Doug Clark: GTO winner restoring classic car to its former muscle-bound beauty
Ted Fennen has replayed what happened at his family’s dinner table on Valentine’s Day 1967 over and over like a scene from a favorite movie.
And why not?
Who wouldn’t want to keep savoring such a delicious moment of hearing a radio announcer say something like, “And the winner of a brand new Pontiac GTO is … .”
Fennen, who was 20 at the time, said he almost levitated out of his chair upon having his name blared over the KJRB-AM airwaves.
“It was crazy,” he said.
Especially considering how Fennen’s father, George, had moments earlier told him to turn off the radio and concentrate on his supper.
“You’re not gonna win,” said George, no doubt trying to save his son from having his high hopes dashed.
Logic was on the elder Fennen’s side, of course.
The GTO giveaway had drawn thousands of entries.
But someone had to win. And the form Ted Fennen had filled out was the one pulled out of a barrel.
“People I didn’t know started calling me,” said Fennen. “We drove right down to Utter Motors. We never did get dinner finished that night.”
A few hours later, Fennen found himself cruising Spokane in one of America’s iconic muscle cars.
What a sleek beast: Signet gold; 400 cubic inch engine; 335 horsepower …
I can hear that old Ronnie and the Daytonas song now:
“Turn it on, wind it up, blow it out GTO!”
Flash forward 44 years and change.
The lucky GTO sits inside Valley Auto Painting and Body in the latter stages of a $50,000 extreme makeover.
Yeah, it’s a lot of money. It’s probably a bit more than Fennen wanted to spend.
But once he started down restoration road, Fennen decided to go the distance.
To get there, Fennen enlisted the expertise of his buddy, Terry Randall. The two worked (both are retired) at Kaiser Aluminum, and Randall is a true motorhead, if ever there was one.
Randall’s love affair with all things mechanical dates to his early childhood days of dismantling and reassembling his father’s lawn mower. He soon graduated to cars and by 14 was giving his neighborhood friends rides in the beaters he fixed up if they coughed up a quarter for gas.
“Working on cars makes me relax,” said Randall, 64, who began the GTO project in October 2009.
This was a sad time for Randall. Danna, his wife of 40 years, was dying of cancer. Randall said he would often work on the GTO at night, after Danna went to sleep. She died last year.
Hanging on to a car this long doesn’t happen very often, of course.
Every now and then you’ll run into someone who owns the same treasured set of wheels that he or she drove back in their youth. More often you hear people waxing poetically about the cool Mustang or flashy Corvette they sold.
“Man, I wish I still had that car,” is a mantra commonly heard.
COLUMN INTERRUPTION – Still have your beloved old car? Email a photo to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll post them on our website for everyone to enjoy.
Fennen? He managed to hang on to his GTO in spite of himself.
“Over the years I almost got rid of it a couple of times,” he said. “I gave it to my son-in-law, who had it for a couple of years. A guy I worked with wanted it. I finally said OK, but he was having financial problems and going through a divorce.”
A case could be made that the GTO and Fennen were destined for each other right from the beginning.
Of course, the vehicle Randall started working on wasn’t quite the same one Fennen drove “right off the showroom floor” on that special Valentine’s Day.
The years, as it’s said, took their toll.
The GTO was painted a color Randall described as “roadhouse brown.” To further the indignity, a black vinyl top was attached sometime during the 1970s.
The car was sideswiped one New Year’s Eve. And all that driving added 180,000 miles to the odometer.
On the plus side, however, the GTO was put in storage for 18 years. That saved it from becoming one of America’s iconic rust buckets.
When it’s finally finished, Fennen plans to display the GTO in car shows.
Don’t worry. He’ll also get some kicks out of it, although in a more safe and sane manner than, say, that time he goosed the speedometer past 130 mph while coming back to Spokane from Coeur d’Alene.
“A flat tire and that would have been it,” said Fennen, considering what could have gone wrong. “That’s one of the things you think about as the years go by.”
Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at email@example.com.