1966 Pontiac GTO On loan from Jennifer Murphy, West Nyack, NY
Ask Jennifer Murphy what her GTO is and she’ll tell you that it has multiple personalities.
“I bought the car ten years ago. It was originally purchased on Long Island and spent most of its life there. It was a show car in the 1970’s and still has the ISCA sticker on the vent window, which explains the wild paint and chrome. It also spent time on the drag strip. For me, it’s a fun car. I race it, I show it, I drive it. That’s what these cars are meant for – enjoyment!
“Five years ago I started to restore the car to its not-so-original glory. The paint was getting old and I wanted to save the history. We replicated the graphics as closely as possible, though we made some minor changes to the pearl colors. And everything that was chrome, we re-chromed, including the hood scoop, the cowl, the hood hinges, the heater box, all the fender brackets and body bolts and the tow tabs.”
Along with the visual touches, Jennifer decided to update the engine to match the car’s looks.
“It’s a 1968 ‘400’ bored .060 over with Federal Mogul 10.25:1 compression ratio pistons,” rattled off the proud owner. “It has 1969 ‘428’ heads with Ferrea stainless steel valves and Harland Sharp roller rockers. The camshaft is a Crane Ram Air IV grind working with a stock crankshaft and connecting rods. The carburetor is a Holley 650 double-pumper mounted on a Holley Street Dominator intake. The car also features MSD ignition, Headman headers, a Muncie M21 transmission with a scatter shield and a Centerforce clutch.”
But some things on the car were left as they came, including the air shock rear suspension, boxed lower control arms, ladder bars and the Chevrolet 12-bolt differential. When Jennifer stands on it, she wants the car to react as it did “back in the day.” But how she got to do that is a story in itself.
“My first car was a ’69 Pontiac LeMans that sparked my love for Pontiacs. Then I met my boyfriend, Michael, who drag races at Englishtown, NJ, which rekindled my interest in racing. After five years of going to the races with him, I decided it was time to look for another Pontiac. We looked at everything – Trans Ams, GTOs, a few LeMans, some Firebirds – and then a friend told us about a GTO in our area that was for sale.
“The owner said, ‘Are you sure you can drive this car? It’s a four speed with no power steering or power brakes!’ But I took it down the road, banging the gears, and fell for it hook, line and sinker.”
After five more years of drag racing, the 42-year old GTO was showing its age, with checks in the lacquer finish turning to rust bubbles and pits in the chrome. Like so many other project cars, what started as a repainting project turned into a much more complicated frame-on restoration.
“It was a daunting task just to find someone to shoot real Candy Apple with the pearl graphics,” recalls Murphy. “We had to keep in mind that while we wanted it right, I’m not made of money. But everything worked out and now the car really draws a crowd. There’s a lot to look at with all the chrome, the ribbon-etched windows and the pearl graphics.
“But what really amazes people is when I get in and drive it to the starting line. Even though my license plate reads 4SPDCHIK, nobody believes it really is a ‘girl’s car’ and I’m the one who races it.”
If observers knew Jennifer’s background, they wouldn’t be surprised. The youngest of six children, she was her dad’s helper in all things mechanical, then moved into the automotive world as an adult. She has worked as a service advisor at a Pontiac dealership and was a sales person for Rockland Standard Gear Co., where she had to learn all about transmissions to be able to help shops across the nation diagnose problems.
“As far as hands on mechanics, I was a helper,” she adds. “Michael has taught me about wiring, axles, bearings, carburetors, cooling systems, fuel systems and interior restoration while restoring the GTO. And I spent hours on the phone with the tech guys at Holley, Crane Cam and all the other suppliers before I chose the parts to use.
“I suppose some things might have gone more smoothly if I hadn’t insisted on doing things myself and Michael didn’t have to spend so much time teaching and explaining things to me. But in the end, it brought us closer together and we ended up with a terrific car to park alongside his pride and joy, a 1973 AMC Matador that he restored as the cop car from the Adam 12 TV show.”