The FREE Complete Bay Area Auto Enthusiast Guide

By KENNETH HALL – Motoring Tampa Bay correspondent
On any given Tuesday evening, the parking lot behind WOW on North Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa is packed with dozens of classic American automobiles at the Tampa Antique Vehicle Association weekly cruise-in. Still, it is not hard to spot the blazing red 1968 Pontiac GTO convertible of Robert Mantler, which he calls his GoGoat, and it is not just because of the large stuffed tiger perched on the rear deck. The Pontiac GTO is widely considered to be the first true American muscle car, and in 1968, Pontiac completely redesigned the model so that it looked as lean, fast and intimidating as its reputation. It was named car of the year by Motor Trend magazine.
The GTO started as an option package on the mid-size Pontiac Tempest in 1964 and 1965 and proved to be so popular that in 1966, the GTO, affectionately referred to as the “goat,” became a separate Pontiac model. For the first two years, the GTO was a 206-inch long vehicle, with plenty of power, but aside from a few sporty cosmetic enhancements, it looked much like other full-size offerings from the company. That all changed in 1968.
Almost six inches shorter, the redesigned 1968 GTO captured the imagination of the public, including Mantlers dad, who purchased a hardtop version. Just a teenager, the young Mantler was, no doubt, the envy of his high school, as his dad allowed him to drive the “Mayfair Maize” yellow GTO. He spent countless hours cleaning and waxing the car and exploring it in detail. Unfortunately, his father died and the young Mantler had to sell the GTO and buy a more economical Volkswagen.
“I knew that car inside and out and hated to let it go,” Mantler recalls. “I told myself that maybe I had get another one someday.”
Someday came a little more than six years ago when he purchased his current 1968 GTO. Although the previous owner had the car professionally restored, some modifications were made. Instead of the 400 cubic-inch engine that was stock in 1968, the GTO owned by Mantler is powered by a 455 cubic-inch Pontiac engine that has been bored out to 463 cubic inches with a nine-to-one compression ratio. To handle the added torque and heat, the restoration included upgraded suspension and a NASCAR style rear end with Eaton Positraction and a Flex-a-lite aluminum four-core radiator with dual fans.
Although he was not crazy about the eye-catching red paint job, the original color was the same Mayfair Maze yellow as his dads car, which Mantler took as a sign to go ahead and purchase the vehicle. “This red is not a Pontiac color,” he adds. “It is actually an airplane paint with six coats of clear on top.
The 1968 GTO features a Hurst Dual Gate shifter, a Flowmaster 2½-inch American Thunder exhaust system, power steering, power brakes, an automatic convertible top with a glass rear window, 14-inch aluminum mag wheels in front and 15-inch mag aluminum mag wheels in back.
One of the innovations on the 1968 Pontiac GTO was the Endura front bumper that was the same color as the body of the car.
“The Endura bumper was a marvelous idea and it does work,” Mantler says. “It can be dented or cut, but for the most part, it is very forgiving.”
Because of the extensive restoration, Mantler says he has had to do little to the car, aside from replacing the transmission with a GM T-200R and some slight cosmetic work on the interior, which is all original. He keeps the stuffed tiger with the car in homage to the GTO television commercials of the era, which featured live tigers.
Although he prefers the look of the 1966 and 1967 GTOs, the 1968 reminds him of his father and their time together. “Plus,” he adds. “It really hauls.”

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