29 June 2016

This ’67 GTO was the quickest way to dental school

Vince Margherita recalled nights sitting in his car, studying for dental school exams by the light of an overhead street lamp. That’s something he did a few times while holding a place in a gas-station line during the 1973 oil crisis. Despite his 1967 Pontiac GTO’s voracious appetite for high-test gas, he wouldn’t trade it in for a more economical model.

The GTO was two years old and had 23,000 miles when Margherita’s father bought it for him as a high school graduation gift in 1969. “I remember it cost exactly $2,275,” he said. His GTO has the 400-ci V-8 engine that was standard for 1967, rated at 335 horsepower. A 360-horse “H.O.” version was optional.

For the next four years, Margherita commuted in his GTO from North Haledon, N.J., to the Teaneck, N.J., campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University. The commute was about 15 miles each way along Route 4, the congested two-lane road that ends at the George Washington Bridge to Manhattan.

He then took the GTO with him to attend Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Today, Margherita is an orthodontist with offices in Hawthorne, N.J., where he helped organize a growing annual classic car show, and in Warwick, N.Y., about 35 miles to the northwest.

Pontiac made 81,711 GTOs for 1967, making it the best-selling Detroit muscle car that year, by far. About 80 percent of those were hardtop coupes like Margherita’s car. His car is equipped with the optional Turbo-Hydramatic three-speed automatic transmission, which had replaced a two-speed unit offered in 1964-1966 GTO models. The Hurst Dual Gate floor shifter, also new that year and nicknamed the “His/Hers” shifter, was a precursor to today’s manually shifted automatics. In 1967, though, muscle car drivers probably would have thought steering wheel paddle shifters were wimpy.

The console-mounted lever allowed manual selection of the transmission’s three speeds when pushed into the right-side gate (“His”), and normal automatic operation when placed in the left gate (“Hers”). A special latch mechanism in the manual gate prevented the driver from accidentally missing a gear, or hitting Neutral and possibly damaging the engine.

Once Margherita began his professional career, he drove the GTO daily until 1985. By then, the eight-cylinder Goat had accumulated more than 120,000 miles and was deteriorating.

“The back windows on all those GM coupes leaked,” Margherita said. “Water would get into the trunk and rust out the quarter panels behind the wheels. People would tell me that I should get a new car. But I loved the GTO. I never even thought about driving something else.”

He finally relented, buying a new Pontiac Grand Prix in 1985. A few years later, he found a restoration shop in Pennsylvania to refurbish the GTO. New metal was welded into the quarter panels, and the car was repainted in the original Signet Gold.

The engine still ran strongly and was left alone until a few years ago, when it was rebuilt. “I kept it in original stock condition, nothing was modified,” he said.

Margherita occasionally drives the GTO from his home in Franklin Lakes, N.J., to his Warwick office, a 30-mile drive through a part of the state known as the Highlands Region. Roads are scenic and twisty, and the GTO does just fine.

The paint, now some 25 years old, shows some scrapes and wear, but he’s opposed to respraying. “I want to drive it more, so I don’t want to worry about getting chips in the paint,” he said.

6 Reader Comments

  • 1
    PETER GORBENKO Arizona July 7, 2016 at 13:03
    My first car was a '67 GTO with the HO 360 hp option in a deep red with black vinyl interior and 4 speed manual tranny. It had 390 posi rear and a couple of scarce factory options. One was a factory 8 track stereo and power disc brakes. I still own a couple of trophy's that I won at Irindale drag strip in California. Oh, how I loved that beautiful machine. I sold it and bought a '70 Ram Air IV GTO and what an wonderful animal that car was! Some day, hope to get a Pontiac high performance classic again. GM made a big mistake ending Pontiac.
  • 2
    ohio assdoctor Ohio July 7, 2016 at 15:26
    First generation GTOs are the nicest muscle cars ever made. Other makes may be marginally faster but for all-around performance, looks, comfort, handling, & quality I'll take a '66 tripower 4-speed with 3.55 gears. Congrats doc, your '67 is definitely a keeper.
  • 3
    Chuck Robertson Folsom, CA. July 7, 2016 at 12:26
    I couldn't agree more with your comment about hanging onto your goat, even through the hard 70's. Actually, we bought a new car in '82 and tried (weakly) to sell it for $1000, with no takers. We are the original owners having bought it ($3300) just after I returned form SE Asia while still in the military. It still runs strong with about 201K-miles, but could use some cosmetic upgrading. I still take it out for a run occasionally, but get sort of weary of people leaving notes about wanting to buy it. I'll get around to cleaning it up someday. It's on the list; just not very high right now. Yours looks mighty nice, Keep on keeping-on.
  • 4
    Roger F. Albizu Jr. Southport NC July 8, 2016 at 11:38
    Great story. Vince is One of the few who did not relent to the 70s gas crunch . Unfortunately like many of us who did. Wish I still had my 66 Galaxy 390 that became a slant six valaint. Fortunately now I own a 67 Signet Gold Gto as well. Hopefully it is not going anywhere . Congratulations Vince
  • 5
    Howard Salsitz California July 8, 2016 at 00:53
    Great looking Goat. I have almost the same car and have had since 1989. Mine has the same color, including the black vinyl top, black vinyl interior, 335 HP, His 'n Hers Hurst shifter, and matching numbers. In addition, mine has factory electric windows and factory (not operating) a/c. Mine is in fair condition, just over 100K, and is an east coast car. It is for sale at a fair price.
  • 6
    Ken Yadon Colorado July 13, 2016 at 10:43
    The story freaked me out. I had just finished a 4 year stint while in the Air Force in Turkey. I purchased a 67 GTO in Dec of "66" for $3001. The salesman would not come off the $1 for an even $3000. I kept it garaged for the 6 years I owned it. I finally had to sell it in 1973 to go to UMKC Dental School. Years later, when I could actually afford one again, I decided to try and find the exact duplicate, right down to the color. That quest took 5 more years, but some guy in KC had one housed in a warehouse. It was covered with a rolling wooden box, a tarp below that and a car cover below that. Guy was more anal than me. Months and $$$$$ later I finally got it. About a year later, I put it in a car show and a man from the Denver area kept upping an offer to buy it, way beyond reasonable. Sweet memories. Thanks for sharing a story that was incredibly familiar.

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