Pontiac’s GTO was developed at a time when GM had banned involvement in racing for all of its divisions. Instead of creating a car that could participate in racing, then, the creators of the GTO muscle car focused on performance and street cred. They took the Pontiac Tempest and redesigned it into a “Super Tempest” with a bigger engine and a name borrowed from Ferrari.
Originally a Tempest optional package, for the 1966 GTO, the car was its own model, separate from all others. In this year, the GTO sold 96,946 units. This was more than any other muscle car in a single year. The 1966 GTO was so successful for GM because of its performance features and its impressive styling. No other muscle car that year could compete with Pontiac’s entry in the line up.
The styling of the 1966 GTO was curvy and had a Coke-bottle appearance. The backlights were tunneled and came with a louvered cover, unique to the GTO. The roofline had a graceful swoop not seen in its competitors and featured a plastic mesh in the grille, which was seen nowhere else in the car market. While the size of the 1966 GTO was greater than previous Tempest models, its overall weight remained largely unchanged.
The interior was also totally retooled for the 1966 GTO. New bucket seats added comfort and adjustable head rests became an option. The instrument panel got a redesign and included walnut veneer trim, while the ignition moved from the left to the right of the steering wheel.
Engine options for the 1966 GTO included the two V8s from the previous Tempest GTOs as well as a new XS option. The new engine was a Ram Air III with 360-horsepower. Consumers could choose from a hardtop, coupe, and a convertible version of this classic of the muscle car genre.