The Pontiac GTO: An Ideal Muscle Car

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Pontiac GTO Round Tin SignFor many, the Pontiac GTO was the ideal muscle car and was instrumental in defining exactly what a muscle car is: an American-made mid-sized, 2-door, rear-wheel drive car with a very powerful engine. Many other high-powered cars led up to the GTO, but this model was the car that captured the attention of both the consumer and the competition.

The GTO was manufactured from 1964 to 1974 by Pontiac, a division of General Motors. Pontiac had developed a reputation for large, powerful vehicles throughout the ’40s and ’50s. Their advertising campaigns up until then had emphasized racing and high-performance. Known for their oversized cars, the GTO was developed as a mid-sized car, but still possessed the high-powered V-8 engine. It was developed as an alternative to the oversized monsters of the previous decades, offered at a lower price but still possessing the power of the previous models.

General Motors had sent a directive to its divisions to get away from the racing image of their past and to limit the size of the engine put in a car (no bigger than a 330 V-8). To get around this, the GTO (with a 389 V-8 engine) was offered in 1964 as an option package for the mid-size Pontiac Tempest, available with the two-door coupe, hardtop coupe and convertible styles. The resulting vehicle was the hottest performance car made up until that time.

Pontiac GTO Retro Collage Metal SignThe GTO sold much better than anticipated. GM had hoped to sell 5,000 GTOs in 1964, and wound up selling 32,450. This sparked competition between GM, Ford and Chrysler, as each hoped to dominate the muscle car industry.

“GTO” derived from the Ferrari GTO and stood for Gran Turismo Omologato (meaning a racecar that had been made street legal). GM promoted the GTO aggressively as the “GTO Tiger”. But among young buyers and admirers, the car quickly became known as the “Goat”. Evidently, this didn’t go over well with the upper management at GM.

The styling of the GTO was refined in 1965 and was defined by 1966. It now stood on its own as a separate model. GTO sales were the highest for any muscle car in 1966. In 1967 the GTO was redesigned, offering hidden headlights as an option. In 1969 GM offered an option package for the GTO called the Judge. It included a 400 V-8 engine, vivid body paint, a rear spoiler and decals. Drastic style changes were made again in 1970, with a remodeled front end and a newly defined body, including the rear. Sales of Pontiac’s GTO had been on the decline since the late ’60s. In 1971, they tanked. In 1972 the GTO was offered as an option on the LeMans and was no longer sold as a separate model. The Judge had been discontinued. By 1973 the GTO was not as it had once been. Government regulations had changed the bumpers and downsized the engine. In its final year, the GTO was offered only as an option for the Ventura.

During its heyday, the GTO helped lead the way to the production of newer muscle cars with its incredible success. In 2004, the GTO was re-introduced as a rebadged Holden Monaro. It lasted only three years, and the Pontiac brand was eliminated in 2010.

Have a GTO story to share? We’d love to hear your memories.

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Last updated: Feb 09, 2009
Filed under: Classic American Cars Tagged with: cars, Muscle Cars