December 15, 2012

Father-son GTO restoration

Dale and Ralph Hoffmann are living proof of the old adage "like father, like son."

Dale and Ralph Hoffmann are living proof of the old adage "like father, like son."

Both have served in the Air Force, both grew up working in garages and both are big fans of muscle cars, especially Pontiacs.

It goes back even farther than that, to Dale’s father, who ran an auto mechanics shop back in Chicago.

"I’ve worked on cars since I was 12 years old, in my dad’s shop," Dale said. "I remember laying on my back, putting a transmission on my chest and lifting it into place. We didn’t have all these fancy tools they have now back then."

Today, the father-and-son team share a beautifully restored Montero Red 1966 Pontiac GTO that they built together, working off and on, over a span of nearly eight years.

"I grew up around these kind of cars," said Ralph, who is a boom operator on an Air Force refueling tanker. Dale owned a brand-new 1965 GTO when he was first married and, later, a 1966 Catalina convertible.

Ralph’s first cars were Chevies, an ’80 Camaro, followed by a ’68 Chevelle, but his father’s love for Pontiacs was clearly passed down to him.

"We kind of had a hiatus (from performance cars) for a while," Ralph said. "But I would go to car shows. I still had the bug.

"In 2004, we started thinking again. I knew Dad was still into Pontiacs and I was, too," he said.

They decided they would like to do a GTO project and checked out two possibilities in Kansas. But neither proved to be a good starting point.

Then right after Christmas that year, Ralph spotted a decent looking car on eBay, on a Lexus dealer’s used car lot in Houston. The Hoffmanns agreed on a price, called the dealer and flew down to look at the car the next day.

They were able to get a break on price because the GTO wasn’t running right. Dale quickly figured out the problem. The 389 automatic was originally equipped with a 4-barrel carburetor, but someone had replace the intake setup with a highly desirable Tri Power arrangement with progressive linkage. It didn’t generate sufficient vacuum to work with the automatic transmission.

Once the original intake and carb were back on the motor, it purred like a tiger. But the Hoffmanns liked the Tri Power setup.

"We wanted to take it to the next level," Ralph said.

But he was transferred to Oklahoma in 2005 and the car didn’t receive much attention until his orders sent him back to McConnell Air Force Base in 2009.

Once they got back to work on the GTO, Dale said, "We converted from an automatic to a 4-speed. We wanted to keep it old school."

"We wanted an M-20 transmission, year-correct for the car. We wanted to keep it as original as possible," Ralph said.

They found the right transmission in Iowa, loaded up in their truck and headed out to pick it up.

"It had the shifter, the console, the driveshaft, everything we needed," Dale said.

They also wanted to keep the original engine in the car, but knew that the 10.75-1 compression ratio would pose drivability issues. So the two men rolled out the engine crane and carefully plucked the engine and transmission out of the car.

"We had to let the air out of the tires for the cherry picker to clear the roof," Dale said.

The engine received a thorough going over from Butler Performance Inc., in Leoma, Tenn., a well-known Pontiac race engine builder. Mike Wasson of Pontiac, near Peoria, Ill., restored the trio of carbs to factory specs. Compression was dropped to 9.5-1 to allow it to run on 91 octane street gas and the engine, which already had been bored out, was stroked to a hefty total of 453 cubic inches.

Using ’67 GTO Ram Air factory manifolds, it was dyno-tested at 405 horsepower and 490 stump-pulling foot-pounds of torque. Dale Hoffmann rebuilt the 4-speed transmission and Tom Wilhite of Wilhite Performance in Derby built the 3.55-geared Eaton rear end for the pair.

With the mechanical side of the equation well in hand, attention turned to cosmetics.

"The body was well above average … it was a garage-kept car," said Ralph, who said the 55,000 miles showing on the odometer may very well be correct. The black bucket seat interior was in excellent condition and was kept as is. There was no rust in the floor or trunk pans, said Dale, but the GTO clearly could use a fresh paint job.

It was sent out to Autotech Collision and Service in Wichita, where it was found to have at least three different paint colors and 14 layers of finish on it, according to Ralph. The decision was made to take it down to bare metal and then spray it in the correct factory red acrylic enamel.

In keeping with the originality theme, only a pair of Flowmaster mufflers, a set of chrome Cragar SS mag wheels and fresh 235x60x15 BF Goodrich TA radial tires were added. A pusher-style electric fan helped ease cooling concerns.

Finished in June, the bright red GTO made the rounds of several local car shows, collecting a couple of trophies in the process.

"It’s really not a show car," Dale said.

"It is a street car. It is what a Pontiac was in their day, a stop light king — a stoplight to stoplight car," Ralph added. "It doesn’t shake you to death. It’s very streetable. It will go zero to 60 or zero to 100 real quick.”

"We figured if we were going to do it, we might as well do it right," said his father.

Mission accomplished.

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