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A pair of Pontiac convertibles that didn’t come home with me

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Vintage ads courtesy of the Automotive History Preservation Society.

I’ve always wanted to own a muscle-car-era convertible. I know that may sound like a midlife crisis in high gear, but this all actually started back in the mid-1980s when I was in my late teens. And I still haven’t actually bought one.

A few childhood memories of riding around in the ’69 4-4-2 and ’68 Cutlass S droptops that my parents owned must have stayed with me. When I reached driving age, I looked forward to better appreciating the great outdoors from behind the wheel with the top down as often as possible, but I soon learned that convertibles were harder to find and generally more expensive to buy than hardtops. So, my first car was a 1967 Chevelle SS 396 hardtop. After I sold it, however, I once again considered a convertible.

I knew that convertible tops could be leaky depending upon their design and condition, and the structural integrity of many convertibles wasn’t as stiff as their solid-roof counterparts, but as a teenager I tended to care a little less about those compromises.

Though, once again, most of the topless road terrors I found were either too expensive for me or needed everything, but two stood out. One was a bright blue ’66 Le Mans with a GTO hood, a moderately straight body, a transplanted 400 engine and Turbo-400 transmission, and Parchment interior and top. The other was a 428-swap Turbo-400 equipped triple-black ’68 GTO that offered ample evidence of having originally been Verdoro Green.

The ’66 appeared to be a decent driver and it ran well sitting in the driveway, but it wasn’t registered or insured, so a test drive wouldn’t be possible according to its owner…and the law of course. Consequently, I would have to take a leap of faith that it was as road-ready as he was claiming. It was $1,700—a good deal even then—but it may have been too good to be true.

I didn’t have the luxury of making it a weekend cruiser at the time, since I didn’t have the space nor cash to support two cars. It would have to be my daily driver. I actually went back and looked at that Pontiac a few times (it was quite a hike from my Northern New Jersey home).

Even with the fact that the ’66 couldn’t be test driven was the most serious mark against it, I had started thinking about how much I really wanted a GTO instead, and this was a Le Mans with a GTO hood.

It was a different story with the ’68 Goat. It was all muscle, and it was registered, insured, drivable, and quick. But its price was $3,500, its headers leaked, and the car was pretty rough all over. I recall several traces of green peeking through scratches in the black body paint. There were some wavy panels that made a pronounced thud when you tapped on them and the front bumper had heavily chipped paint and cuts in the Endura material. The suspension and steering felt a little loose on the road, too.

1968 Pontiac GTO

Since I don’t have photos of the Le Mans or GTO, representative vintage Pontiac ads are provided.

Nevertheless, I agonized over that one as well, trying to figure out how I could make all the immediate repairs it required and provide the restoration work it also needed after I spent all my money just to buy it. And it would have to remain my daily driver while all the work was getting done—impossible.

Of course, I put on my rose-colored glasses with both cars and daydreamed about all the places my girlfriend (now my wife) and I would go—summertime down the shore, fall at the farms to get pumpkins, blasting up the New York State Thruway to parts unknown. All that fun stuff.

In the end, however, I had to admit to myself that even though it was affordable, the ’66 not being a GTO was going to bug me, and the ’68 GTO was going to bankrupt me.

The weird part is that I still think about both cars 30 years later. Not with regret, because we still took all the trips we wanted to back then, we just did it in a hardtop instead. Maybe it’s simply—they were both convertibles.

Those of you who have owned a vintage convertible can tell me all about what I’m missing by not having one myself. Please share your interesting experiences—the good, and/or the not so good, if you wish.