(Image of a Pontiac GTO)
Pontiac GTO History
Nothing symbolizes the muscle car era more than the Pontiac GTO. Pontiac started the muscle car craze by releasing the "GTO" option package on the Pontiac Tempest in 1964, which included a 389 ci engine. The baby boom generation were hitting the driving age, and they were craving speed. The only way to get true speed and handling was to make a hot rod or modify your car, but that cost a lot of money and time. GM only allowed full size cars to have engines larger than 330 ci, but Pontiac found a way to get around this mandate by making this an option package, not a base model change. Finally performance could be bought straight from the factory, which helped keep the cost down considerably. Pontiac planned on selling 5,000 Pontiac Tempest GTO models that first year. 32,450 were built, leaving the rest of Detroit scrambling to get their own muscle cars out on the showroom floors.
Pontiac sold over 75,000 Tempest GTO models in 1965, and included a few minor detail changes. The headlights were now stacked up/down instead of next to each other, and there was a new over the counter kit that could be purchased, making the hood scoops functional. Nearly 21,000 models sold in 1965 had this tri-power setup. The GTO became it's own model in 1966.
1966 saw just short of 100,000 GTO's sold, a record that was not passed by any other muscle car during that era. Styling dramatically changed, with the shape becoming more contorted like a coke bottle. The 389 engines were still standard, but for 1967 the engine was enlarged to 400 ci. There were more options with this engine as well, from the 255 horsepower economy model to the High Output and Ram Air versions pushing 360 horsepower.
1968 brought more extreme changes, especially the new Endura bumper. Gone were the chrome bumpers, and this new bumper made it look "bumperless". A new option was hidden headlights, which sold so well that most think this was a standard feature. The standard engines received more horsepower, and all engine models produced more torque at lower rpm's.
The GTO Judge
A new option package was available for the 1969 GTO, named the Judge. This name was based off a popular show at the time, "Laugh In". But the Judge option was nothing to laugh about. The GTO received a large rear spoiler and colorful decals, along with some pretty bright and unique paint colors to stand out. The engine upgrade was the biggest excitement. The 400 ci engine was teamed up with the "Ram Air III", creating 366 bhp for some real performance. The Judge option was $332, a bit higher than other performance packages on other models, but nothing extreme. A little under 7,000 Judge units were built, compared to around 58,000 for the standard coupe GTO model.
1970 saw more styling changes and like many muscle cars of the time, it was changing from a true muscle car to a mure luxury type car. More comfortable options were being introduced, and the styling was becoming more curvy and "graceful". The small economy engine was no longer available, and GM finally lifted it's ban on intermediate cars having anly engine larger than 400 ci. Pontiac like most other GM brands, ran with the opportunity and dropped in a 455 ci engine. The 455 engine was not available on the 1970 Judge until near the end of the model year, making it a rare model today.
The death of the GTO
GTO sales were declining since their height in 1968 (nearly 88,000), and in 1971 coupe sales did not even reach 10,000. This would be the last year for the GTo as it's own model, and only a few hundred Judge modles were sold, even though the standard engine was the 455. The high insurance premiums with young drivers and muscle cars was taking a toll on consumers, tougher EPA emission standards were lowering the compression ratios and horsepower output of engines, and in the coming years oil embargoes would all but end performance muscle cars from the market. The GTO once again became an option package on the 1972 and 1973 leMans, and the 1974 Ventura.
Pontiac did revive the GTO name in 2004 through 2006, building a GTO based off the Australian model named the Monaro. Sales were near 41,000 for the three model years, and the car did not receive any rave reviews. Many Pontiac and GTO enthusiasts had issues with it being based off an Australian model, and not a new model reminiscent of the old GTO's. The new GTO was conservative looking, and did not resemble anything like the origianl GTO. At the same time, the Chrysler 300, the Dodge Charger, and the Ford Mustang were all being restyled to match older muscle car designs, and Pontiac just flat out missed the mark on this new GTO. The performance was there with the Corvette LS1 engine in the new GTO.