25 years later, fate and a mistake brought my ’65 GTO back home

Brandon Connelly

On my birthday in 1985, my first car drove off into the sunset. It was a black-on-black 1965 Pontiac GTO I’d found in the For Sale section of a Tulsa newspaper and bought for $2000 cash—earnings from two years working at a department store. For five years, it was my only car. I drove it, crashed it, had the engine rebuilt by our school shop class, and rebuilt it again over one summer. I even swapped in a 12-bolt, 4.11:1 rear-end (bad idea, but seemed cool at the time). But during college, I had to sell it because I couldn’t afford the gas, tires, oil, and insurance.

I’d always told myself that, someday, I’d get another. In 2020, I was surfing Hemmings for ’65 GTOs and found one in Connecticut: Coupe, factory A/C, four-speed, power steering, and brakes. It was originally painted gold with a gold interior but had since been changed to black on black. I live in Florida now, where that color combination is impractical, but the memory of my first car kept pulling me back. My wife, Alli, added, “You aren’t getting any younger.” After thanking her for reminding me, I also thanked her for being supportive and called the dealer.

1965 GTO tri-power engine top
Brandon Connelly

The car appeared fully restored and had PHS documentation and a billing history card. A local inspector put it on a rack, drove it, photographed it, measured the paint depth, and provided me with an appraisal. After some haggling, the car was on a transporter.

While awaiting the arrival of my new GTO, I dug out the documentation from my old one, which included a set of taped-together keys and an Oklahoma registration. Comparing VINs, I was pleased to note the numbers were only 50 digits apart—277 for the old one and 227 for the new one. But then I realized the photos of the VIN that the appraiser had provided didn’t match what was in his report. Concerned, I called him. “The VIN on the car has clearly never been tampered with,” he said, apologizing for having made an error in his transcription. “The correct VIN ends in 277, not 227.”

1965 GTO interior
Brandon Connelly

I felt flush. “If the VIN is correct,” I told him, “This is the first car I ever bought!” Neither the inspector nor my wife could believe it. When the car arrived, I cracked the Scotch tape on my old set of keys and stuck one in the ignition switch. It turned.

My Pontiac had changed during our time apart. A big dent I’d put in the rear quarter was gone, as were the steel sheets I’d (clumsily) pop-riveted into the rusted trunk. The car had been treated to options such as Tri-Power carbs. I’ve continued the improvements, including paint color correction and a set of Coker radial redline tires with a bias-ply look. It has trophied twice at the Festivals of Speed in Orlando, and we’ve put on a few thousand miles driving to nearby towns. I could have bought another GTO and would have been perfectly happy reliving my youth with that car. But my actual first car? It’s abundantly clear to me how rare that is.




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    I was lucky that the first new car I bought is still in my garage. It is not going to make me rich or such but we have been thought a lot and I have built the car to be mine.

    Funny but my first hot rod a 68 Chevelle SS is only about a mile from me sitting in a garage with no engine and only best of intentions. I would love to get it but he wants more than it is worth for the car as is. Maybe some day.

    Dodge omni is still probably my favorite car ever. Having owned like 6 and one being a legit 86 GLHS I might be biased hahaha. They have a great character and I really miss mine.

    A friend of mine just bought a car at Mecum, and as it was being delivered off the truck he sent me a pic and said “what is this car behind mine?”. It was a Dodge Omni GLH!

    It wasn’t my first car, but the first new car I ever owned was a 1987 CSX, the Shelby modified Shadow. My dad did a midlife career change, to car sales. It was also the first new car he ever sold. I held onto it for 28 years, but finally let it go since it was collecting dust in the garage.

    This article came at a great time, It has come time for me to get rid of my first car due to an accident I had earlier this year rending the car far more expensive to repair than its worth, I will miss it dearly and I’ve been dragging my feet about it for a while, it’s a pretty worthless car by most metrics but it means a lot to me, I plan on keeping bits of it as keepsakes but I haven’t decided yet though, If I had the storage I’d keep the whole car

    What a marvelous and fortuitous story. I am finishing my 65 GTO Convertible now and half way through my 64 with 428 Hurst 4 speed Tri Power and added PS & PB /Its so fascinating to hear folks able to find their own earlier ventures with cars and even find their own personal cars much later in life. I did manage to keep photos of 23 prior GTO and 4 Catalina 2+2s among many others too

    Have fun with your restoration! I still can’t believe it, after 35 years. It wasn’t new when I bought it obviously but you always remember your first car.

    62 SS Impala 327 was my 1st car but got wrecked by a crazy driver ran me off the road, Almost Died. Went & found another, a 62 SS 409 Impala right afterwards! Still have that car.

    Great story!!!! Man I love stuff like this…..Hope you and your first love drive off into the sunset in 30 or 40 years…………

    Thank you I will. I told my wife “it’s your problem now” because I could never sell it. There is no amount of money worth this car to me. If someone said “what if they offered you a million dollars” I just say “they wouldn’t, because they could buy four original factory correct cars instead of this one”. Mine is original to me.

    Great story. We got back our Heritage Edition 1992 Z28 17 years later in 2019. Sold it in 2002 with 48k miles. Now we just hit 61k miles. Camaro was about 4.5 hours southeast of us. My dad, son and I went out to get it back in August 2019.

    You never know when she will come back to the family.

    I bought and sold and bought back so many cars and trucks that my friends thought I lost my mind. A 71 Firebird, 1980 VW GTI, 1986 Cadillac Sedan Deville, 1982 VW Jetta, 1995 Geo Prizm, 2002 Daewoo Nubira, 1999 Acura Integra, and my 1992 Chevrolet WT1500 4×4 which I bought 3 times. Whew!

    My first car is still in my garage. This was my first purchase without another name or cosigner. Back in 1983, I was looking for a fastback 69 or 70 Mustang. I came across three Shelby’s in the Car Trader paper.
    I borrowed from my brother to purchase one. The car was high mileage, worn and in an ugly state. These were called gas guzzlers. In 2010 I finally was able to show it in it’s first car show. I am retired now and drive it every weekend. I have a small sign I put up at the car shows. “High mileage, driven, not hidden ” My 68 GT500 is my first priority after my family.

    In 1970 I bought what was to be my “Forever car” a Torino with a 429CJ and a 4 speed. Like many car owners’ storage and raising a family changes priorities and sold the car in 1982. Fast forward to about 2010 and we were having a garage sale and a man stopped and ask if I had any Ford parts, specifically Torino parts. I said no but used to have a Torino. He started chuckling and said you don’t remember me do you. I said no and he said I’m the person who bought it. No S#$% I say – what ever happened to that car? I still have it he said and it’s about two miles down the road if you want to see it. The car is like the day I sold it to him complete with the same tires. We became friends and I’m allowed visit the car as time and schedules allow. The car is not for sale and at my age I’m not sure I would want to commit that much of my retirement anyway.

    It wasn’t pearl white for sale in HE IL?
    I almost bought a car like that. Guy said his wife was making him sell it because she didn’t want to pay the storage fee. It’s ok, because later in 86 I found my 1972 GS which I still own and my wife won’t let me sell it. My problem is, all 3 of my daughters want it. Whom ever I leave it to, it like saying she was my favorite from the grave. So I’m giving it my brother.

    My 1st car is happily sitting comfortably in my garage. It’s a 68 Impala Convertible I bought in high school. It’s been restored but always needs a thing or two. Every time I drive it I feel 17 again. Wouldn’t give it up for the world.

    I still have my first car. A 66 Barracuda. Bought in 1972. It is a Commando 273 four speed with HD suspension option.

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