PINE BLUFF — Ranked in the top five "Most Sought After" classic muscle cars and arguable one of the most beautiful muscle cars of all time, the 1967 Pontiac GTO holds a special place in the heart of a Dollarway graduate who didn’t realize the treasure he had back then.


Eric Waddell was entering the 10th grade at Dollarway High School when he purchased his first car in 1974, but that purchase almost didn’t happen. Stating he was tired of riding the school bus with the little kids, his mom told him to save his money for two years and she would match him to purchase his first car.


He did just that. For two years he saved the money he made working at the neighborhood pool as a lifeguard and shining shoes elsewhere. But when it came time to buy a car, his mom refused to sign for it.


"When it came that summer, I couldn’t find a 64 Chevy Impala. That’s what I was looking for. They were cool back then," said Waddell. "I couldn’t find one so I saw this GTO and I rode back home on my bicycle. I told my mom I had found a car so she went around there and said she wouldn’t go half on it because it was a hot rod."


Waddell said his dad signed for the car but it was with Waddell’s hard-earned savings that it was purchased. As he reminisced on the glory days with his car, some thoughts stood out more than others.


"I have a lot of memories with that car," said Waddell, who admitted to racing his car before school.


"I used to race a couple of the guys and never lost," said Waddell, whose car became stuck before a race by the school. "My competitors unscrewed my brake petal all the way down to the last couple of threads. We were supposed to go race that morning but my car got stuck. Momma didn’t know I was racing but my daddy did."


The car was more than a racing machine to Waddell. He said it taught him responsibility and independence through his high school years and the 23 years he served in the Air Force.


As his main transportation, the car became part of his life through a journey of changes he went through from a teenager to now.


"Even with holes in the floor and no carpet, we were still riding," laughed Waddell.


It wasn’t until Waddell was deployed overseas in the late 70s, and spoke with some car gurus, that he realized he had a diamond in the rough.


"I took it with me in the military, then in 1979 left and went overseas to the Philippines," said Waddell, who parked his car for four years in Pine Bluff at his sister’s house. "I came back home and drove it for four more years before deploying to Korea and England for four more years."


After returning to the states, that’s when Waddell had his mind made up he would restore his car back to its original beauty.


According to Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, the 1967 Pontiac GTO stands as one of the most beautiful muscle cars of all time. Considered as the first American muscle car, the first generation of the Pontiac GTO lasted until 1967, and these cars continue to be valued collectibles.


Waddell said his car is a first-generation, when GTO became its own model starting in 1966 – 1967. It can be identified if the second and third digits of the VIN, which are 42.


"That VIN number is very important," said Waddell. "That’s how I knew what I really had."


Mike’s Auto Restoration in Hot Springs rejuvenated Waddell’s classic car back to pristine showroom potential. Beginning the process well over two years ago, the restoration process was complete in early 2020.


"They took it down to the bar minimum-- no nuts, no bolts," said Waddell. "The frame was bare. They sand blasted it, powdered coated it, painted it and put everything new back up."


Waddell said everything original from the engine and transmission down to the original paint color was refurbished but he did upgrade a few features as well such as air conditioning and power steering.


"It didn’t come with AC when I was a kid," said Waddell. "It didn’t come with power steering and power brakes when I was a kid, it was just a race car, so I had all those done for drivability."


Waddell’s 1967 Pontiac GTO, which he delights in saying it belongs to him and his late dad, has been with him since he was 15 years old. What he originally paid $175 for in 1974 is now worth over $90,000, according to Waddell who had the car appraised through his car insurance company.


His mom, who is now 93-years-old, has seen the car from a distance but hasn’t rode in the car since the restoration due to COVID-19. Waddell said the pandemic has limited his movement and places he would like to go but can’t wait to take his mom on a joy ride soon.


"That’s me and my daddy’s ride because had my daddy not signed for it I wouldn’t have gotten it," said Waddell. "My mom was the one that taught me to save to be able to get what I wanted and I thank God for that because it stuck with me all of my life so I don’t want for a whole lot."