Making what once was old into something new is what hot rodding is all about. Yet sometimes the dream of what you want can go a bit astray. That’s what happened when a young Tony Oliveira bought a big-block ’68 Chevelle. Tony had always admired the lines of these GM A-bodies and got just what he wanted, but inside the engine bay sat a 455 Pontiac rather than a 454 Chevy. “Well, at least it was a GM engine,” he says. “I didn’t have the money to take it out and put a Chevy engine in it, so I became known as the guy with a Chevy with a Pontiac motor. I was made fun of, but at that time I didn’t have the money to switch the motor out, so I stuck with what I had then.” It was a combination that served him well because at that age Tony did a lot of street racing with the car around Southern Maryland and Washington D.C. After they came up against the car, nobody had anything to say then. Even though things were going well, deep down inside, having a Pontiac engine in a Chevy never did feet quite right. He wouldn’t let that happen again.
Marriage and then kids eventually came into Tony’s life and then finally one day it was time for the Chevelle to go. The engine went to one buyer while the car went to another. “The guy who bought the car didn’t want the engine because he had a 396 to put in it,” Tony says. “That led me to another guy who’d always said that he’d buy the motor, so it found a new home with him.” That passion for muscle cars, racing, and speed was temporarily put on the shelf and forgotten.
Two boys and 10 years didn’t alleviate the itch that was still there, however. “I was really concentrating on my business, but then I met Ralph Hardesty at Superior Automotive who had a race car. I was like, ‘Man, I used to race back in the day with a 10.40 Chevelle,’ and then decided I wanted to get back into it. So I went looking for a Pontiac with a Pontiac motor.”
Nice muscle cars aren’t cheap these days, but anything with the letters G-T-O always commands a premium price. Second-gen GTOs gave the midsized GM A-body a much more aggressive look with its Enduro nose and hideaway headlamps. The hood-mounted tach and rear wing spoke competition, which made the loud paint and graphics more acceptable. Matched with the 400-cid Ram Air III and Ram Air IV, the ’69 GTO was a muscle car worthy of respect.
After an extended search, Tony found a good project car in Southern Tennessee and drove down with a buddy to bring it back home. During the long trip back, Tony was already working through a checklist of what he wanted to do to the car. Once there, it went straight to the home garage where the engine and tranny were pulled out and the paint was stripped down. Finding a mess, the car was sent out to have the body and paint redone. With the body freshened, a new color applied, and then an updated chassis/cage, Tony and the GTO became celebrities from cruises around Ocean City, Maryland, and showings at the World of Wheels and other events. Even so, the desire to get the car out on the track took precedence over anything else.
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