Courtesy of Mecum Auctions
If starring as an attraction in Floyd Garrett’s Muscle Car Museum in Sevierville, TN, serves as an endorsement for a vintage machine from that classic era, then this 1965 Pontiac GTO comes highly recommended. But that’s not the end of this fantastic GTO’s credentials. It has twice won the GTO Association of America’s Concours Award and was chosen as Popular Favorite GTO at the 2015 GTOAA Nationals in Columbus, IN. A YR-code car denoting its 389/360 horsepower V8 and automatic transmission, it is a fascinating example that was restored in frame-off fashion and freshened in both 2009 and 2013.  

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1965 Pontiac GTO
Years Produced:1965
Original List Price:$3,000
SCM Valuation:$42,900
Tune Up Cost:$500
Distributor Caps:$25.96
Chassis Number Location:Driver’s side A-pillar post, frame on driver’s side
Engine Number Location:Suffix code on passenger’s side of block below cylinder head.
Club Info:GTO Association of America, Pontiac-Oakland Club International
Alternatives:1965 Chevrolet Nova SS L79, 1965 Mercury Comet, 1965 Dodge Coronet 440
Investment Grade:C

This car, Lot F167, sold for $57,200, including buyer’s premium, at Mecum Auctions’ Harrisburg, PA, sale on August 4, 2017.

When Pontiac released their GTO option on the Tempest series in 1964, it lit the fuse to a powder keg of unfulfilled car-fanatic fantasies.

Shoving a big-car engine in a mid-size body, adding a 4-speed, Tri- Power, a hot rear axle and bucket seats gave buyers the vital muscle-car DNA.

The Pontiac GTO was one step ahead of everyone else, and sales were strong enough to grant the option full-model status in 1966 with its own “242” serial number.

Other manufacturers tried to catch up, but it took two years to fully match the GTO with hardware that was readily available.

That’s why sales were hot, with 75,352 sold in 1965.

Horsepower galore

Not only was the engine big, it was well-developed, with 10 extra horses, making the base 4-barrel a 335 hp, and 12 more with the Tri-Power for 360 hp. The frame was new that year, with boxed front and rear frame rails and three built-in cross members to hold together the open-channel side rails — and a fourth transmission member that was bolted in.

The camshaft timing, carburetor and cylinder heads and valvetrain were all reworked.

The heads had improved combustion chambers and big valves. The valvetrain got oil from the lifters through the pushrods and rocker arms. Integral guides kept valve sideplay to a minimum.

The “Tiger” imagery was most appropriate, as a Tri-Power 389 could eat you alive.

Those changes added up to one hot package, with quarter-mile times of 14.65 seconds at 101 miles per hour. The Goat could hustle a quarter-mile down the strip in 13.77 seconds with just headers, slicks and a carb re-jet.

It was a seriously fast car for $2,791. To match it you either had to be connected and buy a factory race car or a Corvette. The Chevelle SS 396 was limited production, and Ford’s 1965 Galaxie R-code was super rare. Chrysler’s Street Wedge 426 was too tame and the Race Wedge was too hot for street use.

There just wasn’t anything available in that size and price that could touch a GTO. The closest car to fit the bill — then and now — is a small-block Corvette.

Popular for decades

Many fans consider the 1965 GTO the best early example of the muscle-car breed. It was a muscle car without the excess that came from marketing and attempts to please every customer.

The GTO, along with the Ford Mustang, found a strong fan base early in the 1980s, complete with national club support and shows. This created a thriving industry that supplies original and reproduction parts. It’s not hard to restore a GTO.

Decades later, the Goat is equally at home on the drag strip or the fairways of Pebble Beach. It is a true renaissance muscle car.

Top-drawer restored examples with the desirable options command well over $50k as hard tops, while convertibles pull those numbers just by being the right color with a Tri-Power and 4-speed.

Finding a ’65 GTO that hasn’t been altered — and with original drivetrain — is difficult. These cars were modified within weeks of delivery, especially if they were the hot ones to start with.

A mid-1960s street machine

Our subject car carries the “fantasy engine combo” of dual-quad 389 power with twin Carters, Offy intake and Ram Air pan. No doubt a few of these existed as custom builds for drag racing and street action.

Pontiac didn’t make this setup at the factory because of the Quadrajet 4-barrel carburetor’s imminent release. Certain cars, such as the 1965 Chevelle, were already running Q-jets in trial programs to fine-tune the carburetor before mass release in 1967.

Multiple carburetion was on the way out because big 4-barrels were entering the market. However, the racer can’t wait for the factory. If the parts are available, he’ll build his own setup and take it from there.

In that regard, our subject GTO’s present configuration is a prime example of a mid-1960s street machine. It impresses visually — and viscerally — when you stomp the gas pedal.

But that’s only part of this car’s value package.

Three restos, three big awards

The car was a two-time winner of the GTO Association of America’s Concours award, and it was a 2015 Crowd Favorite at the GTOAA Nationals.

It was in Floyd Garrett’s Muscle Car Museum in Sevierville, TN, during the 1980s.

It’s a factory 360-hp automatic car, so it was hot from the dealer.

The car was also superbly groomed, with three restorations on record. The original frame-off was done during in the 1980s. Then there were serious restorations in 2009 and 2013. It is a very solid, well-done car with a nice provenance.

Floyd Garrett’s museum was one of the earliest bastions of muscle car preservation. It was running long before Otis Chandler or the Petersen Museum started.

Still, not a perfect car

There are two weak spots.

The 2-speed automatic transmission is column-mounted, which looks less sporty, and two extra gears are always more desirable.

A fully synchronized 3-speed manual wasn’t available until March of 1965, which left buyers choosing between the two 4-speeds or the 2-speed automatic.

The second flaw is a lack of options. The buyer skipped on the radio, heater, power steering and brakes. Our subject was obviously ordered as a racer.

You have to wonder if there was a favorable break running a zero-option automatic in super stock that year.

The manual steering is a painfully slow 24:1 ratio, making it a brute to drive in traffic. The way it’s set up pushes the car firmly into the staging lanes instead of the highway.

The irony is that the car is almost too nice to bash on the strip.

Even with a sun-faded carpet, it would be a shame to install a roll cage if it ever dips below 11.50 seconds. That could happen if you’re any good at racing and tinker with it. It’d be too painful to think of it smacking the guardrail in third gear.

The dilemma is what to do with this car. It already has a later- model transmission, so it is tempting to add power steering, power disc brakes — and make it a driver again. That 3.55 axle with Safe-T-Track is just about perfect for road and track use.

This car has done enough sitting around in museums. It’s time to burn up the road.

A great car that sold well

GTO prices have risen steadily upwards over time.

They’re popular cars because of their contribution to the Muscle Car Era. They can be verified using Pontiac Historical Services copies of sales invoices.

In 2004, it was possible to buy one for $19,000. By the early part of this decade, the average for a nice car rose to about $26,000 or so, depending on options and condition.

After 2015, good GTOs were in the mid-$30k range. Exceptional cars, such as Tiger Gold limited editions or a rare Blue Charcoal hard top with all the go-fast stuff, will blast through the $50k mark.

Right now, a nice Tri-Power, 4-speed hard top is a mid-to-high-$30,000 car. This one sold for about $10k more than the ACC Median Valuation.

This is strong money, especially considering how many were made and the limitations on our subject car. I think it’s a decent buy compared to, say, $74,250 for Reggie Jackson’s GTO — which wasn’t nearly as clean as this one.

I’d call this one a fair deal for buyer and seller, with a slight nod to the seller.

(Introductory description courtesy of Mecum Auctions.)

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