Jeff Hill isn't afraid to run up the miles on his four-wheeled machines. Whether decades ago or driving the valuable classic now parked in his driveway, he gets no greater joy than being behind the wheel.
His high school ride, a 1966 Pontiac Le Mans, accumulated 160,000 miles on the odometer before it was passed along. All that seat time convinced the Mundelein resident of one thing: he needed something faster.
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"The GTO was my ultimate dream car," Hill said. "At the time, even if I could have afforded it, my parents wouldn't have let me have one."
The Le Mans, with its elongated Coke-bottle styling, was a viable substitute. "It looked the same as the GTO but couldn't match the performance," he said. It's little 326-cubic-inch V-8 and two-speed transmission couldn't keep up with the cars of his buddies, who owned SS Chevelles and Z/28 Camaros.
"I always told myself, one day I'd get a car that could keep up."
That day finally arrived in 1985 when he located his 1967 GTO.
"I looked for years and when I found this one in Dallas, I immediately bought a one-way ticket south. I hadn't even seen pictures of it," Hill said. After taking it to a local mechanic and getting a look underneath, Hill deemed it fit for the multistate drive back home.
"It had bald tires and slipped into second gear, but with a little babying it made it back to Illinois."
His Pontiac was originally sold in West Palm Beach, Fla., before passing to another owner in Corpus Christi, Texas. "It had every piece on it, including all the chrome trim. It was quite a treasure and well worth the wait."
To ensure his GTO would be ready for years of heavy highway time, Hill embarked on an extensive frame-on restoration. The project commenced in 1985 and took place in Hill's small two-car garage. The Pontiac was disassembled, leaving only the doors, trunk and quarter panels mounted to the frame.
"After seeing the car torn all apart, my young son started crying. He was so worried about what had happened to daddy's car," Hill recalls.
Being a Southern car and free from harsh winters, all the sheet metal, which was still rock solid, was retained. The only blemishes were two small holes on the front fenders that required filling. The car rolled out of the Pontiac, Mich., factory in Champagne paint with a creme-colored vinyl top, but the Dallas owner had Starlight Black paint applied.
"My wife convinced me to retain the black color as it contrasted nicely with the gold interior."
Once the body was stripped, Hill opted for Centari Enamel black paint. The interior received new upholstery and the front drum brakes were converted to a disc setup. Factory options include power brakes and steering, a Hurst dual-gate shifter and air conditioning.
Getting this goat down the road is a 400-cubic-inch V-8 mated to a Turbo 400 three-speed automatic transmission.
"It was very rewarding to get the car all back together. It scared me when all the parts were strewed across my garage, house and basement. I had never taken a vehicle down to a bare chassis."
Overcoming his fear paid off as Hill now spends numerous hours enjoying the fruits of his tedious labor. "If you see the car on a trailer, assume it's either stolen or broke. It gets driven everywhere I go."
Hill has enjoyed participating in five of Hot Rod magazine's Power Tours. These ultralong drive events have taken him to nearly every state east of the Mississippi. The longest trip was from Madison, Wis., and ended in Kissimmee, Fla.
Hill racked up 1,600 miles on his beloved GTO on this trip alone.
"Some guys get their relaxation from a variety of hobbies. Mine comes from seat time," he said. "The longer the trip, the better it is and the more content I am."