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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

15 GTO facts you might not know about America's original muscle car

In the early spring of 1963, during a "what if" session at GM's Milford, Michigan, Proving Grounds, a small team of Pontiac engineers led by John Z. DeLorean realized the 389-cubic-inch V-8 from the full-size Bonneville would fit easily in the new midsize Tempest.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/lists/15-gto-facts-america-original-muscle-car/
92 REPLIES 92
hyperv6
Gearhead

I grew up with a number of GTO models. The tri power cars are still my favorite with mechanical linkage. The sound and feel of these we're special.

 

The GM engineers understood Pontiac and it is a shame the management of GM and the pettiness of Chevy destroyed Pontiac. 

If you spent time in these you would understand why a later GTP or SSEI while good cars were not real Pontiacs and just better Chevys.

BMD4800
Instructor

I often agree with you, but must disagree in this case.

Pontiac died for two reasons:

1) GM performance hierarchy
2) Restructuring.

Buick was a popular brand in China - a major emerging market, and Oldsmobile buyers were the least brand-loyal of the BOP-3.
Pontiac had developed a cutting edge performance image since the 80s, largely distancing itself from Chevrolet as a more upscale and performance oriented brand, while simultaneously setting apart from Buick and Olds as significantly more youth oriented.

The problem came when GM had to trim the fat. There weren’t enough sales to support the BOP-3, Chevrolet and Cadillac. When Caddy was the front-drive, North Star powered land barges, aside from the Caddy that zigs, it was anything but a performance brand. As Cadillac moved to more cutting edge, more rear drive, and world-class cars, the front-drive platforms were woefully inadequate.

So it came down in the collapse. Saturn-non Union, gone. Hummer - gas guzzler during a crisis, gone. Oldsmobile - least brand loyal, easiest to get into Buicks, gone.
That left Pontiac. Loyal customers, solid sales, but it targeted a market where Cadillac was going and at GM there is a performance hierarchy.
A) can’t out-perform a Corvette
B) can’t jump the ranks.

Pontiac was straight up in the Cadillac market.
Chevy didn’t destroy Pontiac, Cadillac did.

As to the GTP and SSEi, those didn’t impact Chevy sales, not many Impalas and Monte Carlos used the 3800, most used the disaster 3.1/3.4/3.5/3.9. Without question the Pontiac targeted a different customer. Chevrolet GM-10/W-bodies were awful, save the last few years; if that’s what you meant, I’d agree. But that’s a GM bean counter thing. They loved those 60 degree V6s, but the BOP-3 customers HATED THEM.

For more fun stuff, check out the back room stuff about dropping LeSabre from the Buick lineup. It wasn’t just about a redesign, it was a marketing trick to get away from the older class market. GM knew they could milk the LeSabre for generations, think Avalon and ES3X0, but they wanted to steal from 40 somethings looking for Euro-brands. Again, the 2 rules, which ultimately relegated Buick’s to Chinese SUVs.

GM is quite possibly the best performing company run by complete imbeciles.

Don’t get me started on the pavement-princess trucks.
audiobycarmine
Instructor

Very salient points!
I do disagree about your Pontiac/Cadillac theory.
Pontiac was indeed a youth-oriented brand, with performance and sporty looks as their accurate image.
Cadillac usually vacillated between "The Standard of the World" luxury and quality; and a certain stodginess.
I can't recall any Pontiac owners ever coveting Cadillacs.
Most GM cars, indeed most American cars of the mid-70's to mid-late 80's were probably the crappiest cars ever built in the USA.
Smithsonite
Intermediate Driver

I'm still driving a '86 Mercury Grand Marquis I've owned for the past 18 years. Has 278k miles on it on the ORIGINAL fuel pump and driveline - never been into the engine or trans, aside from a timing chain swap when I had it open to fix oil and coolant leaks. The Caprice and G-body cars were every bit as reliable as this Merc is, too. They weren't all crap in the 80's.
BMD4800
Instructor

The entire V-program is what should have been Pontiac.  CTS-V with the LS6, manual trans, that was as foreign to Caddy as the Escalade, but they did it anyway.  

Look at how hard they downplayed the GTO, G8 and later the SS.   Once it became clear Cadillac was the upscale performance brand, Pontiac had no hope and the SS was simply an afterthought of the defunct G8.   

you don’t have to believe me about the performance hierarchy, but it is true.   I once asked a truck engineer why no reg-cab, short-bed, 5.3 Colorado/Canyons?  He said oh well, CAFE and take rate.  

I asked-too much pressure on the new Camaro?

 

he said yes.  

Remember the b-body Impala SS?  LT1, but due to “packaging” only 260 HP.   It had WAY better packaging than the Camaro or Corvette.   Can’t have a full-sized luxury performance car with more power than the front-drive North Star Caddy.   


that is the way it is at GM.   

mbr2000
Intermediate Driver

About your Colorado/Canyon comment: I think both Ford and GM are missing out on a huge market. If they made a short bed, single cab version of the Colorado/Canyon and Ranger, they probably wouldn't be able to keep them on their lots. And dealers could advertise base models at "near loss-leader" pricing to increase store traffic and steer some of the customers to their monster truck lineups, with optional step ladders for entry!

Back in the 70s-80s, I had two Ford Couriers, one Mazda B2000, and a Toyota pickup. Mitsubishis and Nissans were also quite popular. They were perfect for homeowners and even some contractors. And I could probably get more stuff in the beds than in the new de facto standard 5.5 ft beds. I mean, what's with that?
CitationMan
Instructor

Prior to the SUV tsunami, the model for GM to follow was right there for all to see, but they just couldn’t execute it. It’s Corolla/Camry/Civic/Accord. Toyota and Honda will still be making those models after GM’s next bailout.

BMD4800
Instructor

Had a Camry.  It was good, but didn’t do anything “great”.   Solid, predictable, certainly no less trouble free than any of our other vehicles on the long term.  

mbr2000
Intermediate Driver

And now we see Ford totally giving up on the 4-door sedan market, leaving it to Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, and Kia. It's all ahead full with pickups, SUVs, and strange-looking EVs. If you go to Ford.com and click on "CARS", all you'll see is the gasoline-powered Mustang. Even their Fusion Hybrids are 2020 models, which implies "leftovers".
Smithsonite
Intermediate Driver

Yep, I've got an '07 Silverado 1500 LT2 4x4 extended cab, with the failure prone 5.3 flex engine. First new vehicle I ever bought in my life, and after this experience, will be the LAST. Biggest POS I've ever had the burden of owning!!

Always had GM products as a teen and into my 20's. I beat the crap out of those vehicles, cars and trucks, and never had a problem. I was in my 30's when I bought the Silverado. After 2 pages of MA driving record, I had slowed WAY down. Still, this pile has given me nothing but grief. Brakes pulsated right off the showroom floor with 40 miles on the clock. Door trim fell off the first week I owned it. Lower ball joints didn't even make 40k miles, and the uppers, struts, and hub bearings barely made 50k. Around that time, the engine starts burning oil and the front diff starts leaking out the output seals. Got 20k miles out of the Moog replacement hub bearings! Had intermittent 4x4 issues since 2k miles the dealer kicked down the road until I was out of warranty - ended up being the 4x4 switch. Not to mention the driveline clunks, and interior squeaks and rattles while my 266,000 mile '94 K1500 was SILENT .. then at 97k, during a fluid change, I noticed chunks of metal coming out the rear diff - all the spider gears shed 90% of the teeth tips off! For no good reason! Also, the G80 clutch was fried to a cinder - metal-on-metal. Then at 103k miles, 3rd and 4th gear turned into neutral like a light switch - one minute it worked, the next I was driving back home at 4k RPM in 2nd.

I've got 113k miles on it now - just waiting for the inevitable AFM lifter failure, or #2 cam bearing walkout. Could happen any day now. I've been using a Range AFM disabler for the past 30k miles or so, so hopefully I can kick the can down the road a bit. We'll see if she makes 200k miles - that would be a record for this engine.

Meanwhile, the driveline clunk that started at 2k miles is louder than ever. I suspect a transfer case failure any day now as well. Thanks GM! You ##$! #(*&@ 's !!
56NomadJohn
Pit Crew

It’s amazing how off topic these conversations get. One talks about Buick and Oldsmobile, another about his Mercury, another about his Silverado. Wasn’t the article about Pontiac?
DAY
Intermediate Driver

I bought a new 2020 V-6 Silverado, so at least missed the crappy 5.3 they are stuffing in all the others, and they have problems with the lifters pushrods, oil consumption, etc. But, the back up camera on my Custom model (yes, low grade model) has gone from a nice square display to a distorted fish eye view, and the dealer wants me to believe it is Normal! So much for Chevy Warranty! It only had 2,500 miles on it when it happened! I filed an NTSB claim as it is not good for backing around kids, which is why most of them have the back up camera now, For Safety and it doesn't work properly. Last Chevy I'll ever buy, just because they won't fix the back up camera, which makes me ask, what happens when I have a really Bad problem? Got a 2008 Pontiac turbocharged Solstice that has at least 260 HP (someone installed a larger intercooler and boosted the turbo to 22 PSI.) I took it to a speed shop and had it detuned to about 18 PSI, about where it should be. It was literally too scary to drive as the rear rear wheels would break loose even with the traction control on. Can't imagine those folks who stuff the V-8 motors in them! I want to live a little longer!
hyperv6
Gearhead

While much is correct here you miss it with Cadillac. 

There was too many divisions. Cadillac and Chevy were the only viable players.  Buick did survive due to China even with Pontiac out selling Buick 6 to 1 here. 


Buick China sales helped save GM after the bail out helping to pay many bills. 

GMC survived due to Buick and that was a good move as the Denali brand is one of the highest profit brands in the automotive market. 

As for Pontiac. Pontiac was reduced to just a fancy Chevy. They had no RWD performance till Lutz arrived but it was too late by then.  On tried to save them as a specialty performance brand but there was no funds. 

Note the Monte Carlo and Impala impact the Pontiac line. I knew the brand manager and he fought to get the 3800sc snd V8 for his cars that Pontiac had even if Pontiac did not want to share. 

The harsh reality is Chevy sells more cars snd Chevy gets more say. Cadillac due to prices helps pays the bills better than Pontiac. 

The 60 degree is loved as it is a better running engine and smoother also easier to package over a 90 degree. That is why the 3.6 today is 60 degree. 

The 90 degree is a rougher engine due to the angle. 

GM really did not have the money to build a modem engine so they just kept up grading what the had. They did a good job but imagine if they had done a good clean sheet engine with no financial limits. Sad they never did. 

Dynis
New Driver

"Original Muscle Car"? What about the 1957 Golden Hawk, supercharged 289 by Studebaker. Or the 1963 Avanti which set dozens of speed records?
drjon4u2
New Driver

Actually it was the 1956 Golden Hawk with Packard’s 275-horsepower 352 cubic-inch V8 engine.
69Charger
New Driver

Actually it was the 1950 Hudson Hornet
mpzz
Detailer

Muscle car refers to big, powerful V8 in a small or intermediate, lightweight car. So, yeah, the GTO was the first.
Diego
Detailer

So a 2+2 is not a muscle car?
DUB6
Technician

So here's my question: who/when coined the term "Muscle Car"?  Was the Packard, Hudson, Chevy, Buick, or whatever other car that people have claimed were first, ever called that at the time?  Did Studebaker ever advertise their new Muscle Car in 1957?  Did Chrysler claim that for the 300C?  I don't remember ever hearing the term applied to anything prior to the mid-'60s.  So one could argue that although there were automobiles that fit some or all of the criteria that became popular in 1964 or 1965, if nobody ever anointed them with the title, how can they be now claimed as such?  Seems to me when you first used the term to describe a certain car, that becomes the "first one".  I mean, it seems to me that Hercules might have fit the definition of Superhero (or maybe Sampson), but did anyone call them that in their time?  Wasn't the invention of Superman the first time you ever heard of anyone called that?  So regardless of anyone else before him, wasn't Clark Kent the "first superhero"?  So, did Pontiac or someone like Car & Driver, or Hot Rod call the GTO a Muscle Car in 1964 or 1965?

I'm asking for a friend...

Diego
Detailer

Those aren't muscle cars.
jbucking
New Driver

I still have issues with the GTO being the FIRST muscle car when Chevrolet was producing models in 1962 (and a few in 1961) with more than 400hp with the 409 motor. A 1962 Chevy Biscyane was also lighter than the GTO by nearly 100 lbs. I am not sure how the GTO gets the credit...
mpzz
Detailer

Biscayne was a full size car. Performance car? Yeah, but not small enough to be a muscle car.
Diego
Detailer

The Chevelle SS 396 wasn't developed because of a 409 big car.
ThumperUSMC
Intermediate Driver

I had a 1968 GTO. I still miss that car.
Was fantastic doing burnouts, as long as the rear end was at the "sweet spot" as I called it, in lift, due to having air shocks on it. I could light up the tires and go through all four gears smokin' 'em. Went through a lot of tires back then.
Sadly, in 1976, my wife let her brother use it, while I was busy flying for the Marine Corps on a month long journey all through the Pacific Ocean, doing a Trans-Pac, which was bringing two squadrons of fighters from California over to Okinawa,
He promptly wrecked it on the side of a hill near Bakersfield. I promptly wrecked him when I found out. He could be repaired, unfortunately, my GTO could not. The only thing I could salvage from it was the Muncie M21 transmission and the Hurst shifter handle atop the shifter. The rest was beyond any hope... even the engine was torn apart. Surprised he lived through it when I saw the car. He still insists to this day he was only going 45 mph when he hit the side...
Ah well, such is the Fickle Finger of Fate...
Landshark
New Driver

Hey ThumperUSMC, I feel your loss as I too had a '68 GTO.  You mentioned you saved your shifter handle, do you by any chance have a picture of it?  I have a couple of handles laying around from mine but I can't remember which one was the original. Thanks for your time. 

mpzz
Detailer

Nobody drives my stuff. Still got the wife?
tbenvie
Pit Crew

Well a feel good answer-I purchased a 68 GTO convert to flip back in the early 80s. Guy calls me up and begs me to hold it until he could come later in the evening as he had one like it and it was sold when he was drafted. Not a problem to wait. He came with his old registration-it was his old car! Needless to say I didn't make any profit on this car and last I saw about 10 years ago he still had it.
DAY
Intermediate Driver

Now, that is a Cool story! Hagerty should do a line on it.
DAY
Intermediate Driver

My mom had a 68 GTO convertible I begged her to let me have, but she said I'd kill my self with it. Automatic with the His and Hers shifter. After she would have the Pontiac dealer tune it up on their ''Sun'' machine, it would still cut out at 45 in first gear. I'd tune it by ear, and it would run up till the lifters leveled off and never skip a beat. I was only about 18 and could tune it better by ear than they did with their Machine!
Rodewaryer
Pit Crew

1st Ferrari GTO appeared Dec 1961, racing at major events 1962, BS comments about how many were made are moot, it's a stolen name. Very first outing 2nd at Sebring, 2nd at Le Mans twice, it won overall at Spa, Monthlery, Goodwood and the Tour De France. Then there's the topic of the car's design with which there is no contest.
mpzz
Detailer

Aren't we touchy?
DT
Detailer

He Must be from Europe 🙂
DrWho
Pit Crew

In 1963 Pontiac offered the LeMans with a small block V8 - 326 c.i. Apparently you could also get a Buick Aluminum V8 (215 c.i.), although I have never seen one. It was available as a hardtop and convertible. Based on the Tempest, the LeMans had a rear mounted transaxle for better weight distribution, available as an automatic or 4 speed. The thin driveshaft was called a "rope drive". These are pretty rare today, but were the forerunner to the larger GTO that followed.
DT
Detailer

In 1962 Buick had the Skylark with a 190 HP V/8 Engine. They were about the size of a Corvair. Just a little bigger. You don't see them very often.
berigan
New Driver

The gto was not the first g.m. muscle car that was the 1936 Buick Century that put the Roadmaster 323 cu in eight into the lighter Special body. Second muscle car Olds 88 which put 303 cu. in V8 98 engine into smaller lighter body Berigan
mpzz
Detailer

GTO was still the first.
Diego
Detailer

How did the NHRA factor it?
Buddy8746
Pit Crew

Back in 1967, when i was 14, my dad was the GM of an Olds dealership and they traded in a '65, Tri-Power 4-speed GTO that I learned to do burnouts with in the back of the dealership. Back then, G.T.O. stood for "Go To Olds". Great memories!
Bryan1956
Pit Crew

First of all, I never owned a GTO, I did however, special factory order a ‘62 Super Duty 421 Catalina. Best drag strip time was a 12.63 with the aluminum headers and a 4.30 diff. However, about mid-‘62 a max wedge 413 showed up at the track and did a 12.70 and he drove it to the track. I figured out that there wasn’t much future given the weight penalty and decided the answer was to wait for the ‘63 Tempest. Using Pontiac’s “wholesale compensation” race support plan, a loan from GMAC and Pontiac’s little high performance parts booklet, a friend and I put a McKeller #12 cam SD 421 in a white ‘63 Tempest. We used a 3 speed B/W trans and a rear out of a ‘59 Catalina. We left the 326 emblems on the fenders and had the most fun street racing I ever had.
PONCHO24
New Driver

whatever happened to the super duty cat?  and the tempest for that matter?  i have a 63 cat 4 speed and a 63 lemans, originally 326 but now 455 with 4 speed and 9.3 pontiac rear.  does 12.8 in the 1/4 mile on pump gas.  pontiacs are the best

Bryan1956
Pit Crew

Hello Poncho, I had just about forgotten about the SD 421 Tempest post, but the ‘62 421 engine and aluminum headers sold to friend, the front bumper went to someone else and a 389 fitted.  The car was a metallic blue two door hardtop with the aluminum wheels and Ventura interior.  Sold the car then did the Tempest.  The only evidence I have left of the Tempest is a picture my mom took of me sitting on the hood with a big middle eliminator trophy after we got too well known to have much fun on the street.  I sold my half to my partner and went back to college.  Have no idea what happened to the car.  The only other Pontiac info I have is that a friend who knew I had raced Pontiacs “back in the day”. offered me the chance to go in before the Mickey Thompson auction after his death and buy whatever I might want.  It turns out that Mickey had a ‘63 Pontiac NASCAR carb which was a 1000 CFM AFB, one of only 15 made for NASCAR by Carter for Pontiac.  I didn’t buy it but should have.  Best Regards, Bryan

ronschuler1
New Driver

GTO also meant GET TOOLS OUT

 

DUB6
Technician

A guy once asked me, "When the car reaches 100 MPH, do you know what GTO stands for?"  I said I didn't.  "God Takes Over", he said.

Not a picture of my real car...Not a picture of my real car...

😃

sk8np8n
New Driver

Ahhh: Memories of the Favorite car I've ever owned. 1968 Gold GTO Convertible. 4 on the floor.
Lived in San Diego at the time and one morning, leaving my apartment for work, I discovered my "hood" had been stolen in the night. Just the hood joints sticking up in the air. Don't remember the details of how it got replaced but it shows how popular that beautiful machine was. What a great vehicle!
007
New Driver

Why is the 63 Tempest 326 never mentioned? Seems to me it had the essentials of compact body and v8 power even if it wasn’t a barn burner!
mpzz
Detailer

Didn't have the big block high performance engine.
Geok86
Advanced Driver

No Pontiac ever had a big block high performance engine, as all factory Pontiac blocks were externally the same, until the 301.
Geok86
Advanced Driver

All V8s externally same.
Dsping62
New Driver

I might be wrong,look up 421 428 other s