Tuesday, May 15, 2007

ROCKIN' (and I mean ROCKIN') with Dave Rasmussen in his gorgeous, growlin' '73 GTO





400 CID 4bbl (above)
note: NACA-style hood scoops pointing the way (above and below)
Back in 2001, Dave Rasmussen unloaded 3/4's of his world-class show rod model kit collection to purchase a 1973 GTO. As he explains on his website, www.showrods.com, this acquisition harkened back to his older brother Mark owning the same car during high school for about 18 months. "For its day (post-oil embargo America) it was very fast and very fun to drive. 400 CID 4bbl, 230 HP, funky NACA-style hood scoops, 3-speed automatic, sport steering wheel, console, and Rally Gauges. Vrrrrrrrrrrrrooooooooooooooooooooommmmmmmm!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
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First offered in 1964, the GTO was the first "light"production car with a monster engine and performance package. As Dave notes, "many other muscle cars followed and were even faster than the GTO, but no other car ever matched the combination of performance, split-grille style, and mystique of the GTO." Not surprisingly for the time, having begun with an inspired variant on the LeMans coupe, over ten years the GTO refined its look and added more and more luxury, stylish, and racy items, beginning with the stacked headlights and then the redline tires. The Ram Air performance package evolved four times, convertibles were sold in 1966 and 1967, the Endura bumper and hidden headlights of the 1968 model were truly innovative, the cartoonish Judge vied for attention against the Roadrunner in 1969, the 1970 455HO engine was the largest ever, and the 1971 was the second fastest GTO ever produced. 1973 brought the "Colonade" LeMans look, and the final 1974 version was based on the compact Ventura.
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Insurance costs eventually skyrocketed, and by the early '70s, federal safety and emissions standards were hugely burdensome for anyone to maintain, service, or upgrade a pure muscle car. Plus, the cost of gas after the Arab embargo was a huge deterrent. End of an era. Only 4,806 GTO's were manufactured in 1973 (against 96,946 in 1966).
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Pontiac basically held to a two-year styling cycle. A new style was issued in 1973 for the LeMans Sport Coupe-based GTO and immediately came under fire. Critics hated the new massive chrome bumper (with its nerf-bars look), the goofy NACA hood scoops, the "pontoon look" of the front fenders, the louvered-look roof pillars, and the rear end which came to a point. "Personally I think the critics were all full of crap," says Dave. "Pontiac called this body style "Colonade," but I call it "swoopy." Naturally, I'm biased since I own the car, but I love the look of this baby. Its styling really marked the end of an era, as designers after 1973 started paying much more attention to aerodynamics and much less to "swoopy" sheet metal."
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The 1973 GTO was the only production car ever to use the NACA-style hood scoops, which first appeared on a 1947 airplane (and were popular on racing cars in the early '70s). These were nonfunctional, with rubber inserts blocking the openings, but the fantasy is that they could have served a Ram Air package (apparently only ONE such '73 GTO was ever built as a prototype).
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The distinctive honeycomb wheels were an option that only ran three years on the GTO: 1971 - 1973. They were the most expensive wheel option ever for a GTO. The massive 1973 bumper was a chrome-plated steel unit that utilized an energy-absorbing frame mount, housing two telescoping steel chambers with pressurized gas and hydraulic fluid acting as small shock absorbers which could compress three inches without damage.
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The 1973 model year was the last GTO with a big engine. The standard engine, factory installed in Dave's car, was the 400 CID with a 4-barrel carb generating 230 net HP @ 4400 RPM and 325 ft-lbs of torque @ 3200rpm. There also was an option for a 455 CID engine. The next year, 1974, the downsized Ventura-based GTO could only be had with a 350 CID engine.
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Dave bought his '73 in the late summer of 2001 from Jim Theobald in Vacaville, CA (a town on Highway 80 midway between San Francisco and Sacramento). It had 54,365 original miles and was never driven outside of California. It came with AM/FM push-button stereo and "Expanded Morrokide" (vinyl) bucket seats , but without tilt steering and cruise control. Dave drove it back to his (then) home in Memphis, TN, over seven states in six days, a distance of 2,568 miles (183 gallons of premium fuel), with one breakdown (a front spindle gave way), a shining moment cruising at 120 MPH, and nonfunctional air conditioning. "Once I hit the highway," Dave recalled, "It all started to come back. The metallic sound of the directional, the crappy reception provided by the radio's antenna embedded in the windshield, the small silver cylinder on the floor that controlled the brights, and especially the deep pitch of the 4-barrel carb as I stomped on the accelerator."
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Dave now lives back in his home state of Wisconsin (he grew up in West Allis, near Milwaukee), and told me the engine was given a complete overhaul in 2003, but the paint, bodywork, and interior are essentially unchanged. A new stereo was installed in the glovebox as Dave is a stone-cold rock & roller and the car doesn't drive without tunes.
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What intrigued me about Dave's Odyssey was the daily record of the rock & roll which was the background music for the entire trek--pure Americana at its best.
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Check out the website--it's a great read. In fact, in there Dave provides everyone with a particular factoid that's now stuck in my brain:
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"The 1970 GTO offered a unique feature to get that muscle car sound "on-demand." This feature was called the "Tiger Button." Driver-controlled, it was a vacuum-operated system which opened baffles in the mufflers to given an open exhaust note. The driver controlled it with a dash-mounted knob. Under pressure from a variety of sources, this feature was only sold on a few hundred cars and was cancelled early in the model year." Wow . . . NICE feature!

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