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Son helps dad relive glorious GTO past

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Margaret Plevak
June 18, 2012

Over the years, Jim Sharp heard the story time and again from his dad about the car that got away—at least until Friday.


It was a 1967 cherry red Pontiac GTO with a black interior that his father, Ken, tooled around his native California in. The car brought him and a buddy up to Wisconsin when he was young and looking for work.


"This is something that recaptures a good time in his life. Every time he talks about it, it puts a smile on his face and he lights up," Jim Sharp said. "It was a big part of a life-changing moment for him."


The GTO wasn't Ken Sharp's first car, but it was his favorite.


"I remember buying four used tires on it because I couldn't afford to buy them new," Ken Sharp said. "By the time I got from California to Wisconsin, I could see the cords on the tires."


Ken not only found a job as a machinist in the area, but also found a wife, Pat, who drove another classic at the time, a 1967 Mustang.


As a newly married couple in 1969, they couldn't afford two cars. Her car was paid for. His wasn't.


"I wanted to keep the GTO," Ken Sharp said. "We sold the Mustang."


His wife recalled vainly trying to master the GTO's four-speed manual transmission.


"I laid more rubber on the highway in that car," she said. "When we had our first son, I knew we needed more of a family car, so we traded in the GTO for a Ford Fairlane Fastback."


"The GTO wasn't even on the lot for an entire day when some kid came in and bought it," Ken Sharp remembered.


The Elkhorn couple worked and raised two sons. Buying another GTO never fit their plans.


Still, Jim Sharp said, if his dad spotted a GTO on the road, or saw the car at a televised auction, it prompted the stories and often a few regrets.


"He'd say, 'I never should have sold it. I wish I had it back.'"


Jim Sharp described his dad as a decent mechanic with skills he learned from his own father.


"My dad would buy an old car for $20, fix it up and he'd have a hot rod," Jim Sharp said. "It was part of that era that he came from and it was a big part of him and his history."


Though Jim Sharp, an art director for a Milwaukee firm, Direct Supply, loves the bodylines of old cars, he isn't as automotively-inclined as his father.


Over the years, though, Jim Sharp thought about buying an old GTO, rolling up his sleeves and working on restoring the car with his dad. But the years got away.


Then came the cancer diagnosis for Ken a couple of years ago. When Jim Sharp heard his dad's condition was now terminal, the red GTO kept coming back to mind.


Though he couldn't afford to buy the car, Sharp decided to track down a GTO he could rent for his dad. He went online to Hemmings, an auto collector website, and from there a number of blogs picked the story up.


He talked to the Milwaukee chapter president of the American Association of GTO. He heard from American Classic Ride, a club that allows you to rent out a car like a library loans books. He even got a call from a Davenport, Iowa, man with Elkhorn roots who owned a gold GTO.


Sharp said he wasn't surprised by the outpouring of offers.


"I believe in the basic goodness of mankind, and there were a lot of people willing to help out." he said. "For a lot of these collectors, these cars are their babies—priceless—but there were so many good, down-to-earth people who responded."


Jim ended up finding a match with a man from Gurnee, Ill., who had two GTOs and was willing to lend one out—the one that matched his dad's original car right down to the hardtop and black interior.


Friday morning, Jim Sharp arranged to have the car ready to pick up his dad outside of the Aurora Lakeland Medical Center's cancer clinic.


Ken Sharp couldn't believe his eyes. "I see this red GTO, identical to my car—same color, same interior. I kept telling my wife, "That's my car!" he said.


Jim Sharp arranged to have the car for his dad for at least a day before Ken and his wife head up to the Wisconsin Dells for a family reunion.


Even for a day, Ken Sharp was ecstatic. behind the wheel. "I took my wife out on our first date in the GTO," he said. "It was like back in 1969 when I bought it."



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