Introduction: The Pontiac GTO is considered by many the first true muscle car. Whereas other manufacturers were concentrating on their fullsize lines, Pontiac saw the potential for dropping a big block engine into an intermediate frame and marketing it at a budget price. Pontiac sneaked past the GM restriction on this combination by making the GTO an option on the Tempest model, creating the hottest performance machine yet. 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. The GTO would later evolve into the Judge, an extroverted option package of the blotted GTO, and would continue the tradition until the GTO died an embarrasing death in 1974.
1964 Pontiac Tempest GTO
Comments: The year was 1964 and the early stages of the muscle car era were dominated by fullsize cars. At GM, corporate policy prohibited any intermediate size car from having engines greater than 330 cid. The engineers at Pontiac had a different idea. They boldly made their 389 cid engine an option on the midsize Tempest and called the option package GTO, which copied Ferrari's GTO (Gran Turismo Omologato) model. The GTO package included the 389 V8, quick steering, dual exhaust, and premium tires, a bargin at just $300. The 389 cid engine came with 325bhp with a single 4bbl carb or 348bhp with the optional Tri-Power setup, 3 2bbl carbs. Pontiac hoped to sell 5,000 copies, they ended up selling 32,450. The car that was marketed under a Tiger motiff but soon became known as the "Goat" would stand the automobile industry on end and lead to a host of imitators. But no one in the mid-sixties would get it together quite like Pontiac.
Production: Sports Coupe: 7,384 Hardtop Coupe: 18,422 Convertible: 6,644
Engines: 389 V8 325 bhp @ 4800 rpm, 428 lb-ft @ 3200 rpm. 389 V8 (3x2) 348 bhp @ 4900 rpm, 428 lb-ft @ 3200 rpm.
Performance: 389/325: 0-60 in 7.5 sec, 1/4 mile in 15.7 sec @ 92 mph. 389/348: 0-60 in 6.6 sec, 1/4 mile in 14.8 sec @ 95 mph
1965 Pontiac Tempest GTO
Comments: The success of the 1964 model prompted Pontiac to improve the GTO for 1965. Front and rear styling were changed with the GTO getting stacked headlights like Pontiac's fullsize models. Both versions of the 389 were improved and Pontiac released an over the counter kit that would turn the decorative hood scopes into the first functional ram air setup. These improvements obviously worked as Pontiac sold 75,342 copies, of which 20,547 had the tri-power option.
Production: Sports Coupe: 8,319 Hardtop Coupe: 55,722 Convertible: 11,311
Engines: 389 V8 335 bhp @ 5000 rpm, 431 lb-ft @ 3200 rpm. 389 V8 (3x2) 360 bhp @ 5200 rpm, 431 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm. 389 V8 Ram Air 360bhp @ 5200 rpm, 431 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm
Performance: 389/360 (3x2): 0-60 in 6.1 sec, 1/4 mile in 14.7 sec @ 99mph.
1966 Pontiac GTO
Comments: Pontiac made the GTO its own model for 1966 and was rewarded with sales of 96,946 units, the highest ever for a true muscle car. The GTO was restyled again for 1966 with gourgeous coke-bottle contours with the roof and taillights receiving the most attention. Engine choices remained the same until mid year when GM banned multi-carb setups for all cars except the Chevrolet Corvette, probably in the face increasing emissions standards.
Production: Sports Coupe: 10,363 Hardtop Coupe: 73,785 Convertible: 12,798
Engines: 389 V8 335 bhp @ 5000 rpm, 431 lb-ft @ 3200 rpm. 389 V8 360 bhp @ 5200 rpm, 424 lb-ft @ 3600rpm. 389 V8 Ram Air 360 bhp @ 5200 rpm, 424 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm
Performance: 389/360: 0-60 in 6.5 sec, 1/4 mile in 14.65 sec @ 98mph.
1967 Pontiac GTO
Comments: Undaunted by the death of their tri-power setup, Pontiac unveiled an all new 400 cid enlargement of the 389 cid engine. The rear and grill were restyled again and the new 400 cid engine was available in economy (255bhp), standard (335bhp), High Output (HO) (360bhp) and Ram Air (360bhp) versions. The tiger could still roar.
Production: Sports Coupe: 7,029 Hardtop Coupe: 65,176 Convertible: 9,517
Engines: 400 V8 255 bhp @ 4400rpm, 397 lb-ft @ 4400 bhp. 400 V8 335 bhp @ 5000 rpm, 441 lb-ft @ 3400 rpm. 400 V8 HO 360 bhp @ 5100 rpm, 438 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm. 400 V8 Ram Air 360 bhp @ 5100 rpm, 438 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm.
Performance: 400/255: NA. 400/335: NA. 400/360 HO: 0-60 in 6.6 sec, 1/4 mile in 14.66 sec @ 99mph. 400/360 Ram Air: NA.
1968 Pontiac GTO
Comments: The GTO was drastically restyled for 1968 and gained GM's new split wheelbase A-body. The GTO now sat on a 112 inch wheelbase but was still heavier than the 1967 models. The main news was the new Endura bumper, which was a rubber bumper that gave the car a bumper-less appearance. Furthermore, it was virtually indestructable, as demonstated in a famous commercial with John DeLorean bashing a GTO's bumper with a sledgehammer, to no effect. A new option was hidden headlights, which were so common that many people thought they were standard. The engine choices remained the same, with the economy and standard 400 cid receiving more horsepower, and all engines were tuned for more torque at lower rpms.
Production: Hardtop Coupe: 77,704 Convertible: 9,980
Engines: 400 V8 265 bhp @ 4600 rpm, 397 lb-ft @ 2400bhp. 400 V8 350 bhp @ 5000 rpm, 445 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm. 400 V8 HO 360 bhp @ 5100 rpm, 445 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm. 400 V8 Ram Air 360 bhp @ 5400 rpm, 445 lb-ft @ 3800 rpm.
Performance: 400/360 HO: 1/4 mile in 14.25 seconds @ 99.0 mph. 400/360 Ram Air: 0-60 in 6.4 sec, 1/4 mile in 14.5 sec @ 98mph.
1969 Pontiac GTO
Comments: The big news for 1969 was the introduction of a new option for the GTO. Rumored to be a sleeper budget model to combat the Plymouth Road Runner, it actually was the opposite. Named after a phrase on the TV show "Laugh In", the Judge was actually a $332 option package that included a new 366bhp Ram Air III 400 cid V8, outrageous body paints, a large rear spoiler, and decals throughout. New to both versions of the GTO was a Ram IV 400 cid V8 seriously underrated at 370bhp, as well as restyled taillights, deletion of the vent windows, and the discontinuation of the HO engine.
Production: Hardtop Coupe: 58,126 Convertible: 7,328 Judge Hardtop Coupe: 6,725 Judge Convertible: 108
Engines: 400 V8 265 bhp @ 4600 rpm, 397 lb-ft @ 2400 bhp. 400 V8 350 bhp @ 5000 rpm, 445 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm. 400 V8 Ram Air III 360 bhp @ 5100 rpm, 445 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm. 400 V8 Ram Air 366 bhp @ 5100 rpm, 445 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm. 400 V8 Ram Air IV 370 bhp @ 5500 rpm, 445 lb-ft @ 3900 rpm.
Performance: 400 RA III/360: 1/4 mile in 13.89 sec. @ 101.4 mph. 400/366 Ram Air: 1/4 mile in 13.70 sec. @ 103.6 mph. 400/370 Ram Air IV: 0-60 in 6.2 sec, 1/4 mile in 14.4 sec @ 98mph.
1970 Pontiac GTO
Comments: The GTO was radically restyled for 1970 and received a new front end with four exposed headlamps wrapped in a Endura bumper, new body creases, and a redesigned rear end. The economy engine was dropped, but a new 455cid engine was added (though it was not available until the end of the 1970 season on the Judge), signaling the end of GM's ban on intermediates with engines greater than 400cid. The GTO had evolved into more of a luxo-cruiser than all-out muscle car, as was the market trend at the time.
A rare option on the 1970 GTO was the Vacuum Operated Exhaust (VOE - Option Code W-73) option. The VOE option was an attempt to simplify the old hot rod trick of opening up the exhuast system for more power. With the VOE option, the driver could pull on a knob under the dash and engine vacuum was routed to a diaphragm on each muffler. The diaphragm opened an internal baffle and gave the exhuast an express route through the muffler. The device reduced backpressure (and thus increased power), but it also significantly increased the noise level caused by the exhaust. This option was available only from early November 1969 through January 1970. That was when Pontiac aired a controversial commercial during the Super Bowl that showed off its VOE option. Top GM executives saw the commercial, and immediately cancelled the option, due to the Federal government's increasing restrictions on emissions and noise levels. Only 233 GTO's were built with the VOE option in that short time, which was priced at just $63.19.
Production: Hardtop Coupe: 32,737 Convertible: 3,615 Judge Hardtop Coupe: 3,629 Judge Convertible: 168
Engines: 400 V8 350 bhp @ 5000 rpm, 445 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm. 400 V8 Ram Air III 366 bhp @ 5100 rpm, 445 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm. 400 V8 Ram Air IV 370 bhp @ 5500 rpm, 445 lb-ft @ 3900 rpm. 455 V8 360 bhp @ 4300 rpm, 500 lb-ft @ 2700 rpm.
Performance: 400/366 Ram Air III: 0-60 in 6.0 sec, 1/4 mile in 14.7 sec @ 98mph.
1971 Pontiac GTO
Comments: In 1971, Pontiac GTO sales which had been declining since the late sixties crashed. Only 374 Judges were produced (including just 17 convertibles), despite having the 455 engine as standard, and this would be its last year. The GTO was also in its last year as its own seperate model. Furthermore, GM announced that all engines would have to run on unleaded gas to meet new government regulations and compression ratios and power ratings plummeted. The front end was restyled and Pontiac tried to compensate for the drop in engine power by adjusting the axle ratio and carburetor but to no avail. Performance and sales were on the decline and nothing could hide that.
Production: Hardtop Coupe: 9,497 Convertible: 661 Judge Hardtop Coupe: 357 Judge Convertible: 17
Engines: 400 V8 300 bhp @ 4800 rpm, 400 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm. 455 V8 325 bhp @ 4400 rpm, 455 lb-ft @ 3200 rpm. 455 V8 HO 335 bhp @ 4800 rpm, 480 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm.
Performance: 400/300: 1/4 mile in 14.4 seconds @ 98 mph.
1972 Pontiac GTO
Comments: 1972 saw the GTO revert back to an option on the LeMans and Lemans Sport, costing just $353.88. The Judge was discontinued along with the convertible models (although one GTO convertible is rumored to have been built, along with three (gasp) GTO station wagons). The most noticable change was in the engine power ratings, which dropped dramaticly. This difference reflected the industry switch from an engine's gross output (power with no accessories) to its SAE Net output (power with accessories attached). This was supposed to be more representative of the actually power delivered to the wheels -- although that didn't really ease the pain for performance seekers. The 400 V8 was now rated at 250 bhp (net) while the 455 was available in either 250 or 300 bhp versions.
Production: Hardtop Coupe: 5,807
Engines: 400 V8 250 bhp @ 4400 rpm, 325 lb-ft @ 3200 rpm. 455 V8 250 bhp @ 3700 rpm, 325 lb-ft @ 2400 rpm. 455 V8 HO 300 bhp @ 4000 rpm, 415 lb-ft @ 3200rpm.
Performance: 455/300: 1/4 mile in 14.6 seconds @ 95.2 mph.
1973 Pontiac GTO
Comments: 1973 saw the end of the once great GTO. New government regulations eliminated the Endura bumper and added a heavy, odd-looking steel one. The hood and tail took on displeasing triangular shapes and this would be the last year the GTO would be based on the LeMans. The 400 V8 was rated at just 230 bhp while the 455 was rated at 250 bhp and was only available with an automatic transmission.
Engines: 400 V8 230 bhp @ 4400 rpm, 325 lb-ft @ 3200 rpm. 455 V8 250 bhp @ 3700 rpm, 370 lb-ft @ 2800 rpm.
1974 Pontiac GTO
Comments: For 1974, its last year, the once proud GTO was reduced to an option on the compact Ventura, either as a hatchback or a coupe. Only one engine was offered, a 350 V8 rated at a mere 200 bhp. This marked the first (and only) time the GTO came with any engine smaller than 389 cid, but at least it came standard with the classic "shaker hood" air scoop. Although it died a painful death, the GTO will always be remembered as the Great One that started it all.
Production: 7,058 (2D Coupe: 5,335 2D Hatchback: 1,723)
Engines: 350 V8 200 bhp.
Performance: 0-60 in 7.7 seconds, 1/4 mile in 15.72 seconds @ 88 mph.
The 1968 Pontiac GTO is among the legends of muscle. Four years earlier, the 1964 model burst on the scene and made a mark that it would hold against fierce competition.
Like the Ferrari GTO, the new Pontiac’s name stood for Gran Turismo Omologato, a classification for street performance cars eligible for certain types of racing. Pontiac later referred to GTO as The Great One, but in 1964, the name mattered less than the 389 Tri-Power V-8 whose triple carburetors helped it to produce 348 horsepower.
Muscle Cars Score a Victory
Challenges soon appeared from Ford and Chrysler – not to mention Pontiac’s fellow General Motors’ divisions – all using the big-engine, small-body concept pioneered by American Motors’ 1957 Rebel. As a muscle car, Rebel lasted just that one year, but by 1967, AM was back in the game alongside all but the luxury marques.
The range of choices was therefore broad and it virtually killed the full-size performance car. Chrysler’s 300 letter series that had helped launch that genre in 1955 ended with the 300-L of 1966. The Galaxie 500 7-Litre, Ford’s 1966 entry, became an option package for 1967 and then vanished.
Pontiac, too, knew full-size performance cars. It had begun in 1956 with options for its 317-cubic-inch V-8; two four-barrel carburetors and other performance components gave it 285 horsepower compared to 227 in normal tune.Its final descendant, the 1967 Catalina 2+2, included a 360-horsepower version of Pontiac’s 428-cubic-inch V-8. Fast with but little market, the 2+2 sold fewer than 1800 examples that year.
While nearly everything in those now-discontinued full-size models remained available and a customer could thus order their equivalents, muscle cars had made their point.
All-New 1968 GTO
By any measure, the 1966 GTO had been attractive. Its signature features were vertical quad headlamps and flying-buttress rear roof pillars and as the first new body since the badge had appeared, it needed only minor styling changes for 1967. The 1968 GTO was another matter.
The new GTO was styled much more cleanly than the previous car, almost as if it had been cast in a mold. Gone were the striking roof pillars, replaced by a sweeping flush rear window. Up front, hidden horizontally arranged headlights were located in a wraparound bumper of body-color Endura, a flexible material able to absorb minor impacts without damage. The split grill was already a Pontiac tradition and so was retained.
Under the Hood
A 400-cubic-inch V-8 rated at up to 360 horsepower provided the performance, although the Tri-Power set up long associated with Pontiac was succeeded by a Quadrajet four-barrel carburetor. “Others have caught on,” Pontiac advertised in 1968, “but they haven’t caught up.” Whether they ever did is difficult to answer, but they had just a few more years in which to try.
Changes in Priorities
The muscle car era would soon begin to fade under increasing regulation, rising insurance premiums and similar pressures. For Pontiac, the end came when it built its 1974 GTO on the Ventura platform. It looked much like the Chevrolet Nova whose body it shared and regardless of performance, nearly all of its character and uniqueness were gone.
So is the 1968 Pontiac GTO the best muscle car ever? No model could make that claim, but Pontiac had something when it spoke of The Great One and a 1968 GTO today is unlikely to disappoint.