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Home/Technical Info/Pontiac/ 11. Car Models Described/
Pontiac GTO - 1964-1974 Described


The beginning - the 1964 GTO
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Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the history of the Pontiac GTO is that it was never supposed to exist. In 1959 a mandate had been passed down from the highest levels of General Motors: No high performance cars. Nothing that implies racing, period.

In the '50s, Pontiac had an old fashioned image as a manufacturer of conservative, basic transportation, and sales were suffering because of it. There were even plans to kill off the division entirely.

Pontiac's salvation was clear: build a performance image. It proceeded to do so, and by 1962, the desired results - increased sales - were a reality. For example, Hurst shifters were found on Pontiacs with floor mounted manual transmissions. The relationship was apparently successful, as every manual-transmission GTO was controlled by the Hurst product.

Continuation of the success seemed doomed with the infamous January 24, 1963 memo from the top which banned all racing activities. The rule stated that all cars would have to weigh ten or more pounds per cubic inch of engine displacement. Even as the memo was being written, work was underway to put a 389 cubic inch motor in the Pontiac Tempest, which at about 3400 lbs., would be in clear violation of the edict. Leading the effort was Pontiac chief engineer John DeLorean, who years later would start his own car company (which would end in failure).

But by making the GTO an option package for the Pontiac Tempest and not standard equipment, it was considered to fall into a loophole in the policy. Pontiac General Manager Elliot "Pete" Estes approved the new model, although sales manager Frank Bridge, who did not believe it would find a market, insisted on limiting initial production to 5,000 cars.

Early on, it was even considered to not add any badging to the car, but that was quickly quelled by DeLorean. (More on the birth of the GTO HERE).

Naming the GTO

Although the Pontiac GTO's existence was borne of original thinking, its name was not. The GTO moniker was "borrowed" from Ferrari, which had a short production run (40) of sports racing cars of the same name starting in 1962. GTO in that case stood for "Gran Turismo Omologato" the english translation of which is "Grand Touring Homologated", a fancy way of saying that it was approved for certain classes of international sports car racing.

Controversy over the name theft continues today, with many insisting that Pontiac owners deserved more original thinking. Jokesters of the time claimed that GTO stood for "Gas, Tires, Oil", all of which both the Pontiac and the Ferrari used in large quantities. Fans and owners of the Pontiac GTO proudly call their favorite car a "Goat" and label their meetings as a "Gathering of the Goats".

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