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Baldwin man shifts GTO collection into high gear

| Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Randy Jarosz | For The South Hills Record
Frank Thompson of Baldwin Borough points out some of his favorite die-cast cars in his GTO memorabilia room.
Randy Jarosz | For The South Hills Record
Frank Thompson rolls down the back window of his 1969 Pontiac GTO.
Randy Jarosz | For The South Hills Record
Frank Thompson shows off one of his favorite pieces of GTO memorabilia, a ring depicting the front end of a GTO.

The allure of the classic Pontiac GTO muscle car has led a Baldwin Borough man to collect more than 1,000 of them; fortunately for his garage and his wallet, all but one car in his collection are scale models.

Frank Thompson, 71, is crazy for Pontiac GTOs, and the retired mill worker has spent a sizable part of his retirement building what he believes is the largest collection of toy cars dedicated to one model.

In fact, officials from the Guinness Book of World Records are awaiting the photographic evidence and notarized witness statements to substantiate his claim.

If confirmed, a new category would be created for him — “largest collection of Pontiac memorabilia,” said Guinness spokeswoman Sara Wilcox.

More than 1,350 GTOs fill two organized rooms in his basement, ranging from tiny 11006th-scale to 112th-scale works of art with dozens of details such as rubber hoses and steering wheels that turn front tires. Some of the models cost upwards of $150.

Thompson also has a real, working GTO in his garage, painted matador red with a stuffed tiger's tail hanging out the trunk.

“It's an iconic American muscle car,” said Dan DelBianco, executive director of the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix. “They're very well-represented in Schenley Park for the Vintage Grand Prix.”

Joe Barber, president of the Greater Pittsbrgh GTO Club, said part of the car's allure is its place in the history of American muscle cars.

General Motors Corp. started the GTO as a modification of the Pontiac Tempest in 1964 before it became its own model in 1966. GTOs were made until 1974, and while the name was revived later on some restyled models it disappeared in 2006 and the Pontiac brand was discontinued in 2010.

“You just get that feeling when you look at it, with the chrome, and the lights, and the styling ... There's a connection, a nostalgia, an old feeling,” Barber said.

Thompson's first toy car was a dark red Matchbox 1970 Judge — truly, as Ronny and the Daytonas sang in 1964, a “little GTO.” His daughter, Renee, bought it for him as a joke, saying: “Look Dad, I bought you a GTO.”

That car turned into a bumper-to-bumper collection that hangs on the walls in plastic display boxes across two rooms, a slip of paper describing the year, make, model and die cast model manufacturer in each one. And every piece of the collection is a version of a Pontiac GTO.

One room also features framed magazine ads for Pontiacs, a stack of Ronny and the Daytonas records and a case of nearly 1,000 Pontiac-specific magazines. Even the gold ring he wears was custom-made to look like the 1969 GTO's distinctive split grille.

The Matchbox car that ignited Thompson's interest was really his second GTO. In 1969, he bought a brand new “velour” green GTO that could be driven around; now he has a near-perfect model replica on a slowly-rotating stage, like something from a showroom.

“That one has bucket seats. Mine had a bench seat so the girls could sit next to me,” he said. “I put 500 miles on it, and headed straight to drag strip.”

He sold that car after becoming a father changed his priorities, but now his daughters still give him GTOs whenever they can.

Staff writer Matthew Santoni contributed to this report. Bob Pajich is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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