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Great Escape - 70 Pontiac GTO Convertible
NSMC Life Member Rick Shields' '70 GTO
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The Street Thunder mailbox receives countless photo submissions from NSMC Members. Thousands of Members’ car photos have been sent in, and you can see most of them in the popular Member Rides section of the magazine. When the envelope containing shots of Rick Shields’ Topanga, CA-based GTO came in, the buzz around the office was instant. This car had to be featured! 

Recently finished, the GTO was a pristine example of a modern street machine. The fact that it represents the culmination of a lifelong dream and was crafted by its owner made the deal even sweeter. But, after speaking with Rick on the phone, we knew he was a cool guy too. That was icing on the cake! 

So, how did this dream take shape? Like many NSMC Member stories, it took years to actually happen, and the seeds were planted at an early age. Rick told us how it came to be:

“This car was a long time coming, and I didn’t even know it. My dad made me buy their ’71 LeMans when I turned 16. I had saved up $2,800 to put toward the Road Runner I really wanted, but my father would not let me buy it. My parents felt their old car would be more reliable. 

“I promptly began modifying it, as any 16-year-old would. I turned the air cleaner lid upside down and added dual exhaust with glasspack mufflers. Next came the mag wheels and wide tires, and the air shocks to lift the rear of the car up enough to clear them. This was 1976 after all.

“If I couldn’t have the Road Runner, I began dreaming of a GTO convertible with a stickshift transmission. I even toyed with the idea of cutting the top off the LeMans! But, the dream took thirty years to finally come true, and in the real life we all have to live, this is my one escape.”

If Rick is limited to one escape, he picked a good one! He found this car at the infamous Pomona Swap Meet in Southern California. The car had been restored to its original condition, and the bodywork and paint were done at a high level of quality. Rick laid down the cash and began making the car his own. 

Rick and his close friend Jim Fournier (who has racing experience and plenty of time invested under his own ’66 Chevelle), took the car apart, and the engine, transmission, rear axle, and complete suspension were all upgraded to more modern equipment. They accomplished the work themselves in Fournier’s home garage over a four-year period. Considering both men have regular jobs and families, it’s not hard to imagine how many long weekend nights they invested into getting the car apart and back together again.  

Beginning under the hood, a fresh 502ci big-block Chevy was given the stroker treatment (courtesy of a Lunati 4.125-inch crank) to displace 555 cubes. A set of Lunati’s Pro Mod connecting rods (measuring 6.385 inches) connect the crank to flat-top Ross pistons. The cylinder heads are aluminum GM Performance Parts rectangular port castings that have been CNC-ported on West Coast Cylinder Heads’ five-axis machine; they were also fitted with stainless steel valves. A Comp Cams Extreme Energy hydraulic roller was chosen, and it checks in with .520-inch intake lift, .540-inch exhaust lift, and duration numbers of 236 and 242 degrees of duration at .050-inch of lift for the intake and exhaust, respectively. The lifters are Crane’s Pro Series pieces and the rocker arms are Comp’s stainless Pro Magnum units with a 1.72:1 ratio. 

Topping the engine is a Weiand dual-plane intake manifold and a 950 cfm Holley 4150 HP series carburetor. The fabricated chrome-plated valve covers are by Jeff Johnston, and the recovery tank is a Meziere part. A MSD HEI lights the fires, and a set of Doug’s stainless steel headers escorts the exhaust away. It flows through 3.5-inch tubing through a computer-designed X-pipe and then into a pair of Hooker AeroChamber mufflers before exiting through MagnaFlow chrome exhaust tips. The fat rat is kept cool by an aluminum radiator with a matching fan and shroud, all from Griffin. The engine’s drive belts are organized by one of Vintage Air’s Front Runner systems, which was polished to add some dazzle when the hood goes up. 

Remember, Rick always wanted a manual transmission in his dream machine, and he got his wish. A Tremec TKO 600 five-speed gearbox is fitted behind the 555, and a McLeod clutch and Lakewood scattershield separate the two.  

The rear axle is a 2.75-inch narrowed GM 12-bolt unit that has been upgraded to deal with the 555’s power. Moser axles are teamed with a Ford nine-inch big bearing upgrade, an Auburn Limited-Slip differential, and Richmond 3.90:1 gears to get the torque to the tires reliably. 

The suspension is designed for improved handling and braking which allows the car to negotiate the streets and freeways of Southern California without trouble. Rick chose Hotchkis’ tubular suspension components and anti-sway bars in the rear, with custom G-machine chromoly trailing arms and a pair of KYB gas shocks. Up front, a QA1 coil-over conversion kit was selected to set ride height and allow for adjustable shock valving, while Global West tubular upper and lower control arms hold the spindles. Stopping the big blue GTO is a job for Baer Grand Touring brakes, with 13-inch rotors front and rear.  

The wheels are often the first thing people comment on when they see the car. And, since Shields was going big with the rest of the mods, he decided to go big on the wheels too. The custom-crafted Boyd Coddington “Osiris” hoops measure in at 20x8 in the front and 22x11 in the rear, and they wear Pirelli 255/35ZR20s up front and 295/30ZR22s out back. Rick says the rear wheels are some of the very first 22-inch diameter units ever cut at Boyd’s. Not every car can run big diameter wheels without looking odd, but the expansive, curvy body of the ’70 GTO wears them well. The fact that the big-bodied car is hunkered down low over them makes them look right. The addition of big-diameter brakes also helps, as the wheels look less freakish when filled with the 13-inch drilled-and-slotted brake rotors. 

Inside the car, the restored upholstery was left alone, but the dash gained a Redline Gauge Works gauge panel and full complement of their instruments along with a Flaming River billet steering column. The car is outfitted with Dynamat sound deadener, and the aluminum pedals are from Modo Innovations. Naturally, the sound system had to be upgraded to modern standards as well, and the Pioneer DEH-P680MP head unit, twin Audiobahn amplifiers, 12-inch kicker subwoofers, Alpine SP mid-range and tweeter speakers, and a Pioneer ten-disc changer fit the bill. There’s also a complete Vintage Air A/C system tucked up under the dash for those rare nights when Shields would prefer air conditioning to top-down driving. 

So, after so many years of dreaming and working on the car, was it all worth it? Rick explained, “The response I have received with the car has been really unbelievable. I have been driving it steadily since its completion and have had many requests from other drivers to pull over to the side of the road just so they can get a closer look. Every car lover I have met has encouraged me to send pictures of it to my favorite car magazine because it is the nicest GTO they have ever seen.” 

Well, he did that, and what you see is the result. Congratulations to Rick Shields and Rick Fournier for building a killer ’70 GTO with some cutting-edge style and plenty of power. We’re glad to report that Rick really does drive this car regularly—he put almost 2,000 road miles under it in the first three months it was complete—and it’ll never be a trailer queen. The car and the man serve as excellent examples of what the NSMC and Street Thunder magazine are all about—real hands-on car guys making their dreams come true!

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