There is no official contender for the first American muscle car, and no one can pinpoint a specific year as the origin point of this golden era without starting a debate. However, the Pontiac GTO is widely recognized for being the first true American muscle car. It was built by a bunch of passionate but unconventional engineers of the Pontiac Motor division. The team led by John Z. DeLorean had used the age-old idea of putting powerful engines in lighter cars, a formula well tried and tested by racers and hot rodders for ages. And while no one saw it coming when the GTO was first launched, it took the world by storm. GTO simply changed the automotive industry. Car buzz calls the Pontiac GTO a must buy. The car is also credited for creating an entirely new market segment of its own, the legendary muscle car segment.
The brainchild of Jim Wangers and DeLorean, Pontiac GTO was manufactured in 1963 and launched in 1964. Fun fact: as per Top Speed, they had borrowed the name from the incredibly successful race car, the Ferrari 250 GTO, where GTO stands for Gran Turismo Omologato. It quickly shot to success primarily due to its terrific performance, although the influence of extensive marketing strategies cannot be ignored. Soon, every other brand, including the ones from General Motors hopped on in the action; and thus began the golden age of muscle cars. Despite scoring an instant success and quite literally being the father of all the ponies out there, GTO never had a smooth journey. After facing one too many roadblocks on the way, it was eventually discontinued.
GTO had turned Pontiac’s image overnight from a Grandma car to a dream car, but it faded into oblivion as quickly. Why was the father of all muscle cars, the Pontiac GTO discontinued?
The Pontiac GTO had practically kickstarted the muscle car craze. It was powerful and yet affordable, but sadly, it couldn’t keep up with success for long. Find out why GM discontinued the Pontiac GTO.
Pontiac GTO’s Sales Had Spiraled Downwards
Pontiac GTO was the highest-selling muscle car in 1966. With about 100,000 units sold that year, the car managed to hold itself well against the rush of competitor cars from inside General Motors and various other companies. 1970 came as the beginning of a slow death for the muscle icon. Insurance companies had seen an opportunity to mint money from the muscle car trend and applied hefty surcharges from their owners. More often than not, this bumped up the insurance payments several times higher than the actual car payments. It was getting ridiculously expensive to keep up with the hiked up charges, and buyers were not impressed. Results started reflecting in the sales data. Soon enough, GTO was no longer available as a standalone model. Once again, it had become an optional package, for the Pontiac LeMans this time.
The 1973 oil crisis hammered another nail in the coffin for the entire muscle car segment including the Pontiac GTO. Buyers had started switching to more affordable and fuel-efficient foreign cars. Quite understandably, they were no longer crazy about fuel-guzzling large performance cars with negligible fuel economy figures. This massive decline in the public interest for the ponies didn’t help GTO’s case either. However, the final blow came in the form of a styling update. From 1964 to 1974, Pontiac GTO had been restyled seven different times over. In 1974, the brand was frantically trying to save the GTO moniker. In one such desperate attempt, they moved the trim package to Pontiac Ventura laced with a V8 that delivered a fuel economy of 15 mpg. The fuel economy was slightly better than the previous models but not enough. As a result, it failed to gain the attention back. Even though the sales had gone a little higher than the previous year, the GTO was simply not profitable now. Consequently, it was dropped off the line-up the next year. Fun fact: in their 1983 GTO Special issue, the High-Performance Pontiac magazine called the Pontiac Ventura uglier and stupid-looking.
2004: The Pontiac GTO Rose From The Ashes Only To Die Again
Although the model was officially dropped, General Motors never allowed the public to forget it. They kept teasing the public with concept versions at the motor shows every few years. Finally, 30 years after the GTO was discontinued and post a ton of teasers, the legend was reintroduced into the American market through the GM’s Australian division, Holden. It was launched in 2004 with huge expectations to recreate the magic but unfortunately, the new GTO was nothing like the old aggressive and evocative model from the 60s. Additionally, the buyer’s segment had moved on, too. They were now head over heels in awe of retro-styled Mustangs and Camaros. Although GTO was powerful and had impressive features, its conservative and its rather plain styling failed to garner a warm response, and soon, GTO died a second death.
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