1964-74 Pontiac GTO History by Dan Jedlicka

1964 Pontiac GTO

The original. All ’64 GTOs were powered by a 389-cubic-inch V8 and could be had with an optional tri-power setup for a total of 348 horsepower. Transmissions were a standard three-speed manual, along with the more commonly ordered four-speed manual and a two-speed automatic. A convertible was also available.

Pontiac GTO in Pop Culture 

A regular and popular appearance in Hot Wheels collections, the Pontiac GTO has also featured in Hollywood, including The Last Ride (2004). 

A matte black 1969 GTO Judge also played a role in the action movie The Punisher (2004).

 

Video

4 1966

Before the 1966 GTO release, Pontiac sold other mo

Before the 1966 GTO release, Pontiac sold other model years as a trim package, but the 1966 GTO didn’t follow this path as Pontaic offered it as a stand-alone model. This model featured a tunneled back window and took a classic “Coke-bottle” shape.

Though it shared the same 389 V8 engine with the 1995 model, the 1966 GTO had the highest sale ever in the GTO’s history.

2 1964

This was the first model year for the Pontiac GTO.

This was the first model year for the Pontiac GTO. At first, the management was advised to equip the first GTO with the 389 V8 engine, but the management predicted it wouldn’t gain traction and there won’t be many sales, but they were wrong. Thankfully, they finally decided to try the engine. When the cars were released, knowledgeable enthusiasts could see the potential, and many copies were sold.

With this success, the 1964 model paved the way for subsequent GTO models.

Bona Fide GTOs

In 1964 and 1965 they called the GTO a fast and fancy Tempest Lemans. In 1966, Pontiac gave the nameplate the respect it deserved and spun the vehicle off as its own separate model. This year would be a big year in many ways for the midsize Pontiac muscle car.

First of all, Pontiac would sell nearly 100,000 total units in 1966, the best-selling year in the history of the GTO model. And despite dropping the tri-power option, you could get a 389 V8 pushing out 360 horsepower. In 1967, Pontiac dropped the 389 motor in favor of the larger displacement 360 horsepower, 400 cubic inch V8.

The legendary Pontiac 400 would remain a staple for the division for more than a decade, and soon it would be offered in the Ram Air I through IV high performance versions. There’s also a big difference in the automatic transmissions offered in 1966 and 1967.

Two of the best General Motors transmissions of all time, the Turbo Hydra-Matic 350 and the Turbo Hydra-Matic 400, were available starting in 1967. Gone forever were the two-speed slush boxes, better known as the Pontiac version of the Powerglide.

Even the interior went through numerous changes in the 1966 redesign. It was more thoughtful and also more comfortable. General Motors designers finally moved the ignition key to the right side of the steering column, made all interior knobs and handles from a more durable plastic rather than the traditional brittle pot metal, and installed new Strato bucket seats with contoured cushions and adjustable headrests. 

First generation

1964

The first Pontiac GTO was an option package for the Pontiac Tempest, available with the two-door coupe, hardtop coupe, and convertible body styles. Despite rumors, Pontiac never built a GTO station wagon on its assembly lines. The US$ 296, package included a 389 cu in (6.4 L) V8 rated at 325 bhp (242 kW) at 4800 rpm) with a single Carter AFB four-barrel carburetor and dual exhaust, chromed valve covers and air cleaner, 7 blade clutch fan, a floor-shifted three-speed manual transmission with Hurst shifter, stiffer springs, larger diameter front sway bar, wider wheels with 7.50 × 14 redline tires, hood scoops, and GTO badges. Optional equipment included a four-speed manual, Super Turbine 300 two-speed automatic transmission, a more powerful “Tri-Power” carburation rated at 348 bhp (260 kW), metallic drum 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 US$ 4,500 and weighed around 3,500 lb (1,600 kg). A tachometer was optional, and was placed in the far right dial on the dash.

Most contemporary road tests used the more powerful Tri-Power engine and four-speed. Car Life clocked a GTO so equipped at 0–60 miles per hour (0–97 km/h) in 6.6 seconds, through the standing quarter mile in 14.8 seconds with a quarter mile trap speed of 99 mph (159 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 controversy when it printed that a GTO that had supposedly been tuned with the “Bobcat” kit offered by Ace Wilson’s Royal Pontiac of Royal Oak, Michigan, was clocked at a quarter mile time of 12.8 seconds and a trap speed of 112 mph (180 km/h) on racing slicks. Later reports strongly suggest that the Car and Driver GTOs were equipped with a 421 cu in (6.9 L) engine that was optional in full-sized Pontiacs. Since the two engines were difficult to distinguish externally, the subterfuge was not immediately obvious. In Jim Wanger’s “Glory Days” he admitted after three decades of denial that the red drag strip GTO had its engine swapped to a 421 Bobcat unit. Since the car was damaged during the testing, and Wangers did not want anyone looking under the hood, he used the blue road course GTO to flat tow the red GTO 1500 miles back to Detroit. Frank Bridge’s 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

Throughout the 1960s, Ace Wilson’s 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 GTO Bobcat accelerated 0-60 mph in 4.6 seconds (this 0-60 time is now equalled by the factory 2005-06 GTO with automatic transmission, fuel injection, and no modifications).

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 3,000 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 horsepower (20-40 kW), although it required high-octane superpremium gasoline of over 100 octane to avoid spark knock with the higher compression and advanced timing.

1965

The Tempest line, including the GTO, was restyled for the 1965 model year, adding 3.1 inches (79 mm) to the overall length while retaining the same wheelbase and interior dimensions. It sported Pontiac’s characteristic vertically stacked quad headlights. Overall weight increased about 100 pounds (45 kg). Brake lining area increased nearly 15%. Heavy-duty shocks were standard, as was a front antisway bar. The dashboard design was improved, and an optional rally gauge cluster ($86.08) added a more legible tachometer and oil pressure gauge.

The 389 engines received revised cylinder heads with re-cored intake passages, improving breathing. Rated power increased to 335 hp (250 kW) at 5,000 rpm for the base 4—barrel engine; the Tri-Power was rated 360 hp (270 kW) at 5,200 rpm. The Tri-Power engine had slightly less torque than the base engine 424 lb·ft (575 N·m) at 3,600 rpm versus 431 lb·ft (584 N·m) at 3,200 rpm. Transmission and axle ratio choices remained the same. The three-speed manual was standard, while a four-speed manual or two-speed automatic were optional.

The restyled GTO had a new simulated hood scoop. A rare, dealer-installed option was a metal underhood pan and gaskets to open the scoop, making it a cold 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 allowed more of the engine’s 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 US$3,643.79. With two testers and equipment aboard, they recorded 0–60 miles per hour (0–97 km/h) in 5.8 seconds, the standing quarter mile in 14.5 seconds with a trap speed of 100 miles per hour (160 km/h), and an observed top speed of 114 miles per hour (182.4 km/h) at the engine’s 6,000 rpm redline. A four-barrel Motor Trend 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 miles per hour (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 four-wheel drum brakes with organic linings to be alarmingly inadequate in high-speed driving.

Sales of the GTO, abetted by a marketing and promotional campaign that included songs and various merchandise, more than doubled to 75,342. It spawned many imitators, both within other GM divisions and its competitors.

1966

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. The tail light featured a rare louvered cover, only seen on the GTO. Overall length grew only fractionally, to 206.4 inches (524 cm), still on a 115 inch (292 cm) wheelbase, while width expanded to 74.4 inches (189 cm). Rear track increased one inch (2.5 cm). Overall weight remained about the same. The GTO became a separate model series, rather than an optional performance package, with unique grille and tail lights, available as a pillared sports coupe, a hardtop sans 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 highlighted by walnut veneer trim.

Engine choices remained the same as the previous year. A new rare engine option was offered: the XS engine option consisted of a factory Ram Air set up with a new 744 high lift cam. Approximately 35 factory installed Ram Air packages are believed to have been built, though 300 dealership installed Ram Air packages are estimated to have been ordered. On paper, the package was said to produce the same 360 hp (270 kW) as the non-Ram Air, Tri Power car, though these figures are believed to have been grossly underestimated in order to get past GM mandates.

Sales increased to 96,946, the highest production figure for all GTO years. Although Pontiac had strenuously promoted the GTO in advertising as the “GTO 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.

1967

The GTO underwent a few styling changes in 1967. The louver-covered tail lights were replaced with eight tail lights, four on each side. Rally II wheels with colored lug nuts were also available in 1967. The GTO emblems located on the rear part of the fenders were moved to the chrome rocker panels. Also the grill was changed from a purely split grill, to one that shared some chrome.

The 1967 GTO came in three body styles:

  • Hardtop – 65,176 produced
  • Convertible – 9,517 produced
  • Sports Coupe – 7,029 produced

The GTO also saw several mechanical changes in 1967. The Tri-Power carburetion system was replaced with a Rochester Quadrajet four-barrel carburetor. The 389 engine received a wider cylinder bore (4.12 inches, 104.7 mm) for a total displacement of 400 CID (6.6 L) V8. The 400 cubic inch engine was available in three models: economy, standard, and high output. The economy engine used a two-barrel carburetor rather than the Rochester Quadrajet and produced 255 bhp (190 kW) at 4400 rpm, and 397 ft·lbf (538 N·m) at 4400 rpm. The standard engine produced 335 bhp (250 kW) at 5000 rpm, and the highest torque of the three engines at 441 ft·lbf (598 N·m) at 3400 rpm. The high output engine produced the most power for that year at 360 bhp (270 kW) at 5100 rpm, and produced 438 ft·lbf (594 N·m) at 3600 rpm. Emission controls were fitted in GTOs sold in California.

1967 also saw the installation of significant safety equipment as required by federal law. A new energy-absorbing steering column was accompanied by an energy-absorbing steering wheel, padded instrument panel, non-protruding control knobs, and four-way emergency flashers.

The two-speed automatic transmission was also replaced with a three-speed Turbo-Hydramatic TH-400. The TH-400 was equipped with a Hurst Performance Dual-Gate shifter, called a “his/hers” shifter, that permitted either automatic shifting in “Drive” or manual selection through the gears. Front disc brakes were also an option in 1967.

GTO sales for 1967 remained high at 81,722.

2005 Pontiac GTO

For 2005, the GTO got a few upgrades including a pair of hood scoops, dual exhaust outlets in the rear, bigger brakes and a larger LS2 V8 that made 400 horsepower. All of this improved upon the car’s already impressive performance, while also giving it a dash of extra curb appeal.

Third Generation

1974

Wanting to avoid internal competition 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 1974 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 $461 GTO package (Code WW3) 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 CID (5.7 L) V8 with 7.6:1 compression and a single four-barrel carburetor. It was rated at 200 hp (150 kW) at 4,400 rpm and 295 lb·ft (400 N·m) at 2,800 rpm. Optional transmissions included a wide-ratio four-speed with Hurst shifter for $207 (Code M20) or the three-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic. Power Steering was a $104 option (Code N41) as well as Power front disc brakes for $71 (Code JL2).

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, Bucket seats could be added for $132 (Code A51), 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 radial tires along with upgraded suspension tuning for improved ride and handling.

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 at 88 mph (142 km/h).

Sales were an improvement over 1973, at 7,058, but not enough to justify continuing the model.

Picking the Best Year for the Pontiac GTO

This is no easy task. The grille, chrome trim, and rear taillight louvers on the 1966 model are exceptional looking. However, given all the safety features on the 1967 model, as well as the 400 cubic inch V8 engine, the 1967 is likely your best bet if you're looking to buy one of these classic cars. Plus, while goodies for the older 389 are not readily available, they are easy and inexpensive to obtain for the popular Pontiac 400.

Tags