Pontiac GTO Restoration - Resto Rescue
It can happen to any of us. You start a project with the best intentions, and before you know it you're in too deep. Perhaps you overestimated your own talent, or that of the restoration shop you chose to do the work. Maybe you tore your Pontiac down only to find it was much worse than expected or you didn't realize the replacement parts and the shop's labor costs would be as high as they now are. Are you currently sitting in your own garage surrounded by 10,000 Pontiac pieces that once were a GTO, overwhelmed, and have no idea what to do next? Read on.
HPP visited a top GTO restoration shop, John Kane Restoration, to pick the brains of the owners in an effort to aid readers in getting their stalled projects back on track or to avoid common pitfalls when beginning their next project. Though John Kane Restoration has called Bedford, Pennsylvania, home for the last five years, the origins of the business can be traced to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where it began as JJJ Enterprises in 1984. The year before, Jackie Hunter was restoring a '66 GTO at home and needed someone to do the bodywork. She met John Kane through a friend who was having John restore the body on his '64 GTO.
The two hit it off, and soon after Jackie started a parts business that operated from John and his partner's restoration shop. Both endeavors dovetailed nicely, but Jackie began to devote more and more energy to the restoration side of the business and finally decided to forego parts selling for resto work.
According to Jackie, "At the time, we tried to do GTOs exclusively, but in the mid '80s they weren't worth enough money yet to support a full-time restoration business. John built award-winning street rods, concours-quality Packards and Lincolns, and even restored Ferraris in the '80s. That's how he met Steve Ames."
By the late '90's musclecars had really hit their stride on the collector market, and John and Jackie were able to move away from Ferraris and street rods and concentrate solely on musclecars.
Since that time, John says, "We have restored at least 10 or more Ram Air IV cars. Steve Ames has four of them. We've done possibly 70 GTO points cars over the years." Their services are currently in such great demand that they have a three-year backlog for restorations.
Speaking of points cars, John and Jackie are still restoring GTOs of very high quality, but are more geared toward the owner's wishes than to points on a judge's scorecard. For that reason, some of what you see in the photos of the beautifully restored '70 Starlight Black Ram Air IV Judge convertible may not agree exactly with the prevailing views in points judged competition.
Regardless, our trip to Bedford provided us with a treasure trove of information regarding restorations, from what to look for when choosing a shop to determining during teardown what to restore and what to replace to what is plated and what is painted in the engine compartment. And there are some organizational tips that are sure to please. So check out the giant sidebars, the photos, and the captions, and see if we can help you get a handle on your project.
Special thanks to Quint Stires (GTOAA tech advisor for 1970) of Ames Performance and Steve Gregori at www.brakeboosters.com for their help.
When Choosing A Shop
John and Jackie advise you to, "Stay on top of what is needed during the resto and to be involved. Take time to visit the restoration shop before you decide on it and again while your Pontiac is in the process. So many people trust their cars to shops they have never seen."
With that in mind, below are some of the statements that may be made by a shop owner or manager, which can be good news or bad news, according to John and Jackie.
Good News Statement: "I can provide a list of references for clients who have had their cars restored here. You can speak with them directly regarding their experiences with my shop."
Reality: It appears the shop has satisfied customers. Take the owner up on the offer and make the calls. Just be sure the list is longer than two people and that they aren't his relatives.
Statement: "I can provide a basic estimate of what the total restoration should cost with the proviso that more damage could be found upon disassembly."
Reality: This is an honest statement because no one can provide a definitive price on a restoration prior to teardown. Bondo and paint can hide myriad past owner sins, but the estimate must be realistic so you don't end up in a situation where it is 25 percent of the resulting total cost. When collecting estimates, beware of lowball numbers and question them. You may find the shop with a higher price will be more cost efficient in the long run.
Statement: "I can take you on a tour of my facility so you can see other projects in process and can see how organized and clean the shop is."
Reality: A shop owner who is willing to show you other projects in progress and who is proud to show off his shop is generally a much better prospect than one who is secretive on this subject.
Red Flag Statement: "I will work on your Pontiac part time to save you money."
Reality: It probably won't be cheaper, but it will definitely take much longer.
Statement: "I will work on your Pontiac between other jobs."
Reality: It will probably never get done. Instead, it will likely get pushed into the corner and forgotten; parts will be moved all around and possibly lost.
Statement: "I primarily do collision work, but I can do restorations, too."
Reality: If the shop charges like a collision shop, it could be a bad sign that they don't know much about restorations and they may cut corners just to get your Pontiac out the door more quickly.
Statement: "Once I tear the car down completely, I can give you an estimate on the restoration cost."
Reality: It may sound good at first because it would appear the shop is working to give you a more accurate estimate, but once your Pontiac is torn apart you are really trapped, regardless of the estimate.
Restoration Challenges
According to John and Jackie, there are certain situations that will make a restoration more challenging and sometimes take longer than originally planned. Here are a few.
Any Pontiac that has had prior accident damage which required framework is a potential problem if the repair work was done incorrectly. Those that were hit hard enough to move the cowl back can be difficult to diagnose prior to teardown.
Rust is always a big issue. The rustier the Pontiac, the more difficult and time consuming the restoration. So look for Pontiacs with the least amount of rust to begin with. Spending substantially more money for a better Pontiac up front may actually save you thousands of dollars and months of bodywork labor in the long run.
Pontiacs that require many patch panels can be a challenge because the quality of these panels can vary greatly depending upon the source.
Customers who furnish their own parts are trying to be helpful. But more times than not, the parts are the wrong ones or they are completely worn out. This slows the process as new parts have to be ordered and the customer needs to be told why his parts won't work.
Along the same lines, customers who supply a parts car are trying to be helpful. But again, many times the parts car is more trouble than it's worth, yielding fewer useable parts than originally hoped for by the owner. Once again, new parts have to be ordered. Then the customer has to be told why the parts car actually cost him more in the grand scheme of things because time was taken to hunt for parts on it that turned out to be unusable.
Strangely enough, '69s always take extra time to fit the front bumper. John says it seems like they were all custom fit from the factory, so if the bumper or any of the front sheetmetal is changed, fitting takes much longer.
Convertible tops can be difficult and time consuming to properly fit as well-especially if the frame had been rotted and repaired or replaced and the tack strips were damaged and replaced.

Parts: Restore, Replace, Or Reuse
Evaluating and determining which parts to restore, replace, or reuse can be a daunting task. Sometimes you'll find that replacing a part is actually cheaper than restoring it. Other times, there is no replacement currently made, so you are forced to keep the original or seek N.O.S. And then there are instances where the replacement is just a functional one that works as well as stock but looks quite different from the original part.
Underhood Plating: '70 Ram Air IV Judge
A few of these platings may have been of a different content from the factory. However, replicating some of those plating types decades later presents some issues with ever-increasing environmental concerns-and some had limited longevity even back then. Those platings listed below are accepted as correct by the GTOAA. Instances where John Kane Restoration differs from the GTOAA-accepted appearance will be noted as well.

Photo Gallery: Pontiac GTO Restoration - High Performance Pontiac Magazine

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