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      Pete Estes, the Pontiac boss, and John DeLorean, then Pontiac chief engineer agreed that the thing could work. And in 1964, the GTO was born. Not only did it take everyone by surprise, it flabbergasted everyone. It also started a legend and a whole new breed of car that was to completely dominate the automotive industry until the insurance-safety-emissions blitzkrieg of 1971 killed the supercar.
      The '64 GTOs were offered in a convertible or coupe. A hardtop was added later in the model run. Standard engine was a 389 of 325 horsepower with a single 4-barrel. Optional was the same engine with tripower and a 348 horsepower rating. Other orderable goodies included 4-speeds, suspensions, axle ratios, the whole Pontiac list.
      Needless to say, the car was an instant success. An initial order called for building 5000 GTOs to test the market. By January, the factory already had firm orders for 10,000. At first, the GM bigwigs were going to kill the project. That is, until they saw the cash register start ringing. If the GTO could sell that many units, the brains behind the ledger' books decided to let it go.
      There was a 2+2 package for the Catalina that year including the street 421 engine as an option. But after the advent of the GTO, the market for full size performance cars faded fast. The 2+2 was a model through 1967 and even offered the 421 (then 428) as standard equipment. But not many were sold. Everybody wanted a GTO, the fastest street machine yet from Detroit.
      Wangers was a marketing genius and knew how to promote. He sold GTOs plus GTO shoes, GTO after-shave lotion, GTO sweat socks and a hundred other GTO things. He even produced a rock and roll song—Little GTO by Ronnie and the Daytonas. The words of the song tell the GTO story:

 Little GTO, you're really lookin' fine,
Three deuces and a 4-speed, and a 389.
Listen to her tachin' up now,
Listen to her wind.
Gonna turn it on, wind it up, blow it out,
Gee Tee Oh!
Copyright Buckhorn Music, Inc. BMI.
All rights reserved.

      In 1965, Pontiac increased the rating of the standard 4-barrel engine to 335 horsepower but brought out a real goodie of an engine option. It was still 389 cubes, but a new cam, more streamlined exhaust headers and tripower added up to 360 horsepower. In addition to the straight engine stuff, there was also a Ram (fresh) Air package offered late in the model year. In addition to the engine options, there was the usual list of other Pontiac goodies including metallic brake lining and aluminum front drums.
      Many say that the '65 GTO with all the hot stuff was the fastest dragstrip Pontiac ever. They may have a point. Royal Pontiac and some other dealerships had their '65s going very low 12s with ease.
      Again, the weight problem was beginning to creep around. The '66 GTO was heavier with more and more luxury features being added all the time. As a way of reducing weight, you could order a '66 GTO with all the sound deadener and sealers removed. This saved a lot of scraping if you were going racing and many GTO buyers were. But it also made for a leaky car that rattled on the street. Still, the '66 was ruler of the street. Not much could touch it. The engine was virtually unchanged. The 360 tripower engine got some larger Rochester 2GC carbs at all three stations and the ram air package was continued. But the '66 weighed almost as much as the old '62 full sized Catalinas.
      In '67, there was another performance cutback and the tripower option was dropped on the GTO. You could still get the ram air package around a single 4-barrel engine and some of the power was made up by going to 400 cubic inches. They still called the engine 360 horsepower. On the full size Pontiacs, the 421 had been slightly overbored to 428 cubes and the top option was now 376 horsepower at 5100 rpm. This was with the long branch exhaust manifolds and hot cam from the GTO power pack.
      Nineteen-sixty-seven was also the first year of the Firebird, Pontiac's entry in the ponycar market that had been started three years before by the Mustang. The Firebird continued Pontiac's tradition of offering basic models, then letting the buyer build up the car via the option list on his own specs. All the hot GTO stuff was offered in the Firebird although the top engine option was called 345 horsepower so as not to tarnish the GTO's image as the Pontiac performance leader.
      By '67, the ram air packages had developed into something really special around Pontiac. It was another instance of Pontiac leading the industry. They had discovered the 10 percent boost in power with cold air before anyone else and exploited it to the fullest. Not only was the ram air package a status symbol around the drive-in, it really worked because it included specific internal engine parts that were completely different from the standard engine packages. For instance, the ram air cam had 301 and 313 degrees duration for intake and exhaust whereas the standard GTO engine had 273 and 289 degrees duration. The optional high performance GTO engine cam was 288 and 302 degrees. Better exhaust manifolds graced the ram air engines as did lighter weight, swirl-polished valves and other goodies. The new '67 heads with much larger 2.11 intake valves helped the breathing too.
      Still, Pontiac played the horsepower rating game. The high performance GTO engine for '67, called the HO engine, rated 360 horsepower at 5100 rpm. The ram air engine rated 360 horsepower, too, but at 5400 rpm. Despite the identical horsepower ratings of 360, obviously, the ram air engine was much stronger. Yet, both engines ran in the same class according to NHRA rules. It was things like this which finally forced NHRA to factor horsepower ratings.    NEXT >

APRIL, 1973 CARS • 94
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