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Stories from Steve: A New Direction for The Collection, 1996

1966 BLACK GTO 4210 miles

This is the car that changed my mind about the direction our collection should take in the future. The car is absolutely original since James Klima Sr. bought the car new from Arthur Pontiac in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, in late 1965. In fact, this car was made so early in the 1966 model year it is equipped with the white 4-speed knob left over from the ’65 model year.

I was at Carlisle selling our Pontiac parts and Ray from Connecticut stopped by our tent to buy some parts and told me about a ’66 GTO in a 1995 Hemmings Motor News ad for a mere $90,000.

I wrote down the owner’s name and phone number anyway and called the next day.

James said the car had been in his family since new and had been purchased by his father. He gave me a quick rundown about the black over red ’66 GTO. I said that the car sounded extraordinary, but what about the ridiculously high price. He said, “Steve, don’t let the price fool you – my wife insisted I sell the car so we could add on to our house. I showed her the ad and she never looked at the price. The true price is negotiable.”

“Thank you, Jim!” I said, “I’ll be on a plane for Cleveland tomorrow.”

“No, tomorrow isn’t good. But I’m a volunteer fireman and I’ll be able to get the car up on jack stands so you can see everything under the car on Saturday.” I said I’d be there at 1:00 pm sharp!

I decided to drive the truck and trailer and arrived in Farmington, Ohio, at 1:00 pm as intended, but didn’t expect to find the whole fire department crowded around the car. Jim introduced himself and said, “It’s two feet off the ground. Look at everything you want.”

I slid under the car and was amazed at the under carriage (Jim had told me his father had under-coated the car every year, but I didn’t know he had used engine oil). Therefore, I was looking at panels in perfect original condition, plus all original spot welds and attaching hardware. Jim poked his head under the car and said, “You know you’re looking at a car driven only 4210 miles and never in the rain, snow or sleet.” That explained the blue talc on the body mounts. The assembly line crew had to use different colors to distinguish the different mounts for the different body styles. The talc was used so it would wash off in the first rain and then the mount would appear black for the duration of the car’s life.

Obviously, I had never seen a car of this caliber before and was truly amazed.

After an hour or so, the only thing I noticed out of character was an altered exhaust and large swirls in the paint. Jim had the answers: First, the exhaust was to enhance power and create the exhaust rumble of the day. The swirls in the paint came from constant hand polishing by Jim and his brother. He continued with more stories of the car’s history. His dad had ordered the car from Arthur Pontiac with one thing in mind: speed (3/2 BBL 389 V8 ENG WS 360 HP). He just didn’t want to spend extra money except for speed. Therefore, air conditioning, console, accessory mats, etc., were not ordered with the car. Jim said, “I was only about 11, but remember that he hardly ever street-raced and drove the car only on cloud-free Sundays. In fact, he made it a point to run through the gears only once or twice a year so the end carburetors would get exercised.”

Of course, I bought the car on the spot and loaded the car in our trailer.

Arriving home, we immediately put the car on our lift. The underside was absolutely superb as I had seen in Ohio (about 4 years later I found an NOS exhaust system and installed it). Next, we dropped the car down for a comprehensive look at all aspects of the original paint. The paint depth was wonderful but the swirls in the paint drove me crazy. I knew of only one man who could remove the paint but not touch the sub-primer. That was John Kane, a phenomenal restorer in Ft Lauderdale (JJJ Restorations). He had done several restorations for us. I called him. He asked if I had used a powerful magnifier to see if the depth of the swirl was deep enough to contact the primer.

Where the hell would I get one of those? John’s response came so fast I couldn’t believe it: “Don’t worry, I’ve got one and I’ll send it to you UPS overnight – you’ll have it tomorrow.”

Sure enough, it arrived the next day.

With what I learned from John’s magnifier and our electronic gauge, he said, “It sounds like the paint can be saved but it can only be done by hand, you can’t use a power buffer.”

“Hold on, John, I’m not touching this paint – how much do you want to travel here and fix it.”

He called back with a time and price. The price was fair and I quickly accepted the proposition.

John arrived and worked on the car for 4 straight days. When he left, I was incredulous at his workmanship on the original lacquer. He did it all by hand and without using a gauge. I found the paint on the entire car between 1.6 and 2.- mils thick. The man was a genius when automotive paint was involved.

We kept the car in full view of our visitors and gave them complete descriptions of the car from early 1996 until this was written in 2003. During this time, I realized that the car exhibits so many fine qualities pertaining to the work of our forefathers that each tour highlights many aspects of an original car versus a full restoration.

I certainly hope we will eventually become a 501c3 so that this car and others like it can be preserved for people to see and study in the future after we’re gone.

Written by founder Steve Ames, 2003


Addendum 1 – 2008 James Klima Jr. sent an email inquiring about his grandfather’s car. The car was willed by Senior to James 2nd who sold it to me. The email was from the third generation of James Klimas. I responded that we also loved the car and how great to hear from the grandson of the original owner. We also sent photos. He responded with a poignant quote from his dad: “I’ll always regret selling the car as it should have gone to my son.”

Addendum 2 – 2010 A POCI member asked if I indeed had the Klima car. I responded “Yes.” He said, “You know he sold that car because of his wife.” I said, “Yes, I know the story.” He turned and said, “I bet you don’t know she divorced him within a few years of the sale.” (Gulp!)

Addendum 3 – 2016 The Foundation became a 501c3.

Addendum 4 – 2017 John Kane, the paint expert who made the ’66 what it is today, died in November, a huge loss. The ’66 GTO remains a focal point of tours at the Ames Automotive Foundation!

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