Car of the Month, March 2009: Vito Labella’s 1967 Plymouth GTX

1967 GTX

Plymouth's 1967 Belvedere GTX was something new for Plymouth.  It featured styling, power, and suspension that were not the norm for the company’s value brand.  The GTX has hood scoops, decorative stripes, chrome gas cap, a plush interior, and jazzy nameplates — and, as standard equipment, Mopar's biggest production engine, the 440 Super Commando V-8.  The even more potent optional Hemi was available. 

The long, sleek car rode on beefed-up springs, shocks, torsion bars, brakes, drive shaft — everything you'd have to add to an ordinary vehicle if your wanted to turn it into a race car.  The era of the Great American Musclecar was picking up speed, and Plymouth wanted in on the action. With this one, though, they followed the dictum that “buyers who want to premium engine want premium accessories” — the opposite of the Road Runner philosophy.

interior

Based on Plymouth's earlier Belvedere Satellite line, the GTX in 1967 made its point.  It became a popular choice for buyers coveting a moderately-priced hot car, one they could use around town.  A friend in Florida, Derek "Smitty" Smith, a member of the Mopars of Brevard car club, has bought and sold many GTXs.  He likes them because, he says, "There a big, good-looking car with plenty of power.  You can spin the wheels, and, when you have to, there's room in the back for a baby seat!"

nose

Proud owner of the beautifully-restored, bright red '67 in the accompanying photos is Vito Labella of Brooklyn, New York.  The pictures were taken on an overcast day at a show put on by the New York/New Jersey Slant 6 Club in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in October 2008.  The GTX was voted "best of show" and won a trophy for first place in the "Mid-Late Class, 1967-69."

Major design features of the '67 GTX include its mildly sculpted side body panels and wide-appearing track.  Plymouth designer/stylist John Samsen, who worked on several models in the musclecar era, wrote recently in a personal e-mail, "I did the '65 and '66 Fury grilles, as well as the tail lamps and rear ornamentation for the '66 Fury.  I also did the tail lamps on Belvedere for those years.  At the time we designed these cars ('64 to '66), the guidance from sales was to make the cars look as wide as possible, front and rear.  Quad lamps were mandated on all but the A body cars at that time.  Being smaller than standard lamps, they were easier to fit into the grilles."

super commando V8

The accompanying close-up of the grill in the Labella car illustrates the articulate detail and broad impression of the Belvedere front end.

Vito Labella wrote recently about his car, "I was always partial to Plymouths.  I got that from my dad.  I liked the GTX, but I gave up hope of finding a 4-speed.  Most were automatics.  I finally saw one on Ebay, but at the time I let it go.  My son, Matt, had saved the ad.  Months after the auction expired I called the owner and he still had the car.  He was located not too far away, in the City Island area of New York City.  When we went to see the car, the engine was apart and the interior was unfinished, but besides a little rust, the body was in pretty good condition.  A friend who does auto body work came back with us for a second visit and thought the car was sound, so I bought it for about $20,000.  The seller gave me all the interior parts and threw in a new master cylinder.  Cragar wheels came with the car."

tail

While the Mopar color paint on Labella’s car is original, having been redone in the Eighties, the remaining restoration became a project of family and friends.  With his wife, Denise, his son, and a friend, Andrew Azarro, the owner and his team rebuilt the car's 440 Super Commander engine.  It wasn't the original block, but it was correct for the car.  His wife, Labella said, was especially good at researching replacement parts on the Internet.  Rust repair and exterior restoration were done by another friend, James Merolla.  Best Yet Vinyl of Brooklyn did the black vinyl roof and seats and finished the installation of original interior trim.

After the work on the powertrain, some problems did arise.  Labella explains, "After Matt and I put the engine together, it ran for 700 miles and we had cam failure — the lobes flattened out.   This time we rebuilt the engine in consultation with New York Speed Enterprises in Staten Island.  The shop polished the crank and rebuilt the heads, putting in larger intake valves and bronze guides.  They went over the engine very thoroughly to make sure it was going back together correctly.  I installed new transmission seals and rebuilt the clutch.  Passon Performance of Sugarloaf, Pa. supplied the Mopar manual transmission parts.  We discovered the driveshaft was too long.  KM Driveline in Brooklyn shortened and rebalanced it.  The rebuild turned out great.  We get around 12 mpg which isn't bad for the car, and it is fast.  We haven't gone to the track, yet.  Maybe this summer!"  Most work on the car was finished by January 2008.

Vito

Teenage son Matt has learned to drive the vintage musclecar, a treat many young people today will never know.  "We've been out to the Floyd Bennet airfield here.  He handles the 4-speed just fine.  He put a lot of work into the car and he takes a lot pride in it."  That's a good father passing on his love for old Plymouths to his son!

Labella is chief engineer at the Ritz-Carlton Central Park Hotel in Manhattan.  He says working on machines is "my way of life."  He has been building cars since age 16.  In the Seventies he taught auto maintenance in the adult education program at New York City's New School for Social Research.

rebuilding photos

Exact production figures of the GTX are obscure because the count is obscured in figures for all Satellites; but in that category, there were over 30,000 2-door sedans in the Belvedere-Satellite-GTX series produced in 1967, and over 2,000 convertibles.  GTX's were produced with mostly subtle changes through the 1971 product year.

Plymouth GTX cars

See other Cars of the Month • All Cars at Allpar200,000 Mile Club • Stories: People and Cars

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