Dick Bales Reimagined his ’65 GTO Convertible as a Clean, Cool, Contemporary Street Machine
There comes a time in every car guy’s life when they feel it’s time to build one more car. And since it’s “the last car,” it really needs to be something they’ve always wanted with the right look, the right feel, and the right performance. Dick Bales, a lifelong hot rodder with plenty of cool builds under his belt, was feeling that way when he started looking at early GTOs.
“I was at the Run to the Sun show in Myrtle Beach with my pal Paul Atkins when I came across a really nice black ’65 GTO coupe,” Dick says. “Back in the day I had a ’65 442 and whipped on some GTOs back then, but I never owned one. Paul mentioned that he knew where a really solid, half-finished convertible was available, but at the time, I wasn’t sure I needed another project. About six months later, I figured it was too good of a car to pass on, so I loaded up my trailer and hauled it home to start my last full build.”
Dick ordered up a Roadster Shop Revo Chassis and then promptly sold the original GTO frame and drivetrain to a good buddy who collects Pontiacs. The advanced handling and steering of the RS chassis combined with big Wilwood disc brakes were going to give his new GTO a modern muscle machine foundation, and he wanted the wheel and tire package to help make the most of that while still having some classic Pontiac flavor. So, he put in a call to Greening Auto Company to have them machine a set of 18- and 19-inch Pontiac Rallye I style wheels, which were eventually wrapped them in red-stripe radial tires for a fitting appearance.
Dick appreciates the torque of a classic 389c.i. V8, but when it came time to decide on a drivetrain, he opted for the power, performance, and efficiency of a late-model GM engine. He first installed an LS1 but upon seeing the engine in the chassis, it just didn’t float his boat in either the looks or performance departments. Remember, this was going to be his last full build, so he wanted his classic Goat to really move out and feel like a modern muscle car. Dick made the move to a Chevrolet Performance LT4, the supercharged 6.2-liter V8 that can make up to 650 horsepower when called upon.
Installing the LT4 was a bit out of Dick’s comfort zone, so he enlisted the help of another friend, Mike Rutter of Rutterz Rodz in Tennessee to map out the wiring requirements and fuel supply system for the direct injected engine. A Wegner front drive assembly and Champion radiator were added along with a set of Ultimate stainless headers and free-flowing Magnaflow mufflers. Combined with a stout 4L70E transmission, the drivetrain is worlds away from the original 389c.i. Pontiac.
The body was left essentially stock though every gap and panel were tightened and smoothed to a perfect finish by Dick’s longtime friend Lee Barnes at Barnes Classic Restorations in Piedmont, South Carolina. The classic GTO hood was retained as well as the modest factory GTO badging, though the custom front fender emblems now incorporate LT4 lettering. The paint color, a modern Audi shade, is similar to a factory-issued hue and is complemented with a beige convertible top that enhances the clean, contemporary appearance.
The interior was handed off to Paul Atkins to bring up to modern standards while retaining some GTO flavor. The factory seats received a thorough reworking before being recovered in leather, with door panels and other soft parts stitched to match. The factory console was retained, and a radio delete plate was installed in the dash, though Paul incorporated a modern stereo system with Bluetooth controls for entertainment. Dakota Digital gauges are nestled in the wood veneered dash insert and are paired with a Vintage Air system that flows out of factory-style in-dash vent assemblies. The Corvair steering wheel is a favorite of Dick’s – it provides a classic look with a smaller diameter. It’s topped with an NOS Pontiac horn button to look right at home inside the GTO.
The project took about four years to complete, including a number of delays from back-ordered parts, but Dick has been cruising the GTO for more than a year now and is totally pleased with the way it turned out. Building cars with friends is all part of the fun for Dick and he credits his longtime car pals Bobby Richardson and Mike Gifford for their help on the GTO and in the shop over the years.
As for the GTO being his last build, the last time we chatted with Dick he was working on a deal for a ’62 Bel Air project. There just never seems to be a true “this is my last build” for a lifelong dyed-in-the-wool hot rodder.
Photos by John Jackson & Damon Lee