The Pontiac GTO’s image pops up in most enthusiasts’ heads when trying to pinpoint the start of the golden years of muscle cars. It stood out among car enthusiasts when first produced in 1964. Equipped with an earth-shattering V8, hood scoops (fake), and fire-spitting double exhausts, it had basics that set the bar for muscle cars that followed, like the Dodge Charger and Chevy Chevelle. Put to the test, it beat the fuel-injected 375-horsepower Corvette down the quarter-mile, while the Ferrari GTO it stole its name from could only beat it around a racetrack.; not the drag strip, according to Car and Driver.
Sleek, fast, eye-catching, and powerful, this was no ordinary cruiser; it was a drag racer disguised as a mid-sized humble daily driver. The Pontiac GTO lasted 10 years (1964 to 1974) and was very affordable for the masses. Because of this and a very effective marketing campaign, it had groundbreaking sales in the first 2 years – everyone wished to roll in a GTO. But not everyone knew what GTO stood for; some stood it claimed for “Gas, Tires, and Oil,” while others thought it was an abbreviation for the “Greatest Tempest Option.” To avoid being in the same boat, here are 10 awesome facts about the Pontiac GTO classic car.
10 A Pioneer Muscle Car
Ask any old gearhead which American car sparked the muscle car wars of the ’60s, and they’ll tell you it’s the Pontiac GTO. While the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 already existed, the Pontiac GTO is widely considered the first true American muscle car, having brought the ’60s performance revolution with its beefy 389-inch V8 fitted into a light mid-sized car body.
The engine made between 325 and 348 horses depending on the setup, which guaranteed that a 0-60 mph sprint could be achieved in 5.7- seconds with the top speed being 120 mph (Motortrend). While other rivals might have caught up to the GTO’s speed and performance, automotive industry history books have it as the first muscle car for the masses.
9 Initially Produced As An Optional Performance Package
Using the old and proven hot-rod formula, the 1964 Pontiac GTO was made by taking a 389 cu in V8 from the full-size Bonneville and fitting it into the mid-sized Tempest LeMans. This high-performance version, which carried the biggest engine in the Tempest line-up, was initially called the Tempest GTO.
The special GTO package included goodies like fake twin air scoops, a dual exhaust system, heavy-duty 3-speed manual floor shifter, an optional racy four-speed manual transmission, stiffer suspension, a Belleville clutch, special 14×6-inch wheels, as well as special trim and identification badges. In short, the Pontiac GTO was a Super Tempest that cost $3400.
8th Its GTO Moniker Was “Ferrari-Inspired”
GTO stands for “Gran Turismo Omologato” and is an Italian phrase for a grand touring car that’s been homologated for racing. In the ’60s, Ferrari was using it for its incredible 250 GTO – a model highly-revered today and is still the most expensive car sold at auction ($70 million).
Pontiac ended up borrowing the moniker for the Pontiac GTO While many saw this an inappropriate use of the revered badge, Detroit automakers were notorious for swiping names to which they had no right to with models like the Chevrolet Corvair Monza Spyder and the Pontiac Grand Prix. Still, Pontiac’s actions enraged some hardcore enthusiasts and Ferrari, who hadn’t copyrighted the name.
7 Its Development Was A Clandestine Venture
The Pontiac GTO was developed when the infamous 1957 AMA racing ban was in effect. The agreement prohibited official corporate support for racing, which meant high-performance production cars with big engines in smaller bodies would never see the light of day.
Pontiac engineers John Z. DeLorean, Bill Collins, and Russ Gee decided to secretly circumvent the directive with an optional GTO package for the Tempest By concocting the factory-developed Pontiac GTO as a low-volume “production” optional package, Pontiac was able to keep the GTO’s development a secret from the higher-ups at GM.
6 Its nicknames
Over the years, the Pontiac GTO garnered several nicknames used by Pontiac’s marketing division for its intensive campaigns that turned the GTO into the most sought-after muscle car of the ’60s. During its debut in 1964, it was marketed as the “The Tiger”; in 1967, this changed to “The Great One” and “The Humbler” in 1970.
Another interesting nickname used in the streets was the “Goat.” This wasn’t a “Greatest of All Time” reference, but rather a play on the GTO letters. It caught on so much that it got used in one of the Pontiac GTO’s most corporately controversial advertisements.
5 Best Special Edition – Pontiac GTO “The Judge”
“The Judge” (1969 -1971) was the most iconic special edition of the Pontiac GTO. A $337 option transformed the already rowdy 350 hp standard GTO into a monstrously powerful car with breathtaking looks. With a 400 cu-in V8 modified with the Ram-Air III forced induction system, it churned out 366 ponies. Not satisfied? You could also get the Ram Air IV option, rated at 370 hp.
Other goodies included a rear spoiler, covered headlights, a desirable four-speed transmission, Safe-T-Track differential, power steering, and power brakes, unique striping, Hurst T-Handle shifter, hood-mounted tachometers (optional), and dual hood scoops directly over the front grilles. While 1969 was the best-selling year for the Judge with over 6900 sales, 1971 was the worst with only 374 units sold.
4 The Most Powerful Pontiac GTOs
The most powerful classic production Pontiac GTOs made 370 hp and 445 lb-ft of torque. These were the 1969-1970 models that came with the Ram Air IV 400 cu in V8 engine option.
They were only bettered three decades later by the 2005–2006 Holden Monero-based Pontiac GTOs that made 400 horsepower and 400 ft-lb of torque from a 6.0-liter LS2 V8 powerplant.
3 Classic Pontiac GTOs That Are Highly Valuable Today
Even today, the Pontiac GTO is a prized beast; nostalgic enthusiasts pay big bucks for the chance to recapture the fun and joy of the muscle car era. GTO Judge Ram Air IV Convertibles are the most sought-after today. Why? Despite Pontiac producing more than 72,000 GTOs for 1969, only five were Judge Ram Air IV convertibles.
A 1969 Pontiac GTO Judge Ram Air IV was bought for $682,000 at RM Gainesville auction in 2010, while a 1970 GTO Judge Ram Air IV Convertible went for $440,000 at the 2018 Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale sale.
2 The most successful year of the Pontiac GTO
The Pontiac GTO was intensely successful in its first two years. In the debut year, customers earnestly bought 32,450 GTOs. 7,384 of the units sold were coupes, 18,422 hardtops, and 6,644 convertibles for those that wanted to enjoy their ride with or without a sunburn. The following year (1965), the sales doubled.
But the numbers were nowhere close to 1966, which was the most successful year for the Pontiac GTO, with over 74,000 in sales. No surprise, as the Goat came with a completely new design that year. It was also the first year the Pontiac GTO got separated from the Tempest into a stand-alone model.
1 Resurrection Of The Pontiac GTO Nameplate
After a long hiatus and a 1999 concept car, the Pontiac GTO nameplate was resurrected in 2004. The completely new 5th generation car answered Pontiac fans’ cries for a new GTO by ditching its boxy design for a more conservative, smoother edges styling. It was a rebadged Holden Monaro from Australia with a 5.7-liter LS1 V8 good for 350-horsepower mated to a standard 6-speed manual transmission.
But GM ended the short-lived revival in 2006 because of a simultaneous end in the production of the Holden Monaro it was based on in Australia. With GM killing the Pontiac brand in 2009, the Pontiac GTO is forever gone, never to return.