Hi again Folks & welcome to FLAT OUT.

Remember last time when I said I wasn’t here to talk about the GTO…yet? Well, I’m here to talk about the GTO…

The Pontiac GTO

The GTO was the original high-horsepower factory musclecar back in 1964, a car so special that Ronny & the Daytonas, Jan & Dean, AND the Beach Boys sang about it.

Little GTO

You’re really lookin’ fine

Three deuces and a four-speed

And a three eighty-nine

–  Ronny & the Daytonas, Little GTO

Pontiac started making street cars more performance-oriented after the 1963 GM ban on factory racing. John Z. DeLorean, chief engineer at Pontiac (yes, THAT John Z. DeLorean, later of DeLorean Motor Company fame and infamy), Bill Collins and Russ Gee envisioned a new type of car for the Baby Boomer generation coming of age. DeLorean spoke to young people in the hot rod and street racing culture about what they wanted to see in new cars. He got his answer in typical hot-rodder fashion: high horsepower, fast, good looking and affordable to the young person. He introduced what was then an option package for the intermediate A-body Pontiac Tempest and called it GTO. GTO stood for Gran Turismo Olmalgato, a name he blatantly borrowed from the Ferrari 250 GTO race cars he had seen, although as far as Pontiac management were concerned GTO stood for Grand Tempest Option. There was already talk within Pontiac about turning the second-generation Tempest, a boxy intermediate car, into a sporty model. They transplanted the 389 cu. in. engine from the full-size Catalina and Bonneville into the LeMans trim package of the Tempest to replace the standard 326 cubic inch V-8 and the GTO was born.

Until the GTO, General Motors had a policy limiting A-Body intermediate cars to 330 cu. inch displacement. Even so, Pontiac’s general manager green-lighted the project. The sales manager, however, believed there was no market for a car such as the GTO and limited initial production to 5000 cars. Much to his surprise, they sold 32,450 ’64 GTOs. Pontiac had a hit.

First Generation 1964-1967

Right out of the gate the GTO was offered in coupe, hardtop and convertible versions. A 325 HP 389 with a Rochester 4-barrel carb was standard, or the Tri-Power option gave you 3 2-barrel Rochester carbs (the “three deuces” in the song) and 348 HP. 3 and 4 speed Hurst manual transmissions and a 2-speed automatic were available. The GTO package included bucket seats, an aluminum instrument panel surround, a larger sway bar and stiffer springs and shocks. The car was affectionately dubbed “The Goat” by fans.

In 1965 the front end was re-designed to the classic Pontiac quad stacked headlight design.

Engine options remained the same, but the ’65 got new cylinder heads with re-cored intake passages and a high-rise manifold with a fake hood scoop. This increased power to 335 HP for the 4-barrel and 360 for the Tri-Power option. Both close and wide-ratio four speed transmissions were offered. The wheelbase was the same as ’64, but overall length was up by 3.1 inches. This is my personal favorite year for the GTO because my brother’s best friend in high school owned a 65 Tri-Power and I saw it a lot growing up. A lot of people prefer the ’67 but the personal connection elevates this one above the others for me.

1966 saw a re-styling of the rear fenders that “kicked up” in the middle for a more “Coke bottle” look than the relatively flat tops of the ’65 fenders. The grills now tapered towards the middle and were made of plastic instead of the pot metal and aluminum grills of previous models. GTO was first car to do this.

The taillights now had louvered covers, exclusive to the GTO. Engines and carbs were the same as ’65, but the Tri-Power option was dropped mid-year, replaced by the XS Package with a factory Ram Air option and a high-lift cam with the same 360 HP as the Tri-Power, but only 35 were factory installed and 300 kits were shipped to dealers. Despite the loss of Tri-Power, the GTO sold 96,946 units, its best year ever.

When you ask someone to point out a GTO, they will probably go to a picture of the ’67. The grill now had an “egg-crate” design as well as a gap between the bumper and the sheetmetal in the center.

GTO badging on the bottom of the front fenders now moved to the chrome rocker panels and eight taillights, four on each side, replaced the louvered taillights of the previous year. The 389 engine was bored out to 400 cu. in. and was offered in three flavors; Economy with a 2-barred Rochester carb and 265 HP, Standard with a 4-barrel and 335 HP or High Output with a 4-barrel and the same 360 HP as the previous Tri-Power or XS Package, but there was no Tri-Power option. An optional hood-mounted tachometer was also offered.  Safety equipment also made its way into the GTO in ’67. An energy-absorbing steering wheel, padded dashboard and non-protruding knobs were standard and a shoulder belt was offered as an option. The master cylinder now featured a dual reservoir. The brakes had been a complaint of reviewers since 1964, and front disc brakes were optional for the first time. The two-speed automatic was replaced with the new three-speed Turbo-Hydromatic model with a dual-gate shifter that allowed drivers to shift through the gears manually in addition to leaving it in Drive.

Second Generation 1968-1972

GM restyled its entire intermediate A-Body line for 1968 to a semi-fastback style reminiscent of the F-Body Chevy Camaro / Pontiac Firebird introduced the year before. The headlights reverted to four inline to match the new body style and a new plastic body-color “Endura” bumper was fitted along with a plastic protruding piece in the center of the grill. This plastic bumper could supposedly withstand a very low-speed impact and not deform out of shape. If a buyer ordered their GTO as “Endura delete” a standard chrome bumper was fitted. Hidden headlights were a popular option as well. Dual hood scoops on either side of a new centerline hood bulge completed the look of the new front end. The new hood design also concealed the windshield wipers for a cleaner, more aerodynamic look.

Powertrains were the same as ’67 with the “Standard” engine now sporting a power increase to 350 HP. Mid-year a ram air option called “Ram Air II” was offered which also included freer-breathing heads, round port exhaust, a hotter cam and a 3.90:1 rear differential. The official HP number remained the same as the High Output engine at 360, but in reality was probably substantially increased. The hood-mounted tachometer was still an option. The new body style was a hit with buyers, it sold in numbers second only to the ’66.

The ’69 model saw slight revisions to the grill and taillights, and rear quarter panel the side markers that had been a “V” shape now resembled the GTO badge. 

Economy and Standard engine HP remained the same, but Pontiac now offered two Ram Air options: Ram Air III rated at 366 HP and Ram Air IV with special header-like high flow exhaust manifolds, high-flow cylinder heads, a high-rise aluminum intake manifold, a larger Rochester Quadrajet 4-barrel carb, a high-lift, long-duration camshaft, forged steel crankshaft and other internal components capable of withstanding higher RPM and power output. The Ram Air IV utilized hydraulic lifters, unlike big-block Chevy engines and Chrysler Hemis. As a result it did not overheat in traffic or foul spark plugs and set it apart from other large-displacement muscle cars of the era.

Detroit was understating the power output of their engines due to insurance companies raising rates on the high-output muscle cars favored by young people. GM had a policy of advertising no more than 1 HP per 10 pounds of body weight, the exception being the Corvette. The output of the Ram Air IV 400 engine was likely substantially more than the stated 370 HP.

A new option for the GTO became available in 1969…The Judge. The name originated with the Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In comedy routine called “Here Comes The Judge”. Some advertising slogans were “All Rise For The Judge” and “The Judge Can Be Bought.

Initially conceived as a low-cost basic model to compete with the likes of the inexpensive Plymouth Road Runner, along the development track it became a desirable true muscle car with a Ram Air III engine, styled wheels, a Hurst shifter with a T-handle, wider tires, “Judge” decals and a rear spoiler. Initially offered only in Carousel Red, The Judge became available in other colors later in the model year.

1970 saw a revised front end with a less prominent center nose and narrower grill openings. The front anti-sway bar was stiffer and a rear one was added resulting in less body roll and understeer. Variable-ratio power steering was introduced, reducing the GTO’s turning radius. The Economy engine was dropped and Ram Air IV was now a special-order option. A new power plant became available as GM rescinded their ban on engines larger than 400 cu. in. in intermediates: the Pontiac 455. At 360 HP it was only moderately higher output then the now-base Standard engine and less than the Ram Air III. The advantage was torque: 500 ft. lbs. vs 445 for any of the 400 cu. in. engines.

The 1970 GTO also debuted another option: vacuum operated exhaust, or VOE. VOE reduced exhaust back-pressure to increase HP and performance and was operated by an under-dash lever via a cable. It also substantially increased the exhaust note. Higher insurance rates (sometimes exceeding the car payment) drove muscle car sales down across the board in 1970 and beyond.

The Judge remained a separate model with standard Ram Air III or optional Ram Air IV. The standard Judge color was now Orbit Orange, but could be had in any GTO color.

The 1971 GTO saw another facelift with wire-mesh grilles, horizontal bumper bars on either side of the grill openings, more closely spaced headlamps and a new hood with dual scoops relocated to the leading edge. GM reduced compression ratios across the board in preparation for the advent of unleaded gasoline, with devastating effect on performance. Both Ram Air engines were dropped and the Standard engine, now with 8.2:1 compression, only managed 300 HP. The 455 was still an option, but dropped to 325 HP. An HO version of the 455 only managed 10 more HP and 480 lb. ft. of torque.

’71 was the final year for The Judge, with the 455 HO as the standard engine. 374 units were produced until The Judge was discontinued in February, including 17 convertibles…the rarest of all GTOs.

By 1972 the GTO had reverted once again to an option package for the LeMans and LeMans Sport. The package on the LeMans gave you bench seats in either vinyl or vinyl and cloth and rubber floor mats, creating a lower-priced GTO. The LeMans Sport option package gave you carpet, bucket seats, and a cushioned steering wheel like previous GTOs. Power was down for the 400 to 250 HP, although some of that can be attributed to manufacturers rating engines in SAE Net HP that accounted for mufflers and a standard intake instead of the previous brake HP (BHP). The 455 sourced from the Trans Am was now a rare option giving 300 HP and 415 lb. ft of torque with 8.4:1 compression. Only 646 455-equipped GTOs were sold out of a dismal overall ’72 sales figure of 5811.

Third Generation 1973

The GM A-Body cars received another restyle in 1973 with all-new bodywork. Rear windows were now non-opening. New Federal law stated that all front bumpers must withstand a 5 MPH impact with no damage to the body, resulting in heavy chrome bumpers front and rear. The styling change on the LeMans / GTO was not well-received, although other GM cars with similar body styles such as the Pontiac Grand Prix and Chevy Monte Carlo were.

The GTO was offered as the same option package for the LeMans / LeMans Sport for ’73. The 400 engine had its compression ratio further reduced to 8.0:1, resulting in a drop to 230 HP. The 455 was optional and put out 250 HP. The 455 HO was not offered for ’73.

Fourth Generation 1974

Pontiac wanted to avoid competition for the new “Euro-styled” Grand Am in the intermediate class and compete in the compact muscle car segment against the likes of the Plymouth Duster 360, so in 1974 the GTO option was moved to the compact X-Body Ventura, which shared most sheetmetal with the Chevy Nova. A three-speed manual with Hurst shifter was offered and a 4-speed or a Turbo-Hydromatic 3-speed automatic were optional. Heavy-duty suspension with front and rear anti-roll bars, a shaker hood scoop, special grill, and GTO emblems rounded out the Ventura GTO package. The base GTO again came with a bench seat with bucket seats as an option. The only engine available was a Rochester Quadrajet carb equipped 350 with a reduced 7.6:1 compression ratio that produced a mere 200 HP, a far cry from the fire-breathing 370+ HP Ram Air IV of ’69 and ’70 or even the original 325 HP 389 from ten years before.

GTO fans were unimpressed and the writing was on the wall for all muscle cars in 1974. Even slightly improved sales numbers could not save the GTO. The option was dropped for 1975.

Fifth Generation 2004-2007

I will make a brief mention of the Australian Holden Monaro-based GTO that sold in the US from 2004-2007. It had an outdated (for 2004) styling that looked nothing like previous GTOs and sold poorly against competition from the retro-looking Mustang, Charger and Challenger. It was a limited 3-year production run selling a total of 40,808, less than half a thousand more than the original ’64.

Got a Goat story? Tell it! Reminisce about your other favorite cars, too!

Seeyas next time on FLAT OUT!

It’s Jeff Despicable Boofer

?? NEW DOUBLE BARREL: Tomorrow Night @ 19:00 PDT ?