Bill Howell of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, likes to build stuff. As the owner of Howell Construction, he makes his living by turning someone's vision into a reality. Similarly, Bill is also a car guy and as such the thing that really lights his fire is seeing his vision of the perfect car go from concept to asphalt. Bill's last car was a fully restored and numbers-matching '69 Camaro, but it was a chance visit to the Pro-Touring.com Web site that made him realize that there is more to life than protect-o-plates and chalk marks. Knowing that his prized Camaro was far too nice to cut up, he decided to sell it off and make room for a new, more modernized project. Bill is also one who likes something different, so it was his lucky day when he saw that a fellow board member, John Lakoski, had his '65 GTO convertible for sale. Since Bill had owned one 20 years ago, he instantly knew that this was the car for him. After getting the thumbs up from his understanding wife, Melinda, a deal was made and Bill drove down to Texas to pick up his new Goat.
Now that Bill had a car, he needed a plan. He wanted to update the classic Pontiac, but at the same time retain the classic lines and brightwork that made the car so cool in the first place. Most of all, he wanted the car to be road ready since he felt that driving the car was the whole point of owning it. Bill received tons of input from the members of Pro-Touring.com about ideas for the classic drop-top. Overall, the car was pretty straight and in great condition considering its 40 years of life on the road. Bill had gotten to know Frank Serafine of Prodigy Customs in Orlando, Florida, and knew that he understood the whole idea of a Pro-Touring car and what Bill was looking for, so the car was shipped down south and Frank got to work massaging the vintage steel and performing a complete rotisserie restoration. Bill also knew the value of having the right paint scheme. The big Pontiac begged for a two-tone paint job and Bill contracted Kris Horton to render a concept drawing for the car and help him nail down the perfect design. The plan came together down in Florida when the now mini-tubbed GTO got shot in its GM SSR red and GM silver paint. In addition to adding the mini-tubs to hold the massive rollers, Frank also dropped in some new floor and trunk pans.
Bill didn't want a trailer queen and knew that he wanted to enjoy driving the car even more than looking at it. With this in mind, the car had to have the performance to back up the killer looks. A-body performance parts are hard to find, but a quick call to Kevin Doyle at Global West gave him exactly what he was looking for. To keep the GTO stuck to the asphalt Global West upper and lower tubular control arms, custom spindles, and rear tubular control arms work with a complete QA1 coil-over system. A Global West 1 1/8-inch front sway bar keeps it all on the level. With the handling set, it was now time to make sure that the braking system was up to the task of stopping on a dime and leaving Bill some change. Six-piston front and four-piston rear Wilwood brakes clamp down on slotted two-piece rotors. For rolling stock, Bill was teased with the Forgeline Web site by his friend Allen Ortega, and before you could say "Do you take credit?" a set of custom three-piece forged wheels were being milled. Once the 19x9 front and 20x12 rear wheels arrived, they were wrapped in Pirelli P-Zero 255/35R19 and 345/25R20 tires, respectively. To facilitate such wide rear wheels, the Ford 9-inch posi rear end (with 3.75 gears) was narrowed a total of seven inches.
When it came time to motivate the big car, Bill's first inclination was to go with a carbureted motor since that is what he knew, but he was swayed to try something new by the guys on the Web site. They told him of the wonders of the LSx based GM engines and how he could have less weight on the front of the car and great gas mileage too. Finally convinced, he contacted retired racer Gary Neff and machinist Mark Owens to help him assemble the right powerplant and make a few of the one-off parts needed to finish the GTO. Starting with a 6.0 Liter GM iron short-block (LQ9), with a set of stock aluminum heads they then topped it off with a MagnaCharger blower putting out about 6 pounds of boost. Street and Performance of Mena, Arkansas, was called on to provide many of the parts for the transplant. These included the pre-programmed PCM, wiring harness, brackets, pullies, radiator and all the other myriad items needed to make a modern engine function in a classic car. S&P even helped with several of the specialized brackets that had, up until Bill's car, never been made before. The blown Gen III engine exhales through a custom 2.5-inch stainless exhaust with 50 Series Flowmaster mufflers.
Bill knew he would have a lot of road time in the car and since the closest road track is hundreds of miles away, he also realized that most of these miles would be spent cruising the rolling hills of Tennessee. It was this realization that led him to a GM 4L80E trans. Still wanting to have some fun rowing gears, he also decided to go with a Twist Machine paddle shifting system with a TCI T-Com controller. This decision also led him to being invited to display his GTO at SEMA. With that invitation accepted, the project was put into overdrive in an effort to get it all done before November.
For the interior, Bill located a set of power seats from a '01 Oldsmobile Aurora and had them covered in light gray leatherette. The vintage '65 GTO-styled stitching was carried over to the custom fabricated rear seats and all the headrests got embroidered with the distinctive logos. Wabbits of Cleveland, Texas, was tasked with making the one-of-a-kind carbon fiber interior pieces and they also integrated the Classic Instruments gauges so that the Goat's vital signs could be monitored. To keep the driver firmly in control, there is a Colorado Customs billet steering wheel with more custom carbon fiber along with a Hurst floor shifter. A Pioneer stereo provides plenty of road tunes and the factory A/C system helps Bill keep his cool. All in all, it works together to make for just the right mix of old and new.
Things got pretty frantic as Bill's date with SEMA drew ever closer. It was very important to him to have the GTO drive into the show under its own power, and besides, he really wanted to cruise his retro-modern goat down the famed Las Vegas strip. How close was it? As Bill tells the story, "The night before we left for SEMA was the first time we tried to start the car. With all the connections checked, we held our breath, hit the key, and what a relief-it started and ran smoothly. After some tuning help from Steve Chryssos at Twist Machine, we had the paddle-shifted tranny working great and we were ready to hit the trail for Vegas." The deadline was met and, although exhausted from the frantic wrenching and 2,500-mile trip out west, Bill could not be happier with his car. He is also quick to credit getting the car done on time to the tireless efforts of everyone involved, especially Gary and Mark. The crowds at SEMA seemed to like the convertible (since he got several offers to buy the car), but Bill wouldn't bite. Once back in his native Tennessee, Bill plans on doing some fine tuning on the engine and finishing up a few details that had to be hurried in order to make it to SEMA on time. With plans for a lot of road miles and a stint on next year's Power Tour, it's nice to know the GTO will end up where it belongs: on the road. In Bill's words, "My goal with this car has been to build a true driver, not a race car, not a track car, but a road car." We'd have to say he nailed it.