A modified Goat built for the California Coast
Just off California’s Highway 1, in Pescadero, sits a cozy old restaurant named Duarte’s Tavern. Among its specialties is Crab Cioppino: a delicious seafood stew simmered in a broth made with tomatoes and wine.
Duarte’s was one of the late John Dooley’s favorite eateries. As a commercial crab fisherman, he must’ve appreciated the Duarte family’s commitment to fresh, locally sourced seafood. John was also a lifelong car enthusiast with a typical, “one-that-got-away” story to tell. In his case, that one was a ’65 Pontiac GTO that he sold after getting drafted during the Vietnam War.
So, about five years ago, once the constraints of a thriving business and a growing family had eased, John struck a deal with Bill Ganahl at South City Rod and Custom to build the ultimate resto-modded 1965 GTO—the car that appears on these pages. Lorraine, John’s wife of more than 40 years, picked out the paint: House of Kolor True Blue Pearl. John imagined wheeling this corner-carving custom-build down the coast from his home in Half Moon Bay to Duarte’s, Lorraine at his side. He also wanted to perform a celebratory burnout on the street outside the tavern—giving the regulars inside something to chuckle about. Neither John nor Lorraine had a chance to take that ride in their reimagined GTO, though. Both succumbed to lung cancer: Lorraine in 2015 at age 67 and John, just two years later, at age 70.
Today, their son Troy is the car’s caretaker and yes, he still plans to honor his father’s wishes.
“My dad wanted to cruise Highway 1, that’s the whole reason he built that car,” Troy said. “He saw it finished, but I wish he could’ve driven it. ‘You make sure you do that burnout!’ he told me before he passed. So, I have to go back to Duarte’s and lay some rubber in the middle of the street.”
Power comes from a modified LS-3 topped with customized rocker covers. A handmade cold-air intake wraps around a stock-type brass radiator tank.
Troy is a professional firefighter, husband, and father of three, as well as a former Division 1 college football player and an avid surfer. He also finds time to follow in his father’s footsteps by operating a 70-foot fishing boat harvesting salmon, crab, halibut, and black cod from the Pacific. Busy as he is, Troy makes sure the GTO gets some regular exercise as John and Lorraine would’ve wished.
“I drive the car at least once a week, weather permitting,” Troy said. “My parents— when they had it built—had just two lap seatbelts installed in the front. My wife and I have triplets, so I asked Bill to install some seatbelts in the back. My kids love old cars, so we’ll cruise it on Sundays and go out for lunch.”
Bill has been building hot rods and customs since he started working at Roy Brizio Street Rods back in 1999. He opened South City Rod and Custom in Hayward, California, in 2013, has built dozens of cars, won industry accolades, and had his work featured in magazines—but this GTO will always hold a special place in his portfolio.
“John was a force of nature as a personality. He was fun, funny, and argumentative,” Bill said. “It was bittersweet and heartbreaking to have him be able to see the car when it was done but not be able to drive it. We drove him around the block in his own car.”
The GTO project kicked off about four years ago with help from John’s boyhood friend, the late Paul Williamson. Paul was a lifelong gearhead—and an interesting character who once worked as a roadie/bus driver for Neil Young. Not surprisingly, he was more than happy to add his insight to the build when John asked.
“Paul and I went and found the car,” Bill said. “It was at a consignment shop in the Bay area, parked among newer cars and exotics—it was the only pre-’90s car in the shop. It had an Earl Scheib lime green paint job on it, slapper bars, and Ansen wheels, but otherwise it was pretty original and very nice. There were little things here and there, but it was what I would call pristine.”
“John wanted a driveable GTO with modern amenities, but one that appeared to be a really nicely done ’65 GTO—and from the get-go he wanted a real GTO,” Bill said.
At South City Rod and Custom, the lime green car was completely disassembled and the body media blasted to bare steel. To accommodate 12-inch-wide rear tires on 20-inch-tall mags, a set of discreet tubs were stitched into the rear wheelhouses.
“The new inner wheel tubs were stamped 2 inches wider, but look OEM, and they fit the factory outer tub,” Bill said. “It’s a little tricky tubbing a car like this because of the body bracing, and we had to detach, then reattach, the trunk lid hinges, but John wanted it to appear stock.”
Up front, the inner wheelhouses were also altered to make them fit snugly against the custom frame rails.
“The front inner fenders took quite a bit of work, because we modified them to fit the Art Morrison chassis and retain a stock look,” Bill said. “One of the esthetics of South City Rod and Custom is, we sometimes do a lot of work to make it appear that not a lot of work was done.”
More subtle reshaping went into the front and rear bumpers, which were cut apart and reworked for a tighter-than-stock fit. Inside, the transmission tunnel also went under the knife to make room for the GM 4L85-E overdrive automatic.
“We cut out the back half of the tunnel, moved it rearward, and added a filler piece, again trying to maintain a factory appearance,” Bill said.
All of the wiring for the LS3’s engine control unit, as well as the transmission’s controller, was extended and snaked through the interior alongside the tunnel so that car’s electronics, including the battery, could be housed in the trunk.
“We didn’t want the ECU in the engine compartment because we went to great lengths to clean that up,” Bill said. “There wasn’t much room in the interior, so we lengthened all the wires and put everything in the trunk.”
An ididit steering column was connected to the steering rack with a custom shaft, made flexible by Borgeson joints. Also, while the body and chassis were unfinished and the drivetrain in place for test fitting, the entire dual exhaust was fabricated. Later, the pipes and mufflers were sent out for ceramic coating.
Once Bill and his crew were satisfied with the car as an assembly, the GTO was rolled next door to Joe Compani at Compani Color, so that he could begin shaping the body in preparation for paint.
“Joe kept the body on the frame, but we removed everything possible that needed to be sent out for plating and finishing,” Bill said. “Joe did the initial bodywork and block sanding with the body on the frame, so that all of the lines and seams were correct. He typically will have a car for three weeks or a month before he pulls the body and gives us back the chassis.”
After the body was lifted off, the GTO’s chassis was sent out for powder coating in gloss black. Once the chassis returned from the powder coater, the engine, transmission, and exhaust were installed before the painted body was dropped back on. An acre of Dynamat sound deadening insulation was then rolled down throughout the GTO’s interior, doors, trunk, etc.
“We go kind of crazy with Dynamat, but if you’re spending a lot of money to build a car, the owner expects it to be of a certain quality, so we go out of our way to make things really tight,” Bill said. “If it sounds tinny, no matter how good it looks, it just feels cheap.”
The interior, by DJ Designs Custom Interiors, is a restrained mix of factory-style and custom pieces. Reproduction upholstery and the GTO’s original console are complemented by one-off lasercut, brushed-metal dash trim.
DJ Designs Custom Interiors, also a neighbor of South City Rod and Custom in Hayward, mixed custom and off-the-shelf soft goods to create the GTO’s factoryesque flight deck. The seat skins used were reproductions, but a number of custom touches were created to complement them.
“We went with aftermarket covers because the ’65’s diagonal pattern upholstery was a one-year-only design, so it’s very distinctive and John couldn’t get his mind around fabricating a full custom interior,” Bill said. “Danny (Williams) fabbed the A-pillar covers and redid the seat foam, reworked the door panels, and made his own carpet and headliner.”
A laser-cut brushed accent piece was custom made for the dash, and in place of the factory gauges, Classic Instruments were installed. The lower faces of the speedometer and tachometer were labelled with a small crab icon as a nod to John’s passion for crab fishing. There was also an aftermarket wood steering wheel, air conditioning, and a powerful sound system added to the mix.
Outside, the car was trimmed minimally, without factory bright rocker panel moldings and lower front fender badges. The GTO’s new profile was dominated by those tall knock-off wheels shod with red-stripe tires—another salute to the original muscle car era.
“John wanted the big wheels and also a sidewall, because he didn’t like the look of ‘rubber-band’ tires,” Bill said. “So a 20-inch-tall rear rim plus some sidewall made them 31 inches high. I had to modify the chassis to lower the rear suspension more than we normally would, because the tires are so tall. The fronts are 18 x 9 inches.”
A lot of time was spent agonizing over the fit of those oversized wheels inside the openings, but the final product effectively blended classic and modern style.
“Wheel and tire selection is crucial,” Bill said. “Stance makes or breaks a car, and the stance really depends on what type of car you’re building. A lot of guys build beautiful cars that don’t sit right. We spend hours and hours obsessing over this stuff—a lot of thought goes into something very simple.”
This GTO, built to John’s specs and covered in that lovely blue that caught Lorraine’s eye, has garnered a lot of attention since it rolled out of South City Rod and Custom—including honors in its class at the 2017 Grand National Roadster Show. For Troy, it’s not only a rolling family heirloom, but a shining reminder of the characters of the people who created it.
“It drives like a brand-new car, it starts easy, stops great, handles great. It’s unreal,” Troy said. “Bill did such a great job and he’s such a solid guy. The car is built right—exactly as my parents wanted it and as I’d have wanted it. That was really something my dad always impressed upon me: If we’re going to do something, we’re going to do it right.”
1. South City Rod and Custom’s Bill Ganahl and Paul Williamson tracked down a rust-free 1965 Pontiac GTO to serve as the starting point for John Dooley’s restomod project.2. A thorough tear down ensued and inventory was taken of the parts that would be reused and parts that wouldn’t.3. The bare body shell showed virtually no signs of rust and some previous fender-bender repair work on the left quarter. Below: A custom crab insignia was applied to the faces of the speedometer and tachometer as a nod to John’s commercial crab fishing business.
4. Standing in for the GTO’s original underpinnings was this Art Morrison chassis with rack-and-pinion steering, coilovers at all corners, four-bar rear suspension, and a 9-inch housing.5. A subtle inner wheel tub, 2 inches wider than stock, was installed to accommodate 31-inch tall, 12-inch-wide rear wheel/tire combination.6. The GTO’s factory front inner fender wells were modified for a closer fit with the aftermarket chassis.
7. Wiring for the engine management and transmission controllers was extended, so that the units could be relocated from the engine compartment to the trunk, where they’d be out of sight.8. The chassis was powder coated gloss black, and the in-house fabricated exhaust was ceramic coated. Wilwood disc brakes were installed all around.9. After the House of Kolor True Blue Pearl paint was applied at Compani Color, the body was lowered onto the finished chassis. The firewall was partially smoothed and the original heater box was eliminated before the satin black finish was applied. Knock-off E-T Wheels by Team III were used all around. The front pair measure 18 x 9 inches, the rear, 20 x 12. The huge rims were then shod with Continental tires sporting red lines.