Cruising the old high school hangouts and highways

  • 1966 Pontiac GTO, Phil Martin, Villa Park

    1966 Pontiac GTO, Phil Martin, Villa Park Courtesy of Matt Avery Media

  • Phil Martin of Villa Park purchased this 1966 Pontiac GTO in 1994, and started a nine-month restoration in 2014.

    Phil Martin of Villa Park purchased this 1966 Pontiac GTO in 1994, and started a nine-month restoration in 2014.

  • Martin purchased this 1966 Pontiac GTO from a seller in Elgin 22 years ago.

    Martin purchased this 1966 Pontiac GTO from a seller in Elgin 22 years ago.

  • The engine compartment has been redone with a 389-cubic-inch V-8 lowered into place.

    The engine compartment has been redone with a 389-cubic-inch V-8 lowered into place.

  • The GTO now sports Blue Charcoal paint.

    The GTO now sports Blue Charcoal paint.

  • The interior has been returned to like-new condition.

    The interior has been returned to like-new condition.

  • Martin drives off in his Tiger Gold 1965 Pontiac GTO shortly after buying it from a high school friend in 1967.

    Martin drives off in his Tiger Gold 1965 Pontiac GTO shortly after buying it from a high school friend in 1967. Courtesy of Phil Martin

 
 

On most nights when Phil Martin was younger, he could be found roaring through what he and his motoring pals called the Green City -- or lower Wacker Drive. The glowing emerald lights of the underground tunnels were just perfect for blasts in their muscle machines.

"We'd rev 'em up, loving the sound of our engines echoing off the walls," said Martin, who grew up in Chicago and now lives in Villa Park.

Cruising along lower Wacker Drive is just one of the many memories the enthusiast made in a special 1965 Pontiac GTO. Timothy Cortesi, one of Martin's buds from Kelvyn Park High School, bought the car new at Eddie Ruch Pontiac in Wheaton. With his father's help, Cortesi negotiated the $3,900 asking price down to $3,250.

One standout feature was the Tiger Gold paint. Only a handful came painted in this seldom-seen color. But as insurance premiums (and speeding tickets) piled up, Cortesi sold the car to Martin in 1967. He paid his pal $2,000.

Martin was all of 18 and this was his first car. Another regular spot he'd cruise to was Skip's Fiesta drive-in restaurant in Melrose Park. It wasn't just the "cute girls on skates" who brought out the burgers, fries and milkshakes that kept him returning.

"Most nights we wouldn't even stop to eat," he recalls. "We'd just drive through and pull out, racing other cars down North Avenue."

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Lake Shore Drive was another popular locale. "I'd leave the top up but zip open the back window," Martin said. "At night with the cool breeze, there was nothing else like it."

He'd also hang with Cortesi. After selling his ride, Cortesi moved out to Villa Park but he still dated a gal named Mickey in the city.

"He'd call and ask if I could pick up Mickey and bring her out to the 'burbs," Martin said. "We'd all go out driving with no destination in mind."

All the good cruising fun screeched to a halt in 1969. Martin was drafted into the Army and the new infantry soldier was soon shipped out to Vietnam. Before he left, he sold the precious Pontiac to another high school friend.

The years never erased Martin's fond memories and in 1994 he purchased another GTO, this one a 1966 model, from a seller in Elgin. Martin had to get the classic roadworthy. Part of the process was swapping out the incorrect 1977 Pontiac 400-cubic-inch engine for a factory correct 389 V-8. For a couple of years, he enjoyed hammering down area dragstrips, frequenting Great Lakes, Route 66 and Byron.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In 2014, Martin decided to have the vehicle properly overhauled and he took it to Hot Rod Autobody in Schiller Park. A nine-month build commenced, leaving the car in better-than-new condition. Along the way, the GTO received improvements such as new quarter panels, Blue Charcoal paint and a fully redone engine compartment.

No yellow brick road or any other highway will ever lead back to the Green City: the GTO's tinged 1960 headlamps were swapped out for modern lighting. The other special haunts and hangouts have also faded away and been lost to time.

Still, a heavy blip of the throttle and a spin in this Goat is just what's needed to take Martin back to those happy times and gone-by years.

• Share your car's story with Matt at auto@dailyherald.com.

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