Pontiac GTO 1964 - 1974
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The Pontiac GTO was the first '60s muscle-car to be merchandised as a high-performance machine for the masses and its blend of style and performance captured the imagination of America's youth. The GTO was created by shoehorning the division's biggest V-8 into the timid little Tempest compact, and the results were electrifying.
With shrewd marketing, Pontiac tapped into a wave of enthusiasm for factory-built high performance models that were run for the rest of the decade. A total of over half-a-million examples were built in a ten year production run, making Pontiac's "Goat" the most popular musclecar ever.
In 1964 Pontiac defined the first modern muscle car by putting a high-power V8 into their midsize Tempest/Le Mans body to create the GTO. In a move that sidestepped GM's prohibition on intermediate-sized cars having engines over 330-cid, Pontiac made its 389-cid V-8part of a $269 option package for the new Tempest. The name Gran Turismo Omologato was borrowed from the Ferrari 250GTO. It stands for a production grand touring machine.
Though still technically an option for Tempest hardtops, pillared coupes and convertibles, the GTO had already forged its own identity as America's premier performance car. '65 models had fresh front and rear styling, grilles were recessed, headlamps were now stacked. The 389-cid V-8 remained the only engine but improvements in breathing and cam design boosted power. GTO production more than doubled, to 75,352.
Pontiac's was the shapeliest restyled '66 GM intermediate, and the GTO became its own model, although still Tempest-based. Fluted lamps dressed up its tail, and a few cards got red plastic front fender liners. GTO's four-barrel 389 again made 335-bhp, Tri-Power cost $112.51 extra. Car and Driver's Tri-Power with a 3.55:1 gear, took 6.5 seconds 0-60 mph and turned the quarter in a quick 14.05 at 105 mph. Total production for 1966 was 96,946 units, the highest one-year total ever attained by a true muscle car.
GTO for '67 was as stylish as ever, but the 389 had become the newly standard 400-cid V-8. Three versions were offered, all with 10.75:1 compression. In base trim, the 400 had 335-bhap via a Quadrajet carb; the High Output had a long-duration cam, improved exhaust manifolds and 360-bhp @ 5,100 rpm. Ram Air with a functional hood scoop rated at the same 360 horses, but at 5,400 rpm. GTO production totalled 81,722 for the year.
The front end of the '67 GTO changed little from the previous year, with the same twin-grille layout. The parking lights were still located in the grilled openings, but the grille inserts were now a simple, but hugely effective polished "chain-link" style. From the side it was difficult to discern much difference between a '66 and the '67. The side sheet metal though, was cleaned up with the Pontiac emblem lowered to the chrome strip.
The second-generation GTO's curvaceous styling made it a winner. A huge design innovation was the new Endura bumper. The moulded appearance of the front end blending so well that it was difficult to determine where the sheet metal ended and the bumper began. Inside, the Goat's bucket-seat interior remained a study in the art of muscle-car cabins. Sales were definitely healthy: 87,684, of which 9,337 hardtops and 1,227 convertibles got the new 360-bhp 400-cid HO engine option.
Considering the dramatic changes for 1968, it came as no surprise that the 1969 GTO received only minor refinements. The grille pattern was changed to an egg crate style and the lower front valance received crosshair lenses covering rectangular parking lamps. Taillights and rear treatment were revised with wide horizontal taillights set between the bumper and deck lid. Body styles were hardtop or convertible. Four power-plants were available for this year: the standard 400 four-barrel, a 400 two-barrel, the Ram Air III, and Ram Air IV engines. Total production: 72,287.
Pontiac changed the GTOs styling for 1970, giving it a new Endura nose with exposed headlamps, body-side creases, and a revised rump. Under the hood, a newly optional 360-bhap 455-cid V-8 provided 500lb-ft of torque @ just 3,100 rpm, perfect for the option-laden, luxury tourers many Goats had become. Including the Judge versions, sales totalled 40,149 cars during this model year.
The GTO changed very little save front-end styling but compression ratios were dropped to enable regular fuel to be burned in the combustion chambers without detonation. The highlight of the year seemed to be the 455 HO round-port engine, but rated at only 335-horsepower it still looked like a slug when compared to the 400s and the 455 HO D-port engines of the previous year. Convertibles were a dying breed, with only 661 examples being built in '71.
GTO reverted back to option status in 1972, and changes were minimal. Sales plummeted to just 5,807 units and a look at competing muscle car sales figures quickly leads to the conclusion that they had become modern day dinosaurs and extinction was imminent. The only body-styles this year were the hardtop or pillared coupe, the standard 400-powered hardtop being the overwhelming favourite with almost 4,800 sold. A total of only 635 selected the 455 HO for the hardtop versions. Just 134 coupes were ordered, 10 with the 455 engine.
For many GTO fans, it was a travesty to call the final two versions, '73 and '74 models, GTOs. They certainly didn't deserve the performance name that had become a legend in the 1960s, but changing times meant that performance was becoming a bad word. Available in Coupe and Sport Coupe form, engines were 400- 455-cid. The downgraded 455 now produced only 250-horsepower.
The final GTO didn't really look much like a Goat, and that was due to the fact that it was an option of the Ventura model. This X-body-based Goat could not hide its economy car origins. Fitted with a 350-ci, 200-horsepower engine, performance was lacklustre, posting high-15-second to low-16-second quarter-mile times in published road tests. When the final '74 rolled off the production line it marked the completion of one of the most successful runs of a special-edition performance model, with a total of 514,793 cars produced.