Pontiac chief engineer John DeLorean
is often considered
to be the instigator of the muscle-car craze, by taking
an average sedan and endowing it with a big 389ci V8.
Aside from the brakes (which were horribly inadequate),
the original GTO featured plenty of performance enhancements
that would soon turn it into a muscle car legend.
In a year or two every car company had followed suit,
but none were able to match the combination of the
style, performance, and mystique of the GTO.
relatively short (11 model year) lifespan, the GTO
managed to change its shape almost every model year.
As a result, there's a GTO for all tastes.
As for those three letters, GTO stands literally for
(in Italian) Gran Turismo Omologato or Homologated
Grand Touring. It was a reference to a European racing
class based on production vehicles.
At the time Pontiac
had a trend of naming their vehicles in this manner:
Bonneville, Grand Prix, and LeMans were all from that
The 1964 model started out as a $300 performance option
on the mid-size Tempest Le Mans. Using Pontiac's 389ci
6.40 liter V8, it was fitted with a 4 barrel carburetor
making the engine good for some 325bhp (242kw).
could even option a "Tri-Power" version,
this iteration being fitted with three two-barrel carburetors
and increasing power output to 348bhp (260kW).
The stylists soon got to work on the front of the
GTO, and for 1965 introduced the familiar stacked headlights
configuration. The fake hood scoops could be turned
into a functional ram-air induction setup. Not suprisingly,
power was increased to 360bhp (269kW) in Tri-Power
form. By 1966 the GTO was afforded its own model series,
no longer being based on the Tempest.
The car was again
restyled, the rear quarter panels gaining a distinctive
late '60's "coke bottle" hump while the front
end continued the evolution of Pontiac's signature
stacked headlight styling. On the down side, GM brought
down a corporate edict in mid 1966 effectively shelving
any use of multiple carburetion - the only exception
being the Corvette. To compensate for the resultant
loss of power, the engineers increased the engines
capacity to 400ci (6.60 liters) and a HO version which
matched the previous Tri-Power equipped engines ratings.
In 1968 the GTO was again given an all new body, this
time based on GM's new "A-body" platform.
Heavier than previous versions, the engineers opted
for an "Endura Bumper", the front bumper
integrating with the front grille surround so as to
make it almost appear as if there were no front bumper
at all. Althouh an option, most wanted the hide-away
headlights, which gave the car a more agressive and
streamlined appearance. The '68 version would go on
to win Motor Trend Magazines prestigous "Car of
the Year" award.
Arguably the best iteration was to come in 1969 with
the release of "The Judge", which featured
among other things a popular-for-the-time bright paint
scheme and even more powerful engine. Optional on both
regular and Judge models was the Ram Air IV air induction
system, said by the factory to deliver 370bhp (275kW).
Today you would rarely hear a car manufacturer under-quote
the power output of their engines, but this was the
case with Pontiac.
Insurance Premiums Become The Muscle Car's Arch Enemy
At the time, insurance companies
were starting to take a dim view of the growing muscle
car genre, and premiums were putting the vehicles out
of the reach of many buyers. Strangely, every time
a motoring journal tested a "Judge", they
would find the engine delivering a staggering 415bhp
(305kW). Still, the official figures were stated as
370bhp, a good 40bhp under the reality.
The 1970’s models were again restyled, now featuring
four exposed round headlamps and a narrow grille, as
well as a body-side crease and restyled rear. A 455ci
7.50 liter engine was added to the range – Pontiac
claiming the engine good for 360bhp (264kW), but the
game was up, and everyone knew the wilder-beast was
actually good for a whopping 420bhp (309kW). Insurance
premiums and the oil scare of the early 1970’s
would take it’s toll at the showroom, and the
luster started to fade as stricter emission controls
started to “genuinely” reduce power output.
By 1972 the GTO had once again become just an “option” package,
based on the compact Pontiac Ventura. Many purists
dubbed the car “A Chevy Nova in drag”,
which was perhaps a bit harsh, but the latest iteration
was in fact only a shadow of the car from the 1960’s.
1974 would see the passing of the GTO, although 25
years later GM would import the wonderful Monaro coupe
and re-badge it as a GTO re-kindling the spark – but
that is another story.
In the halcyon days of the mid to late 1960’s,
the GTO sold in great numbers and would fuel the competition
between GM, Ford, and Chrysler that would keep the
muscle car industry thriving for years to come.