Considered as the first true muscle car, the Pontiac GTO is truly a groundbreaker. Most collectors of classic muscle cars see the GTO as a true gem, a real sexy and sweet beauty. And understandably so: not only is the Pontiac GTO a genre-defining car, it actually boasts of a sweet look and is capable of a powerful performance.
The Birth of a Legend
Back in the early ?60s, General Motors banned divisions from participating in auto racing. This was a heavy hit to Pontiac, since their marketing campaign was based heavily on car racing. The result is a legend: by modifying the Pontiac Tempest into a road-friendly, yet high-performance car. And it became a monster hit.
The name was after the Ferrari 250 GTO, in which GTO stood for Gran Turismo Omologato. For those who couldn’t speak Italian, it simply means homologated (or approved) for inclusion in the GT class.
The first generation Pontiac GTO was released in 1964. It was only an option for the Pontiac LeMans. It had a 398-cubic inch V8 engine, which has a speed of 325hp at 4800rpm, with a 3-speed manual transmission. It came in three styles: hardtop coupe, two-door sedan, or convertible. It cost around $290–a real bargain today, but not back then!
A few changes were made the following year, including extending the length of the car by 7.9cm. Perhaps the most popular of the first-generation GTOs is the ’66 edition with the “Coke-bottle look.” Not does the ’66 GTO completely define what classic muscle cars would look like, it also heralded the start of the GTO series as an independent model (and not as an option). It was so popular that sales shot up to 90,000.
Around 1970s, the second generation of GTOs was up and about. There were some cosmetic changes, such as the ‘hidden headlights’ feature for the ’68 and ’69 Pontiac GTO. But function-wise, the GTO remained the same. It had the same V8 engine, albeit optimized so it would peak at 400hp.
By this time, the GTO faced a fierce battle with other newly-emerged muscle cars. There was the Oldsmobile 442, the Plymouth Road Runner, and the Chevrolet Chevelle, among others. Sales were dwindling, and the GTO was having a hard time keeping itself on top.
By 1972, sales of this classic car drastically dropped to 5,811. This was the result of several things. Aside from the tough competition, the GTO also lacked promotion. Add to that the move to make gasoline free of lead, which lead Pontiac to make this classic muscle car have less muscle–without the Ram-air option for engines, its performance was compromised. Add to that the dwindling appeal of muscle cars (because of market saturation and the emerging energy crisis), and the ?death’ of the Pontiac GTO becomes no mystery.
The Pontiac GTO is a cool and sexy classic muscle car. Its history is somehow a tragic one: it started the whole craze about muscle performance cars, but ended with not a single bang. Yet, because of this history, the Pontiac GTO is ever more valuable today as a classic car. Since not so many people have it in their garage, a restored one will surely peak at way more than ten grand–that’s a long way from $290.