Three letters were all that were needed to begin the modern muscle
car era �V G-T-O. Also known as the Legend, the Great One and,
affectionately, the Goat, the Pontiac GTO was the car that started
it all. Before the GTO, ��performance�� cars meant a large
displacement engine in a large frame car. Although not quick
off-the-line, they were popular because of their rush of power and
higher top speeds. Enthusiasts had always known that putting a large
engine in a smaller car would increase its performance, but buying
such a vehicle straight from the dealer was only a dream until late
Chief Engineer John DeLorean, along with engineers Bill Collins and
Russ Gee, were among a group that like to spend Saturday afternoons
at GM��s Milford, Mich. Proving Grounds ��tinkering�� with new vehicle
models. It was there that the three men discovered that the
389-cubic-inch V-8 offered in the larger Bonneville would fit on the
same motor mounts as the less powerful 326 V-8 scheduled for
production in the new 1964 Pontiac Tempest/LeMans. This new
��prototype�� performance car was a hit with the Saturday afternoon
crowd at Milford, who enjoyed shocking other engineers with the
car��s speed and powerPontiac��s General Manager Pete Estes wanted the
new ��64 Tempest/LeMans line to stand out from the crowd. DeLorean
thought that stuffing the larger 389 engine in the intermediate body
would certainly do the trick. So, the idea was hatched to offer the
larger engine as an option on the ��64 model.
that was needed was a name. Pontiac already had somewhat of a
European racing theme in place with the Grand Prix and LeMans, so
DeLorean appropriated the Italian racing designation Gran Turismo
Omologato. The name was closely associated with Ferrari. In English
it means, ��Grand Touring Homologated.�� The Pontiac GTO was a grand
touring car homologated (or made) from different parts, specifically
the 389 Bonneville engine. It is doubtful whether many GTO owners
understood the name or could even pronounce it, but it projected an
image of a powerful, exotic, high-performance car.
1964 �V The
Performance enthusiasts were surprised in October of 1963 when the
$295.90 GTO option, RPO 382, quietly joined the 1964 Pontiac
Tempest/LeMans option list. The heart of the GTO option package was
a 325-horsepower 389-cubic-inch V-8 with dual exhausts, a Carter AFB
four-barrel carburetor, a mild hydraulic camshaft, and gobs of
pavement-grabbing torque. Other standard features included a manual
three-speed transmission with a Hurst shifter, a heavy-duty clutch,
heavy-duty suspension, US Royal red-line tires, a 3.23:1 rear axle
ratio, twin hood scoops, and an assortment of GTO emblems.
option was available on three LeMans bodies, the two-door coupe,
hardtop, and convertible. More hardtops were produced than the
combined total of the coupes and convertibles. Engines with the
single four-barrel carburetor outsold the trio of two-barrel carbs
in Tri-Power models by a margin of three to one.An extensive list of
LeMans options allowed the GTO buyer to build anything from a
bare-bones muscle car to a loaded high-performance cruiser. Option
choices included a four-speed manual transmission, a two-speed
automatic, a 348-horsepower Tri-Power engine, Safe-T-Track
differential, air conditioning, power seat, power windows, tilt
steering, tachometer, metallic brake linings, an AM/FM radio and a
Verbra-Phonic rear speaker. In less time than it took to change
spark plugs, a young performance enthusiast could check the
appropriate LeMans order form boxes to create what was essentially a
factory-built hot rod. The Pontiac GTO launched a whole new market
segment. Initial sales projections called for only 5,000 units;
however, the GTO was an immense hit with the public. The 1964 model
run produced a total of 32,450 units.
was so different than ordinary production cars and evoked such
emotion among its admirers that it even inspired a song. John Wilkin
penned the song ��GTO�� and a group of Nashville session musicians
recorded it under the name ��Ronny and the Daytonas.�� The song went
as high as No. 4 on the charts during its 17-week stay. Over a
million singles and 500,000 albums were sold. The refrain, ��three
deuces and a four-speed and a 389,�� played repeatedly to the GTO��s
key customer group.
Styling and engine improvements
competitors, both outside and inside GM, were caught off guard by
the car��s tremendous success. While everyone else scrambled to
market GTO clones, the mildly restyled ��65 GTO was an even bigger
hit than the ��64 model. Even though there was a UAW strike at the
start of the model year, 75,352 GTOs were sold in 1965. The
headlights were now vertical (like the full-size Pontiacs) and a
single hood scoop replaced the dual ��64 scoops. Improved camshafts
and intake manifolds boosted horsepower ratings to 335 for the
four-barrel-equipped 389 and 360 for the Tri-Power-topped engine.
The handsome Rally I wheels were introduced as an option.
boost to the rapidly growing GTO legend was the August 1965 release
of an over-the-counter dealer- or customer-installed cold air
induction kit for Tri-Power cars. The kit made the hood scoop
functional and gave birth to Ram Air. The Ram Air package continued
as a dealer-installed option in 1966. A few factory-built Ram Air
GTOs were built and known as the XS package (after the engine block
1966 �V The
GTO stands on its own
strong competitors had joined the GTO by 1966, but that didn��t stop
GTO sales from reaching nearly 100,000. The final tally was an
astonishing 96,946 units �V pretty impressive for a car that insiders
doubted would sell 5,000 two years earlier. The GTO was by now so
highly regarded inside GM that it was made a separate model line in
1966. The A-body intermediate platform was redesigned and Pontiac��s
��Coke bottle�� shape was born.
though the body was restyled, the ��66 lineup included the same three
body styles as before. The engine choices were again the
335-horsepower four-barrel version and the potent 360-horsepower
Tri-Power-equipped 389 V-8. More than 19,000 Tri-Power ��66 GTOs were
sold, but they were to be the last multi-carbed Pontiacs.
Appearance-wise the 1967 GTO was very similar to the 1966 model, as
the cars were on a two-year styling cycle. Much was new, however,
under the hood. Engine displacement was increased to 400 cubic
inches. Interestingly, the front fender emblem retained the original
6.5-liter designation. (The GTO was the first American car to denote
engine displacement in liters.) There were four available
400-cubic-inch engines in ��67.
standard engine was the 335-horsepower version with a Rochester
Quadra-Jet four-barrel. Additionally, a not-very-popular, no-cost
option was a low-compression 255-horsepower two-barrel engine for
customers who wanted the GTO image with better fuel economy. Only
2,967 of these lower-performance GTOs were sold in ��67.
optional engine was the 360-horsepower HO, which added a hotter
camshaft, open element air filter, and improved exhaust manifolds.
The top engine was also rated at 360 horsepower, but it included the
Ram Air package, which was shipped in the trunk for dealer or owner
three-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission replaced the two-speed
automatic from previous years. The Hurst Dual Gate shifter made the
automatic transmission quite attractive. Depending on which gate was
selected, the transmission could be shifted manually or
automatically. The base transmission was still the three-speed
manual with a Hurst shifter. The two optional four-speeds were the
wide-ratio M20 and the close-ratio M21. Power front disc brakes were
another new-for-��67 option. Sales were slightly lower than the
record 1966 numbers, but still very strong at 81,722 units.
1968 �V Car
of the year
extensive restyling distinguished the 1968 GTO from the previous
models. Most notable was the new Endura color-keyed front bumper.
The GTO was the first GM car to use this new flexible polyurethane
covering that allowed minor dents to pop out without any permanent
damage. Optional hidden headlights combined with the Endura nose
created a handsome vehicle unlike any previous GTO. The stunning
styling, powerful performance, solid engineering, and excellent
market timing were all factors that helped the GTO garner the
coveted Motor Trend Car of the Year award.
horsepower was on tap for the new body style. All engines displaced
400 cubic inches, but the standard engine rose to 350 horsepower
from 335 horsepower �V the no-cost economy two-barrel engine gained
10 horsepower for a 265-horsepower rating. The optional HO engine
remained at 360 horsepower, as did the optional Ram Air engine until
March 1968, when the 366-horsepower Ram Air II option was
Considering its high-performance equipment, the Ram Air II��s rating
was probably conservative. It came with 10.75:1-compression forged
pistons, forged steel crankshaft, new cylinder heads with round
exhaust ports, free-flowing exhaust manifolds, a high lift camshaft
with the corresponding high-performance valvetrain components, and a
re-curved distributor. The Ram Air II put 445 lb.-ft. of
stump-pulling torque to the pavement via the mandatory limited-slip
Safe-T-Track rear end with 4.33:1 gears.
body style was dropped for ��68. Sales were tilted heavily toward
hardtops, which sold 77,704 units compared to 9,980 convertibles.
The popular hood-mounted tachometer option continued from 1967, too.
The Ram Air cars had 5500-rpm redlines compared to the standard
5200-rpm limit. The external tachs helped the GTO project a powerful
performance car image.
Here comes ��The Judge��
engines got even more exciting in 1969 with the introduction of the
Ram Air III and Ram Air IV versions. Considerably underrated at 370
horsepower, the Ram Air IV was the zenith of GTO performance. The RA
IV used many of the high-performance parts introduced on the ��68 Ram
Air II, along with the cold air induction system that came with the
Ram Air III. Both RA III and RA IV used driver-controlled flapper
doors on the twin hood scoops. As powerful as the Ram Air IV was, it
still used hydraulic lifters and was far more tractable in traffic
than competitors�� solid lifter engines. The RA IV didn��t overheat or
foul spark plugs. It was only available with a 3.90:1- or
4.33:1-geared limited-slip differential.
star of the 1969 lineup was the GTO Judge. The original intent of
the Judge (although it��s commonly referred to as the GTO Judge or
simply Judge; the fender decals said ��The Judge��) was to combat the
upstart low-price muscle cars like the Plymouth Road Runner.
initial answer to the Road Runner was to be called ��ET�� or ��E/T�� �V a
reference for the drag racing term ��elapsed time.�� The car was to be
based on a stripped-down, bench seat, LeMans coupe with a flat hood
and Rally II wheels without the trim rings. The engine was a Pontiac
350 with cylinder heads from the 400 HO engine. Tests of the
prototype E/T against 383-powered Road Runners proved that the
budget GTO could outrun the Plymouths.
as the 350 was, it wasn��t a 400; and DeLorean was adamant about GTOs
being powered by 400-cubic-inch engines. He quickly killed the 350
E/T project and requested a car that was up to GTO standards.
Ironically, the resulting car turned out to be the most expensive
GTO. The Judge option was available on hardtop and convertible
bodies. About the only E/T parts that remained were the Rally II
wheels without trim rings.
is credited with naming The Judge. His inspiration was the hit NBC-TV
show ��Laugh-In,�� which had a recurring bit with the tag line, ��Here
come de Judge, Here come de Judge.�� In retrospect, it may seem odd
to name a car after a bit on a comedy show, but ��Laugh-In�� was very
hip with a huge audience of young viewers �V the exact demographic
DeLorean wanted to reach. This was an era where car companies named
models after cartoon characters, came up with names like Boss,
Eliminator, Grabber, Rebel, Demon, and Swinger, and painted them
outrageous colors such as Panther Pink, Go Mango, Sublime, Banana
Yellow, and Plum Crazy. In that light, ��The Judge�� wasn��t out of
initial Judge color was bold and eye catching. Called Carousel Red,
it was actually more of an orange hue. The shade was exclusive to
the Judge for the GTO line, but the same color was available on
Chevy Camaros as Hugger Orange. Approximately the first 2,000 Judges
were painted Carousel Red. After February, Judges could be ordered
in any GTO color, but approximately 80 percent of the cars sold in
1969 were Carousel Red. Besides the wild color, stripes, pop-art
graphics, and hood scoops, Judges came with a massive 60-inch-wide
engine choices were limited to the standard Ram Air III or the
optional Ram Air IV. Four-speeds and the Turbo Hydra-Matic
transmission were available. Despite a late start, The Judge
accounted for 6,833 sales out of the ��69 GTO��s total of 72,287 cars.
Judge convertibles were rare. Only 108 were produced in 1969, making
them one of the car collecting world��s most valuable finds.
Sales start to slide
was designed to help boost 1969 GTO sales, and its popularity
carried the new model into the 1970 model year. Unfortunately, sales
of all GTOs started to slide; only 3,635 Judge hardtops and 162
convertibles were sold, and total 1970 GTO sales of 40,149 units
were down from ��69.
GTO was mildly facelifted and, mechanically, they were as strong as
ever. The economy two-barrel 400 engine was dropped, but a
360-horsepower 455-cubic-inch with an amazing 500 lb.-ft. of torque
was added. Extra-beefy 12-bolt rear ends were mandatory when the 455
was ordered. The 455 wasn��t offered on The Judge until late in the
model year, so only 14 hardtops and three convertible Judges were
built with the 455.
Lower compression foreshadows the end of an era
competition, rising insurance surcharges, and tougher emissions
standards hit the muscle car market hard in 1971. The GTO suffered
along with all the other muscle cars. Adding to the lackluster sales
was the corporate decision to drop compression ratios so all GM
engines would be compatible with new low-lead fuel. The standard GTO
400-cubic-inch V-8 compression ratio was dropped to 8.2:1 from
1970��s 10.25:1 �V down already from 10.75:1 in 1969.
option barely made it into 1971. Production was halted in January
after just 357 hardtops and 17 convertibles were built. All ��71
Judges were 455-powered and today they are some of the rarest, most
desirable GTOs. It was also the last year for the GTO convertible.
Including the 17 Judge versions, a mere 678 GTO convertibles were
produced. Ironically, poor sales in ��71 have translated to high
collector interest today.
1972 �V The
last ��true�� GTO?
enthusiasts feel that 1972 was the last of the true GTOs. A new
LeMans/GTO body was supposed to have been ready for 1972, but a
strike put it back a year. So, the previous body was mildly restyled
and used again. Since the GTO had been relegated back to option
status on the LeMans, it was available as both a hardtop and a
coupe. The GTO coupe production was very limited, accounting for
only 134 cars out of the year��s 5,807 total. The 455 HO engine was
still available and ten coupes received it. Five more coupes were
fitted with the standard 455 V-8. A Ram Air system was available
with the 455 HO engine, which was rated at 300 net horsepower.
Customers, however, could still get a big-block, Ram Air, four-speed
1973 �V A
new body, another option
was back in 1973, but as a LeMans option. The LeMans received a new
body for 1973. The styling, especially the rear quarter panels and
rear quarter windows, was noticeably different from the direction of
previous Pontiac A-bodies. The GTO option was offered on the LeMans
coupe and sport coupe. (The sport coupe had louvers in place of rear
engines remained �V the 400 and 455 �V but horsepower was down to 230
and 250, respectively. Compression had been dropped again to 8.1:1.
Only the automatic transmission was allowed with the 455, but the
400 could be ordered with a three- or four-speed manual transmission
or the automatic. All LeMans options were available on the GTO. The
two-door coupe accounted for 494 sales and the sport coupe attracted
4,312 customers, for a total of 4,806 1973 GTOs.
1974 �V The
end of the line
body style change marked the 1974 GTO. The GTO option was shifted to
the Pontiac Ventura platform for what turned out to be the GTO��s
final year for 30 years. The sole engine for the ��74 GTO was a 350
V-8 with 7.6:1 compression and 200 horsepower. A four-speed manual
transmission was still optional. A rearward facing ��shaker�� hood
scoop, similar to the Firebird Trans Am, allowed cold air into the
Quadra-Jet four-barrel carburetor under full acceleration.
toughened insurance and government restrictions, the ��74 GTO made a
valiant effort to keep the muscle car spirit alive. The smaller
displacement engine avoided the insurance surcharges on
big-displacement engines. The 1974 GTO sold considerably better than
the ��73 model. The unique-for-a-GTO hatchback accounted for 1,723
sales and the coupe with its traditional trunk sold 5,335 units. The
total of 7,058 was encouraging, but not enough to continue the GTO
ceased production after the 1974 model year, but its legend remained
as strong as ever. After many beautiful muscle cars were quickly
cast aside during the seventies energy crisis, those same cars soon
became very desirable collector cars.
was at the forefront of the muscle car restoration hobby. In 1982,
the GTO Association of America was established to preserve and
promote the original muscle car.
aftermarket industry evolved to serve needs of GTO restorers. Many
of the same people who owned or wanted a GTO in the sixties proudly
drive them today. It takes a great car to fuel that kind of desire
for 40 years.
helped to establish Pontiac as the performance and ��excitement��
division of General Motors. With the rebirth of the 2004 GTO,
Pontiac continues to be at the forefront in terms of creating
driving excitement for the 21st century.
half a million GTOs were produced during its initial 11-model-year
run. Totals ranged from a high of 96,946 in 1966 to a low of 4,806