Saratoga County

GTOs cruise into city for big meet

The parking lot of the Saratoga Hilton Hotel looked like something out of the late 1960s on Friday,
Al Gierut dusts off his 1965 GTO after trailering it to Saratoga Springs from his home in Orland Park, Ill.
Al Gierut dusts off his 1965 GTO after trailering it to Saratoga Springs from his home in Orland Park, Ill.

The parking lot of the Saratoga Hilton Hotel looked like something out of the late 1960s on Friday, with sparkling Pontiac GTO muscle cars parked side by side as far as the eye could see.

Each of the sleek cars has been returned to its showroom glory, with perfect paint jobs from orange to bright red.

“It’s the car, it’s the history,” said Mark Klos, of Rexford, one of the organizers of the 2008 GTO Association of America Inc.’s international meet being held through today in Saratoga Springs.

“It was the first muscle car made,” Klos said.

Klos is a member of the Electric City GTOs club in Schenectady, a main sponsor of the annual event, along with The Pioneer Valley GTO Association of Massachusetts.

They called them a muscle car because the relatively modest-sized sedan was equipped with an oversized, powerful engine that, when tinkered with, could develop more than 400 horsepower.

“They are from all over the United States,” said Norman Warling, a concours judge from Golden, Colo.

A total of 315 vintage, mint-condition GTOs from 1964 through the early 1970s have been transported to the annual show. More than 1,000 people are staying in and around Saratoga Springs and attending the international meet with their special cars.

Warling said that John DeLorean was a bright, young engineer with General Motors back in the early 1960s. For the fun of it, he put a 389-cubic-inch engine in a relatively small Pontiac Tempest in 1964.

The GM employees had fun with the speedy car and decided to build 5,000 of them for sale to the public. The 5,000 muscle cars sold quickly and by the end of 1964 some 37,000 of the cars had rolled off the assembly lines and were gobbled up by the speed-loving public, Warling said.

DeLorean, who died in 2005, went on to start his own automobile company, which produced a limited number of stainless steel “DeLorean” sedans back in the 1980s before going bankrupt.

By 1966, the GTO was its own model and sold quickly. It remained a GTO model through the late 1960s and into the early 1970s. In 1972, the GTO became part of the LeMans line of Pontiacs and by 1974 there was a GTO, but it was a shadow of the powerful products of the late 1960s.

Warling said the GTO “Judge” of 1969 was the ultimate GTO. Perfectly restored GTO Judges could be viewed inside the Saratoga Springs City Center Friday afternoon.

Sixty-three of the very nicest of the GTOs were being judged Friday in the concours event inside the city center. Today the many other GTOs in the Saratoga Hilton parking lot will be judged during the “popular vote” part of the competition.

Tonight, all those participating in the meet will have dinner in the hotel’s ballroom and find out the winners of the concours-level show as well as the popular vote.

In addition to the GTO enthusiasts, dozens of vendors set up shop around the city center and hotel. The parking lots along Maple Street were lined with tents in which everything from engine parts to detailing equipment could be purchased.

Jen Silich came all the way from Chicago to promote her uncle’s company, The Finishing Touch Inc.

She said she is called “the cutest girl in chrome.” Her uncle’s company provides “concours quality chrome plating” for older car parts so they look showroom new.

Merle Green Jr. brought his beautifully-restored “Tin Indian” GTO to the meet as a display car.

He said he found the car out in a field some years ago.

“I was looking for a nice 1966 GTO,” he said.

He tracked down the past history of the old car using its vehicle identification number and found out it had once been a champion NASCAR stock racing car.

He found pictures of the original paint job and duplicated it, as well as completely restoring every inch of the car to what it was like in 1966.

Between 1997 and 2001, Green spent thousands of dollars restoring the car.

“To do it today would cost between $100,000 and $120,000 to restore it,” Green said.

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