- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 8, 2005

Mike Thompson learned a lot the day he should have been in his 10th-grade class at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac.

Instead, he and a buddy had taken an unauthorized sabbatical and had hooked up with his buddy’s older friend, who was driving a new 1965 Pontiac GTO. “The thought of that car never went away,” Mr. Thompson says.

More than 35 years later, he began looking for a 1965 Pontiac GTO of his own. He knew exactly what he wanted and would not compromise. “I looked for over a year,” he says. His search took him to Cincinnati, where he found a nice GTO that was what he wanted, except for the automatic transmission.

After Mr. Thompson politely declined, the seller inquired, “Are you mechanically inclined?”

Mr. Thompson, owner of the Cherryhill Mobil service station, answered in the affirmative and then was shown another 1965 Pontiac GTO that was precisely what he wanted. The only downside was that it was mostly in pieces. “It was driveable,” he says, “but just barely.”

He purchased the car in October 2003, loaded it on a trailer behind his truck and then loaded the truck and the car with boxes filled with countless parts presumably belonging to the car.

Because the odometer showed only 46,000 miles, Mr. Thompson concluded, “I think it had a hard life.”

When he drove the truck hauling the GTO up to his Ashton, Md., home, his very understanding wife, Pam, recalls, “It was pretty pitiful.” Mr. Thompson, who believes that he is the fourth owner, set about taking the remaining car apart for a frame-off restoration. “Most everything’s available,” he says, which helped speed the rebuilding process.

Mr. Thompson selected a Starlight Black paint with a single red pinstripe to match the 7.75x14-inch U.S. Royal tires. Originally, the Pontiac was painted burgundy.

“Slow and methodical,” he reports, is the key to successfully reassembling a car. “You don’t want to force anything.”

The six side panels of glass are original, but both the windshield and rear window have been replaced. Amazingly, the left rear side-window trim was the only part of the car that was missing and it was easily replaced.

Mr. Thompson gave the 6.5-liter V-8 engine a thorough going over. When he fired it up, it didn’t sound like that GTO from his high school days. “It sounded better,” he says, “because it was mine.”

Both exhaust pipes end in splitters that produce a musical exhaust note.

Under the hood, with the air scoop, are three two-barrel Rochester carburetors between the two chrome-plated valve covers. The carburetors are set up in a mechanical progressive linkage so that, in theory, a light-footed driver could drive around town using only the middle carburetor. The other two come into play when the accelerator is stomped on in an aggressive manner.

When the GTO left the Pontiac factory, it was rated at 360 horsepower. With all that power, Mr. Thompson thought it a good idea to upgrade the braking system to include power disc brakes. The car has the original Positraction rear end to keep the Rallye One wheels spinning evenly.

The interior of the car is as black as the exterior. At the front of the console on the floor is a vacuum gauge.

Further back on the console is the four-speed Hurst gear-shift lever.

Deluxe seat belts keep the occupants in place.

Pontiac took a stylistic cue from Porsche that year when the ignition switch was placed on the left end of the dashboard.

A year and a few days after the project began, Mr. Thompson completed his car by attaching license plates that proclaim “3X2 4SP” to answer the commonly asked question: “Does it have three two-barrel carburetors and does it have a four-speed?”

Since the completion of the restoration, Mr. Thompson has driven his car less than 900 miles, mostly to cruise-in nights and car shows.

“In 1965 this car ruled the road,” he says. Some might argue that it still does.

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