the compact’s original 350 and three-on-the-floor, and then built a ’73 code-YJ 400 engine, utilizing a stock crank and connecting rods, and 0.030-over SRP flattop pistons. He bolted up a set of 6X-4 heads, which had already been upgraded to Comp 1.52:1 roller-tip rockers, and retained their factory 2.11/1.66 valves, and pushrods. He installed an Edelbrock Performer Plus hydraulic flat-tappet cam (204-/214-degree duration at 0.050, 0.420/0.442-inch lift, 110-degree LSA).
A ’76 455-powered Grand Prix gave up its cast-iron intake and 750-cfm Q-jet for the project, and a stock-replacement coil, Mallory dual-point distributor, Pertronix 7mm wires, and AC R45TS plugs added nominal cost to the investment.
Faust says he had a Muncie M21 four-speed, Hurst shifter, and bellhousing, which he sourced from his brother’s ’65 Catalina back in the ’70s. After adding in a new stock-replacement 10.5-inch clutch, he bolted the assembly to the back of the block, and mounted the powertrain to the GTO’s sub-frame, which he had already restored.
The last of the original-era GTOs were based upon the Ventura two-door coupe or hatchback,
With the replacement drivetrain ready to rock, the body restoration ensued. Fautsch extracted the GTO’s exterior trim, and removed the paint with aircraft-grade paint stripper. After surveying the extent of the rust, he formulated a plan: Replace the driver-side fender, door skin, and quarter-panel, and weld in a trunk pan.
He performed the metalwork himself. Then using PPG products, he primed the panels with three coats of high-build urethane primer, followed by PPG DP40 sealer, four coats of Buccaneer Red base, and several coats of clear. He color-sanded with 1,500-grit and polished the paint with 3M products. With that accomplished, he restored the brightwork with 1,000-grit and a handheld buffer, reassembled the exterior, and applied red/white/blue decals and stripes sourced from Phoenix Graphix.
Pontiac designers and engineers did what they could to delineate the ’74 GTO from the Chev
Next he reinstalled the powertrain/sub-frame assembly. To accommodate the big car’s longer gearbox output shaft, he shortened the stock driveshaft to fit between it and the GTO’s original open 3.08-geared rearend assembly. Then he hung the exhaust: 2.5-inch dual aluminized pipes, Flowmaster 40-series mufflers, and aftermarket tailpipe splitters.
“I drove the GTO around town for a week or two to break in the new engine,” he says. “That’s how long it took to get sick of the interior. It had originally come with a code-523 black/white/red cloth-and-vinyl benchseat, and it was ugly,” Luckily his friend Steve Wruck was building a ’74 GTO into a racecar, and gave him its extra-cost-option code-321 bucket seats, and its interior-trim panels, Shaker scoop, and rear leaf springs.
Kathy Larson upholstered the seat covers using NOS red Morrokide vinyl, and a local trim shop stitched in a new headliner. Fautsch installed the seats and carpet, freshened the dash and gauges, and mounted aftermarket oil temp, water temp, and voltmeter gauges below the dash to monitor engine vitals.
The 14-inch Rally IIs wear fresh paint. They’re wrapped in reproduction Firestone Wide Oval E70-14 bias-ply rubber. Behind them, the GTO’s manual four-wheel drum brakes were refurbished and fit with new shoes. The suspension is stock, except for the donor rear leaf-springs from his buddy’s ’74 GTO.
This GTO left the factory with a black/white/red plaid cloth-and-vinyl interior as shown i
The project took approximately nine months from start to finish, and was completed in Spring 2002. According to the owner, the restoration cost was roughly $5,000.
“I was very lucky that I was able to do my own labor,” Fautsch says. “People who ask how much I have into my GTO’s restoration are surprised when they hear the answer. It shows how inexpensively you can restore a Pontiac if you do your own work, and use parts that you have laying around or can source for cheap (or free!) from your friends.”
This lil’ GTO debuted at the 2004 GTOAA International Meet in Pontiac, Michigan, where it won Second Place in its class—’73-’74 Popular Vote. Other than the GTOAA Nationals, which Fautsch has attended three times since in the last seven years, “It’s usually the only ’74 GTO at the entire car show,” says his son Kevin.
A low-buck buy-in coupled with a frugal restoration is a great way to enjoy and drive your Pontiac without worrying about the value of your investment. As this GTO owner proves, it’s not only the high-buck concours trailer queens that win the trophies and have all the fun.