One of the jobs of automotive designers is to look into the crystal ball and try to see into the future. What will attract the public as times change and a new generation of drivers are ready to hit the roadways? The history of the automobile manufacturing industry is filled with hits and misses as the “swamis” of automotive engineering placed their bets on educated guesses that became the next wave of motor vehicles offered by their respective companies.
In the early 1960s, the powers that be were getting the idea that the younger generation was looking for speed, and this fueled the heyday of the American muscle car era. The GTO was Pontiac’s entrance into the muscle car sweepstakes, and it was designed and developed by Bill Collins who was the chassis man; Russ Gee, who was the engine expert; and the head of engineering at Pontiac at the time, John DeLorean. It was DeLorean who decided to call the car the GTO, and there was some controversy involved because he took the name from the Ferrari 250 GTO (GTO stands for Gran Turismo Omologato), which was a well respected race car. Some Ferrari loyalists took umbrage with Pontiac for using the name, considering it an intrusion onto hallowed ground.
The first GTO was introduced in 1964 as part of the LeMans series. It came standard with a 389 cubic inch, 325 horsepower V8, and one of the options that was available to give it some extra oomph was the three two-barrel carburetors known as the “Tri-Power” system of carburation. With the Tri-Power engine the 1964 Tempest GTO was capable of going from zero to sixty in 4.6 seconds, according to a test conducted by Car Life.
The Tempest GTO caught on with the public, and in 1966 Pontiac made the GTO a distinct model apart from the Tempest series. People began to refer to the GTO informally as the “Goat,” and it’s popularity continued to grow. In 1966 just under 97,000 Pontiac GTOs were sold, a big number for a model in its debut year as a stand-alone.
In 1969 Pontiac introduced a GTO model called “The Judge,” which was named after a famous skit that was performed on the popular television comedy Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. Pontiac produced just over 6,800 specimens of The Judge, and one of them is extremely rare: just five of the 1969 Ram Air IV GTO Judge were produced.
Pontiac sold over 72,000 GTOs in 1969, but the model started to take a nosedive in the 1970s. By 1973 GTO sales had plummeted to just 4,806. The next year, 1974, was the final year of production for this classic American muscle car. Pontiac revived the GTO nameplate in 2004 and manufactured the Australian made GTO, also known as the Holden Monaro, through the 2006 model year.
Contributed by Fossil Cars Staff Writer