Pontiac GTO The First Ever American Muscle Car

Pontiac GTO The First-Ever American Muscle Car


Pontiac GTO Muscle car
Pontiac GTO Muscle car

The inception of the first-ever muscle car. 

When John Z DeLorean and his comrades teamed up to secretly bolt Pontiac Motor Division’s most powerful engine into a mid-sized chassis, despite the orders from the management of General Motors not to take part in such activity, they created something that should never have been and will never be again. Something that caused a revolution in the history of the American motor industry.

These were the times when the teenagers and wannabe teenagers were embracing anything that symbolized “sod off” at the authority. Drugs, extreme political views, hard rock, heavy metal, blues songs that were too taboo to play on the radio. By comparison, the performance-oriented cars are not that harmless, but not so according to the top management of General Motors.

There were several reasons for this mentality. The first of all is the strict rules enforced by the Automobile Manufacturer’s Association (AMA) on its members prohibiting any sort of participation in racing. Though this ban is more symbolic of less dictatorship, both Ford and Chrysler openly defied the ban, yet General Motors not so much.

The second reason is that the federal government of America was threatening to break up GM because of the company’s overall market share. This resulted in GM almost becoming an illegal monopoly, according to the antitrust laws established by the Government. This is not an idle threat, as the U.S government had broken up Standard Oil and American Steel for the very same reason.

So, the GM had to obey the AMA-enforced ban to keep themselves under the radar rather than attracting all the publicity that they attracted from racing. One wrong move and the future of the company was in doubt.

Whatever the reason is, GM was not receptive to the idea of creating a performance-oriented automobile.

This is why DeLorean and his team were working off-hours to create the first American muscle car – the Pontiac GTO. To comply with the orders given by the top management of GM, they offered the GTO to the customers as an option package to the Pontiac Tempest.

The GTO was a huge success as the public perception about it was very positive, despite the failure of GM management to grasp that at the time.

The GTO became a huge success and paved the way for a band of successors such as the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, and the Dodge Challenger. The GTO was the start of a new breed of performance-oriented automobiles aimed at a new breed of buyers. The Americans called them the baby boomers.

The Pontiac motor division was well known to create some quality and reliable cars back then, yet they had fallen to the bottom in the sales race among all the GM divisions by the mid-1950s. The reason for this is that a new generation of consumers was entering the market.

Once the automobile industry reorganized after World War II, a new market emerged for styling and performance. Rather than considering cars as utilitarian, the consumers wanted to look at their cars as extensions of themselves.  They wanted their cars to be stylistic and fast. In other words, they wanted their cars to express their personality. 

GM management had a serious decision to make because of the ever-falling sales. A decision to either kill the division or finding new management to run it. The president of the GM at the time, Harlow Curtis, appointed Semon E. Knudsen aka. Bunkie is the new general manager of Pontiac. Bunkie was given the goal of turning Pontiac profitable again within a five-year time period.

Back then, a division general manager was powerful and responsible for all the decision-making. Bunkie had very little sales experience yet he had it in his blood, much like his father, a former president of GM. Bunkie also enlisted Frank Bridge as a general sales manager at Pontiac.   He then proceeded on giving instructions to the engineers to create more powerful and stylists’ cars. Bunkie also recruited Eliot M Estes aka. Pete is the chief engineer at Pontiac. John DeLorean, a young engineer who was looking for work following the aftermath of the collapse of Packard.

This young engineer with the guidance of Bunkie Knudsen and Estes went on to pave the way to a decade of high-performance beautiful street machines that the world embraces as muscle cars. 

Bunkie Knudsen, as a real racing enthusiast, went on befriending many famous racers and race car enthusiasts such as Mickey Thompson, Smoky Yunick, and Ray Nichels. Knudsen was determined to win and to make a bold statement while doing that. He wanted to prove that Pontiac is capable of making not only reliable and well-built cars but also high-performing street machines.

Pontiac showed up at Daytona Beach in 1957 for the first time. Ray Nichels organized the whole thing and Pontiac drivers like John LittleJohn, Cotton Owens and John Zink Jr. dominated the mid-winter speed week events at Daytona beach.

Though early performance efforts were scored with aftermarket automotive parts, Knudsen wanted all these parts to be built and engineered in-house and he established Super Duty Group within the Engineering Department to just that.

Because of the Super Duty Package, the Pontiac become successful in stock car racing and also in drag strip as well.  The Pontiac dominance in these fields was best known among the race car drivers and teams.

Pontiac offered a wide varying range of cars. The Pontiac product line seemed endless. The Bonneville, Grand Prix, and Catalina models were available with an endless variety of options to capture the specific needs of every buyer. Eventually, by 1967, the Pontiac division climbed up to the sales chart position of number three after Chevrolet and Ford.

Knudsen’s vision of creating a performance-oriented image proved to be convincing enough for the general public to buy them.

With sales going on, by 1966, GM had grown to a level that they had a market share of more than 55%. This market share was considered to be too dominant and because of this, the Justice Department of the United States threatens to break up the corporation should they surpass or get closer to the 60% market share.

GM decided to kill all racing activity and ordered their divisions to discontinue all factory support of organized motorsport back in 1963. 

To keep their management happy, the Pontiac division then decided to take their newly founded success of racing off the track and put it on the street.

The first-ever prototype

According to Jim Wagners, the man behind the advertisement campaign to promote the GTO, the first prototype of the car was created at the GM Proving Grounds in Milford, Michigan.

John DeLorean was keen on trying new things as he was the chief engineer at the time. He would invite members of his engineering staff and selected a few to come out to Milford for a day of reviewing new ideas, innovations and to drive new cars to get their feedback. One day in 1963, a prototype 1964 Tempest coupe was equipped with a 326 cubic inch engine that was up on a lift.

DeLorean and his favorite comrades, Russ Gee and Bill Collins, both skilled engineers, were under the car inspecting the chassis. Bill Collins pointed out to DeLorean that a 389 cubic inch engine can be mounted into the car with the engine mounts being the same.   All three in unanimous agreement went to work to make it happen.

1964 Pontiac GTO
1964 Pontiac GTO

One week later they were greeted with another prototype 1964 Tempest Coupe. This prototype Tempest came with a 389 cubic inch engine, four-barrel carburetor backed with a four-speed Muncie transmission, and a rear limited-slip differential. People who got a chance to drive this car were impressed and they understood that this car is capable of outperforming all the rival car models.

The 389 cubic inch engine was exactly what the 3500 pounds Tempest needed as it had a good amount of low-end torque and mid-range horsepower. They made further improvements to the prototype to make it better. They proceeded on to add additional suspension tuning, a heavier clutch pad, and a race-oriented tire set. These improvements made the car way better than it used to be.

However, they had to decide on a new name to christen their new race car. DeLorean had something nasty in his mind.

Choosing the name

1965 Pontiac GTO Muscle car front
1965 Pontiac GTO Muscle car front

Ferrari at the time was using the term GTO in their limited production cars.

Technically Ferrari couldn’t claim the name as their own as the term was actually owned by the FIA (Federation Internationale Automobile). The term GTO meant Gran Turismo Omologato which translated into Grand Touring Homologated. Homologated means assembled from parts produced by the same manufacturer for different products into one final product. 

Both the Ferrari and Pontiac cars were Grand Touring cars. When it comes to the manufacturing process, all Pontiac had to do is mounting a big engine to their new lightweight mid-size Tempest or LeMans cars. When it came to Ferrari, they were installing a dual overhead cam V8 engine that they were using for racing in a street version of their race car. But their car was limited production and not meet the FIA standard that they had to build at least 100 vehicles to qualify for use of the name. Neither the Ferrari nor Pontiac could copyright it or prevent the other from using it. 

DeLorean decided to show the car to the general manager Pete Estes and sales manager Frank Bridge. He explained that it would be timely to kick off the Tempest/LeMans with the GTO. Bridge pointed out that GM is not allowing to build cars with more than 10 pounds of total vehicle weight per cubic inch of engine displacement. So, there was no way that the Engineering Policy Committee, the corporate group that governed the divisions would ever approve a 389 cubic inch engine-powered Tempest as a model.

Yet the three musketeers figured out that the committee only had an interest in new models and did not get involved with approving options. So, they decided to offer the 389 cubic inch engine as an option for the top edge LeMans Coupe and Convertible models. And, that’s how the GTO came to life.

The Sales manager Bridges wasn’t much optimistic about the potential market for the GTO, viewing it as a teenage hot rod, yet was convinced by the DeLorean to try to sell 5000 GTO pre-orders to the dealerships. In a matter of days, the 5000 pre-orders were sold out. Eventually, they received more than 15,000 new orders for the car. Both Estes and DeLorean knew that the GM corporation wouldn’t decide to cancel the car hence the market demand is too high.  They were right on that and when the GM management gave approval to the project, not only for Pontiac, but for the Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, and Buick as well.   Though the GTO was DeLorean’s baby, it would be stillborn if it wasn’t for Pete Estes. Pete Estes took a huge risk when he decided to go against the corporate policy at the time.

By October of 1963, the sales of the GTO began modestly as the availability was still limited. Though the public reaction to the car was good, and the dealers who were successful in selling them jumped right in, most of the dealers were slow to embrace the GTO until people began to enquire about it. But, a huge demand for the GTO came alive with the release of the 1964 March issue of Car and Driver magazine release. This issue came with the infamous cover story featuring a performance comparison between the Ferrari GTO and the Pontiac GTO.

1964 Pontiac GTO

The Pontiac GTO was available as an option package for the Pontiac LeMans. It was available as a coupe, hardtop, and convertible. 

The 6.4 liters (389 cubic inches) V8 was mated to a single Carter AFB four-barrel carburetor and dual exhaust pipes, chromed valve covers, air cleaner, a clutch fan, and a floor shifted three-speed manual transmission with a Hurst shifter unit. This powertrain setup delivered a maximum power output of 325 horsepower at 4800rpm. 

The stiffer springs, a larger diameter front sway bar, and wider wheels with 7.5×14 redline tires. 

The aesthetic differences were the hood scoop and the GTO badges. 

A four-speed manual transmission and a two-speed automatic Super Turbine transmission were also available as an option. 

The optional Tri-Power engine, a 6.4-liter V8 engine mated to a tri-power carburetion system, three two-barrel Rochester 2G carburetors, delivered 348 horsepower. 

The optional equipment also included a limited-slip differential, metallic drum brake linings, a heavy-duty cooling system, a tachometer, and a ride and handling package. 

The fully equipped Pontiac GTO came with a sticker price of about $4500 and weighed around 1600kg. 

The 1964 Pontiac GTO was a huge sales success, but more importantly, it reshaped a new generation of American performance cars.

Tempest GTO 0-100mph in 11.8 seconds.

Pontiac Sales Manager Jim Wagner, often considered as the man behind the advertising campaign behind the GTO, convinced the Car and Driver magazines editor David E Davis in late 1963, to feature a comparison test of Pontiac GTO and Ferrari GTO. Car and Driver had just recently changed its name from Sports Cars Illustrated, in an effort to feature more emphasis on American-made cars.  So, the author of the magazine also considered that it is time to work on the proposed idea.

And the infamous test happened between Christmas and the New Year of 1963. Car and Driver magazine rented the Daytona International Speedway and asked to provide a car as soon as possible. They also stated that they need the car for a week to test in New York City and then drive it all the way to Florida.

Though this was a win-win situation for Pontiac despite the outcome of the test, as they get to sit their car on the same track with a prestigious thoroughbred Ferrari. Ferrari, on the other hand, considered it an insult to be compared to a lousy blue-collar worker’s street hotrod. So, they never provided them a car.

As per the arrangement, the Pontiac managed to provide two Pontiac GTOs. A nocturne blue sports coupe, a pre-production pilot car. Both of them were featuring 348 horsepower 389 cubic inch Tri-Power engines, M 20 wide-ratio four-speed gearbox, and a 3.55:1 limited-slip rear end. The second car was a Grenadier Red Sport Coupe equipped with a Tri-power engine, a wide ratio four-speed gearbox, and a 3.55:1 rear-end slip. This car was ordered without the sound deadener to reduce weight. This GTO was then given to the Royal Pontiac, the official factory’s backdoor performance dealer. The Royal Pontiac changed the driveline to include a close-ratio four-speed gearbox and a limited 3.90 rear slip end and equipped it with the Royal Pontiac’s Bobcat package. 

All the details regarding the specifications and the hardware were shared with Car and Driver editors. But, the staff of the magazine was never told that the red car was actually fitted with a 421 cubic inch HO engine along with a close-ratio four-speed gearbox and a 3.90:1 rear-end slip. Only after fitting a 421 cubic inch engine, it was turned over to the Royal Pontiac for the Bobcat treatment. 

After a full day of testing at the Daytona Speedway, they came up with the following specs.

0 to 60 mph time of 4.6 seconds.

0 to 100 mph time of 11.8 seconds. 

When the March 1964 issue of Car and Driver hit the newsstands, it ignited GTO sales like wildfire. The car and driver cover page depicted a painting of the Pontiac GTO and the Ferrari GTO as the Ferrari never allowed their car to be used in a dishonorable knife fight. The cover line was the “Tempest GTO: 0 to 100 in 11.8 sec”. Many muscle car enthusiasts consider this specific moment as the first-time exposure of the American Muscle car to the public.

The red car with the 421 cubic inch HO engine was damaged during the testing and Jim Wagners had to use the blue production GTO to tow the damaged car back to Detroit, traveling over 1500miles.

The total sales of the 1964 GTO package are approximately 32,450 units.  

Royal Pontiac Bobcat

Throughout the 1960s, Royal Pontiac, a Pontiac dealership in Royal Oak, Michigan, offered a special tune-up package for 389 engines. 

The mechanical components and instructions on how to install them were also available as a mail-order package. Or anyone could visit the dealership to get their Pontiac tuned. 

Most of the promotional and media test vehicles were equipped with a Bobcat performance kit. 

The Bobcat performance package included thinner copper head gaskets to raise compression and parts to modify the stock spark advance of the distributor to advancing the timing at high rpm for increased power, a special intake manifold gasket to cool down the carburetor, larger carburetor jets, and locking rocker nuts to hold the hydraulic valve lifters at the maximum pint of adjustments to allow the engine to rev higher without floating the valves. 

This Bobcat performance kit increased the power output by 30 to 50 horsepower and it required high octane super-premium gasoline of 100 or more octane to avoid spark knocking and with higher compression and advanced timing.

1965 Pontiac GTO

1965 Pontiac GTO Coupe
1965 Pontiac GTO Coupe

The GTO which was actually based on Pontiac Tempest was restyled for the 1965 model year and came with stacked quad headlights. The wheelbase and interior dimensions were the same as before but the length of the car increased by 3.1 inches. 

Heavy-duty shocks and a stronger front antisway bar were included in the package as standard. 

An optional rally gauge cluster package added a tachometer and an oil pressure gauge. Transistor ignition was also available as an option. 

1965 Pontiac GTO Front
1965 Pontiac GTO Front

The 6.4-liter engines were given revised cylinder heads with re-cored intake passages and high-rise intake manifolds t improve airflow to the engine. 

The maximum power output was rated at 335 horsepower at 5000rpm and 424 lb-ft of torque at 3600rpm for the standard four-barrel engine. Tri-power engine produced a maximum of 360 horsepower at 5200rpm 431 lb-ft of torque at 3200rpm. 

The standard three-speed manual transmission. Buyers could pay extra to get an optional four-speed wide ratio manual gearbox or the four-speed close-ratio manual gearbox and a two-speed automatic transmission unit as well. 

 1965 Pontiac GTO

1965 Pontiac GTO

The hood scoop added to the restyled car was actually a simulated one and an optional dealer-installed package came with a metal under hood pan and gaskets to open the scoop to make it a cold air intake. The scoop wasn’t that effective as a cold air intake but it enhanced the engine sound. 

The optional metallic brake package and limited-slip differential improved handling and cornering. 

According to the Car Life Magazine’s test, a 1965 GTO with a tri-power engine and a close ration manual four-speed transmission, ran the quarter-mile in 14.5 seconds with a maximum speed of 100mph. The 0-60mph was rated at 5.8 seconds and the top speed was 114mph. This car also came with metallic brakes, power steering, rally wheels, and a 4.11 limited-slip differential. 

 1965 Pontiac GTO

1965 Pontiac GTO
 1965 Pontiac GTO
1965 Pontiac GTO

Motor Trend magazine tested a four-barrel engine-powered convertible car with a two-speed automatic transmission without a limited-slip differential. It ran the quarter-mile in 16.1 seconds with a top speed of 89mph. 0-60mph was achieved in 7 seconds. 

The stock four-wheel drum brakes were criticised by the Motor Trend and Road Test magazines for being not capable enough at a higher speed. 

The total sales of the GTO were 75,342. 

1966 Pontiac GTO 

1966 Pontiac GTO American muscle car
1966 Pontiac GTO American muscle car

The GTO was available until this model year as an optional paid performance package to the Tempest LeMans.

For the first time, the GTO was now available as a separate Pontiac model. 

The 1966 model also went through a restyling process and received a more curvaceous look with flaring fenders to achieve a Coke Bottle look. The taillights featured a louvered cover which was unique to the GTO. 

The rear track was increased one inch and the width increased a little to increase traction. 

For the 1966 model year, the GTO was available as a hardtop without B pillars, a pillared coupe, and a convertible. 

Plastic front grilles were used to replace the previous model years’ pot metal and aluminum variants, marking it as the first time an American company to do so. 

Optional Strato bucket seats, contoured sears, and adjustable headrests were also available. 

The instrument panel went through a redesign and the ignition switch was moved from the far left of the dash to the right of the steering wheel. 

1966 Pontiac GTO hardtop coupe
1966 Pontiac GTO hardtop coupe

The dashboard was highlighted by walnut veneer trim to make the GTO feel more unique. 

The Tri-power engine option was discontinued by the mid-model year and a new engine option was offered to replace it. The new engine option came with a factory-installed Ram Air set up with a new 744 high-life camshaft. 

Sales were increased to a staggering 96,946 cars, marking the 1966 model year as the year with the highest production figure for a GTO. 

1967 Pontiac GTO

1967 pontiac gto
1967 pontiac gto

The 1967 GTO went through little styling changes and received eight tail lights, four on each side. 

Optional Rally II wheels with lug nuts were also available for the 1967 model year. 

The grill was changed with some chrome detailing and the GTO emblems were located on the chrome rocker panels. 

The 1967 GTO was available as a hardtop, a convertible, or a sports coupe. 

The 6.4-liter (389 cubic inches) V8 engine received a larger cylinder bore increasing the total displacement of the engine to 6.6 liters.  

This engine was available in three packages, economy, standard, and high-performance variants. 

The economy package came with a two-barrel carburetor and delivered 265 horsepower at 4400rpm and 397 lb-ft of torque at 3400rpm. 

The standard package came with a power output of 335 horsepower at 5000rpm and 441 lb-ft of torque at 3400rpm.

The high-performance variant came with a new configuration. In previous years tri-power carburetion system was replaced with a four-barrel Rochester Quadrajet carburetor. This increased the power output to 360 horsepower at 5100rpm and 438lb-ft of torque at 3600rpm. 

To meet the emission requirements, the Californian cars came with a factory-installed emission control unit. 

In previous years two-speed automatic transmission was replaced with a three-speed Turbo Hydramatic TH 400 transmission unit. It came equipped with a Hurst dual gate shifter. The Hurst dual gate shifter was widely known as his or Her’s shifter as it permitted either automatic shifting in drive mode or manual input of gears. 

Front disc brakes were available as an option. 

It also came with new safety equipment. A new energy-absorbing steering wheel and a steering column. A padded instrument panel, non-protruding control knobs, and four wat emergency flashers, and the brake master cylinder were replaced with a dual reservoir unit with a backup hydraulic circuit. 

Shoulder belts were also an option. 

65,176 hardtops, 9517 convertibles, and 7029 sports coupes were produced. 

Second generation Pontiac GTO

1968 Pontiac GTO

1968 Pontiac GTO
1968 Pontiac GTO

General Motors redesigned its entire A-body line for the 1968 model year. The new redesign gave the cars a more curvaceous semi-fastback styling. 

Overall length and wheelbase were reduced and the height of the car also decreased by 1/2 an inch. 

However, a 34kg weight increase was noticeable, partly due to the newly added safety equipment.

The headlights were now arranged in a horizontal layout and the optional hidden headlights were well received by the enthusiasts. 

The unique hood scoop was replaced with a dual scoop system on either side of a hood bulge extending rearward from the protruding nose. 

 The Endura front bumper was designed in a way to absorb impact without permanent deformation at low speeds. The front bumper was also painted with the same body color. 

However, for the more conservative buyers, an Endura delete option was available to replace the Endura bumper with a traditional chrome front bumper and grille from the Pontiac LeMans coupe. 

 The mechanical and powertrain options were as same as the previous years but the standard GTO engine package now delivered 350 horsepower at 5000rpm.

1968 Pontiac GTO hood mounted tachometer
1968 Pontiac GTO hood-mounted tachometer

A new Ram Air II package was available from the mid-model year and came with a freer breathing cylinder head, round port exhaust, and a 041 camshaft. Despite the mechanical changes, the maximum power output remains the same. 

The 1968 Pontiac GTO came with drum brakes for all wheels as standard. Four-piston caliper disc brakes were available as an option. 

The 1968 model year marked as the last GTO to come with separate crank-operated front door vents. 

Concealed windshield wipers were also available as standard.

The optional hood-mounted tachometer was located in front of the windshield and lit for visibility at night. The in-dash tachometer was also available. 

The GTO also came with Redline bias ply tires as standard and optional whitewall tires were available at no extra cost. 

Optional radial tires offered better handling and improved ride quality, and despite the demand, only a few were delivered with radial tires due to manufacturing problems encountered at B.F Goodrich plants. Due to this reason the radial tire option was soon discontinued within the same year.   

Hot Rod magazine tested a factory stock GTO with a standard engine option and a four-speed gearbox and ran the quarter-mile in 14.7 seconds with a top speed of 97mph. They name it as the best handling Pontiac ever built. 

Motor Trend testes a Ram Air engine powered GTO with a four-speed gearbox and a 4.33 limited-slip differential at the rear. It ran the quarter-mile in 14.45 seconds with a top speed of 99.2mph. A standard GTO with a Turbo Hydramatic gearbox and a 3.23 rear axle ratio ran the quarter-mile in 15.93 seconds with a top speed of 88.3mph. 

All the US-bound GTO cars came with front outboard shoulder belts and side marker lights and a factory-installed emission control unit as standard to comply with new safety and emission control regulations.  

It also won the Motor Trend Car of the year award. 

The total sales for 1968 were marked at 87,684 units. 

1968 Royal Pontiac GTO

the Royal Pontiac offered a 428 Royal Bobcat performance package for the 1968 Pontiac GTO. This package cost $650. This package came with a 7-liter (428 cubic inch) engine instead of the 400 cubic inch engine offered by the factory.

The 428 cubic inch engine was disassembled and reengineered to deliver 390 horsepower and an rpm redline of above 5700rpm.

Car and Driver magazine tested a 1968 Royal Pontiac 428 Bobcat GTO with a Turbo hydramatic transmission and a 3.55 gear ratio. It reached 0-60mph in 5.2 seconds and 0-100mph in 12.9 seconds. It ran the quarter-mile in 13.8 seconds with a top speed of 104mph. They also tested a 6.5-liter (400 cubic inch) engine-powered factory GTO with a Ram Air option, four-speed transmission, and a 3.90 gear ratio. This car reached 0-60mph in 6.6 seconds, 0-100mph in 14.6 seconds, and it ran the quarter-mile in 14.53 seconds with a top speed of 99.7mph.    

 1969 Pontiac GTO

1969 Pontiac GTO front
1969 Pontiac GTO front

The 1969 GTO came with few interior and exterior changes such as new taillights, an ignition key in the steering column instead of the dashboard to lock the steering wheel when the key was removed, and black color gauge dials. The rear side marker lamps were also changed to look similar to the broader GTO badge. 

The Pontiac GTO was powered by the same 6.6 liters (400 cubic inches) V8 engine and it came in three performance variants.  The economy and standard package delivered 350 horsepower. The previous Ram Air II option was updated with the Ram Air III package and delivered 366 horsepower at 5100rpm.

The top-of-the-line Ram Air IV package delivered 370 horsepower at 5500 and 445 lb-ft of torque at 3900rpm. Ram Air IV package includes special header like high flow exhaust manifolds, high flow cylinder heads, a unique high rise aluminum intake manifold, and a larger Rochester Quadrajet 4-barrel carburetor and high life long-duration camshaft. To cope with the added engine power and torque outputs many internal mechanical components were replaced with heavy-duty ones. 

 The power output of the Ram Air IV package was actually underrated by the GM to comply with their internal politics regarding limiting all cars to deliver no more than one advertised horsepower per 4.5kg of curb weight, with the only exception being the Corvette. 

Here Come de Judge

1969 Pontiac GTO the judge
1969 Pontiac GTO the judge

An all-new Judge package was introduced by the Pontiac. The “Judge” naming was a reference to a famous comedy program called “Laugh-In” TV show. The Pontiac advertising department used catchy slogans like “All rise for the judge” to promote the vehicle. 

The Judge was supposed to become a low-cost high performing GTO with stripped features to compete with the Plymouth Road Runner. 

The judge package added an extra $332 on top of the price of the standard GTO and included the Ram Air III performance package, Hurst shifter with a unique T-shaped handle, Rally II wheels, and wider tires. The exterior received various decals and a rear spoiler. 

The rear spoiler improved downforce at higher speeds but offered little to no functional effect at slower speeds. 

1969 Pontiac GTO the judge
1969 Pontiac GTO the judge

the only color options for the judge package were Carousel Red at first, and many other colors were made available by the mid-model year. 

 For the 1969 model year, 72,287 GTO cars were sold. Only 6833 out of those received the Judge package.  

1970 Pontiac GTO

The Tempest model line including the GTO received a new facelift for the 1970 model year and the hidden headlights were replaced with an exposed round headlamp outboard of narrower grille openings, while the protruding looks of the nose were less prominent than before. The GTO cars came with the Endura urethane cover around the grille and headlamps while the Tempest and LeMans came with chrome grilles. 

 The addition of a rear anti-roll bar improved body roll. This is the same anti-roll bar used on the Oldsmobile 442 and Buick Gran Sport. The front anti-roll bar was slightly stiffer. These rear and front roll bars resulted in improved cornering and overall handling. 

The optional variable-ratio power steering varied its ratio from 14.6:1 to 18.9:1. The turning radius was reduced from 40.9 to 37.4 feet. 

The economy engine option wasn’t available for the 1970 model year. The standard engine was the same as it was in 1969. Ram Air III and Ram Air IV packages were also available. Ram Air IV was now offered as a special-order option. 

An all-new 7.4-liter (455 cubic inch) engine option was made available. Previously GM offered only 400 cubic inch or lower displacement engines to comply with its internal politics. 

1970 Pontiac GTO engine
1970 Pontiac GTO engine

The 7.4-liter V8, a long-stroke engine was also available in the Grand Prix and full-size Pontiac models. 

Pontiac rated the maximum output of the engine at 360 horsepower at 4300rpm. In comparison, the standard engine delivered 350 horsepower while the Ram Air III package delivered 366 horsepower. However, the same engine made 370 horsepower when installed in the Grand Prix according to the Pontiac brochures. However, it delivered an astonishing 500 lb-ft of torque at 2700rpm. An optional Ram Air scoop was also available to improve performance. 

Car and Driver magazine tested a GTO with a 455 V8 engine, a turbo hydramatic transmission with a 3.55 rear differential. This car achieved 0-60mph in 6.6 seconds.  

An optional vacuum-operated exhaust reduced exhaust backpressure and increased power and performance. It also increases exhaust noise. Only 233 1970 GTO cars with factory-installed vacuum-operated exhaust were made, 212 hardtop coupes and 21 convertibles. This option was available from November 1969 to January 1970. These cars came with 1969 judge stripes and turbo hydramatic transmission, Rally II wheels, hood-mounted tachometer, a formula steering wheel, remote mirror, and A/C. 

1970 Judge

The Judge package came with a Ram Air III as standard while the Ram Air IV also an extra paid option. The 7.4-liter V8 engine was also offered for the Judge by the end of the 1970 model year. 

Orbit Orange color was the trademark Judge color, but all the GTO colors were also available as options. 

1970 Pontiac GTO Ram Air IV

The 1970 Pontiac GTO Ram Air IV was a well-built, well-balanced car. Not only it was nice handling, one of the fastest on the streets, but also it offered a comfortable ride. The GTO was capable of running the quarter-mile in lower than 14 seconds at a top speed of 98 mph to 102.5 mph. 

The Ram Air IV 400 cubic inch V8 engine was bolted to the chassis with the help of four-bolt main bearings to make sure it can take the extra pressure and demand for more power. The camshaft was a brand-new design with 308 degrees intake duration, 329 degrees exhaust duration, Rochester Quadrajet carburetion on a cast iron intake manifold instead of a Tri-power set up to make it more efficient.  To improve the system, even more, the Ram IV heads featured huge round exhaust ports and two center exhaust ports to improve the exhaust breathing.

This almost perfect setup was further improved with a high flow exhaust manifold, forged pistons, and lightweight valvetrain components and calibration for the ignition system, and a Quadrajet carburetor to add more horsepower to the Ram Air Iv setup.

A chrome valve cover, chrome air cleaner, and a chrome oil cap were added to improve the looks of the performance unit.

The Ram Air IV 400 V8 delivered 370 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 445 lb-ft of torque at 3900 rpm max.

The Pontiac GTO Ram Air IV package was provided as a $558.20 option to comply with the AMA legislation. The base price of the 1970 GTO coupe was $3267, but with options, it could easily pass the $4500 mark.

These cars came with a four-speed close-ratio Muncie transmission unit, a 3.90 rear axle with a Safe T Track slip differential. Options like the ride and handling suspension, a gauge system, creature comforts, Rally II wheels were also available in addition to the base price.

The interior fit and finish were well made. The deluxe package gave the car a posh, comfortable, and well-finished interior. Even the standard interior came with proper fit and finish when compared with the rivals of the day.

1970 Pontiac GTO was also widely praised by the magazines and enthusiasts alike for the handling and butter-smooth shifting capabilities of the Muncie transmission unit. The handling vastly improved due to the installation of an anti-roll bar to stabilize the car and to reduce the body roll in the corners. Pontiac engineers introduced this technology for the 1970 model year of the legendary GTO, but rivals like the Oldsmobile 4 4 2 had had this since 1964. Most of the muscle cars at the time were heavily understeered making it feel like that the car was pushing the front end too hard, but the GTO wasn’t that savage at all. There was a little understeer but it never felt as brutal as in other muscle cars.

Pontiac once used to be the leader when it comes to automotive innovations, but by 1970, they were far behind when it comes to tires. Most of the top tire muscle cars of the day came with G60-15 coded 15-inch wheels with 7-inch thickness to improve the traction and stability of the car. Pontiac was still using the G70-14 coded 14-inch wheels with 6-inch thickness. The 14×6 wheels were proven to be successful in both track and streets, but they were outdated and inefficient when it comes to 1970 standards. So, for 1971, they offered the G60-15 wheels as an option.  

Only 627 were ever made for the 1970 model year. The reason for this is that the car was the fastest GTO at the time, yet it was too expensive and not that fast enough to beat the competition from serious rivals.

Only 40,149 GTO cars were sold as 1970 model year cars.

3793 out of those were the judges. Only 168 convertibles were ordered with the Judge package with Ram Air III, Ram Air IV, or 455 HO options. 

Six out of those 168 Judge convertibles came with a 455HO V8 engine.

The fallen sales were largely due to the skyrocketing insurance premium costs and new emission regulations. The restyling wasn’t well received either as many preferred the 1969 model years look. 

1971 Pontiac GTO

1971 Pontiac GTO muscle car
1971 Pontiac GTO muscle car

The 1971 GTO received a minor facelift with wire mesh grilles, horizontal bumper bars on either side of the grille opening, closely spaced headlamps, a new hood with aggressive dual scoops to the leading edge. 

 GM decided to make their engines run on no-lead gasoline due to the environmental hazards. However, this resulted in decreased compression ratios and Ram Air engines were not available for the 1970 model year due to this. 

1971 Pontiac GTO rear
1971 Pontiac GTO rear
1971 Pontiac GTO with Endura bumper and RAM air induction
1971 Pontiac GTO with Endura bumper and RAM air induction
1971 Pontiac GTO
1971 Pontiac GTO

The standard 6.5-liter V8 engine now came with an 8.2:1 compression ratio. Power output was 300 horsepower at 4800rpm and 400 lb-ft of torque at 3600rpm.

The 6.5-liter V8 with a four-barrel carburetor, 8.4:1 compression delivered 325 horsepower at 4400rpm.

The 6.4-liter V8 engine was available only with a Turbo Hydramatic TH-400 transmission unit. 

The top-performing 455HO option with a 7.4-liter (455 cubic inch) V8 with 8.4:1 compression delivered 335 horsepower at 4800 from and 480 lb-ft of torque at 3600rpm. 

Motor Trend tested a 455Ho option GTO with a four-speed transmission and a 3.90 rear axle. This car achieved 0-60mph in 6.1 seconds and ran the quarter-mile in 13.4 seconds with a top speed of 102mph. 

1971 Judge

1971 Pontiac GTO The Judge
1971 Pontiac GTO The Judge

The 1971 model year marked as the last year for the Judge package. Every judge came with a standard Mountain performance package. The only engine available was the 455HO. 1971 Judge was discontinued in February and only 357 were sold including the 17 convertibles. 

Only 10,532 GTO cars were sold for the 1971 model year and 661 of these were non-Judge convertibles. 

The 1971 Judge is considered as one of the rarest muscle cars ever with the convertibles being the most sought after. 

1971 model year also marked as the final year to offer the GTO as a separate model. 

1972 Pontiac GTO

The GTO was offered as an optional performance package for the LeMans and LeMans sports coupes. 

GTO package was available for pillared coupe or hardtop coupe variants of the base LeMans coupe or LeMans Sports coupes. 

The LeMans-based cars came with cloth and vinyl or entirely vinyl bench seats as standard. The pillared coupe came with rubber floor mats while the hardtop came with carpets. 

LeMans Sports coupe-based GTO was offered only as a hardtop and came with Strato bucket seats upholstered in vinyl along with carpeting on the floor and lower door panels, vinyl door pulls straps, custom pedal trim, and cushioned steering wheel. 

A ducktail rear spoiler was planned to make available as an option for the GTO package and few cars were actually sold with factory-installed ducktail rear spoilers. This option was canceled after the mold used to produce the spoiler broke. 

Rally II wheels and honeycomb wheels were optional.

The powertrain options were either a base 6.5-liter (400 cubic inch) engine delivering 250 horsepower at 4400rpm and 325 lb-ft of torque at 3200rpm or a 7.4-liter (455 cubic-inch) V8 delivering 250 horsepower at 3600rpm. The reduced maximum power output was largely due to the adaptation of the new rating system. 

The optional 455HO engine option was now rated at 300 horsepower at 4000rpm and 415 lb-ft of torque at 3200rpm. Only 646 cars were sold with this engine option. 

Only 5811 GTO cars were sold for the entire 1972 model year. This figure is including the single GTO convertible and three anomalous wagons. 

Pontiac did not offer a convertible option for the GTO due to the low demand, but anyone could order a LeMans Sports convertible with either of the three GTO powertrain options. Even the GTO-specific Endura front bumper was also available on the LeMans and LeMans Sports cars with Pontiac badging. 

Third generation GTO

1973 Pontiac GTO

The third generation GTO was unveiled for the 1973 model year as an option package for the LeMans or LeMans Sports coupes and featured a redesigned A body with fastback-styled hardtop. 

The fastback retained the frameless door windows despite the addition of a roof pillar. Front and rear bumpers featured a chrome finish. 

1973 Pontiac GTO front
1973 Pontiac GTO front
1973 Pontiac GTO
1973 Pontiac GTO

The lackluster styling wasn’t well-received by the public or media. 

The GTO based on LeMans coupe featured cloth and vinyl or all-vinyl bench seats while the LeMans sports coupe-based GTO featured an all-vinyl interior with Strato bucket seats or a notchback bench seat with folding armrest. 

The standard 6.5-liter (400 cubic inch) V8 with 8.0:1 compression delivered just 230 horsepower. This engine was available with either a three-speed manual which came as standard, an optional four-speed, or a turbo hydramatic transmission. 

The 7.4-liter (455 cubic inches) V8 delivered 250 horsepower and the only transmission option was a turbo hydra Matic transmission unit. 

Only 4806 were sold in 1973. 

Fourth-generation GTO

1974 Pontiac Ventura GTO
1974 Pontiac Ventura GTO

The fourth-generation GTO was unveiled in 1974 and it was available as an option to the Pontiac Ventura, a car that shared its body structure and most of the body panels with the Chevrolet Nova. 

The GTO package added a cost of $461 on top of the based Ventura. It came with a manual Hurst floor shifter, heavy-duty suspension with front and rear anti-roll bars as standard. 

A special grille, wing mirrors, wheels, and GTO emblems along with a shaker hood made it look unique. 

The only available powertrain option was a 5.7-liter V8 engine with a 7.6:1 compression and a Rochester 4MC Quadrajet carburetor, delivering 200 horsepower at 4400rpm and 295 lb-ft of torque at 2800rpm. 

Optional wide ration four-speed with Hirst shifter or a three-speed Turbo hydramatic was also available. 

Power front disc brakes and power steering were also an extra paid option. 

1974 Pontiac GTO ventura
1974 Pontiac GTO ventura

The Ventura-based GTO was available in both Ventura and Ventura Custom. It was available either as a two-door coupe or a hatchback coupe. 

the Ventura based GTO came with bench seats and rubber floor mats with bucket seats as an option. Ventura Custom came with standard upgraded bench seats or optional Strato bucket seats along with carpeting, custom pedal trim, and a cushioned steering wheel.  

 belted tires were the standard and radial tires were available as an option to improve handling and ride quality.

Motor Trend tested the 1974 GTO and came with disappointing results. The 0-60mph was achieved in 9.5 seconds and it ran the quarter-mile in 16.5 seconds with a top speed of 84mph. 

Car magazine tested a 1974 GTO with an optional four-speed manual transmission unit. this can be achieved 0-60mph in 7.7 seconds and ran the quarter-mile in 15.72 seconds with a top speed of 88mpg. 

Total sales for the 1974 model year were 7058, an improvement over previous year 4806. But, the public and media response to the fourth generation GTO was anything but embracing or encouraging. 

New emission control laws and skyrocketing insurance premiums eventually resulted in the discontinuation of the original GTO. 

Pontiac GTO fun facts.

  • To highlight the Euro aspirations of its new GTO, the Pontiac measured the engine in cubic liters instead of American cubic inches.
  • Pontiac GTO is the one that introduced European style long hood, short deck body proportions to the American consumer market.
  • Vents atop the hood were not doing anything to improve cooling or breathing. They were fake and merely a stylistic decision. They look badass.
  • The Hurst stick shifted the larger cogs in the optional four-speed gearbox with smooth precision when compared to the other products of the era.
  • Pontiac never offered styled wheels on the 1964-year GTO. The spinner wheel covers were an expensive option.
  • The Tri-power engine is the most famous performance option. This engine consists of three two-barrel carburetors and, this option was first offered in 1957. The howling noise this engine made and the way a tri-power Pontiac accelerates made this engine the most sought after among Pontiac enthusiasts.
  • Every stick shift GTO came with standard bucket seats and it was a no-cost option. 
    Manually shifted cars came with a floor-mounted Hurst shifter and with or without the optional console.
  • The factory gauge package and the wood-style steering wheel and the machined aluminum dashboard are based on the aspirations of European performance cars.
  • Power steering was an option. The optional fake wood steering wheel had to be larger to provide enough leverage to get better handling. 


During the 1999 Detroit motor show, a new concept car with styling cues paying tribute to the 1960s GTO cars was unveiled. It had a coke bottle shape, hood scoop, and a grille inspired by the old 1960s cars. It also featured a hood-mounted tachometer, twin hood scoops, split grilles, and GTO emblem. Lack of funds eventually resulted in the discontinuation of the project and not even working prototypes were made. 



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