Piston Slap: Will wrapping a brown GTO turn it into a G.O.A.T.?

Jeremy the OP

Jeremy writes:

Good afternoon Sajeev, I have appreciated your opinion in several of your articles, and I wanted to pick your brain on a topic: wrapping a classic.

Last year I picked up a one-owner ’69 GTO that was in fantastic barn-find condition, but in the ’80s it had been repainted a god-awful shade of UPS brown. The car was extremely original and I had decided to keep it as original as possible down to the white line tires. But when a UPS-brown GTO is parked next to a blue one, yellow one, and gold one, it just never gets picked. So this GTO wasn’t being enjoyed, which is a shame, as it drives great and even has cold factory A/C!

Jeremy the OP

Looking at options, and the fact that I already have two cars in different body shops, I wanted to see how much fun I could have for the least amount of money, so I wondered what I could do with a wrap. First, let me be clear on one thing: I didn’t fix anything on the body. That’s because I didn’t know if this was going to work out, as I might be destined to have $500 worth of vinyl crumpled up in my shop. If that was my fate, my escape plan was to peel it off and never tell anyone of my mistake.

So I bought 50 feet of vinyl off Amazon and got to work. I removed the hood and trunk and did those first—it went very well. Then I moved to the fenders, doors, the god-awful quarter panels (that wrap around the back), and lastly, the roof.

For just over $600, some evenings in the shop, and several four-letter words later, I had a car that looked 100 times better, was only one shade, and the rust was much less visible; I was extremely pleased. I added the Judge decals and spoiler, then a Flowmaster exhaust, and I had one hell of a car. I chose to black out the grills and swap the white-line tires and hubcaps for some Rallye IIs from my ’70 LeMans.

I was amazed: I have cars that have been in body shops for years and the cost is out of this world. If I tried to justify paint and body expense I would want to go original on this one-owner car and go back to the correct Espresso Brown. But that would have taken two years and cost $12,000. Instead, this has proven to be one of the most fun cars I’ve ever had. I can drive it and park it anywhere, my daughter took her first driving lesson in it, I can set my beer on it and not freak out … the freedom and enjoyment of driving a car like this is amazing.

I doubt I devalued this car at all, as it’s being driven, doing burn outs, and getting stared at everywhere she goes. All in all I consider this project a success! I should say this is my first attempt at wrapping a car, so keep in mind it’s all about taking your time until you get the hang of it.

Then I got to thinking: How many cars have been cast aside, parked in a yard, or parted out just because you couldn’t justify spending the money on paint and body?

While you probably won’t win “best paint” at a car show, this is an extremely economical option. It just takes time, patience, and a heat gun. There are countless YouTube videos to help. You may find an extra set of hands helpful for those difficult spots (damn quarter panels)!

So anyway, I’m very curious what your take is on this. Did I destroy a time-capsule car (with documentation back to day one), or did I save a car that otherwise would have rusted away?

Sajeev answers:

Jeremy, you absolutely did the right thing. A time capsule was not destroyed; instead, its appeal has broadened. While I doubt any muscle car will rust away unloved these days (as it isn’t 1987 anymore), you proved there’s a beauty that comes from the freedom of expression via vinyl wrapping. Frankly, I wish more folks would follow your lead.

And when you take the plunge, doing a bright color is a great choice for most any vehicle. The sheer volume of boring gray, silver, white, black, and red colors we see on the roads today suggest that standing out is a great move. And it’s an easily reversible move, if you decide a concours-quality restoration is merited in the future. Now imagine how many less-desirable classics could be saved with this technology, like the ’49 Packard sedan I previously discussed:

eBay | heatdr

So many vehicles from the 1940s have lost their luster, but I hope someone hit the “Buy It Now” button and spent a couple grand on vinyl material, and fuel/ignition/brake parts to get this Packard looking and running like a champ. This beautiful piece of history may otherwise wind up in a scrap yard, even though Packards are crafted to a standard that can be appreciated even to this day.

Classic/antique/specialty cars of all shapes and sizes deserve a bigger audience, as our country’s enthusiasm for automobiles is anything but blended and homogenized. To wit, imagine the day when many Gen Xers and Millennials say, “Remember when you could get a clean, big-body Buick sedan for $1400 on Facebook Marketplace?”

No, don’t click on those arrows. Facebook Marketplace

I will miss these days, and not because this particular car garnered me a free trip to Prince Edward Island. The Buick Lucerne was never a credible threat to the Lexus ES when new, but it lived to embody the notion of an authoritatively-styled American sedan ruling the roads with grace and style, cutting a beautiful profile against a background cluttered with CUVs and monster trucks. It, much like Jeremy’s brown GTO, can become much more than what’s before our eyes.

The Pontiac GTO has a much larger and loyal following than any front-wheel-drive Buick, but remember there was a time when society deemed muscle cars as disposable as a Ford Focus or Chevy Equinox. So instead, let’s be mindful of unique stories unfolding right under our nose. And remember that new audiences are found thanks to a shiny coat of paint roll of vinyl.

I challenge people to see how Jeremy’s GTO can inspire their future automotive endeavors. What vehicle(s) are worth this effort? I reckon the answer is almost all of them. 

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    I agree with Jeremy’s solution and Sajeev’s take on it. If the car had OG paint (even brown), it might be a different story since everything else seemed to say “survivor”. I mean, it isn’t always about “shiny” nowadays, as “patina” is certainly a thing (at least, NATURAL patina, not that out of a can and a roll of sandpaper). But the paint wasn’t OEM, and the car wasn’t garnering the appropriate attention that he wanted, so the wrap/Judge cloning seems like a decent idea. Now, I’ve no idea what it looks like in person – it may still “never get picked like a blue one, yellow one, and gold one”, but if gets a few more looks, a few thumbs up, and makes the owner happy, I say hooray. Putting a $12K paint job on it wasn’t going to make it worth $12K more on the market. There is something to be said about “preserving originality” for sure, but often I think too much is made of it. Heck, back when these cars were new, they didn’t stay original much anyway – that’s where the term Day Two came from! The important part is to let people see and enjoy them – and maybe learn a few things about them as well. There are enough museum pieces so that what they looked like off the showroom floor can still be see and appreciated. The rest of them should just be driven – and if one wants to set their beer on them, go for it!
    Total disclosure: I write the above opinion as one who has previously declared distain for numbers-matching-overpricing and who also owns and drives a restomodded clone himself, so my position is obviously biased. 😋

    “If it makes you happy it can’t be that bad” –Sheryl Crow

    Not original paint. Reversible. aka no harm, no foul.

    Besides, it’s your car. Get out a sawzall and make it a convertible if you want to (I wouldn’t –but it’s not mine).

    I like brown cars (the rootbear metallics and various Cutlass hues of the 70s) but I do not like this GTO’s brown as it looks to me in the pictures. GM A bodies can look good just about any colour, but they carry bright very, very well.

    “When in doubt, make it orange” sounds like me too.

    I love the car.

    “If it makes you happy it can’t be that bad”

    I wonder if Sheryl felt this way about Lance Armstrong?

    I can’t look past the injustice this has created. A somewhat crusty, classic ‘69 forced to wear a coloured plastic bag over it’s once beautiful flanks. It would be served better with a mediocre DIY paint job in its original hue or just left alone as was. But I know, to each his own.

    You didn’t chop it up and drop an LS in it and call it a ‘restomod’- there is a bar that a lot of folks out there are willing to cross that you didn’t even come close to. I miss the greens and the browns from the 70s, but that is nostalgia talking. I have never found those 70s era colors to be particularly attractive on cars – they aren’t trees. Good job

    Anything you do that is completely reversible and does not cause permanent damage to the vehicle is fair game. I think your solution was perfect. And finally, it IS your car after all, and anything that makes it more enjoyable and useful is a good thing.

    Some odd colors really are popular and some will never be. This is a prime case where the original color just will never be of added value.

    I would have just painted the car and skip the wrap as they go bad over time.

    There are just some combinations where change is not a bad thing and this is one of them. Being s survivor is one thing but just a color change can bring much more enjoyment tot he car.

    Warp are only temp solutions so I would just paint it and not waste the money on the wrap.

    Regarding wraps “going bad,” that is true for vehicles that are always parked outside, are rarely washed and generally ignored. This car doesn’t seem to fit any of those categories so the DIY wrap will most likely pay for itself in a few years. The owner, in my worthless opinion, has kept the situation in proper perspective and is fully aware of the fact this is just a car, not world peace. Good job!

    As a Gen X-er old enough to remember seeing custom vans (shaggin’ wagons 😉 drive around town, I never once thought “too bad they covered up the original paint” nosirrreee, I was HAPPY to see giant airbrushed scenes of scantily clad babes riding purple tigers or slaying red dragons with a castle in the background or the like. The fact that I can still picture some almost a half century later is proof that originality or perfection is WAAAAAy over-rated. I’m just sad he didn’t wrap it in a Hawaiian print, or a fake blue chrome… or maybe a green robot lion being ridden by a Loni Anderson lookalike ;-P wearing nothing but a strategically placed anaconda!

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