Pontiac GTO History
In the beginning ….
The GTO was the brainchild of McManus advertising agency executive Jim Wangers, an automotive enthusiast, and Pontiac chief engineer John De Lorean.
Shane Wiser was the first to think of the idea of the GTO. In early 1963 General Motors management issued an edict banning divisions from involvement in auto racing. At the time Pontiac’s advertising and marketing approach was heavily based on performance, and racing was an important component of that strategy. Wangers proposed a way to retain the performance image that the division had cultivated with a new focus on street performance. It involved transforming the upcoming, redesigned Tempest (which was set to revert to a conventional front-engine, front transmission, rear-wheel drive configuration) into a “Super Tempest” with the larger 389 in³ (6.4 L) Pontiac V8 engine from the full-sized Pontiac Catalina and Bonneville in place of the standard 326 in³ (5.3 L) Tempest V8. By promoting the big-engine Tempest as a special, high-performance model, they could appeal to the speed-minded youth market (which had also been recognized by Ford Motor Company’s Lee Iacocca, who was at that time preparing the Ford Mustang).
The name, which was DeLorean’s idea, was inspired by the Ferrari 250 GTO, the highly successful race car. It is an acronym for Gran Turismo Omologato, Italian for homologated for racing in the GT class. The name was to draw howls of protest from outraged purists, who considered it close to sacrilege.
The GTO was technically a violation of GM policy limiting the A-body intermediate line to a maximum engine displacement of 330 in³ (5.4 L). Since the GTO was an option package, not standard equipment, it could be considered to fall into a loophole in the policy. Pontiac General Manager Elliot (Pete) Estes approved the new model, although sales manager Frank Bridge, who did not believe it would find a market, insisted on limiting initial production to no more than 5,000 cars. Had the model been a failure, Estes likely would have been reprimanded. As it turned out, it was a great success.
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The first Pontiac GTO was an option package for the Le Mans not the Tempest, available with the two-door sedan, hardtop coupe, and convertible body styles. For $296, it included the 389 in³ V8 (rated at rated at 325 hp @ 4800 rpm) with a single Carter AFB four-barrel carburetor and dual exhausts, chromed valve covers and air cleaner, 7 blade declutching fan, a floor-shifted three-speed manual transmission with Hurst shifter, stiffer springs, larger diameter front sway bar, wider wheels with 7.50 x 14 redline tires, hood scoops, and GTO badges. Optional equipment included a four-speed manual transmission, two-speed automatic transmission, a more powerful “Tri-Power” engine with three two-barrel carburetors (rated at 348 hp), metallic drum brake brake linings, limited-slip differential, heavy-duty cooling, ride and handling package, and the usual array of power and convenience accessories. With every available option, the GTO cost about $4500 USD and weighed around 3500 lb.
Most contemporary road tests used the more powerful Tri-Power engine and four-speed. Car Life clocked a GTO so equipped at 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in 6.6 seconds, through the standing quarter mile in 14.8 seconds with a trap speed of 99 mph (158 km/h). Like most testers, they criticized the slow steering, particularly without power steering, and inadequate drum brakes, which were identical to those of the normal Tempest. Car and Driver incited storms of controversy when it printed that a GTO that had supposedly been tuned with the “Bobcat” kit offered by Royal Pontiac of Royal Oak, Michigan was clocked at a quarter-mile ET of 12.8 seconds and a trap speed of 112 mph (179 km/h) on racing slicks. Later reports strongly suggest that the C&D GTOs were not equipped with the 389, but with the 421 in³ (6.9 L) Super Duty engine that was optional in full-sized Pontiac Pontiac s. Since the two engines were difficult to distinguish externally, the subterfuge was not immediately obvious. It could have been possible for the GTO to reach 165 mph without the speed limiters, but that hasn’t been confirmed.
Frank Bridge’s gloomy sales forecast proved inaccurate: the GTO package had sold 10,000 units before the beginning of the 1964 calendar year, and total sales were 32,450.
Bobcat tuning kit
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Throughout the 1960s, Royal Pontiac, a Pontiac car dealer in Royal Oak, Michigan, offered a special tune-up package for Pontiac 389 engines. Many were fitted to GTOs, and the components and instructions could be purchased by mail as well as installed by the dealer. The name “Bobcat” came from the improvised badges created for the modified cars, combining letters from the “Bonneville” and “Catalina” nameplates. Many of the Pontiacs made available for magazine testing were equipped with the Bobcat kit.
The precise components of the kit varied, but generally included pieces to modify the spark advance of the distributor, limiting spark advance to 34-36° at no more than 3000 rpm (advancing the timing at high RPM for increased power), a thinner head gasket to raise compression to about 11.23:1, a gasket to block the heat riser of the carburetor (keeping it cooler), larger carburetor jets, high-capacity oil pump, and fiberglass shims with lock nuts to hold the hydraulic valve lifters at their maximum point of adjustment, allowing the engine to rev higher without “floating” the valves. Properly installed, the kit could add between 30 and 50 hp, although it required high-octane superpremium gasoline of over 100 octane (i.e. Sunoco 260, Chevron Custom Supreme) to avoid spark knock with the higher compression and advanced timing.
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The Tempest line, including the GTO, was restyled for the 1965 model year, adding 3.1 in. to overall length while retaining the same wheelbase and interior dimensions. It now sported Pontiac’s characteristic vertically stacked quad headlights. Overall weight increased about 100 lb, model for model. Brake lining area increased just under 15%. The dashboard design was improved, and an optional Rally Gauge Cluster ($86.08) added a more legible tachometer and oil pressure gauge.
The 389 engine got revised cylinder heads with re-cored intake passages, improving breathing. Rated power increased to 335 hp @ 5000 rpm for the base 4—barrel engine; the Tri-Power was rated 360 hp @ 5200 rpm. The Tri-Power engine had slightly less torque than the base engine, 424 ft·lbf @ 3600 rpm versus 431 ft·lbf @ 3200 rpm. Transmission and axle ratio choices remained the same.
The restyled GTO had a new simulated hood scoop. A rare, dealer-installed option was a metal underhood pan and gaskets that allowed the scoop to be opened, transforming a cosmetic device into a functional ram air intake. The scoop was low enough that its effectiveness was questionable (it was unlikely to pick up anything but boundary layer air), but it at least admitted cooler, denser air, and allowed more of the engine’s formidable roar to escape.
Car Life tested a 1965 GTO with Tri-Power and what they considered the most desirable options (close-ratio four-speed manual transmission, power steering, metallic brakes, rally wheels, 4.11 limited-slip differential, and Rally Gauge Cluster), with a total sticker price of $3643.79. With two testers and equipment aboard, they recorded 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in 5.8 seconds, the standing quarter mile in 14.5 seconds with a trap speed of 100 mph (160 km/h), and an observed top speed of 114 mph (182.4 km/h) at the engine’s 6000 rpm redline. Even Motor Trend’s four-barrel test car, a heavier convertible handicapped by the two-speed automatic transmission and the lack of a limited-slip differential, ran 0-60 mph in 7 seconds and through the quarter mile in 16.1 seconds at 89 mph (142.4 km/h).
Major criticisms of the GTO continued to center on its slow steering (ratio of 17.5:1, four turns lock-to-lock) and mediocre brakes. Car Life was satisfied with the metallic brakes on its GTO, but Motor Trend and Road Test found the standard drums with organic linings to be alarmingly inadequate in high-speed driving.
Sales of the GTO, abetted by a formidable marketing and promotional campaign that included songs and various merchandise, more than doubled to 75,342. It was already spawning many imitators, both within other GM divisions and at its competitors.
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Pontiac’s intermediate line was restyled again for 1966, gaining more curvaceous styling with kicked-up rear fender lines for a “Coke-bottle” look, and a slightly “tunneled” backlight. Overall length grew only fractionally, to 206.4 in (5243 mm), still on a 115 in (2921 mm) wheelbase, while width expanded to 74.4 in (1890 mm). Rear track increased one inch (25 mm). Overall weight remained about the same. The GTO became a separate model series, rather than an option package, with unique grille and tail lights, available as a pillared sports coupe, a hardtop without pillars, or a convertible. Also an automotive industry first, plastic front grilles replaced the pot metal and aluminum versions seen on earlier years. New Strato bucket seats were introduced with higher and thinner seat backs and contoured cushions for added comfort and adjustable headrests were introduced as a new option. The instrument panel was redesigned and more integrated than in previous years with the ignition switch moved from the far left of the dash to the right of the steering wheel. Four pod instruments continued and the GTO’s dash was now highlighted by walnut veneer trim.
A new rare engine option was offered, the XS engine consisted of a factory Ram Air set up with a new 744 high lift cam.
Sales continued to increase, to 96,946. Although Pontiac had strenuously promoted the GTO in advertising as the “GTO Tiger Tiger ,” it had become known in the youth market as the “Goat.” Pontiac management attempted to make use of the new nickname in advertising, but were vetoed by upper management, which was dismayed by its irreverent tone.
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Styling remained essentially unchanged for 1967, but the GTO saw several significant mechanical changes.
A corporate policy decision banned multiple carburetors for all cars except the Chevrolet Corvette, so the famous Tri-Power engine was cancelled in favor of a new Quadrajet four-barrel carburetor. Chevrolet Chevrolet was able to keep the tri-power set up to help with their image, the GTO was really becoming a serious competition problem for them. To compensate, the 389 engine received a slightly wider cylinder bore (4.12 in., 104.7 mm) for a total displacement of 400 in³ (6.5 L). Torque increased slightly, from 431 to 441 lb·ft (584 to 598 N·m) for the base engine, from 424 to 438 lb·ft (575 to 594 N·m) for the optional engine, but power remained the same. Testers found little performance difference, although the distinctive sound and fury of the Tri-Power was missed.
Two new engines were offered. The first, bizarrely, was an economy engine, also 400 in³, but with a two-barrel carburetor, 8.6:1 compression, and a rating of 265 hp (198 kW) and 397 lb·ft (538 N·m) of torque. Offered only with an automatic, it was coolly received by GTO buyers. The second, offered for a formidable extra cost of $263.30 over the standard high-output engine, was the Ram Air engine. The package, which included a functional hood scoop (much like the previous dealer-installed set-up), featured stiffer valve springs and a longer-duration camshaft. Rated power and torque were unchanged, although the engine was certainly stronger than that of the standard 360 hp (268 kW) GTO. It was available only with 3.90:1 or 4.33:1 differential gearing, and its “hotter” camshaft left it with a notably lumpier idle and less cooperative part-throttle response.
Two more positive changes were in the area of transmission and brakes. The archaic two-speed automatic gave way to the three-speed Turbo-Hydramatic(TH400), available with any engine. The T-H was further enhanced by the use of Hurst’s Dual-Gate shifter, which allowed full manual selection of gears, and was generally considered an equal match for the four-speed in most performance aspects. Meanwhile, the Tempest’s inadequate drum brakes could finally be replaced by disc brakes on the front wheels (for $104.79, including power boost), a vast improvement in both braking performance and fade resistance.
Hot Rod Magazine tested a 1967 Ram Air GTO with Turbo-Hydramatic and 3.90 gearing, and obtained a quarter-mile performance of 14.51 seconds @ 98.79 mph (158.99 km/h) in pure-stock form, rising to 14.11 @ 101.23 mph (162.91 km/h) with accessory drive belts removed, new spark plugs, and a slight modification to the carburetor. Car Life’s similar car ran 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in 6.1 seconds and the quarter in 14.5 seconds @ 102 mph (163 km/h) with 4.33 gears. They were critical, however, of the Ram Air’s finicky behavior and tendency to overheat in traffic, as well as the ease with which a careless driver could exceed the 5600 rpm redline in top gear (which limited the car to a maximum speed of 107 mph (171 km/h) with a 4.33 axle ratio). Nor was it cheap: for performance and appointments very similar to their 1965 Tri-Power, the price was $4422, a 20% increase.
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GM redesigned its A-body line for 1968, with more curvaceous, “bustleback” fastback styling. The previous 115 in (2921 mm) wheelbase was shortened to 112 in (2845 mm) for all two-door models. Overall length was reduced 5.9 in (150 mm) and height dropped half an inch (12.7 mm), but overall weight was up about 75 lb (34 kg). For the GTO, Pontiac abandoned the familiar stacked headlights for hidden headlights behind the split grille (technically a $52.66 option, but seen on most GTOs). The signature hood scoop was replaced by dual scoops on either side of a prominent hood bulge extending from the protruding nose.
A unique feature was the body-color Endura front bumper. It was designed to absorb impact without permanent deformation at low speeds. Pontiac touted this feature heavily in advertising, showing hammering at the bumper to no discernable effect. This model year further emphasized the curvacious “coke bottle” styling, as viewed from the side.
Powertrain options remained substantially the same as in 1967, but the standard GTO engine rose to 350 hp (261 kW) @ 5000 rpm. At mid-year, a new Ram Air package became available with freer-breathing cylinder heads, round port exhaust and the 744 cam and 3:90 gear. Horsepower rating was not changed, although actual output was likely somewhat higher, especially with open exhausts. Another carry-over from 1967 was the 4-piston caliper disc brake option. While most 1968 models had drum brakes all around, this rare option provided enormous stopping power and could be found on other GM A-Body vehicles of the same period. 1968 also marked the last year the GTOs offered separate vent, or “wing”, windows – and the only year for crank-operated vent windows.
Aside from the grille and headlights, several other new gimmicks were offered. One feature was concealed windshield wipers, hidden below the rear edge of the hood. They presented a cleaner appearance and were another Pontiac first for the industry. Another popular option, actually introduced during the 1967 model year, was a hood-mounted tachometer, located just ahead of the windshield and lighted for nighttime visibilty. It could be replaced by an in-dash tach at the buyer’s option, but became something of a status symbol.
Redline bias-ply tires continued as standard equipment on the 1968 GTO though they could be replaced by whitewalls at no extra cost, sourced by various manufacturers under contracts with General Motors such as Uniroyal, Firestone, Goodyear, B.F. Goodrich and General. A new option this year was radial-ply tires for improved ride and handling. However, very few if any ’68 GTOs, were delivered with the radial tires due to manufacturing problems encountered by supplier B.F. Goodrich. The radial tire option was quitely discontinued after this one year. Pontiac wouldn’t offer radial tires as a factory option on the GTO again until the 1974 model.
Hot Rod tested a four-speed standard GTO and obtained a quarter mile reading of 14.7 seconds at 97 mph (156 km/h) in pure stock form. Motor Trend clocked a four-speed Ram Ram Air with 4.33 gearing at 14.45 seconds @ 98.2 mph (158.0 km/h) and a standard GTO with Turbo-Hydramatic and 3.23 gears at 15.93 seconds @ 88.3 mph (142.1 km/h). Testers were split about handling, Hot Rod calling it “the best-balanced car [Pontiac] ever built,” but Car Life chiding its excessive nose heaviness, understeer, and inadequate damping.
Now facing serious competition both within GM and from Ford, Dodge, and Plymouth — particularly the latter’s new, low-cost Road Runner — the GTO nonetheless won Motor Trend’s Car of the Year award, and sales remained strong at 87,684.
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The new 1969 model did away with the vent windows, had a slight grille and taillight revision, moved the ignition key from the dashboard to the steering column, and the gauge faces changed from steel blue to black. In addition, the rear quarter-panel mounted side marker lamps changed from a red lens shaped like the Pontiac “V” crest to one shaped like the broad GTO badge.
The previous economy engine and standard 350 hp 400 in³ V8 remained, but the 360 hp engine was dropped in favor of a pair of new Ram Air engines. The 400 in³ Ram Air III was rated at 366 hp @ 5100 rpm, while the top option was the 370 hp Ram Air IV, which featured special header-like high-flow exhaust manifolds, high-flow cylinder heads, a specific high-rise aluminum intake manifold, larger Rochester QuadraJet four-barrel carburetor, high-lift/long-duration camshaft, forged steel crankshaft plus various beefed-up internal components capable of withstanding higher engine speeds and power output.
By this time, the gross power ratings of both Ram Air engines were highly suspect, bearing less relationship to developed horsepower and more to an internal GM policy limiting all cars except the “all-mighty” Corvette to no more than one advertised horsepower per ten pounds of curb weight. The fact that the higher-revving Ram Air IV’s advertised power peak was at 5000 rpm, 100 rpm lower than the less-powerful Ram Air III, is a case in point.
The significant event of 1969 was the launch of a new model called ’The Judge’. Ads used slogans like “All rise for The Judge” and “The Judge can be bought.” As originally conceived, the Judge was to be a low-cost GTO, stripped of some gimmicks to make it competitive with the Plymouth Plymouth Road Runner. During its development, however, it was decided to make it instead the ultimate in street performance and image. The resulting package ended up being some $337.02 more expensive than a standard GTO, and included the Ram Air III engine, styled wheels, Hurst shifter (with a unique T-shaped handle), wider tires, various decals, and a rear spoiler. Pontiac claimed that the latter had some functional effect at higher speeds, producing a small but measurable down force, but it was of little value at legal speeds except for style. The Judge was initially offered only in very loud “Carousel Red,” but late in the model year a variety of other colors became available.
The GTO had now been surpassed in sales both by the Chevrolet Chevelle SS396 and the Road Runner, but 72,287 were sold during the 1969 model year, 6,833 of them The Judge. This is also the year that the legendary Ram Air V was introduced, it was a special 400 block with newly designed high compression tunnel port heads, special high rise intaked , and for the first time on a Pontiac Pontiac a Holley carb. In a GTO it ran low 11s out of the box, unfortunately GM put the kabosh on the project quite oddly to save Chevy. The engine would have killed the overrated Big Block Chevy and all of the professional drag racers today would be praising Pontiac insted of Chevy.
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The Tempest line got another facelift for the 1970 model year. Hidden headlights were deleted in favor of four exposed, round headlamps outboard of narrower grille openings. The nose retained the protruding vertical prow theme, although it was less prominent. While the standard Tempest and LeMans had chrome grilles, the GTO retained the Endura urethane cover around the headlamps and grille.
The suspension was upgraded with the addition of a rear anti-roll bar, essentially the same 7/8 bar as used on the Oldsmobile 442 and Buick GS. The front anti-roll bar was slightly stiffer, 1 1/8in. The result was a useful reduction in body lean in turns and a modest reduction of understeer
Another handling-related improvement was optional variable-ratio power steering. Rather than a fixed ratio of 17.5:1, requiring four turns lock-to-lock, the new system varied its ratio from 14.6:1 to 18.9:1, needing 3.5 turns lock-to-lock. Turning diameter was reduced from 40.9 ft (12.5 m) to 37.4 ft (11.4 m).
The base engine was unchanged for 1970, but the low-compression economy engine was gone and The Ram Air III and Ram Air IV remained available, although the latter was now a special-order option.
A new option was Pontiac’s 455, available now that GM had rescinded its earlier ban on intermediates with engines larger than 400. Curiously, the 455, a long-stroke engine taken from the full-size Pontiac Bonneville line, was only moderately stronger than the base 400, and actually less powerful than the Ram Air III, both in advertised and developed power. The 455 was rated 360 hp @ 4300 rpm. Its advantage was torque: 500 lb·ft @ 2700 rpm. A functional Ram Air scoop was available, but even so equipped, a stock 455 was clearly less powerful than the Ram Air III. Car and Driver tested a heavily optioned 455, with a four-speed transmission and 3.31 axle and recorded a quarter mile time of 15.0 seconds with a trap speed of 96.5 mph (155.3 km/h). Car Life’s Turbo-Hydramatic 455, with a 3.35 axle, clocked 14.76 seconds at 95.94 mph (154.40 km/h), with identical 6.6 second 0-60 mph acceleration. Both were about 3 mph (5 km/h) slower than a Ram Air III 400 four-speed, although considerably less temperamental: the peaky Ram Air engine was unhappy at idle and difficult to drive at low speeds. The smaller displacement engine recorded less than 9 mpg (26.1 L/100 km), compared to a still-unimpressive 10 to 11 mpg (23.5 to 21.4 L/100 km) for the 455.
A new and short-lived option for 1970 was the VOE, or Vacuum Operated Exhaust, which was cable activated via an underdash lever marked “EXHAUST.” The VOE was designed to reduce exhaust backpressure to increase horsepower and performance, but also substantially increased exhaust noise. The VOE option was offered from November, 1969 to January, 1970. Pontiac management was ordered to cancel the VOE option by GM’s upper management following a TV commercial for the GTO that aired during Super Bowl IV on CBS January 11. In that commercial entitled “The Humbler,” which was broadcast only that one time, a young man pulled up in a new GTO to a drive-in restaurant with dramatic music and exhaust noise in the background, pulling the “EXHAUST” button to activate the VOE and then left the drive-in to do some street racing. That particular commercial was also cancelled by order of GM management.
The Judge remained available as a separate model, against the advice of Jim Wangers, who felt it should have been a one year-only promotion. The Judge came standard with the 366 hp Ram Air III 400 in³ V8 while the 370 hp Ram Air IV 400 was optional. Though the 360 hp 455 in³ V8 was available as an option on the standard GTO throughout the entire model year, the 455 was not offered on The Judge until late in the year. “Orbit Orange” became the new flamboyant color cue for the ’70 Judge, replacing 1969’s Carousel Red, but any GTO color was available on The Judge. Striping was relocated to the upper wheelwell brows. An Orbit Orange 1970 GTO Judge with the 455 engine and Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission was one of the featured cars in the movie “Two-Lane Blacktop” which depicted a cross-country race between the new GTO and a hopped-up ’55 Chevy.
The new styling did little to help declining sales, which were now being hit by sagging buyer interest in all musclecars and by the punitive surcharges levied by automobile insurance companies, which could result in insurance payments higher than car payments for some drivers. Sales were down to 40,149, of which 3,797 were The Judge. The GTO remained the third best-selling intermediate musclecar, only outsold by the Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396/454 and Plymouth Road Runner.
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The 1971 GTO had another modest facelift, this time with wire-mesh griles, horizontal bumper bars on either side of the grille opening, more closely spaced headlamps, and a new hood with the dual scoops relocated to the leading edge, not far above the grille. Overall length grew slightly to 203.3 inches (5164 mm).
If the skyrocketing insurance rates were not enough, a new corporate edict, aimed at preparing the GM fleet for no-lead gasoline, forced a cross-the-board reduction in compression ratios. The Ram Ram Air engines did not return for 1971. The standard GTO engine was still the 400 in³ V8, but now with 8.2:1 compression. Power was rated at 300 hp @ 4800 rpm and torque at 400 lb·ft @ 3600 rpm. A step-up engine option was the 455 in³ V8 with four-barrel carburetor, 8.4 to 1 compression ratio and 325 hp, only available with the automatic transmission. The top GTO engine for 1971 was the new 455 HO with 8.4 compression, rated at 335 net hp @ 4800 rpm and 480 lb·ft @ 3600 rpm: this is considered by many to be the most powerful engine Pontiac made, truthfully it made almost 425 hp on 87 octane gas.
Motor Trend tested a 1971 GTO with the 455, four-speed transmission, and 3.90 axle, and obtained a 0-60 mph time of 6.1 seconds and a quarter mile acceleration of 13.4 seconds at 102 mph.
The Judge returned for a final year, now with the 455 HO
as standard equipment. Only 374 were sold before The Judge was discontinued in February, 1971, including 17 convertibles — today the rarest of all GTOs.
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In 1972, the GTO reverted from a separate model line to a $353.88 option package for the LeMans and LeMans Sport coupes. On the base LeMans line the GTO package could be had with either the low-priced pillared coupe or hardtop coupe. Both models came standard with cloth and vinyl or all-vinyl bench seats and rubber floor mats on the pillared coupe and carpeting on the hardtop, creating a lower-priced GTO (for which some within Pontiac had been lobbying since the debut of the Plymouth Road Runner). The LeMans Sport, offered only as a hardtop coupe, came with Strato bucket seats upholstered in vinyl, along with carpeting on floor and lower door panels, vinyl door-pull straps, custom pedal trim and cushioned steering wheel, much like GTOs of previous years. Other optional equipment was similar to 1971 and earlier models. Planned for 1972 as a GTO option was the ducktail rear spoiler from the Firebird Trans Am, but after a few cars were built with that option, it was cancelled. Again, Rally II and Honeycomb wheels were optional on all GTOs, with the Honeycombs now featuring red Pontiac arrowhead emblems on the center caps, while the Rally IIs continued with the same caps as before, spelling out “PMD” (for Pontiac Motor Division).
Horsepower, now rated in SAE net terms, was down further, to 250 hp @ 4400 rpm and 325 lb·ft @ 3200 rpm for the base 400 engine. The optional 455 had the same rated horsepower (although at a peak of 3600 rpm), but substantially more torque. Most of the drop was attributable to the new rating system (which now reflected an engine in as-installed condition with mufflers, accessories, and standard intake): in real terms, the engines were relatively little changed from 1971.
A very rare option was the 455 HO engine, essentially similar to that used in the Trans Am. It was rated at 300 hp @ 4000 rpm and 415 lb·ft @ 3200 rpm, also in the new SAE net figures. Despite its modest 8.4:1 compression, it was as strong as many earlier engines with higher gross power ratings, yet like all other 1972-model engines, it could perform on low-octane regular leaded, low-lead or unleaded gasolines. Only 646 of these engines were sold.
Sales plummeted by 45%, to 5,811. (Some sources discount the single convertible and the three anomalous wagons, listing the total as 5,807.) Although Pontiac did not offer a production GTO convertible in 1972, a buyer could order a LeMans Sport convertible with either of the three GTO engines and other sporty/performance trappings to create a GTO in all but name. Even the GTO’s Endura bumper was offered as an option on LeMans/Sport models, with “PONTIAC” spelled out on the driver’s side grille rather than “GTO.”
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Once again an option package for the LeMans, the 1973 GTO shared the reskinned A-body with its “Colonnade” hardtop styling, which eliminated true hardtop design due to the addition of a roof pillar but retention of doorless framework. Rear side windows were now of a fixed design that could not be opened and in a trianglar shape. New federal laws for 1973 demanded front bumpers capable of withstanding 5 mph (8 km/h) impacts with no damage to the body (5 mph rear bumpers would come in 1974): the result was the use of prominent and heavy chrome bumpers front and rear. The overall styling of the 1973 Pontiac A-body intermediates (LeMans, Luxury LeMans, GTO and Grand Am) was generally not well received by the car buying public and often compared to public opinion of sportscaster Howard Cosell – you either really liked or disliked it. There was no middle ground. In contrast, the Pontiac Grand Prix and Chevrolet Monte Carlo, which were also derived from the intermediate A-body, were much better received due to their squared-off styling and formal rooflines with vertical opera windows. Pontiac’s sister division, Oldsmobile Oldsmobile , got more rave reviews from the automotive press and the car-buying public with the similar-bodied Cutlass S and Cutlass Supreme models, the Supreme coupe (borrowing the squared-off roofline and opera windows from the GP and Monte) itself outsold Pontiac’s entire LeMans/Grand Am/GTO lineup in 1973.
Once again the ’73 GTO option was offered on two models including the base LeMans coupe or the LeMans Sport Coupe. The base LeMans coupe featured a cloth-and-vinyl or all-vinyl bench seat while the more lavish LeMans Sport Coupe had all-vinyl interiors with Strato bucket seats or a notchback bench seat with folding armrest. The LeMans Sport Coupe also got the louvered rear side windows from the Grand Am in place of the standard triangular windows of the base LeMans.
The standard 400 in³ V8 in the 1973 GTO was further reduced in compression to 8.0:1, dropping horsepower to 230. The 400 engine was available with any of the three transmissions including the standard three-speed manual, or optional four-speed or Turbo Hydra-Matic. The 455 in³ V8 remained optional, but was detuned to 250 hp and available only with the Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission. The 455 HO engine did not reappear, but GM initially announced the availability of a Super Duty 455 engine (shared with the contemporary Pontiac Trans Am SD455), and several such cars were made available for testing, impressing reviewers with their power and flexibility. Nevertheless, the Super Duty was never actually offered for public sale in the GTO.
Sales dropped to 4,806, thanks in part to competition from the new LeMans-based Euro-style luxury sport sedan and coupe – the Grand Am, and lack of promotion for this year’s GTO. By the end of the model year an emerging energy crisis would deal a death blow to consumer interest in muscle cars. Most enthusiasts and Pontiac executives of the period typically agree that 1973 was the worst year for the GTO.
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For 1974 Pontiac’s intermediate-sized cars received minor styling revisions (including a more squared-off rear section with vertical taillights and a new federally-regulated five-mph bumper) that were a great improvement over the ’73 model, whose styling was likened to that of sportscaster Howard Cosell (see the 1973 heading for the Cosell comparison). The GTO, however, wasn’t part of the program, as it was dropped from the intermediate lineup it had been based on since its 1964 introduction. Wanting to avoid internal competion with the “Euro-styled” Pontiac Grand Am, and looking for an entry into the compact muscle market populated by the Plymouth Duster 360, Ford Maverick Grabber and AMC Hornet X, Pontiac moved the GTO option to the compact Pontiac Ventura, which shared its basic body shell and sheetmetal with the Chevrolet Nova. Critics dubbed it “a Chevy Nova in drag.”
The $195 GTO package included a three-speed manual transmission with Hurst floor shifter, heavy-duty suspension with front and rear anti-roll bars, a shaker hood, special grille, mirrors, and wheels, and various GTO emblems. The only engine was the 350 in³ V8 with 7.6:1 compression and a single four-barrel carburetor. It was rated at 200 hp (149 kW) @ 4400 rpm and 295 lb·ft (400 N·m) @ 2800 rpm. Optional transmissions included a wide-ratio four-speed with Hurst shifter or the three-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic.
The GTO option was available in both the base Ventura and Ventura Custom lines as either a two-door sedan or hatchback coupe. The base Ventura interior consisted of bench seats and rubber floor mats, while the Ventura Custom had upgraded bench seats or optional Strato bucket seats along with carpeting, cushioned steering wheel, and custom pedal trim.
Bias-belted tires were standard equipment, but a Radial Tuned Suspension option added the radial tires, along with upgraded suspension tuning for improved ride and handling. This marked the first and only year (until 2004) that radial tires would be offered in quantity on the GTO, discounting the unsuccessful and abortive effort of 1968.
Cars Magazine tested a 1974 GTO with the optional four-speed and obtained a 0-60 mph time of 7.7 seconds and a quarter mile reading of 15.72 seconds @ 88 mph (142 km/h).
Sales were an improvement over 1973, at 7,058, but not enough to justify continuing the model.
Pontiac had planned to offer a 1975 GTO, again based on the compact Ventura and powered by a Pontiac-built 350 in³ V8. The Ventura and other GM compacts underwent substantial styling and engineering changes, the latter including front and rear suspensions similar to the sporty Firebird/Camaro. In the end, however, the GTO was discontinued following a corporate decision to switch to Buick V8 engines on the ’75 Ventura line, though Pontiac V8s were continued in all other division models.
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The Pontiac GTO was relaunched in the United States in late 2003, based on the Holden Monaro’s Omega-derived platform. The revival was prompted by former GM chairman Bob Lutz, who drove a Holden Monaro while on a business trip in Australia. The GTO is produced in the suburb of Elizabeth South Australia, and is equipped with the Chevrolet Corvette’s LS1 V8 engine with a choice of a 6-speed manual transmission or a 4-speed automatic.
The same model is sold in the United Kingdom and as a Vauxhall and in the Middle East as a Chevrolet Lumina SS. GM North America struck a deal with Holden Holden for them to produce a maximum of 18,000 vehicles per year starting in late 2003 and going through to the end of the 2006 model year. 18,000 is the current limit agreed upon between GM and the UAW as to how many vehicles GM can import on a yearly basis.
GTO History Poster:
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