GTO… OMG! Former Winnipegger has magical reunion with beloved muscle car 40 years after selling it

They say you never forget your first love, and it would seem that’s especially true if said sweetheart sported a 350-horsepower engine, sat four of your closest friends and went from zero to 100 km/h in 6.2 seconds.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/09/2022 (273 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

They say you never forget your first love, and it would seem that’s especially true if said sweetheart sported a 350-horsepower engine, sat four of your closest friends and went from zero to 100 km/h in 6.2 seconds.

Nolan Stoyko was 18 years old in 1979, when he scraped together the $2,700 necessary to purchase a mint-condition, 1969 Pontiac GTO, from a private owner in Windsor Park. Stoyko, a self-described car guy, wasn’t planning on using the two-door hardtop to get to and from a new, full-time job. No, he had a more utilitarian vehicle for that purpose. Rather, the Tec Voc grad intended to keep it as a classic muscle car, by storing it in his parents’ garage and taking it for a spin on special occasions only.

Stoyko with his GTO at his house on Galloway Street in the early ’80s. (Supplied)

Stoyko left the city for California in 1982 to pursue a career in law enforcement. Because he couldn’t bring all his “toys” with him, he regrettably let the GTO go, but not before posing for a few pictures alongside it for old times’ sake.

Fast-forward to two Sundays ago. Stoyko, recently retired from his position as a Ventura County, Calif., deputy sheriff, was in Winnipeg for a month to catch up with family and friends. He was driving north on Main Street to visit his father’s gravesite in West St. Paul, when he recognized the unmistakable tail lights of a GTO about 100 metres ahead.

Curious, he sped up to take a gander — not too fast, he says with a chuckle, noting he remains a cop at heart — and caught up to his target, just as its driver was preparing to hang a left onto a residential street. Could it be, he wondered?

That it was a ’69 GTO, the same as his had been, was a given: a personalized rear licence plate attested to that fact. The body was black with specks of red, another similarity and, from what he could tell, the interior vinyl upholstery was off-white, matching that of the car he once owned.

The hood tachometer was Stoyko's first clue the car used to be his. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

“When I spotted the hood (tachometer), I was 95 per cent sure it was my old GTO, but when it accelerated, and I realized it was a manual transmission, I was like, ‘That’s it, for sure,’” he says excitedly.

Seconds after the GTO’s owner pulled into his driveway, Stoyko was out of his truck like a shot, announcing he was from out of town, and would the person mind if he checked out their vehicle? Knock yourself out, the grey-haired chap replied, extending his right hand, introducing himself as Mel Bohn.

After circling the car a couple of times, Stoyko turned to Bohn and said, odd as it might sound, he was dead certain the GTO in front of them once belonged to him.

Stoyko bought the 1969 Pontiac GTO for $2,700 in 1979. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Bohn, a familiar face at classic car shows throughout the province, laughed, saying he’d heard “that one,” before. There was one way to find out, mind you; what was his guest’s name?

“When I said ‘Stoyko,’ he told me to follow him into his garage… that he had something to show me,” Stoyko says.

As it turned out, not only does Bohn have paperwork going all the way back to when the GTO originally rolled off a dealer’s lot in Grand Cache, Alta., 53 years ago, he also has a handwritten receipt dated June 28, 1979, that reads, in part, “Sold to Nolan Stoyko, one 1969 GTO.”

Standing inside his double garage recently, Bohn, in his late 60s, shakes his head, saying he wasn’t alarmed in the least to notice a Silverado pickup truck in his rear-view mirror, seemingly following him home.

A plaque on Bohn’s garage wall commemorates the GTO’s first-place win in a contest in 2018. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

The GTO, which he’s owned since 1992, is definitely a head-turner — he can’t count the number of times he’s been idling at a red light and heard a person in an adjacent lane shout out, “Hey, nice ride!” — so when Stoyko parked at the end of his drive that day, his initial thought was, “Here comes another GTO nut.” (In case you need to settle a bet, GTO is short for “gran turismo omologato,” an Italian term for an automobile that has been officially certified to race by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, or FIA.)

Never mind that government statistics indicate there are presently more than 700,000 registered vehicles in Manitoba, meaning the odds of seeing your old Sunbird or Celica whiz by are, at best, slim to none.

Mel Bohn (left) and Nolan Stoyko with the '69 Pontiac GTO Stoyko sold in 1982. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

That Bohn even had his pride and joy, whose odometer shows a shade over 160,000 miles (just shy of 260,000 kilometres) on the road that day was a bit of a fluke, he says. His plan was to drive it to a car show in Stonewall scheduled that afternoon, but after checking the forecast and noticing the high temperature was going to be 30 C, he changed his mind, not wanting to “sweat it out.”

At the last second, he decided to fill up the tank, regardless, and drove to a gas station at the intersection of Main Street and Leila Avenue, five minutes from his place.

Here’s the amusing thing: a few hours before their chance encounter, Stoyko, who keeps five classic cars at his home in California, was out for breakfast with a friend, when the topic of whatever happened to his old GTO came up. His pal remarked, wouldn’t it be something to see it driving down the street one day, to which Stoyko shot back, yeah, as if that was ever going to occur.

The '69 Pontiac GTO (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

“I was actually shaking when Mel showed me the receipt with my name on it,” Stoyko says. “I almost started crying and said something like, ‘You know I’m going to have to give you a hug, right?’ I’ve been very fortunate in my life to have owned some very rare, very expensive, classic cars, but that one is right at the top of the list, and if I woulda, coulda, shouda, I’d still have it today.”

Stoyko knows what the fairy-tale ending to today’s story should be: that he reached for his chequebook, asked Bohn, “How much?” and would be heading back to the States later this month, at the wheel of his beloved GTO.

Though he jokingly says they are on their way to the bank at the end of a three-minute video Bohn shot to commemorate the occasion, Stoyko acknowledges that likely won’t be the case. Also, he’s more than fine with that.

Mel collects classic toy cars as well as other car memorabilia, many of them variations of the GTO. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

“To me, the incredible thing is finding my car, sure, but also meeting a person who was so receptive to me, and who fully understood the emotions I was feeling,” he says. “At one point I told Mel it was a guarantee the two people in the world who cherish that car the most were standing side-by-side, and he wholeheartedly agreed.” (For his part, Bohn, who still pines over a ’60s-era Chevelle he tooled around in as a teenager, says his 41-year-old-old son has had dibs on the GTO since learning how to drive at age 16, and would probably “crucify” him, if he ever sold the car to somebody outside the family.)

Stoyko is returning to Bohn’s place later this week for coffee and a longer chat. He’s crossing his fingers Bohn will take him for a spin in the GTO, something he didn’t get to do the first time around, as he still needed to get to his dad’s gravesite.

While there, did he tell the heavens the “you’re-never-going to-believe-this” story of having just tracked down his “first love,” and how it was far and away the highlight of his trip home?

What do you think?

Nolan Stoyko sold his ’69 GTO in 1982 when he moved to California. While visiting family and friends in Winnipeg recently, he spotted the car on Main Street and followed it until the driver got home. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

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David Sanderson

Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.

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