1964 Pontiac GTO Modification

1964 Pontiac GTO Modification
I WAS AN 11-YEAR-OLD GEARHEAD in training when the GTO was introduced,” says Phoenix resident Gordon “Gordie” Cowan. His lifelong admiration for Pontiac muscle cars has led to his latest creation. At first glance, this ’64 resembles a recently unearthed desert diamond-in the-rough, with its kaleidoscope of body hues born of   age-faded Aquamarine repaints worn down to primer in some areas and bare metal in others, inviting hints of surface rust here and there. Yet the period-perfect Mickey Thompson (M/T) Rader wheels, wrapped in U.S. Royal redlines, are pristine by comparison.

Upon closer inspection, the 389 engine looks restored and is also outfitted with Johnson-era M/T finned-aluminum rocker covers with breathers and Badger air cleaners.   Cal Custom’s chromed cover adorns the voltage regulator. A peak inside reveals a show-ready cabin with a refurbished instrument panel bezel, new Parchment upholstery and headliner, repainted inner door tops and dashboard, Sun tach, Stewart-Warner gauges, and desirable options.

The shabby-chic exterior finish, juxtaposed with vintage accessories on the highly detailed engine and in the cabin, depicts the GTO as a Day Two married to an as-found body, a theme Gordie calls “Day Three.” He says, “Some people don’t understand what the car is about and actually get insulted when I tell them that it’s not getting its dents removed, nor is it getting repainted.”

He found this Pontiac in Carefree, Arizona, in 2002, and says it appeared to be “baked to well done.” Gordie wanted its taillights for his other 1964 GTO, which is one of two that competed in and delivered a Class II win for Pontiac in the Pure Oil Performance Trials (HMM

85, October 2010), but the owner wouldn’t sell just those parts, so he bought the whole car sans its gearbox.

From the PHS paperwork, he learned that the Goat had been sold in nearby Glendale at Mecham Pontiac, which had also been the home of the Macho Trans Am in the 1970s and the MSE T/A in the 1980s. It also confirmed that the GTO’s 389 four-barrel was original, and it had a three-speed manual and 3.23 open rear end. Additional options included an AM radio, rear seat speaker, backup lamps, Deluxe wheel discs, tinted windshield, and fender-mounted remote rear view mirror.

1964 Pontiac GTO Modification Interior
INTERIOR: Period touches include a Sun FZ-series tach and StewartWarner (reissued) Green Line gauges. A custom sports steering wheel, console, clock updated with quartz movement, 1965 AM/FM radio, reverb, and an NOS four-speed shift knob were also added.

Gordie put the GTO on jack stands under a cover in his backyard, since restoring it was cost prohibitive. Over the next several years, however, he noticed that cruisers with faded paint and battle scars were becoming more prevalent, as were the Day Two cars— decked out with vintage aftermarket parts. The idea of a less expensive, yet still fun-todrive build began to evolve. In 2004, he started collecting parts with an eye toward bargains. The Rader wheels he already had. “I bought them in the early 1990s and didn’t even have a car to put them on,” Gordie recalls, “but I knew that they were the best looking wheels ever made and they were affordable. My brother had put a set on his new ’66 GTO two weeks after he bought it.”

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During the financial crisis of 2007-’08, Gordie purchased an interior kit from Legendary at a 30-percent discount, and just stored it under his bed while he kept on collecting parts. Several inspiring deals followed.

By 2014, the GTO had been off the road for over 30 years, but Gordie had amassed enough parts to start the project. He removed the front clip and sent the fender wells and radiator core support for powder coating, and he scrubbed the firewall and the chassis with Simple Green to remove decades of dirt.

Wear items were replaced, and the suspension was upgraded with TRW coil springs featuring a slightly-higher than-stock ride height, a rear .875-inch anti-roll bar to augment the .938-inch front bar, KYB gas shocks, and a quicker-ratio 1977 Trans Am power steering box and pump. The stock drum brakes were rebuilt, and the lines and hoses replaced.

Greulich Engines Machining Inc. in Phoenix rebuilt the 389, while Gordie continued work on the GTO at home. Block machining also included overboring the cylinders .030-inch. The cast crankshaft was turned .010/.010-inch, and the stock connecting rods were refurbished.

Updates involved .030-inch-over KB hypereutectic pistons, stainless-steel valves in the stock 1.92/1.66-inch sizes, screw-in rocker studs, PRW 1.5:1 roller rockers, and a replacement 1965-andup Pontiac 068-spec hydraulic-lifter camshaft with 288/302-degrees advertised duration (the stock camshaft had 273/289-degrees). A ’64 Tri-Power unit replaced the four-barrel, and later Ram-Air style exhaust manifolds feed into 2.5-inch dual exhausts.

A 1966 M20 four-speed was rebuilt and installed behind a 10.5-inch Centerforce clutch. Gordie already had a 12-bolt, so he had its housing powder coated and a new Positraction unit, axles, and 3.55 gears installed.

Along with the other mechanical work, he also rewired the Pontiac with new harnesses from M&H Electric Fabricators, rebuilt the original alternator, and installed a four-core radiator, new fan, new gas tank and lines, and an NOS fuel cap.

Given the build’s concept, the body prep was minimal. Gordie explains, “I retained the finish, which had faded and kind of turned silver over time.

I never liked the remote mirror on the fender, so I removed it, installed a standard-style mirror on the door, welded up the old holes, and blended in a finish to match the area. I repainted the grilles because all the black was gone, but the bumpers are original.”

The Pontiac was back on the road in September of 2015, and Gordie reports, “I absolutely love the car. It accelerates and stops like a GTO of its era [with mild engine, steering, and suspension improvements]. I didn’t put disc brakes on it because they wouldn’t fit with the Rader wheels, so I adjust how I drive it to account for the manual drum brakes and narrow-tread reproduction bias-ply tires.” He also retained the 10.75:1 compression ratio. “It runs well with about 33-percent 110-octane Sunoco race fuel mixed with pump premium.”

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Since the Goat was sold locally, Gordie hoped someone would recognize it and help fill in its owner history details. Less than a week after it was finished, Jim Nafziger, a Pontiac loyalist who’s owned many, spotted the GTO a few blocks from his house and was so intrigued he followed it home. He tells HMM, “I parked across the street at a yard sale, so the owner wouldn’t think I was a stalker.” When Gordie got out of the car and saw Jim approaching, they recognized each other from their previous conversations at local car shows about the Pure Oil GTO.

Jim said that it looked like the Pontiac his dad, Wayne E. Nafziger, a WWII veteran, had bought new. “The parking decal on the front bumper was from the university my brother attended, and I recalled the chip in the driver’s-side window, and a few dents,” he says.

But he noted that the rearview mirror wasn’t mounted on the fender. When Gordie heard that, he realized Jim’s ownership assertion was probably correct.

He gave him the VIN to take home and check against his original paperwork. It matched. Jim also found vintage photos. Interestingly, the PHS shows Deluxe wheel discs and redline tires, but the early photos reveal Custom wheel discs with spinners and whitewall tires.

1964 Pontiac GTO Modification Engine
ENGINE: The Tri-Power, M/T rocker covers, Badger air cleaners, a hotter factory cam, and more were added to the rebuilt .030-inch overbored 389 engine.

According to Jim, his dad bought the GTO from Mecham Pontiac in April 1964 and had the dealer install A/C in it (long gone now). He’d previously owned big Mercurys but wanted a younger man’s car and had made a deal on a 1964 289 Comet Caliente.

Upon delivery, the dealer inflated the price, so Wayne refused the car. On the way home, he discovered this GTO at Mecham in nearly the same color as the Comet and bought it.

Jim was 10 years old at the time and remembers, “I thought my dad was the Steve McQueen of dads when he came home with that GTO. I instantly fell in love with it.”

In 1968, older brother Allen took it to college and when he graduated in 1972, Jim freshened up the engine for him and added an R.A. III cam and headers. He swapped in a Muncie four-speed and 3.08 limited-slip rear-end in 1973, and the body was repainted that same year.

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Jim took ownership in 1976. “I already had a ’64 by then,” he laments, “so I couldn’t really afford either one.” Nevertheless, he held onto it and had it repainted again in 1977.

He sold the 147,000-mile GTO in the early 1980s to a local furniture store owner, but then lost track of it. Dick Adam bought it from that owner in 1982 for a great price, on the stipulation that he drive it home, pull the transmission, and give it back to the seller. Dick had planned to restore the car, but after 20 years and too many other projects, he sold it to Gordie in 2002.

With all the mechanical, interior, and electrical work now completed and its past-owner mysteries solved, Gordie simply plans to enjoy driving his GTO for the foreseeable future, adding about 2,000 miles or so per year.

Jim says, “Gordie lets me drive it, and the first time I got behind the wheel was one of the happiest days of my life. He’s the best guy to have this car because he loves it as much as I do.” Thus, this “Day Three” GTO’s future remains bright.


Block type: Pontiac V-8; cast iron
Cylinder heads : Pontiac casting #716; cast iron, 1.92/1.66-in valves
Displacement : Approximately 395-cu.in. (.030-in overbored 389)
Bore x stroke : 4.0925 x 3.75 in
Compression ratio : 10.75:1
Pistons : KB Hypereutectic, .030-in oversize
Connecting rods : Stock cast
Crankshaft : Stock cast
Horsepower @ rpm : Not tested
Torque @ rpm : Not tested
Camshaft type : Hydraulic flat-tappet
Duration : 288/302-degrees duration advertised
Lift : 414/.413-in
Valvetrain : Hydraulic lifters; pushrods; stainless-steel valves; valve springs; PRW 1.5:1 roller rocker arms
Induction system : Tri-Power; three Rochester two-barrel carburetors, mechanical linkage; cast-iron intake manifold
Lubrication system : Gear-driven pump; windage tray, oil pan
Ignition system : Stock breaker-point distributor; date-coded wires
Exhaust system : Ram-Air-style manifolds; 2.5-in pipes, turbo-style mufflers
Original engine : Pontiac 389 four-barrel

Type : Muncie M20 wide-ratio
Ratios : 1st/2.52:1 … 2nd/1.88:1 … 3rd/1.46:1 … 4th/1.00:1

Type : Chevrolet 12-bolt; hypoid; Positraction
Ratio : 3.55:1

Type : Saginaw recirculating ball, power assist
Ratio : Variable; 15:1-to-13:1
Turns-to-lock : Not available

Type : Hydraulic, drum
Front : 9.5 x 2.5-in
Rear : 9.5 x 2.0-in

Front : Independent; short/long arm type, coil springs, anti-roll bar, KYB gas shocks
Rear : Solid axle with four-link; coil springs, anti-roll bar, KYB gas shocks

Wheels : Mickey Thompson Rader
Front/Rear : 14 x 6
Tires : U.S. Royal redline bias-ply
Front/Rear : 7.75 x 14

1/4-mile ET : Not available

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