Home Car Stories One Family 1965 PONTIAC GTO Factory Lightweight- Keith Seymore
1965 PONTIAC GTO Factory Lightweight- Keith Seymore PDF Print E-mail
Written by Double Dragon
Thursday, 22 May 2014 21:23

1965 PONTIAC GTO Factory Lightweight- Keith Seymore


Writing copyright D. S. Brown, photography courtesy and copyright Keith Seymore

65 gto seymore 08 F

Keith Seymore's 1965 GTO draws quite a lot of attention at shows nowadays and in the past it was well known when his father Van ran it on the drag strips. This GTO came through Royal Pontiac direct from the factory equipped with lightweight sheetmetal. This was Van's third Pontiac and the one that didn't get away. He lost his first two Pontiacs and held tight to this one.

65 gto seymore 08 pass R

Van Seymore was born September 22, 1935 near Kennett, Missouri. He married Patricia Barnes April 26, 1956 and had two kids: Keith and Jenny. Van started with General Motors in 1955. He completed a long stint as a die maker at the Chevrolet Flint Manufacturing Plant before moving up to 'Advanced Manufacturing'. Aside from making fuel tanks, radiator grills, oil pans etc. Van made experimental parts for exciting projects such as special rocker arms and air cleaners under the direction of 'the Father of the Corvette' Zora Arkus Duntov. Van contributed many components to the original Mark II "Mystery Engine".

At the Chevrolet-Pontiac-Cadillac "Advanced Manufacturing" group Van campaigned for the use of laminated steel, the adhesive bonding of aluminum components and 'space frame' construction on experimental Corvettes and Fieros. Van shares the GM patent for the press apparatus for hydroforming a tube which was issued Aug 10, 1993. This process created the all-aluminum frame rails used in the 2014 Corvette Stingray. Hydroforming provides greater strength, torsional stiffness and durability. Car testers commented on the better ride, world class racetrack handling, and even better MPG due to lower weight.

65 GTO seymore 2009 F

Van retired in 1988 after 35 years at GM but remained a lifetime member of the Widetrackers Chapter of the Pontiac Oakland Club International and the Royal Pontiac Club of America. His black 1965 GTO was registered in his name until the day of his death aged 70. Van died Nov 12, 2005 from the aftereffects of a heart attack at Grand Blanc's Genesys Hospital. Van owned his lightweight 1965 Pontiac GTO for 40 years and 2 months which was more than half his life.

The Lightweight GTO remains in the Seymore family with Van's son, Keith. This GTO is special to Keith primarily because of its connection with his father and because this was the 'Queen of the fleet' of racecars that Van campaigned. The unique history of this GTO is of great interest to vintage racing historians, those who are fascinated by 'time capsule' low mileage survivor cars and of course all the fans of mean black Tri- power GTOs with red pinstripes.

65 GTO seymore dash 2008

Van's racing history traces back to his success campaigning his family Fords starting in 1956. In 1963 he switched to Pontiac and began availing himself of the specialty cars flowing through Ace Wilson's Royal Pontiac performance dealership. See the story on Royal Pontiac in the DEALERSHIPS section of this website filed under MICHIGAN/ DETROIT AREA.

Van discovered Ace Wilson's Royal Pontiac dealership at just the right time. Tireless promoter Jim Wangers chose Royal to serve as a conduit to put race cars into the hands of dedicated drag racers as well as churning out hot set ups for street use. Royal was running at full steam when Van needed a new car in 1963. Van wanted to replace his 1960 Ford Paxton supercharged Convertible. He requested one of the new factory lightweight Galaxies with fiberglass front end but Ford was giving him the runaround doubtlessly because he was employed by Chevrolet.

As Ford evasions forced Van to seek alternatives Royal Pontiac performance salesman Dick Jesse crossed his path. Van thought a used 1962 Super Duty would suit his needs. Dick Jesse had other ideas. Dick was waiting for Van at the Royal dealership. He took Van to the Service area where a plain white 1963 Tempest/ LeMans coupe and a wagon sat looking like nothing special. Dick fired the coupe up which set the front fenders, windows and Van shaking from the mean idle. Van protested,

"Dick, you know there is no way I could afford a car like that."

Dick laughed,

"You're not a big enough shooter to get a car like this. I can't sell you that car anyway....that's George's car"

Dick just wanted to show off George DeLorean's 1963 SD coupe. George was Pontiac Motor Division Chief Engineer John DeLorean's brother. Dick planned to make the wagon into his own racer.

Van's car was waiting at the Pontiac Engineering Building on Joslyn Avenue near the Pontiac final assembly plant in Pontiac, Michigan. Dick had arranged clearance through the gates. After their dramatic entrance Van admired a Nocturne Blue 1963 Catalina Super Duty sitting behind the building. It had been converted over the counter into an 'HO' car so it could run B/Stock with aluminum fenders, hood and deck. The doors, rad support, inner fenders and bumper brackets were steel. It had a regular production ('non swiss cheese') frame. The 'Bobcat' appearance package paint scheme was complimented by color keyed 8 lug aluminum wheels and wide whitewalls.

After the tease with George DeLorean's SD Tempest Van began to suspect that this was another of Dick's jokes. This time Dick was serious. For $3,100.00 Van drove home in a brand new Pontiac racecar which was immediately pressed into daily driver status and of course racing. Although Van held the registration and title Royal had inserted a 'manufacturer’s lien' on the title. This had shocking consequences for Van. One day Royal Pontiac took the Cat back with no warning or refund!

Jim Wangers racer had gotten dinged up while being towed. Royal didn't have replacement aluminum fenders on hand. Van's car happened to be at Royal awaiting service. Royal 'repossessed' Van's car to allow the crew to cannibalize Van's Cat for the aluminum fenders. Van was stunned by this turn of events and dashed into Dick's office in a frenzy. Dick smoothed it out,

"Van, I want you to settle down. You are all set: your new GTO is here."

Dick handed Van the keys to a new red 1964 GTO. It was fall, 1963 and the GTO bombshell hadn't hit yet but it was coming. Van had a very early copy of the original GTO that ignited the whole musclecar mania of the 1960s. Although he had been compensated for his loss Van was compelled to complain to Dick because the factory paint job was so terrible it was embarrassing. Dick arranged with the factory rep Carl Klessick to paint over the problem areas. Van was to asked to use small pieces of masking tape to indicate the problem spots.

Van delivered the GTO to Carl's office after using an entire roll of tape to completely cover the car! Carl approved a total repaint. After the factory repainted the entire GTO it was taken to Royal Pontiac where one of the new car prep guys applied a 'Blue Coral' wax job. Van performed his own 'Royal Bobcat supertune' job on the car which provided undefeated status in B/S class competition. Rumor says this may have been the first local GTO to run in the 12s. Van amassed so many wins that trophy storage became an issue. He made a deal with the local track owners to bypass a trophy or cash for his wins in exchange for free admission the next weekend.

64 GTO seymore w tow vehicle

Van worked second shift at GM which gave him time to hang out at Royal Pontiac, attending press events and test sessions. Van also helped the Royal crew pump out the popular customer street Bobcat packages. Van took Tri-powers home in batches of 5 or 6; re-jetted and performed other 'Bobcat' procedures. He returned them to Royal ready for Frank Rediker or Charlie Brumfield to install. Van also converted wide ratio 4 speeds into close ratio 4 speeds in batches of 5 or 6.

Van's assistance didn't pass unnoticed. Van ran his new 1964 'sleeper' GTO under the radar as a fully sponsored and supported factory car. Nothing was official outside of the Royal license plate frames. Van was given a Shell credit card to pay for fuel and enjoyed access to an open account for race car parts. Royal shipped Van's parts via Greyhound to the Flint, Michigan bus station for pick up. Van's parts frequently had red paint on them indicating 'scrap'. Those crafty Pontiac men sent Van enough 'scrap' parts to remain undefeated in B/S competition. Van held the NHRA B/S record of 13.42 until Art Noey of 'Shaker Engineering' took it to the next level.

Van made two mistakes with the red GTO. First, he had his name printed on some decals on the side windows. Dick Jesse had him remove them. Pontiac wanted Van to be just another hard running but anonymous GTO. Second, Van allowed Royal Pontiac to put his car on display at the Fairground for the Michigan State Fair. The photo below shows the car at the show.

64 GTO seymore michigan state fair

The 1964 GTO had the same registration format as the lost Catalina. Van could plate the car and drive it on the street but Royal held final say over the title. As most of you readers have probably guessed by now, yes: Van lost his second Royal car. Van's GTO vanished due to the same loophole that ate up his Catalina: the 'manufacturer's lien'.

It was nearly fall again and time for Van to lose his second Pontiac. Having his cars vaporize was becoming an annual tradition! One of Royal's salesmen mistakenly sold Van's red 1964 GTO to an enthusiastic show goer. It was shipped back east to the new owner at the end of the show. Van showed up at Royal Pontiac and found that once again his car was gone. Royal not only sold the 1964 GTO but all of Van's hours of skilled hard work built into performance upgrades. The GTO was loaded with parts such as headers, tow bar brackets and slicks mounted on wheels still in trunk. Van was furious. Dick Jesse was perfectly calm and merely paraphrased himself as he recycled his solution when Van's Catalina vanished the the year prior,

"Van, I want you to settle down. Your new '65 is here."

Dick Jesse took Van over to the Pontiac Engineering Building just like he had with the Catalina. Behind the building sat 5 white 1965 GTOs. These were serious cars with no radios, undersized radiators, heater delete, red or blue vinyl interiors, steel wheels and dog dish hubcaps. They were ready for quarter mile action with Tripower, manual transmissions, manual steering and manual brakes.

Dick explained that these were Engineering vehicles, built with thin gauge die tryout material to shave off some weight. Dick asked him:

"So...which one would you like?".

“None of ‘em. I can’t drive that – it looks like a taxi cab!”

"So... what do you want?"

Van wanted a black GTO. Dick wasn't sure there was enough thin gauge material left to build one more lightweight GTO. Phone calls revealed that there was enough material to build one more lightweight car. An order was placed.

Dick Jesse took one of the 5 white GTOs for himself and altered the wheelbase to create the 'Mr Unswitchable' funny car. Dick managed to talk his way out of the trouble he caused for himself by cutting up a factory car but he was definitely in hot water for that stunt. Packer Pontiac got one which was driven by Howard Maseles (see the story on Packer filed under MICHIGAN/ DETROIT in DEALERSHIPS). Knafel Pontiac got one which was driven by Arlen Vanke (see the story on Knafel filed under OHIO in DEALERSHIPS). One was shipped to California, where Cecil Yother campaigned it. The fifth one was shipped back east possibly to Myrtle Motors where it was repainted before going racing. Seems they didn't like the white 'taxi cab' looks either! (see the story on Myrtle filed under NEW YORK in DEALERSHIPS)

65 GTO seymore build sheet

Van didn't specify the options on his black GTO. A clerk in the front office simply created an order following the standard pattern used on a typical Royal Pontiac order submitted by Dick Jesse. The correct performance options were included (389 Tri-power, 4 speed, 3.90 Saf T track axle) along with some race ready touches: battery installed in the trunk and a hood pre- cut for use with a primitive, prototype ram air pan. This was a very early version of the soon to be famous Ram Air series of scoops available from the factory for GTOs.

65 GTO seymore ram air bulletin

The early version of the ram air system can be seen below in this photo Keith took of his GTO system as delivered from the factory.

65 GTO seymore ram air early version

The car had the black paint Van wanted along with red pinstripes matched to redline tires mounted on Rally I wheels. Quite a few options were loaded onto this car: tinted glass, back up lights, door edge guards, AM radio with reverb (although the reverb was nonfunctional; it was packed with lead for ballast) and floor mats.

In what seemed to be a strange oversight the GTO lacked the tachometer or rally cluster. The missing tachometer/ rally cluster always puzzled Keith. Some people speculated that racers didn't order a factory tach because they intended to install an aftermarket Sun tach on the column. This resonates with the trend of ordering steelies and dog dish caps based on the expectation that mags and slicks will be mounted right after delivery. Keith discovered the truth decades later when he was restoring the fuel tank. The original factory build sheet between the tank and the trunk floor specifically lists the rally cluster, including tachometer. These items were ordered but a direction at the bottom of the sheet says, 'Built less 504'. The GTO was intended to have the tach/ rally cluster.

The black GTO was ordered late in the summer, 1964 and the body was built the first week of September. Royal Pontiac had arranged for Van to appear at various 'Pontiac Motor Division days' events at local racetracks. Royal pressed the factory to get that car built right away. The date code on the cowl tag is O9A which decodes to September (09) and the first week (A).

65 GTO seymore cowl plate
Within days Van received a call. The build of his GTO had been expedited to prevent the completed car from getting trapped on the property if and when an anticipated UAW strike occurred. The haste of build was apparent in the completed car. The black GTO had three 7.75 whitewalls installed, one 7.75 redline and a 7.35 whitewall for a spare. A three speed was installed in the car with the specified four speed loose in the trunk.

The paint job showed evidence of hastiness and sloppiness. The black GTO had handprints in the hood in two locations, hairs in the paint, and a large 'swiped' area on the decklid possibly due to someone wiping some solvent off and then spraying the paint directly over it. Fit and finish was poor, with gaps in the headliner and carpet. All these faults are visible in the car today due to the low miles which have preserved all the factory faults present the day the car was delivered. One idiosyncrasy in the car shows up if you try to use the high beams. They will short out the entire car because someone on the assembly line shot a screw threw the main body wiring harness. As far as Keith knows the problem still exists. He's afraid to test it and find out the hard way.

It seems that all aspects of the 'annual lost car' tradition were present and accounted for! Royal makes Van's car disappear: check. Van gets angry: check. Dick says "Your new GTO is here"- check. A very early production GTO arrives with a poor factory paint job: check. Where this car deviated from prior 'lost cars' is that the factory paint wasn't quite as bad as it was on the 1964 red GTO so it wasn't repainted. This GTO also differed in that it never 'went away'.

Although the official build date listed on the build sheet is Sept 18, 1964 Van remembers the call came that the GTO was ready on Sept 10, 1964. Van's wife Pat gave birth to her daughter Jenny was born on Thursday, September 10, 1964. Van remembers that he and his son Keith visited the hospital on Thursday, but didn't return on Friday. Instead, father and son had more pressing matters to attend to at Royal Pontiac. Van remembers taking Keith to drive the GTO home Friday, September 11, 1964. Keith was too young at the time to remember the chronology.

Using this time frame the GTO would have made it into Van's possession 10 days before the 'official introduction' of the 1965s. This was also 10 days before the documented delivery date of September 21, 1964. Pat's recollection is different and not as dramatic but is most likely correct. Van always maintained that the car was finished and ready to be picked up on Friday September 11, 1964.

Pat agrees that Van and Keith were gone on Friday, Sep 12, but believes that the purpose of the visit to Royal was to finalize pickup plans or for a parts run. She recalls that Van and a friend went down to Royal the following week to pick the car up, which makes sense. Keith couldn't drive so how did they come back with 2 cars if they went on Sep 12? It would take one driver to get to Royal and two to return with the original ride to Royal plus the the new GTO. Keith found the build sheet with a reported date that supports Pat’s claims of September 18. The build sheet date was not a “predicted” value. The GTO was invoiced on Monday Sept 21, 1964, which happened to be the “official” introduction date for the 1965 GTOs.

As expected, soon after the GTO was picked up the UAW went out on strike. Regardless of the precise pick up date one thing is certain: Van paid nothing. He was still riding on his now two year old $3,100.00 Catalina purchase. The black GTO was delivered without paperwork (no window sticker or build documentation). A penciled note on the Owners Manual envelope succinctly stated: 'No COD'. In plain english this means 'No Cash On Delivery is due'.

65 GTO seymore owner envelope no COD
This 'invisible' GTO did come with something different than the 1963 Catalina or the 1964 GTO: it had a clear title. No 'manufacturer's lien' was going to provide a loophole for this car to vaporize. The trauma of losing two cars that he had invested time and energy into contributed to Van's iron grip on his third Pontiac. The GTO proved to be Van's favorite car over time and that more than anything explains why he would never relinquish the car so long as he was alive.

65 GTO seymore title

Van had the GTO home for about a day before prepping it for race usage. Heads came off and were cut .030". Van shimmed valve springs and re curved the distributor and 'Bobcatted' the carburetors, but ran into a problem. The 389 engine head intake pattern had changed from the 1964 version. Van didn't have any 'new style' 1965 intake gaskets.

Superior Pontiac- Cadillac in Flint, Michigan said they had them in stock. Once Van made the trip down there he discovered that Superior had the 1964 style. Royal Pontiac gave the same answer and the trip down there yielded the same results: 1964 style gaskets. Dick Jesse got him in touch with the manufacturer. Van nearly had his gaskets until manufacturing recanted because Van was a private individual. Van was ready to cut his own gaskets when Dick Jesse stepped in again.

Dick Jesse always seemed to have the angles worked out and came up with a sure-fire solution. Jim Wangers was heading over to the Pontiac motor plant for a marketing presentation. With the plant on strike Van could probably get inside to get the gaskets. Van wore his best suit so that Jim Wangers could smuggle him into the plant using a press pass.

Jim and Van drove in Jim's yellow Pontiac 2+2 to lunch and then hit the Pontiac facility. One of the UAW employees picketing in front of the plant knew Jim who idled the car while they chatted. Van soon spotted someone he knew while he sat trapped in plain view in the passenger seat. If anyone saw a UAW diemaker crossing a picket line it could be interpreted the wrong way.

"Jim, get me outta here!"

Van pulled his suitcoat over his head as they hurried inside. Inside the dark, empty plant Van got a lift from a guy on a three wheeled scooter. They journeyed into the depths of the plant where Van was handed a 2 foot high stack of gaskets. Van took enough to reassemble his 389 plus a few extras. For the following weeks afterwards Van was fielding calls from all the local guys hoping he still had some extra intake gaskets on hand.

On official introduction day named "Pontiac Day" the black GTO was back together and running great. At Detroit Dragway on Sunday, September 27, 1964 the GTO made some low 12.90 runs in B/S class. Below is a photo of the 1965 GTO set up for towing to the track dated Aug, 1967. The tow vehicle is quite the car; a 1964 LeMans with a 421 Tri- Power. That red LeMans had no trouble pulling the GTO around!

65 GTO seymore w 64 lemans 421 tripwr tow

After running both the 1963 Catalina and the 1964 GTO undefeated in NHRA class competition the 1965 GTO was expected to carry on with the tradition. The GTO was as good as the earlier cars but now a lot of local competition had caught up.  Art Noey from Shaker Engineering in particular caused the 1965 GTO to struggle. Van and Art each briefly held the record as it rotated back and forth between the two.

The 1965 GTO was actually lighter than it needed to be for B/Stock. Van loaded the car up before rolling through tech. The GTO made weight with the tow bar and safety chains in place, toolbox and slicks in the trunk, a full tank of gas and Keith strategically placed on the scales. After passing tech Van ditched everything except the tank of gas and of course, his son Keith!

Van finally got nailed by a technical inspector. Van was stopped on the way to collect his time slip and instructed to cross the scale. Van balked but the tech insisted,

"You have to: you just set a B/Stock record."

"You can keep your record, I'm not going across that scale!"

When Van reluctantly crossed the scale he came up short earning the GTO a ban from that track for awhile.

Van enjoyed all aspects of competition including the mind games. Once the black GTO was known Van deliberately waited until the last minute to choose a class. The instant he wrote his class designation on the window all the other competitors would scramble to find a different class. During the week friends would feel him out (subtly, or so they thought) to discover where he was racing that weekend so they could improve their chances by running at another track.

By 1968 the Seymore family vehicle was a new 1968 Pontiac GTO seen in this photo below. The 1968 served as a tow vehicle for the 1965 GTO. The picture was taken at Lampeer dragway during a rainstorm.


65 GTO seymore w 68 GTO tow vehicle

Just like a seasoned pool shark, Van would never show what the car was fully capable of except when it was necessary. A strategy employed in time runs was to make one pass, launching hard and coasting through the top end. Now he had made sure the car was performing on the bottom half of the track but hadn't revealed the car's full potential. For the next pass he would launch easy and then run hard on the top end. Similar to pool sharks who never win or lose by more than the smallest margin possible, Van would never win by just enough to make elimination. When competition forced his hand and he actually made a good, full, hard pass the gig was up. The competition would be in the pits in a flurry of activity stripping off windshield wipers, pulling floor mats out in a desperate search to bridge the huge gap that had suddenly been unveiled.

In the mid 1960s the black GTO served as a test vehicle for M&H's new slicks named 'Wrinklewall'. After 6 runs M&H let the Seymores keep the tires. The following weekend at Ubly Dragway the Wrinklewall tires and the times the black GTO was running caused a stir. In no time the track was awash in guys with barely any air in their traditional tires. Finally when disaster was imminent the track announcer threatened everyone over the PA system with eviction if they didn't put the air back in their tires.

The black GTO was never intended to be a daily driver, although Van's wife Pat did occasionally drive it to the corner store. The factory rear battery installation (for better weight distribution) proved to be tricky and frequently the battery died at inconvenient times. The 'no start' situations certainly didn't inspire confidence or inspire use beyond the immediate neighborhood.

65 GTO towed in 69

The treks to the track are registered on the odometer of the 1965 GTO although the car was towed with a tow bar. The entire vehicle except the drivetrain registered those miles anyways. Unless you flat bed tow a car the wheels turn and the suspension works over the bumps.

The majority of the mileage came in quarter mile increments as Van raced the car in B/Stock in 1965 and 1967. The GTO sat out competition for 1966 when Royal supplied an overhead cam 6 cylinder 1966 Pontiac LeMans Sprint for racing. Van didn't hang onto it. By 1968 the situation at Royal was cooling down. After ensuring that he had a clear title for the car, Van converted the 1965 GTO to B/Modified Production trim which allowed use of the newer Tr-Ppower, bigger carbs, exhaust headers and larger slicks.

Some slight modifications to make the car more streetable at the turn of the century, but otherwise the car remains in the 1968 race configuration today.  Van continued to race the car in B/MP until 1974, netting a personal best of 12.20 at 118 mph.  Debilitating Rheumatoid Arthritis prevented Van from driving a stick shift. The particularly stiff clutch in the 1965 GTO forced Van to park it. The GTO was never stored because no one anticipated that it would sit in that spot in the garage for nearly 20 years. At the time it was parked there were 4,656.2 original miles showing on the odometer.

65 GTO seymore 1980s pic

By the time Keith was of driving age he had inherited the family 1974 Chevelle 454 and was consumed with racing and tweaking that car. In the mid 1980's the 1965 GTO was taken out for a special outing. With a borrowed set of slicks Keith pulled an easy 12.40 pass. The 'Old Goat' still had lots of life left in it.

65 GTO 389 80s pic

The engine shot and the two exterior shots of the car with whitewalls and black steelies were taken around the time in the 1980s that the GTO received a brief outing.

65 GTO seymore 1980s R pic

Finally, in the late 1990's Keith was able to convince Van that his prized GTO would be more secure in one of Keith's back barns rather than in the front garage of Van's house in Flint. Keith secretly re installed the redline tires and Rally I wheels. In order to get it running again Keith changed the oil, cleaned out the fuel system, replaced the aluminum valve spring retainers, re-shimmed the valve springs and rebuilt the Tri-Power carburetors. Keith surprised Van on his birthday with the correct appearing and nicely running car.

Since then it has done light cruise, parade and car show duty and has appeared in numerous books, magazines and articles.  It currently sits in original unrestored condition (born with paint, interior and driveline) with 4,850 original miles.

Finally bowing to pressure to show the car, stubborn old Van finally relented and agreed to show the car at the Widetracker's Dustoff show in May, 2003. Freelance writer Jeff Koch interviewed Van and did a feature article on the car.

Keith was young when the car entered his life and his impressions of the car were immediate,

"I’ve always thought it was a pretty car, and it’s given me a lifelong affection for black cars with red pinstripes.  The howl of the tripower is unmistakable, as is the whine of the four speed."

No mechanical problems or accidents (other than me hitting it with my bicycle or pedal cars.  I wish now I had been more careful).  The car is completely original (born with interior, paint, engine block and rear axle) in regards to anything not related to going fast.  It does have 1967 cylinder heads, 1966 tripower intake and carbs, and exhaust headers installed (the original heads and exhaust manifolds are stored away, available for reinstallation).  Everything works including the radio (but not the reverb) – even the brake shoes, hoses and all of the light bulbs are original.\

Last Updated ( Monday, 30 June 2014 13:19 )