The year 2014 marks the 50th anniversary a symbol of American automotive culture: the Ford Mustang. What not everyone remembers is that another classic would also complete a half century of life if it were still between us: the Pontiac GTO. In 1963 General Motors issued a statement among all its divisions: the company would no longer invest in factory teams in motorsports. This was bad news for Pontiac, which was starting to emerge as the high-performance division of the group, thanks to the success of their cars in the starting lanes, and to fall in the taste of young people because of its sporty style, with more gauges wide and aggressive posture. It was precisely the young crowd who helped Pontiac to third place in US sales, and the end of Pontiac on dragstrips could make them lose interest in the brand. It was imperative that an alternative be found. This alternative was the GTO.
Who is the father?
There is a lot of discussion about who was the “father” of the Pontiac GTO. Some say that it was Jim Wangers from the marketing department who persuaded brand executives that young people were the most important market. Others say it was a trio of engineers – Russell Gee, Bill Collins and John DeLorean, who was the brand’s chief engineer at the time, who thought, “so we can not run? Let’s put the power of the tracks in the streets! ” Only a time machine could tell us the truth, but let us be frank: it makes no sense to choose between one version or another of the story. What matters is that these four men simply invented the concept of muscle car as we know it today. The concept is wonderfully obvious: putting one of the largest and most powerful engines that fitted their full-size models in their mid-model (to the American standards they call the Dodge Dart “compact car”) that was about to be released: the Tempest. Fortunately, Pontiac engines at the time were all identical in dimensions regardless of displacement. Thus, the V8 389 (6.4) of the Pontiac Grand Prix was in the Tempest’s safe, instead of the V8 326 (5.3) originally used.
In those days, the rivalry between the American manufacturers was not restricted to only the three big ones of Detroit. The automotive industry was growing so much that even brands belonging to the same company were fierce competitors among themselves – and the consumer was the winner. Pontiac did not want to deliver its tray plan to GM’s other divisions, so it did not brag about launching its Tempest with a 389 engine. So instead of announcing it as a new version, the brand was discreet and launched as an optional package. Available for the convertible, hardtop and coupe versions, the package was christened GTO, inspired by the Ferrari 250 GTO. There were no complications regarding rights over the name because the acronym for Gran Turismo Omologato was owned by the FIA, not Ferrari. The Tempest GTO’s 6.4-liter engine had 325 bhp at 4,800 rpm when equipped with a Carter quadruple carburetor and 348 bhp when choosing the optional Tri-Power carburetor (three Rochester 2G dual-body carburetors). The transmission was manual three-speed with lever on the floor and Hurst lever, although a four-speed manual gearbox and the two-speed Super Turbine 300 automatic transmission were optional. Additional equipment included metal hoses for brake lines, limited slip differential and high capacity cooling system. Interestingly, the spiral-account was also optional.
Even without making too much noise at launch, the GTO package quickly became popular among young audiences – depleting the 5,000 units sent to dealerships across the country. Part of this is due to the attention that, even at the discretion of Pontiac, the media gave to the car.Tests of the time indicated beautiful numbers: 0 to 100 km / h in 6.6 seconds and quarter-mile (an important fact, since the starts were still important for the image of these cars) in 14.8 seconds. The highlight was the comparison Car and Driver made at the time, putting the Pontiac GTO side by side with the Ferrari that lent it the name.
It was because of all this positive reception that even that year the other divisions of GM began working on similar projects as well as rival Detroit companies. Names like Chevrolet Chevelle and Dodge Dart began to appear. In 1965 Tempest was updated and, with it the GTO. The look adopted the headlamp piled upright that is the most known form of the GTO (and that reminiscent of our Ford Galaxie 1967). The length increased by 7.9 cm, but the inter-axes and the inner space remained the same. Following the new look came changes in the engine: now, the four-cylinder carburetor yielded 335 hp, thanks to the bravest command and the new intake manifold. Tri-Power now had 360 hp, and reached 100 km / h in 6.1 seconds. The next year, the GTO would become its own model, but the biggest changes were reserved for 1967: the engine moved 400 inches, or 6.5 liters. The idea was to circumvent a limitation imposed by GM, which eliminated the option of three carburetors, and maintain the power of 360 hp. But there was a problem: the mobilization of competition eventually accelerated the aging process of the GTO, which was only three years old. That is why Pontiac decided to change it radically for the following year.
In 1968, Tempest changed the platform and consequently the GTO as well. If there are those who prefer the first generation, there are also faithful admirers of the second. No need to explain too much: GM’s new A platform gave the GTO a shorter wheelbase and a more muscular, curvaceous body, a great example of the “Coca-Cola bottle” profile. The rubber-trimmed front, which built in the bumper and, at an additional cost, hid the headlights behind the railing, was extremely attractive. Mechanically, however, the car was the same – only the basic model had 15 hp less, totaling 320 hp. However, it was not long before the Ram-Air II engine was introduced as an option. When it was equipped with it, the 400-cc engine reached 370 hp, making the new car the most potent GTO so far – it is worth noting that Pontiac stated power numbers very close to what was delivered on wheels, unlike competitors, who preferred to disclose gross power in a strategy to take advantage of NHRA competitions that separated the cars for the cavalry. Turns out, that year, Plymouth launched the Roadrunner, following an interesting strategy: to deliver a very powerful car, but only with the basic equipment, for a price comrade. Seeing potential in that, Pontiac has prepared what is perhaps their greatest icon of American muscle: the Pontiac GTO “The Judge” – a name that came from a very popular humorous program at the time, NBC’s Laugh-In . In it, comedian Sammy Davis Jr. always repeated the phrase “Here comes the judge” – or “here comes the judge.” Initially, the brand wanted to do something similar to the Roadrunner and deliver low-cost performance. However, they ended up giving up the idea, and decided to make the Judge a more powerful version, yes, but also more expensive. The Judge package consisted of the Ram-Air III system, with larger air intakes, an airfoil, stickers and themed tracks and the option for the beautiful orange tone that was actually called “Carousel Red”. The GTO “The Judge” could be a hardtop or convertible, and accounted for nearly 7,000 of the 72,000 GTO units sold in 1969 – the best muscle performance.
For the following year, the GTO (and Judge) received an even bigger engine: the V8 455 (7.4 liters) and the same 360 hp, but at a very low 4,300 rpm. The torque was its biggest highlight: 69.1 mkgf at only 2,700 rpm. The result was that, even bigger, the engine was less polluting, something important in a year when emissions regulators began to weigh on muscle cars. It was a growing trend – after all, after the heyday there’s always the downfall. The engine was meeker, and Pontiac even offered a package installed in dealerships for those who were not satisfied, consisting of prepared heads, braver command and four-stroke Holley carburetor.But the image of the GTO (and the other muscles, by extension) was already starting to get compromised, and sales fell by almost half. The arrival of 1971 only made things worse: low-octane gasoline became more plentiful on the market, and Pontiac decided to reduce the compression ratio of the engines. The result was a terrifying fall of power: now the V8 400 delivered 300 hp and 55.3 mkgf, and the 455 was 335 hp and 66.3 mkgf. Poor for the sales, and the restyling of the lead did not help much. It was beautiful, but it did not compare with the previous one. Sales reflected the bad changes, dropping to 10,532 at the end of 1971, and to a whopping 5,800 the following year.
It was a sign of the times: the oil crisis had transformed muscle cars into villains, and sports into jokes on wheels. This became even more evident 1973 the acronym again represented an optional package, this time for the Pontiac Le Mans. With a grinier look – trend of the season, which can also be seen in the disastrous Mustang II, the car had only three-speed automatic gearbox. His 455-pound V8 was heavily strangled, and now he delivered only 230 hp (liquids, as SAE’s new standards dictated). The blow of relief came in 1974 with a new shift: now a Pontiac Ventura package, which was compact by American standards, and available in hatch and coupe versions, the GTO has become a competitor to the Ford Maverick and the AMC Hornet X, with a 200 hp 350 V8 engine – small car and big engine, as it had been 10 years ago. Sales grew again, with the GTO posting 7,058 units, but it was late: Pontiac retired the GTO.
A brief resurrection
Exactly 30 years later, Americans received a gift from Australia: a renamed Holden Monaro, left-side steering wheel, coupe body, and aerodynamic props. But the best was under the hood: a 5.7-liter V8 small block Chevrolet, the 354-hp LS1 that could even come with a six-speed manual gearbox. It could have been Pontiac’s modern muscle car, but its sales were well below the 18,000 predicted by GM. Part of this was due to his looks, which were considered to be unoriginal, generic and non-compliant with the performance of the car – the public preferred to buy the Ford Mustang, which had just won a new generation in retro style, or the new Dodge Charger, who also had some inspiration in the cars of the past. Pontiac suffered from paddling against the tide, and even the adoption of the six-liter LS2 V8 and 405 hp was not enough to keep it on the market. Anyway, Pontiac was one of the extinct brands amid the economic crisis that rocked the world in 2009. The retro muscle cars, however, resisted – Chevrolet launched its Camaro in 2010, and Dodge also took action, featuring Challenger upgrading the Charger. Maybe if Pontiac had resisted, the Americans would have learned to value the GTO, and perhaps we would be reading news about it to this day.