After Five Decades, This 1968 GTO Remains In Original Showroom Condition
History Takes Off With This Two-Owner Original Muscle Car
George Zanebis was the first owner of this immaculate, 26,826-mile 1968 GTO four-speed coupe. His mint 1960 Thunderbird had been banged up in L.A. traffic, so he had the urge to replace it with a modern muscle car.
A mechanic for American Airlines at the time, George was in a coffee shop at LAX Airport having lunch with some of his cohorts, sitting at the bottom of a U-shaped counter. Seated to his left was movie legend Rock Hudson, along with a bevy of stewardesses providing first-class attention.
To his right were two men wearing business suits and ties. George began complaining to his buddies about the performance of a 390 Torino he recently test-drove. “It just didn’t seem that fast” he said. One of those two executive-types was Jack Anderson from Royal Pontiac, right there in Hollywood (no connection to the Pontiac dealership by the same name in Royal Oak, Michigan). The other guy was the Pontiac division VP, on his way back to Detroit. George remembers him as “John somebody.” The VP instructed Anderson to “give his business card to that young man and make sure he test-drives, then buys himself a new GTO.”
George special-ordered this Flambeau Burgundy model with a Black Cordova top the day after his test-drive at Hollywood’s Royal Pontiac on January 17, 1968. His new GTO arrived at the dealership on February 27, and wore more than $1,200 worth of options, including power windows, steering, and brakes with discs up front. Its upscale, supercar flavor gave it all the performance characteristics of today’s modern equivalents, such as a Hemi Challenger or Camaro SS. All it needs is a set of modern wheels and tires to prove it. No wonder restomods are so enticing.
This was the first year of a distinct styling upgrade that put the GTO body on the fast track to the next decade. This GTO is the High-Output—or H.O—version, which was the first engine option on the order form that deviated from the standard package. It bought a 10.75:1 compression, 360 hp at 5,100 rpm, and a torque rating of 445 lb-ft at 3,500 rpm. The close-ratio four-speed works with 3.55:1 rear gearing to make this particular GTO more of a mid- and upper-range ruffian than a stoplight bandit.
Not only did the 1968 Pontiac represent a new, smoother exterior style, but it also incorporated the fantastic–looking and performing Enduro front bumper/nose piece designed to resist significant damage from low-speed contact with other cars and objects. It would establish a trend for the auto industry still in use today by virtually all car makers worldwide. At the same time, this new bumper design took a big bite out of the crowbar’s reputation as a tough guy, thanks to Pontiac’s national ad campaign promoting its new bumper technology.
One commercial showed movie star and Pontiac spokesperson Paul Richards wearing a white dinner jacket, black bow tie, and white gloves, packing an industrial-grade crowbar. He began the sales pitch, then took seven major-league swings with said crowbar against the front of that GTO. Three swings to the passenger-side leading edge of that bumper, two shots to the center nose piece, then two more to the driver-side leading edge—all to no avail. You could even hear him slightly out of breath when he finished swinging and resumed the verbal portion of his presentation. To punctuate, he tossed the crowbar down on the concrete floor so all could hear the conspicuous ringing of real steel.
The wheelbase on the 1968 Tempest/GTO series was cut down by 3 inches compared with that of the previous year, while the overall length was shortened in the process by approximately 6 inches. These reduced dimensions—and the all-new styling-—kick-started the brand, resulting in the second best-ever GTO sales figure for a single year. It was also awarded Motor Trend’s coveted Car of the Year honor.
Just because this car has been babied its entire life doesn’t mean it hasn’t felt the old performance whip from time to time. One evening, George took his friend, who had moved to the States from Greece, out cruising. It would have a dimension-changing impact on the visitor’s concept of the physical world, at least as it relates to time and distance–American-style, that is. After all, our overseas visitor drove a four-cylinder Fiat back home, so he had no reference point for the sudden physical violence that was about to occur.
The experience took place in 1972 at the intersection of La Cienega Blvd. and Slauson Ave. in the heart of Los Angeles. At the time, it was wide-open pavement and nothing but surrounding oil fields. George, his pal, and the GTO were minding their own business at the stoplight when a 1969 Dodge 440 Super Bee pulled up next to them. We all know very well what that meant.
At the “green” both cars launched explosively with climbing revs and burning rubber. The Mopar grabbed the lead at the punch, yet the Pontiac would eventually drive by the Dodge, even though it had to go into triple-digit speeds to do so. George said he backed off at 110 mph. His friend was in a state of shock. He reacted like someone who had just survived a train wreck and was so overcome by it all that he refused to speak to his lifelong friend for two days, even though they rode to and from work together every single day.
Then there was that Sunday-morning episode on the Santa Monica Freeway when a red Ferrari 308 GTR pulled up to next to George, and just stayed even with him for a several minutes. Soon, Mr. Ferrari bumped the speed up to 65 mph, so George matched it. Not long after that, the ante was raised to 75, so the GTO motored up next to the Ferrari again, then stayed there. Eventually, they eased up to about 105 mph, and then cruised side-by-side for several miles, neither one attempting to pull away from the other. A small-displacement, high-revving Italian V8 and a large American V8 torque monster must have produced an extraordinary exhaust duo—a beautiful riff at every rev. All too soon, George’s exit came up so he gestured so-long, and parted company while delighting in an experience only gearheads would understand.
George never intended this car to be a daily driver, which is why every house he lived in had a garage or basement accessible via the driveway—so his GTO could spend much of its time out of the elements.
His most nerve-racking experience with this car was one day back in the 1970s, when George was forced to drive it in the rain for ten long, agonizing minutes. That may have been the only time in this car’s history when it was exposed to such a cruel act of nature. It was this attitude George had that kept the unrestored GTO in virtual showroom condition for five decades.
As time went by—with the GTO sitting undisturbed and covered by two king-size bed quilts in his clean, dry basement—George began to consider the previously unimaginable: passing the car along to another enthusiast. But he wasn’t about to sell it to just anyone.
Now, Tim Baker knew about George’s car for years, and the two had met early on, but at the time George was just not ready to part ways with his beloved GTO. Eventually, Tim got the call and was invited back to purchase this rare machine. George liked the idea that his car would have the right kind of company around it, as Tim was a Pontiac guy himself and already had a couple of them in the family.
Tim got the Tin Indian bug from his dad, who had a 1955 model he can remember riding in. By age 16, Tim had his first Pontiac, a 1966 LeMans convertible four-speed. Next came a 1968 Firebird. At the moment, he also owns a 1966 GTO Tri-power four-speed convertible and a 1971 Trans Am 455 H.O. four-speed. These Pontiacs already socialize with a brand-new Mustang Shelby GT350 and bad-to-the-bone 1961 Impala bubbletop with a turbocharged LS series small-block, a six-speed and four-wheel disc brakes.
When Tim purchased the GTO from George in June 2016, the odometer registered less than 27,000 miles, and it was rolling on its original Rally wheels and tires. Everything still works on this high-option car, including its H.O. engine. Tim says it barely feels broken-in when he drives it around the neighborhood.
The paper trail for this car couldn’t be more complete. The original owner kept everything imaginable that pertains to it, including the actual window sticker, purchase order, receipts for the deposit and down payment, loan payment book, all the manuals and warranty documents, and the Protect-o-Plate. A 10-day temporary California tag and black plates issued in March 1968 as well as a carb-related recall notice complete the trail of authenticity.
Only the tires have been replaced so the car can be driven safely. Naturally, those originals are still with the car and are leaning up against the wall. Recently, George gave Tim a box containing the car’s original drivebelts and filters that he saved for decades after they were replaced during one of the car’s early service intervals.
Tim plans to keep the GTO indefinitely since it fits so perfectly into his lifestyle. Naturally, it will be driven from time to time, but here’s the thing: A beautiful, trend-setting, classic GTO muscle car doesn’t require hours of drive time to appreciate what it can do. In fact, just a brisk lap around the block can instantly generate memories that will remain vivid forever. Not even a crowbar can pry those loose.