Pontiac GTO

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Pontiac GTO

1964 - 1974
325 bhp
Top Speed:
Number Built:
514,793 (Coupe, Hardtop and Convertible)
4 star
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.

In its 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 era.

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).

You 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.

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