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


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.


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