Terry and Sheron James bought a solar-red Pontiac GTO convertible new for $4,400 in 1968, traded it in five years later for approximately $1,200 and purchased it back 24 years later for $17,000. “It’s kind of a long story,” says Terry James, in detailing the winding road of purchases and trade-ins that began in Tucson, Ariz., in 1968 and ended up with the GTO in his Athens garage in 1996.
Terry and Sheron James bought a solar-red Pontiac GTO convertible new for $4,400 in 1968, traded it in five years later for approximately $1,200 and purchased it back 24 years later for $17,000.
“It’s kind of a long story,” says Terry James, in detailing the winding road of purchases and trade-ins that began in Tucson, Ariz., in 1968 and ended up with the GTO in his Athens garage in 1996.
James, a Pontiac fan whose latest restoration project is a 1979 Trans Am, said Monday he was not surprised to learn one of his favorite brands is about to disappear in a restructuring of General Motors.
“I assumed it was coming. I’ve been hearing the rumors for a while,” said James, who is retired from the Illinois State Police in Springfield.
As for that long GTO story, Terry explained that he and Sheron purchased the ’68 GTO while he was serving in the Air Force in Tucson. The couple had been married three years and used Terry’s combat pay from service in Vietnam to make the purchase. In 1973, they traded the car in on a Monte Carlo at a Macomb dealership.
As Terry later began devoting more time to his interest in muscle cars, he remained a Pontiac fan. The couple moved to Athens in 1987, and it was that year they decided to go in search of that solar-red ’68 GTO.
“First of all, we didn’t have any paperwork. We went back to the dealership in Tucson, but they didn’t have any of the records because it was too old.
“The insurance company didn’t have any records, but we had photos (from 1968) of the license plates. We went to the secretary of state’s office to track it down that way, but the microfilm from that year had been ruined,” Terry recalled.
The search led back to the Macomb dealership in 1991.
“We went to the dealership in Macomb where we traded it in, and they said, ‘We may still have the record upstairs in a file cabinet.’ About two weeks later, we got a copy of the information in the mail, and it had a VIN (vehicle identification number) on it. I worked for the state police, so I checked on it, and it came back to a guy down in Libertyville, near Quincy.”
The car was not for sale. But five years later, in 1996, the phone rang.
“He said, ‘Here’s the car you’ve been waiting for,’” Terry said. Of course, it had nearly quadrupled in price in 24 years.
Terry James estimates the car now would bring $38,000 to $40,000, though he has it insured for $60,000.
The James’ car also is featured in the 2009 “Snapshots” calendar for Snap-On tools company. The GTO shares June with a 1965 Chevy Nova and a 2007 Yamaha Britt Custom Roadliner motorcycle.
Sheron said her husband always had a fondness for red convertibles, including before the couple was married in 1965.
“He drove, while we were dating, a red and white convertible … but it was a basic Chevy,” she said.
Tim Landis can be reached at (217) 788-1536 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where the name originated
Fans of the GTO call it simply “The Great One” or “The Goat.” But according to the Web site welovepontiacs.com, Pontiac had somewhat of a European racing theme in place with the Grand Prix and LeMans before introduction of the GTO in 1964.
Chief company engineer John DeLorean appropriated the Italian racing designation “Gran Turismo Omologato,” a name closely associated with Ferrari. In English, the phrase translates as “Grand Touring Homologated.”
The Pontiac GTO was a grand touring car homologated (or made) from different parts, specifically the 389 Bonneville engine. The car also was credited with ushering in the era of the “muscle car” in Detroit.