GOATZILLA GTO CRUISER GONE WILD
All Todd Hall wanted from his '66 GTO was a nice cruiser.That's what a ground-up rebuild has given him, and then some
The fact that you’re reading an article about Todd Hall’s staunch-looking ’66 GTO is actually a bit of a happy accident. Todd never set out to build the masterpiece you see here, but the story of how it came to be is one that you won’t be unfamiliar with. It all started some three years ago, when, in Australia, Todd caught sight of a first-generation Pontiac GTO — one of the best-designed vehicles to come out of the US, period. It’s a design that makes an impression, irrespective of your automotive inclinations, and one of only a handful that, through its simplicity — stacked headlights, Coke-bottle hips, and a perfectly proportioned profile — can be classified as art. That look was all it took for Todd to realize how much he’d like to own one.
This was a desire not helped by a trip up to C&M Performance in Auckland, where Carl Jensen was tuning Todd’s blown and injected ’69 Mustang. As fate would have it, Michael Franklin’s ’540GTO’ — a blown alcohol-drinking all-steel ’66 GTO — was sharing workshop space with the Mustang and that was enough to really tip Todd over the edge. The internet browsing began, with Todd frequenting sites such as Craigslist in search of his dream car. All he was looking for was a cruiser … The car you see here was purchased, rather fittingly, around Christmas 2014. It was located in Guilford, Connecticut, but Todd hadn’t factored in the massive port strikes across the US’s west coast at the time. As a result, it wasn’t until April 2015 that the Pontiac landed in New Zealand — a wait that could be described as nothing short of agonizing. Once in New Zealand, the GTO’s true condition was revealed. Todd knew it wasn’t perfect, as it had cost around half the average asking price for a GTO, and the base-spec car — with no power steering or vacuum-assisted brakes — would need a bit of attention to become the cruiser he was after. “I thought it would be fine to drive around for a couple of years before starting on a rebuild,” Todd explains. Of course, this plan would require that the car go through the VINing process, and it revealed a few rust areas in the floor that would necessitate body-off repairs. Even so, Todd wasn’t going to let that spoil his chances of enjoying his new toy before a rebuild that could take any length of time. An upcoming run with the Cam County car club sounded like just the ticket — road legal or not! “I put in two long, hard weeks just getting it ready to go,” Todd says. “I took the motor out to repair the rear main seal, rebuilt the diff, fitted new wheel bearings all round, and fixed the wiring.” Unfortunately, Todd’s efforts were for naught. On the car’s way to Upper Hutt to meet up with the club, the water-temperature needle soared into the danger zone, while the oil pressure one sank to alarming depths. The time for that big rebuild had come, so the GTO was rolled into the garage and stripped back for a complete overhaul. With a clear picture in mind of what he wanted to
do and how he wanted the finished car to look, it was simply a matter of Todd talking to the right people. An important part of the car’s appearance would be fitting a pair of decent-sized rollers under the rear end, so the bare chassis was sandblasted and epoxy coated, before being dragged down to Eddie and Josh Trybula at All Fleet Services. There, the rear chassis rails were carefully narrowed to accommodate the massive 20x13-inch Rushforth wheels, and pickup points were welded in for the triangulated four-link and rear coilover shocks. “It doesn’t sound like much when you write it down, but there was a truckload of work in it,” Todd remembers. “Getting those wheels to fit without rubbing was quite a mission.” Meanwhile, Todd was busy stripping the shell back to bare steel, so that Paul Knight, from Classic Auto, could work his magic. Paul’s a true genius when it comes to panel work, and the job he’s done is nothing short of amazing. The big Pontiac’s body was put on a rotisserie and myriad rust-repair panels were seamlessly grafted in, along with a huge pair of rear tubs, while the front end received a smoothed firewall. With the bodywork completed, the giant jigsaw puzzle could be reassembled, and the GTO finally began to resemble the tough cruiser that Todd had been dreaming of. Although Todd was only ever building the Pontiac for stress-free cruising — he’s got the Mustang to beat up on — that didn’t mean it would be lacking in the grunt department. While this GTO would have rolled off the assembly line with a 389ci Pontiac V8 under the bonnet, someone, at some stage in the following 50 years, had slotted in a 455ci Pontiac big block in its place. Despite the
ALTHOUGH TODD WAS BUILDING THE GTO FOR STRESS-FREE CRUISING, IT WASN'T GOING TO BE LACKING IN THE GRUNT DEPARTMENT
headache this engine had caused earlier, Todd deemed it the perfect power plant for the job, and had Reece Harrison — described by Todd as “A drag racer with 40 years of ‘been there, done that’ experience” — give it a freshen-up. Forged pistons were slotted into the bottom end, while a mild camshaft, roller rockers, and 750cfm Holley Double Pumper on a low-rise Edelbrock Torker II manifold ensure that it’s got bucketloads of reliable, usable grunt. If the tough, albeit restrained, engine combo isn’t enough to convince you that the GTO has been built as more than just a lazy cruiser, perhaps Todd’s transmission of choice might. Rather than opting for a laid-back automatic transmission, or a sloppy old four-speed, he sourced a brandnew Richmond six-speed manual gearbox — an engineering masterpiece that is more than capable of harnessing the 455’s massive torque, while providing Todd with a civilized driving experience that guarantees enjoyment of his time spent behind the wheel. All that was left before Todd could actually get behind the wheel were the small tasks of sorting the paint, the interior, and LVVTA certification. Mike McQueen, at August Panel and Spray, was
called on for the first of these unenviable tasks. Countless hours spent sanding, priming, painting, cutting, glazing, and polishing have paid off — the Pontiac’s huge panels, covered in a deep coat of Jet Black paint, are mirror-like in their perfection, and the ultimate testament to Mike’s skill at his craft. The Pontiac’s interior was taken to Dion at Cover Me upholstery, and the end result is perfectly aligned with Todd’s goal of a usable cruiser. The upholstery has been beautifully re-covered in a no-nonsense factory style, and it’s only the Grant wood-rimmed steering wheel, Long six-speed shifter, and trio of Auto Meter diagnostic gauges that hint at the firepower veiled beneath the GTO’s main role as a sedate cruiser. You may remember that Todd jumped straight into the grand rebuild without ever actually having got the Pontiac VINed. Fortunately, he’d been consulting Julian Cheer at Cheers Auto. Julian had been following the build and guided Todd through the process to ensure everything was safe and compliant. With the VIN and LVVTA certification processes taken care of, Todd was on the road! If you’ve ever seen Todd pedalling his tough Mustang — most often with smoke pouring off the rear tyres — then you’ll know that this car will also be driven the way it was built to. No, it’s not going to be subjected to the same level of mechanical abuse as the Mustang cops, but it will get driven — the best thing that could happen to a car like this, and a treat for all those who are lucky enough to see it in action.
THE PONTIAC’S HUGE PANELS, COVERED IN A DEEP COAT OF JET BLACK PAINT, ARE MIRROR-LIKE IN THEIR PERFECTION