A 1965 Pontiac GTO saved Randy Phillips' life. According to family legend, when Randy was a baby, he would crawl out onto the trunk of their 1961 Ford Thunderbird convertible when the top was down. This made for some precarious moments when Randy rode in the Thunderbird. A safer, enclosed car, in the form of a hardtop 1965 GTO, was the answer. Randy's parents, ordered a new GTO in 1964 to replace the 1961 Thunderbird. Forty-four years later, the Phillips family still owns that GTO. Randy Phillips, now 46 years old, says, "I guess you could say that the GTO was a real life saver for me!"
NEED FOR SPEED
Lucky for Randy, his dad was cool. No station wagon for Bill Phillips. A black on black, tri-power, 4-speed, 1965 GTO was ordered at Doug Willey Pontiac in Birmingham, Alabama. The Phillipses took delivery of the Pontiac on Dec. 5, 1964. Safety was the intended benefit of buying the GTO. Randy's dad also had intentions of racing the family car should the opportunity arise. He was clued into Pontiac performance during the early years of the muscle car era. The 389-cubic inch engine produced 360 horsepower with the tri-power carburetors (three 2-barrel carbs) he ordered. The family's GTO was barebones, without options such as power steering, power brakes or air conditioning. Randy fondly remembers his dad racing on First Avenue North in Birmingham. He cheered him on from the back seat yelling 'go daddy, go!'.
A set of Mickey Thompson slicks were used on the car once in 1967. Randy still has those tires mounted on the original 14-inch steel wheels. His dad painted half of each 14-inch rim gold during his hot rodding days. Seeing the black and gold wheels spin was like watching a pinwheel of Poncho horsepower. Despite that rubber rebellion, the GTO's original Tiger Paw Redline spare tire remains in the trunk.
This one-family-owned Goat still retains its numbered matching parts and wears the original black lacquer paint. Friends insist a new paint job would further enhance the GTO's value and looks but Randy wants to keep the aged 1964 paint on the car. "A car is only original once," notes Randy. Each modification is a step away from factory originality. With only 85,385 original miles on the odometer, this black beauty has avoided major changes from its showroom condition. Randy replaced the dog dish hub caps and steel rims with American Racing Torque Thrust II wheels. This vintage GTO has not been restored by any means. Wear items, such as torn seams in the back seat have been restitched. I noticed the original interior and door panels looked factory fresh. Randy says, "They got a good cleaning after the GTO spent 14 years stored in a barn."
GOAT WILL STAY IN THE FAMILY
Today, the GTO is used in the same fashion his parents used it: To safely drive the family around town. Randy takes his daughters, Anna and Rebecca, to school, church and to grab dinner in the Pontiac. "My family uses the GTO to 'get groceries' in, just as my parents did, with me back in the '60s. My wife Brenda even enjoys it, but she is afraid to drive it," Randy says. One day the Pontiac Bill Phillips bought in 1964 will be driven by one of his granddaughters. Randy reassures me this Pontiac will stay in the family. "The thrill of driving this car is unmatched by newer cars. I want my kids to experience it too."
I went for a ride in Randy's GTO time machine. The smell of high octane fuel and the rumble of the 389-cubic-inch engine was sensory overload. A glance at the checkered flag on the speedometer and the chrome-handled Hurst shifter are not-so-subtle clues to the car's performance potential. Just rock-solid evidence that Pontiac dared GTO drivers to test their car's limits. At every turn people gawked at the car. If this were 1965, stoplight showdowns would have be inevitable. The 389-V8 with its 3.55 rearend gear ratio will get you to the speed limit in a hurry. As it were, Randy displayed restraint, not stretching the legs of the Pontiac too hard. The Tri-power carbs were well-mannered at idle and tooling through town. My experience riding in Randy's GTO solidifies its place atop my dream car wish list.
Two years ago Randy's dad handed him the Pontiac's keys due to health issues. His dad now lives in North Carolina after a career working as an executive for Sears that began as a manager of the downtown Birmingham Sears automotive department. 'Sentimentally, the car has been and is one of the best and coolest gifts and set of memories anyone could ever receive," said Randy. "I will always treasure my dad and 'his' car."
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