On Feb. 28, Mike Phillips Sr. celebrated his 67th birthday by taking a drive down memory lane in a 1967 automobile. The car wasn’t just any 1967 model, but it was the actual Pontiac GTO that he had purchased new.
Phillips had spent two years in the mid-1960s serving in the Army, most of the time in Vietnam. Upon returning to the United States he went home to San Saba, Texas.
The considerable amount of money he had saved while in Vietnam was burning a hole in his pocket. After reading about cars that had been produced while he was away, Phillips narrowed his choices to two muscle cars, a Plymouth GTX and a Pontiac GTO.
The young veteran went 30 miles to Llano, Texas where the nearest dealerships were located. The Plymouth was nice, but the one on the dealer lot was all white, which did not appeal to Phillips.
At the Pontiac dealership, he located a blue 1967 GTO with the top covered by black vinyl. He purchased it on the spot. Pontiac built only 7,029 cars like this one, each one with a base price of $2,871.
Soon after the war veteran got home in his new Pontiac he had to report to Fort Hood in Texas. He left the GTO in the care of his brother Bo. One night Bo hit a deer with the GTO, causing enough damage to the car that it was almost totaled — though not quite.
The Pontiac was repaired to like-new condition after which the once-again happy owner moved to Angleton, Texas. There the 1967 GTO became a weekend toy. Before the end of the decade the Pontiac was parked and ignored.
Not long afterward, Mike Phillips Jr. was born. The Pontiac was long dormant by the time the junior Phillips was aware of the car. He reports that while the GTO was garaged an unsuccessful attempt to steal it was made.
Over the years, Phillips says, “I hounded my father to get the Pontiac back on the road.” Finally in 2003, his father told his grown son, “You can take the car and do it yourself.”
That was all the encouragement Phillips Jr. needed to hear. With the car on a trailer, he towed the GTO to his home. Then he began to dismantle his father’s GTO.
During that process Phillips learned that under the faux air scoop on the engine hood was a 400-cubic-inch High Output V-8 that develops 365 horsepower. The speedometer can record speeds up to 120 mph. Of his muscular Pontiac, Phillips says, “It’ll bury that 120 real quick.”
While the car was hibernating it developed a small bit of rust at the bottom part of the body. Phillips cut out the cancerous rust, replacing it with solid steel. As the restoration went on Phillips says, “The progress fueled my father’s fire.” It wasn’t long before both father and son were laboring over the car.
The all-black interior has been replaced with black carpeting and black vinyl. On the console between the bucket seats is a “his and hers” shifter. One side is pure automatic while the other side can shift gears manually.
Before installing the rechromed bumpers, the Pontiac had to be repainted. Red was chosen for the respray. Phillips says the jury is still out on whether a black vinyl covering ought to be installed on the top.
As the eight-year project neared completion Phillips mounted a new set of 15-inch Uniroyal tires on the 3,425-pound car. The Pontiac rides on a 115-inch wheelbase. Phillips plans to drive the car at sedate speeds. “I don’t want to hit anything in it,” he says, “not after all the restoration work.”
A few last minute details were taken care of in order for Phillips Jr. to surprise his father by driving up on Feb. 28, 2011 for a memorable birthday drive — 44 years after his Dad drove the car for the first time. — Vern Parker, Motor Matters
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