Little GTO by
(87 Stories)

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Late-1960s Pontiac GTO. Photo credit: Bull-Doser. Public domain.

My proud grandfather would have been glad to buy me a Caddy, like the new model he drove off the lot every year, but it was my choice. It was my reward for being high school valedictorian and getting into Harvard. Born and raised in Detroit, you’d think I’d have had strong opinions about what model I wanted, but I had spent too much time studying and not enough being a teenager. My friends, however, did not hesitate to give advice. So when Grandpa and I emerged from the Pontiac dealership, I clutched the keys to a flame red, 400 horsepower, GTO convertible sports car.

Turn it on, wind it up, blow it out, GTO. Yeah, that was me.

The GTO was the car for the man I wanted to be, but never became. I was too serious, too responsible. I drove it like my grandfather would have, hands locked at 10 and 2 on the wheel. My license was barely a year old and already I had gotten a speeding ticket in my mom’s station wagon. So whenever I pushed it over 70, I felt like every cop in the metropolitan area was watching. When I let my friends drive, they pushed it north of a hundred until I demanded they slow down.

The car should have been a chick magnet, but picking up girls wasn’t my style either. I even missed the bench seats of the station wagon, when my date could slide over next to me. Instead, the GTO attracted more thieves than girls. My girlfriend and I were at a movie the first time someone broke in, ripped out the 8-track player, and swiped all my tapes. When I took it to college, they slashed through the convertible top to grab whatever they could find. It was actually a relief, a few years later, to trade in my GTO on a safe, sober Olds Cutlass. With bench seats.

John Unger Zussman is a creative and corporate storyteller and a co-founder of Retrospect.

Profile photo of John Zussman John Zussman
John Unger Zussman is a creative and corporate storyteller and a co-founder of Retrospect.

Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written


  1. Suzy says:

    Great story, John! Now I have Jan and Dean (or was it the Beachboys?) stuck in my head. Love the picture too – I bet you looked terrific driving around in it. Sorry you got your roof slashed at Harvard, must have been the townies.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    I loved that car…spent a fair amount of time playing third wheel in the back seat. This brought back lots of memories!

  3. rosie says:

    Totally delightful, John.

  4. Great story! My uncle lent me his identical car the summer I worked for the post office as a mail carrier. Drew a lot of attention in the employee parking lot, and on Woodward during summer nights. White leather seats…..

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    You had a generous grandfather! I had to laugh a little at your story, since I could relate to being the sedate driver of a car that wasn’t really “me”. The comments from when you first posted this in 2016 reminded me of the Beach Boys car album–Little Deuce Coupe, the Ballad of Old Betsy, Shutdown–I knew them all. But never lusted after the car or the typical driver of said car as it turned out. Just the smart sensible types.

  6. Glad you reposted this as a car-of-yesteryear story John, and fun to read your confessional about not living up to the GTO sports car image.

    And now I’m remembering my grandmother’s station wagon with its bench seats!

    • John Zussman says:

      Thanks, Dana. As a footnote, Patti and I later bought a Porsche 924, mainly to navigate the long quarterly trips between our exile in Utah and the promised land of California. Picture us speeding across the Nevada desert singing along to Peter, Paul, and Mary at full volume on the cassette player. I wrote about that in “The Car That Smelled Like California.”

  7. Dave Ventre says:

    Bench seats allowed one to make the classic SOB (“slide over, baby”) turn when taking a young lady out to the malt shoppe, sock hop or submarine races up to Makeout Point.

    My fetish car of that era was the 1968 or 1960 Camaro that someone on my block owned. White with an orange racing stripe. Sex on wheels.

    But I didn’t get my own car until I was nearly twenty-three; a decidedly UN-sexy Dodge Omni….

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