In early 1963, General Motors' management banned divisions from involvement in auto racing. This followed the 1957 voluntary ban on automobile racing that was instituted by the Automobile Manufacturers Association. By the early 1960s, Pontiac's advertising and marketing approach was heavily based on performance. With GM's ban on factory-sponsored racing, Pontiac's managers began to emphasize street performance.
In his autobiography Glory Days, Pontiac chief marketing manager Jim Wangers, who worked for the division's contract advertising and public relations agency, states that John DeLorean, Bill Collins and Russ Gee were responsible for the GTO's creation. It involved transforming the upcoming second-generation Pontiac Tempest (which reverted to a conventional front-engine with front transmission configuration) into a "Super Tempest" with a larger 389 cu in (6.4 L) Pontiac V8 engine from the full-sized Pontiac Catalina and Bonneville in place of the standard 326 cu in (5.3 L) V8. By promoting the big-engine Tempest as a special high-performance model, they could appeal to the speed-minded youth market (which had also been recognized by Ford Motor Company's Lee Iacocca, who was at that time preparing the sporty Ford Mustang variant of the second generation Ford Falcon compact).
The GTO disregarded GM's policy limiting the A-body intermediate line to a maximum engine displacement of 330 cu in (5.4 L). 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.
The name, which was DeLorean's idea, was inspired by the Ferrari 250 GTO, the successful race car. It is an Italian abbreviation for Gran Turismo Omologato, (grand tourer homologated") which means officially certified for racing in the grand tourer class.
The first Pontiac GTO was an option package for the Pontiac Tempest, available with the two-door coupe, hardtop, and convertible body styles. The US$295 package included a 389 cu in (6 l) V8 rated at 325 bhp (242 kW) at 4800 rpm with a single Carter AFB four-barrel carburetor and dual exhaust, chromed valve covers and air cleaner, seven-blade clutch fan, a floor-shifted three-speed manual transmission with Hurst shifter, stiffer springs, larger diameter front sway bar, wider wheels with 7.50 × 14 redline tires, hood scoops, and GTO badges. Optional equipment included a four-speed manual, Super Turbine 300 two-speed automatic transmission, more powerful "Tri-Power" carburetion (three two-barrel Rochester 2G carburetors) rated at 348 bhp (260 kW), metallic drum brake linings, limited-slip differential, heavy-duty cooling, ride and handling package, and the usual array of power and convenience accessories. With every available option, the GTO cost about US$4,500 and weighed around 3,500 lb (1,600 kg). A tachometer was optional, and was placed in the far right dial on the dash.
Most contemporary road tests such as Car Life criticized the slow steering, particularly without power steering, and inadequate drum brakes, which were identical to those of the normal Tempest. Car and Driver incited controversy when it printed that a GTO that had supposedly been tuned with the "Bobcat" kit offered by Ace Wilson's Royal Pontiac of Royal Oak, Michigan, was clocked at a quarter mile time of 12.8 seconds and a trap speed of 112 mph (180 km/h) on racing slicks. Later reports strongly suggest that the Car and Driver GTOs were equipped with a 421 cu in (6.9 L) engine that was optional in full-sized Pontiacs. Since the two engines were difficult to distinguish externally, the subterfuge was not immediately obvious. In Jim Wangers' Glory Days he admitted after three decades of denial that the red drag strip GTO had its engine swapped with a 421 Bobcat unit. Since the car was damaged during the testing, and Wangers did not want anyone looking under the hood, he used the blue road course GTO to flat tow the red GTO 1,500 miles back to Detroit. Frank Bridge's sales forecast proved inaccurate: the GTO package total sales were 32,450.
Throughout the 1960s, Ace Wilson's Royal Pontiac, a Pontiac car dealer in Royal Oak, Michigan, offered a special tune-up package for Pontiac 389 engines. Many were fitted to GTOs, and the components and instructions could be purchased by mail, as well as installed by the dealer. Many of the Pontiacs made available for magazine testing were equipped with the Bobcat kit.
Milt Schornack joined Royal Pontiac and helped improve the performance enhancement package. The components of the kit varied, but generally included parts to modify the spark advance of the distributor, limiting spark advance to 34–36° at no more than 3,000 rpm (advancing the timing at high rpm for increased power), a thinner copper head gasket to raise compression to about 11.23:1, special intake manifold gaskets to block the heat riser to the carburetor (keeping it cooler), larger carburetor jets, and locking rocker nuts to hold the hydraulic valve lifters at their maximum point of adjustment, allowing the engine to rev higher without "floating" the valves. Properly installed, the kit could add between 30 and 50 horsepower (20–40 kW), although it required high-octane superpremium gasoline of over 100 octane to avoid spark knock with the higher compression and advanced timing. Adhesive "Royal Bobcats" stickers were also included.
The Tempest line, including the GTO, was restyled for the 1965 model year, adding 3.1 inches (79 mm) to the overall length while retaining the same wheelbase and interior dimensions. It had Pontiac's characteristic vertically stacked quad headlights. Overall weight increased about 100 lb (45 kg). The brake lining area increased nearly 15%. Heavy-duty shocks were standard, as was a stronger front antisway bar. The dashboard design was changed, and an optional rally gauge cluster ($86.08) added a more legible tachometer and oil pressure gauge. An additional option was a breakerless transistor ignition.
The 389 engines received revised cylinder heads with re-cored intake passages and high rise intake manifolds, improving breathing. Rated power increased to 335 hp (250 kW) at 5,000 rpm for the base four—barrel engine; the Tri-Power engine was now rated 360 hp (270 kW) at 5,200 rpm. The 'S'-cammed Tri-Power engine had slightly less peak torque rating than the base engine 424 lb·ft (575 N·m) at 3,600 rpm versus 431 lb·ft (584 N·m) at 3,200 rpm. Transmission and axle ratio choices remained the same. The three-speed manual was standard, while two four-speed manual transmissions (wide or close ratio) or two-speed automatic were optional.
The restyled GTO had a new simulated hood scoop. A seldom seen dealer-installed option consisted of a metal underhood pan and gaskets to open the scoop, making it a cold air intake. The scoop was low enough that its effectiveness was questionable (it was unlikely to pick up anything but boundary layer air), but it allowed more of the engine's roar to escape. Another cosmetic change was the black "egg-crate" grille.
Car Life tested a 1965 GTO with Tri-Power and what they considered the most desirable options (close-ratio four-speed manual transmission, power steering, metallic brakes, rally wheels, 4.11 limited-slip differential, and "Rally" gauge cluster), with a total sticker price of US$3,643.79. With two testers and equipment aboard, they recorded 0–60 miles per hour (0–97 km/h) in 5.8 seconds, the standing quarter mile in 14.5 seconds with a trap speed of 100 miles per hour (160 km/h), and an observed top speed of 114 miles per hour (182.4 km/h) at the engine's 6,000 rpm redline. A four-barrel Motor Trend test car, a heavier convertible handicapped by the two-speed automatic transmission and the lack of a limited slip differential, ran 0–60 mph in 7 seconds and through the quarter mile in 16.1 seconds at 89 miles per hour (142.4 km/h).
Major criticisms of the GTO continued to center on its slow steering (ratio of 17.5:1, four turns lock-to-lock) and mediocre brakes. Car Life was satisfied with the metallic brakes on its GTO, but Motor Trend and Road Test found the four-wheel drum brakes with organic linings to be alarmingly inadequate in high-speed driving.
Sales of the GTO, abetted by a marketing and promotional campaign that included songs and various merchandise, more than doubled to 75,342. It spawned many imitators, both within other GM divisions and its competitors.
The GTO became a separate Pontiac model (model number 242) in 1966, instead of being an "option package" on the Tempest LeMans. The entire GM "A" body intermediate line was restyled that year, gaining more curvaceous styling with kicked-up rear fender lines for a "Coke-bottle" look, and a slightly "tunneled" backlight. The tail light featured a rare louvered cover, only seen on the GTO. Overall length grew only fractionally, to 206.4 in (5,243 mm), still on a 115 in (2,921 mm) wheelbase, while width expanded to 74.4 in (1,890 mm). Rear track increased one inch (2.5 cm). Overall weight remained about the same. The GTO was available as a pillared coupe, a hardtop (without B-pillars), and a convertible. Also an automotive industry first, plastic front grilles replaced the pot metal and aluminum versions seen on earlier years. New Strato bucket seats were introduced with higher and thinner seat backs and contoured cushions for added comfort and adjustable headrests were introduced as a new option. The instrument panel was redesigned and more integrated than in previous years with the ignition switch moved from the far left of the dash to the right of the steering wheel. Four pod instruments continued, and the GTO's dash was highlighted by walnut veneer trim.
Engine and carburetor choices remained the same as the previous year, except the Tri Power option was discontinued mid-model year. A new engine was offered that saw few takers: the XS option consisted of a factory Ram Air set up with a new 744 high lift cam. Approximately 35 factory installed Ram Air packages are believed to have been built, though 300 dealership installed Ram Air packages are estimated to have been ordered. On paper, the package was said to produce the same 360 hp (270 kW) as the non-Ram Air, Tri Power car.
Sales increased to 96,946, the highest production figure for all GTO years. Although Pontiac had strenuously promoted the GTO in advertising as the "GTO tiger," it had become known in the youth market as the "goat."
The GTO underwent a few styling changes in 1967. The louver-covered tail lights were replaced with eight tail lights, four on each side. Rally II wheels with colored lug nuts were also available in 1967. The GTO emblems located on the rear part of the fenders were moved to the chrome rocker panels. Also the grill was changed from a purely split grill, to one that shared some chrome.
The 1967 GTO came in three body styles:Hardtop – 65,176 produced
Convertible – 9,517 produced
Sports coupe – 7,029 produced
The GTO also saw several mechanical changes in 1967. The Tri-Power carburetion system was replaced with a Rochester Quadrajet four-barrel carburetor. The 389 engine received a larger cylinder bore (4.12 inches, 104.7 mm) for a total displacement of 400 CID (6.5 L) V8. The 400 cubic inch engine was available in three models: economy, standard, and high output. The economy engine used a two-barrel carburetor rather than the Rochester Quadrajet and produced 265 hp (198 kW) at 4400 rpm, and 397 lb·ft (538 N·m) at 3400 rpm. The standard engine produced 335 hp (250 kW) at 5000 rpm, and the highest torque of the three engines at 441 lb·ft (598 N·m) at 3400 rpm. The high output engine produced the most power for that year at 360 hp (270 kW) at 5100 rpm, and produced 438 lb·ft (594 N·m) at 3600 rpm. Emission controls were fitted in GTOs sold in California.
The 1967 model year required new safety equipment. A new energy-absorbing steering column was accompanied by an energy-absorbing steering wheel, padded instrument panel, non-protruding control knobs, and four-way emergency flashers. A shoulder belt option was also featured, and the brake master cylinder was now a dual reservoir unit with a backup hydraulic circuit.
The two-speed automatic transmission was also replaced with a three-speed Turbo-Hydramatic TH-400. The TH-400 was equipped with a Hurst Performance dual-gate shifter, called a "his/hers" shifter, that permitted either automatic shifting in "drive" or manual selection through the gears. Front disc brakes were also an option in 1967.
GTO sales for 1967 totaled 81,722.
General Motors redesigned its A-body line for 1968, with more curvaceous, semi-fastback styling. The wheelbase was shortened to 112.0 in (2,845 mm) on all two-door models. Overall length was reduced 5.9 inches (150 mm) and height dropped half an inch (12 mm), but overall weight was up about 75 lb (34 kg). Pontiac abandoned the familiar vertically stacked headlights in favor of a horizontal layout, but made hidden headlights available at extra cost. The concealed headlights were a popular option. The signature hood scoop was replaced by dual scoops on either side of a prominent hood bulge extending rearward from the protruding nose.
A unique feature was the body-color Endura front bumper. It was designed to absorb impact without permanent deformation at low speeds. Pontiac touted this feature heavily in advertising, showing hammering at the bumper to no discernible effect. Though a rare option, a GTO could be ordered with "Endura delete", in which case the Endura bumper would be replaced by a chrome front bumper and grille from the Pontiac Le Mans.
Powertrain options remained substantially the same as in 1967, but the standard GTO engine's power rating rose to 350 hp (260 kW) at 5,000 rpm. At mid-year, a new Ram Air package, known as Ram Air II, became available. It included freer-breathing cylinder heads, round port exhaust and the 041 cam. The 'official' power rating was not changed. Another carry-over from 1967 was the four-piston caliper disc brake option. While most 1968 models had drum brakes all around, this seldom ordered option provided greater stopping power. The 1968 model year was also the last year the GTOs offered separate crank operated front door vents.
Concealed windshield wipers, which presented a cleaner appearance hidden below the rear edge of the hood, were standard on the GTO and other 1968 GM products after having been originally introduced on the 1967 Pontiac Grand Prix. A popular option, actually introduced during the 1967 model year, was a hood-mounted tachometer, located in front of the windshield and lit for visibility at night. An in-dash tachometer was also available.
Redline bias-ply tires continued as standard equipment on the 1968 GTO, though they could be replaced by whitewall tires at no extra cost. A new option was radial tires for improved ride and handling. However, very few were delivered with the radial tires because of manufacturing problems encountered by supplier B.F. Goodrich. The radial tire option was discontinued after 1968. Pontiac did not offer radial tires as a factory option on the GTO again until the 1974 model.
Hot Rod tested a four-speed GTO equipped with the standard engine and obtained a quarter mile reading of 14.7 seconds at 97 mph (156 km/h) in pure stock form. Motor Trend clocked a four-speed Ram Air with 4.33 rear differential at 14.45 seconds at 98.2 mph (158.0 km/h) and a standard GTO with Turbo-Hydramatic and a 3.23 rear axle ratio at 15.93 seconds at 88.3 mph (142.1 km/h). Testers were split about handling, with Hot Rod calling it "the best-balanced car [Pontiac] ever built," but Car Life chided its excessive nose heaviness, understeer, and inadequate damping.
Royal Pontiac, located in Royal Oak, Michigan, offered a 428/Royal Bobcat conversion of the 1968 GTO. For $650.00. a 390-horsepower 428 cubic inch engine was installed in place of the 400. The 428 CI engine was disassembled and blueprinted to produce more than the advertised factory 390 horsepower and easily spinning to 5700 RPM. Car and Driver road tested the 428 CI powered car with the Turbo-Hydramatic transmission and 3.55 gears. It could do 0–60 MPH in 5.2 seconds, 0–100 in 12.9 seconds, and the 1/4 mile in 13.8 seconds @ 104 MPH. This compared to a Car Life road test of a 400 CI powered GTO with a Ram Air engine, four-speed transmission, and 3.90 gear which did 0–60 in 6.6 seconds, 0–100 in 14.6 seconds, and the 1/4 mile in 14.53 @ 99.7 MPH. Car and Driver wrote that the 428 CI powered car was "a fine, exciting car for either touring or tooting around in traffic. Not overly fussy. Not difficult to drive–-up to a point. Too much throttle at the wrong time will spin the car, or send it rocketing off the road and into the farmer's field. You can light up the car's tires like it was an AA-fueler anytime the notion seizes your fancy." On the other hand, according to Car Life, the Ram Air powered car "likes to run between 3000 and 6000 RPM. Below 3000, the GTO ran flat and a bit rough. Part-throttle driving at 2000 RPM around town was difficult and unpleasant. Freeway cruising at 4000 RPM is anything but pleasant and promises short life for hard working engine components. Also, driving the GTO on wet roads with this deep geared axle was thrilling. Rear tire breakaway could be provoked by a slight jab at the accelerator, sending the car into a minor skid that usually used up more than one lane of space."
Like all 1968 passenger vehicles sold in the United States, GTOs now featured front outboard shoulder belts (cars built after January 1, 1968) and side marker lights. To comply with the new 1968 federal vehicle emissions standards, the GTO was now equipped with emissions controls.
Now facing competition both within GM and from Ford, Dodge, and Plymouth—particularly the low-cost Plymouth Road Runner—the GTO won the Motor Trend Car of the Year Award. Sales reached 87,684 units, which would ultimately prove to be the second-best sales year for the GTO.
The 1969 model eliminated the front door vent windows, had a slight grille and taillight revision, moved the ignition key from the dashboard to the steering column (which locked the steering wheel when the key was removed, a federal requirement installed one year ahead of schedule), and the gauge faces changed from steel blue to black. In addition, the rear quarter-panel mounted side marker lamps changed from a red lens shaped like the Pontiac "arrowhead" emblem to one shaped like the broad GTO badge. Front outboard headrests were made standard equipment on all GTOs built after January 1, 1969.
The previous economy engine and standard 350 hp 400 CID V8 remained, while the 360 hp (270 kW) 400HO was upgraded to the Ram Air III, rated at 366 hp (273 kW) at 5,100 rpm. The top option was the 370 hp (280 kW) Ram Air IV, which featured special header-like high-flow exhaust manifolds, high-flow cylinder heads, a specific high-rise aluminum intake manifold, larger Rochester QuadraJet four-barrel carburetor, high-lift/long-duration camshaft, plus various internal components capable of withstanding higher engine speeds and power output. Unlike the highest RPM big-block Chevy and Hemi engines, the Ram Air IV utilized hydraulic lifters.
By this time, the gross power ratings of both Ram Air engines were highly suspect, bearing less relationship to developed power and more to an internal GM policy limiting all cars except the Corvette to no more than one advertised horsepower per 10 lb (4.5 kg) of curb weight. The higher-revving Ram Air IV's advertised power peak was actually listed at 5,000 rpm—100 rpm lower than the less-powerful Ram Air III.
A new model called "The Judge" was introduced. The name came from a comedy routine, "Here Come de Judge", used repeatedly on the Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In TV show. The Judge routine, made popular by legendary showman Sammy Davis, Jr., was borrowed from the act of long-time burlesque entertainer Dewey "Pigmeat" Markham. Advertisements used slogans like "All rise for the Judge" and "The Judge can be bought". As originally conceived, the Judge was to be a low-cost GTO, stripped of features to make it competitive with the Plymouth Road Runner. The package was US$332 more expensive than a standard GTO, and included the Ram Air III engine, Rally II wheels without trim rings, Hurst shifter (with a unique T-shaped handle), wider tires, various decals, and a rear spoiler. Pontiac claimed that the spoiler had some functional effect at higher speeds, producing a small but measurable downforce, but it was of little value at legal speeds. The Judge was initially offered only in Carousel Red, but midway into the model year a variety of other colors became available.
The GTO was surpassed in sales both by the Chevrolet Chevelle SS396 and the Plymouth Road Runner, but 72,287 were sold during the 1969 model year, with 6,833 of them getting the Judge package.
The Tempest line received another facelift for the 1970 model year. Hidden headlights were deleted in favor of four exposed round headlamps outboard of narrower grille openings. The nose retained the protruding vertical prow theme, although it was less prominent. While the standard Tempest and Le Mans had chrome grilles, the GTO retained the Endura urethane cover around the headlamps and grille.
The suspension was upgraded with the addition of a rear anti-roll bar, essentially the same bar as used on the Oldsmobile 442 and Buick Gran Sport. The front anti-roll bar was slightly stiffer. The result was a useful reduction in body lean in turns and a modest reduction of understeer.
Another handling-related improvement was optional variable-ratio power steering. Rather than a fixed ratio of 17.5:1, requiring four turns lock-to-lock, the new system varied its ratio from 14.6:1 to 18.9:1, needing 3.5 turns lock-to-lock. Turning diameter was reduced from 40.9 feet (12.5 m) to 37.4 feet (11.4 m).
The base engine was unchanged for 1970, but the low-compression economy engine was deleted and the Ram Air III and Ram Air IV remained available, although the latter was now a special-order option.
A new option was Pontiac's 455 HO engine (different from the round-port offerings of the 1971–72 cars), available now that GM had rescinded its earlier ban on intermediates with engines larger than 400. The 455, a long-stroke engine also available in the full-size Pontiac line as well as the Grand Prix, was dubiously rated by Pontiac as only moderately stronger than the base 350 HP 400 CID and less powerful than the 366 hp (273 kW) Ram Air III. The Pontiac brochure indicated the same 455 installed in the Grand Prix model was rated at 370 horsepower (280 kW). The camshafts used in the Ram Air III and the GTO 455 HO were the same. For example, the manual transmission 455 HO's used the same 288/302 duration cam as the Ram Air III. The 455 was rated at 360 hp (270 kW) at 4,300 rpm. Its advantage was torque: 500 lb·ft (678 N·m) at 2,700 rpm. A functional Ram Air scoop was available. Car and Driver tested a heavily optioned 455, with a four-speed transmission and 3.31 axle and recorded a quarter mile time of 15.0 seconds with a trap speed of 96.5 mph (155.3 km/h) . Car Life test car had the Turbo-Hydramatic 455 with a 3.55 rear differential, clocked 14.76 seconds at 95.94 mph (154.40 km/h), with identical 6.6 second 0–60 mph acceleration. Both were about 3 mph (4.8 km/h) slower than a Ram Air III 400 four-speed, although considerably less temperamental: the Ram Air engine idled roughly and was difficult to drive at low speeds. The smaller displacement engine recorded less than 9 mpg‑US (26 L/100 km; 11 mpg‑imp) of gasoline, compared to 10 mpg‑US (24 L/100 km; 12 mpg‑imp)-11 mpg‑US (21 L/100 km; 13 mpg‑imp) for the 455.
A new and short-lived option for 1970 was the vacuum operated exhaust (VOE), which was vacuum actuated via an underdash lever marked "exhaust". The VOE was designed to reduce exhaust backpressure and to increase power and performance, but it also substantially increased exhaust noise. The VOE option was offered from November 1969 to January 1970. Pontiac management was ordered to cancel the VOE option by GM's upper management following a TV commercial for the GTO that aired during Super Bowl IV on CBS January 11, 1970. In that commercial, entitled the "Humbler", which was broadcast only that one time, a young man pulled up in a new GTO to a drive-in restaurant with dramatic music and exhaust noise in the background, pulling the "exhaust" knob to activate the VOE and then left the drive-in after failing to find a street racing opponent. That particular commercial was also cancelled by order of GM management. Approximately 233 1970 GTOs were factory built with this rare option including 212 hardtop coupes and 21 convertbiles, all were "YS" 400ci 350 hp with either four-speed manual or Turbo Hydra-matic transmissions. This particular GTO in the commercial was "Palladium" silver with a black bucket interior. It was unusual in several respects as it also had the under-dash "Ram Air" knob just to the right of the VOE knob, and it sported "'69 Judge" stripes, as a few very-early '70 GTOs could be ordered with. It also had a Turbo Hydra-matic transmission, remote mirror, Rally II wheels, A/C, hood tach, and a new-for-1970 Formula steering wheel.
The Judge remained available as an option on GTOs. The Judge came standard with the Ram Air III, while the Ram Air IV was optional. Though the 455 CID was available as an option on the standard GTO throughout the entire model year, the 455 was not offered on the Judge until late in the year. Orbit Orange (actually a bright canary yellow) became the new feature color for the 1970 Judge, but any GTO color was available. Striping was relocated to the upper wheelwell brows.
An Orbit Orange 1970 GTO with the 455 engine and Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission was one of the featured cars in the movie Two-Lane Blacktop, which depicted an unlikely cross-country race between a new GTO and a quintessential hotrodded, grey primer-painted, 1955 Chevrolet drag car with a dual quad tunnel ram "454" engine and a four-speed manual. The GTO, owned by the studio, was not depicted as a Judge; however, in reality it was a RA IV powered Judge. They mentioned the "455" engine as it projected a more powerful offering to the public.
The new styling did little to help declining sales, which were now being hit by sagging buyer interest in all muscle cars, fueled by the punitive surcharges levied by automobile insurance companies, which sometimes resulted in insurance payments higher than car payments for some drivers. Sales were down to 40,149, of which 3,797 were the Judge. Of those 3,797 Judges built, only 168 were ordered in the convertible form: RA III, RA IV and 455HO. The general consensus is that six of the 168 built were ordered with the 1970-only D-Port 455HO 360 hp (270 kW) engine, a no-cost option, which explains the conflicting production figures over the years as to how many were built; 162 vs. 168. The '69/'70 "round-port" RA IV engine, a derivative of the '68½ "round-port" RA II engine, was the most exotic high-performance engine ever offered by PMD and factory-installed in a GTO or Firebird. The 1969 version had a slight advantage as the compression ratio was still at 10:75:1 as opposed to 10.5:1 in 1970. It is widely speculated that PMD was losing $1,000 on every RA IV GTO and Firebird built, and the RA IV engine was highly under-rated at 370 hp (280 kW). Overall, only 37 RA IV GTO convertibles were built in 1970: 24 four-speeds and 13 automatics. Of the 13 1970 GTO RA IV/auto convertibles built only six received the Judge option. The GTO remained the third best-selling intermediate muscle car, out-sold only by the Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396/454 and Plymouth Road Runner.
The 1971 GTO had another modest facelift, this time with wire-mesh grilles, horizontal bumper bars on either side of the grille opening, more closely spaced headlamps, and a new hood with the dual scoops relocated to the leading edge, not far above the grille. Overall length grew slightly to 203.3 in (5,164 mm).
A new corporate edict, aimed at preparing GM for no-lead gasoline, forced an across-the-board reduction in compression ratios. The Ram Air engines did not return for 1971. The standard GTO engine was still the 400 CID V8, but now with 8.2:1 compression. Power was rated at 300 hp (220 kW) SAE gross at 4,800 rpm and torque at 400 lb·ft (542 N·m) at 3,600 rpm. It had 255 hp (190 kW) SAE net at 4,400 rpm in the GTO and 250 hp (190 kW) SAE net at 4,400 rpm in the Firebird.
An engine option was the 455 CID V8 with four-barrel carburetor, 8.4 to 1 compression ratio and 325 hp (242 kW) at 4,400 rpm, which was only available with the Turbo Hydra-matic TH-400 transmission. It had 260 hp (190 kW) SAE net at 4,000 rpm in the GTO and 255 hp (190 kW) SAE net in the Firebird. This engine was not available with air induction.
The top GTO engine for 1971 was the new 455 HO with 8.4 compression, rated at 335 hp (250 kW) at 4,800 rpm and 480 lb·ft (651 N·m) at 3,600 rpm. It had 310 hp (230 kW) SAE net at 4,400 rpm in the GTO and 305 hp (227 kW) SAE net in the Firebird Trans Am or Formula 455 with air induction. The 1971 Pontiac brochure declared that this engine produced more NET horsepower than any other engine in its history. That would imply the 400 CID V8 Ram Air engines had less than 310 hp net.
For 1971, the standard rear-end was an open 10 bolt. Positraction 10 bolt rear ends were available as an option on 400 CI engine equipped GTO's, while all 455 CI GTO's were available with a 12 bolt open or optional 12 bolt Positraction rear-end.
Motor Trend tested a 1971 GTO with the 455, four-speed transmission, and 3.90 axle, and obtained a 0–60 mph time of 6.1 seconds and a quarter mile acceleration of 13.4 seconds at 102 mph (164 km/h).
The Judge returned for a final year, With the standard equipment being the Mountain Performance package was the 455 HO. Only 357 were sold, including 17 convertibles, before The Judge was discontinued in February 1971. Only 10,532 GTOs were sold in 1971, 661 of which were non-Judge equipped convertibles.
In 1972, the GTO reverted from a separate model line to a US$353.88 option package for the Le Mans and Le Mans Sport coupes. On the base Le Mans line, the GTO package could be had with either the low-priced pillared coupe or hardtop coupe. Both models came standard with cloth and vinyl or all-vinyl bench seats and rubber floor mats on the pillared coupe and carpeting on the hardtop, creating a lower-priced GTO. The Le Mans Sport, offered only as a hardtop coupe, came with Strato bucket seats upholstered in vinyl, along with carpeting on floor and lower door panels, vinyl door-pull straps, custom pedal trim and cushioned steering wheel, much like GTOs of previous years. Other optional equipment was similar to 1971 and earlier models. Planned for 1972 as a GTO option was the ducktail rear spoiler from the Pontiac Firebird, but after a few cars were built with that option, the mold used to produce the spoiler broke, and it was cancelled. Rally II and honeycomb wheels were optional on all GTOs, with the honeycombs now featuring red Pontiac arrowhead emblems on the center caps, while the Rally IIs continued with the same caps as before, with the letters "PMD" (for Pontiac Motor Division).
Power, now rated in SAE net hp terms, was down further, to 250 hp (190 kW) at 4,400 rpm and 325 lb·ft (441 N·m) at 3,200 rpm torque for the base 400 engine. The optional 455 had the same rated power (although at a peak of 3,600 rpm), but substantially more torque. Most of the drop was attributable to the new rating system (which now reflected an engine in as-installed condition with mufflers, accessories, and standard intake). The engines were relatively little changed from 1971.
A very rare option was the 455 HO engine, essentially similar to that used in the Trans Am. It was rated at 300 hp (220 kW) at 4,000 rpm and 415 lb·ft (563 N·m) at 3,200 rpm, also in the new SAE net figures. Despite its modest 8.4:1 compression, it was as strong as many earlier engines with higher gross power ratings; yet like all other 1972-model engines, it could perform on low-octane regular leaded, low-lead or unleaded gasolines. Only 646 cars with this engine were sold.
Sales plummeted by 45%, to 5,811. (Some sources discount the single convertible and the three anomalous wagons, listing the total as 5,807.) Although Pontiac did not offer a production GTO convertible in 1972, a buyer could order a Le Mans Sport convertible with either of the three GTO engines and other sporty/performance options to create a GTO in all but name. Even the GTO's Endura bumper was offered as an option on Le Mans/Sport models, with "PONTIAC" spelled out on the driver's side grille rather than "GTO."
Once again an option package for the Le Mans, the 1973 GTO shared the reskinned A-body with its "Colonnade" hardtop styling, which eliminated true hardtop design because of the addition of a roof pillar but retention of frameless doorwork. Rear side windows were now of a fixed design that could not be opened and in a triangular shape. New federal laws for 1973 demanded front bumpers capable of withstanding 5-mile-per-hour (8 km/h)impacts with no damage to the body (5 mph rear bumpers became standard in 1974). The result was the use of prominent and heavy chrome bumpers front and rear. The overall styling of the 1973 Pontiac A-body intermediates (Le Mans, Luxury Le Mans, GTO and Grand Am) was generally not well received by the car buying public.
In contrast, the Pontiac Grand Prix and Chevrolet Monte Carlo, which were also derived from the intermediate A-body, were much better received because of their squared-off styling and formal rooflines with vertical windows. Pontiac's sister division, Oldsmobile, received better reviews from the automotive press and the car-buying public with the similar-bodied Cutlass.
Again, the 1973 GTO option was offered on two models including the base Le Mans coupe or the LeMans Sport Coupe. The base LeMans coupe featured a cloth-and-vinyl or all-vinyl bench seat while the more lavish Le Mans Sport Coupe had all-vinyl interiors with Strato bucket seats or a notchback bench seat with folding armrest. The Le Mans Sport Coupe also had louvered rear side windows from the Grand Am in place of the standard triangular windows of the base Le Mans.
The standard 400 CID V8 in the 1973 GTO was further reduced in compression to 8.0:1, dropping it to 230 hp (170 kW). The 400 engine was available with any of the three transmissions including the standard three-speed manual, or optional four-speed or Turbo Hydra-Matic. The 455 CID V8 remained optional but was dropped to 250 hp (186 kW) and available only with the Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission. The 455 HO engine did not reappear, but GM initially announced the availability of a Super Duty 455 engine (shared with the contemporary Pontiac Trans Am SD455), and several such cars were made available for testing, impressing reviewers with their power and flexibility. Nevertheless, the Super Duty was never actually offered for public sale in the GTO. Also, eight 455SD Grand Ams were also built for testing and eventually all were destroyed as well.
Sales dropped to 4,806, due in part to competition from the new Grand Am and the lack of promotion for the GTO. By the end of the model year an emerging energy crisis quashed consumer interest in muscle cars.
Wanting to avoid internal competition with the "Euro-styled" Pontiac Grand Am, and looking for an entry into the compact muscle market populated by the Plymouth Duster 360, Ford Maverick Grabber and AMC Hornet X, Pontiac moved the 1974 GTO option to the compact Pontiac Ventura, which shared its basic body shell and sheetmetal with the Chevrolet Nova.
The $461 GTO package (Code WW3) included a three-speed manual transmission with Hurst floor shifter, heavy-duty suspension with front and rear anti-roll bars, a shaker hood, special grille, mirrors, and wheels, and various GTO emblems. The only engine was the 350 cu in (5.7 L) V8 with 7.6:1 compression and a single four-barrel carburetor. It was rated at 200 hp (150 kW) at 4400 rpm and 295 lb·ft (400 N·m) at 2800 rpm. Optional transmissions included a wide-ratio four-speed with Hurst shifter for $207 (Code M20) or the three-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic. Power Steering was a $104 option (Code N41) as well as Power front disc brakes for $71 (Code JL2).
The GTO option was available in both the base Ventura and Ventura Custom lines as either a two-door sedan or hatchback coupé. The base Ventura interior consisted of bench seats and rubber floor mats, Bucket seats could be added for $132 (Code A51), while the Ventura Custom had upgraded bench seats or optional Strato bucket seats along with carpeting, cushioned steering wheel, and custom pedal trim.
Bias-belted tires were standard equipment, but a radial tuned suspension option added radial tires along with upgraded suspension tuning for improved ride and handling.
Cars Magazine tested a 1974 GTO with the optional four-speed and obtained a 0–60 mph time of 7.7 seconds and a quarter mile reading of 15.72 seconds at 88 mph (142 km/h). Jerry Heasley of High Performance Pontiac magazine called the car "a joke of a Ventura compact...uglier and stupid looking," in their August 1983 Special GTO issue.
Sales were an improvement over 1973, at 7,058, but not enough to justify continuing the model.
During the 1999 Detroit Auto Show, a GTO concept car with a heritage-inspired "Coke-bottle" shape, grille, and hood scoop, was introduced to the world. It was only a design experiment and had no engine.
In 2004, the Pontiac GTO was relaunched in the U.S. market in the form of a rebadged, third-generation Holden Monaro.
The VZ Monaro-based GTO was Pontiac's first captive import since the 1988–1993 Pontiac LeMans. The V2/VZ Monaro was a 2-door coupe variant of the Australian developed VT/VX Holden Commodore. The Commodore had, in turn, been developed by enlarging the European designed 1994 Opel Omega B, which was marketed in its original form in the U.S. from 1997 to 2001 as the Cadillac Catera. The Monaro was also exported to the United Kingdom as the Vauxhall Monaro and to the Middle East as the Chevrolet Lumina SS.
The revival was prompted by former GM North America Chairman Bob Lutz, who had the idea of importing a Holden Commodore-based vehicle after reading a Car and Driver review of the Holden Commodore SS, published circa 2000. Car and Driver praised the performance of the V8 powered, rear-wheel drive Holden Commodore SS, but noted that even though it was one of the best vehicles that GM offered at the time, it could not be purchased in the United States. The idea of importing a rear-wheel drive Holden as a GM North American performance offering gradually transformed into importing the Monaro. Lutz, as well as other GM executives, later drove a Holden Monaro while on a business trip in Australia, which convinced them that importing the car could be a profitable venture.
Lutz had to convince GM executive hierarchy to import the car, and overcome a corporate culture that promoted regional autonomy between GM North America and its overseas divisions. This resulted in an "unnecessarily long gestation period," as Lutz put it, and at a much higher cost than anticipated. The Monaro design was introduced in 2001, but appeared "dated" in 2004 when it was released in the United States. It was also originally planned to sell for about $25,000, but by the time it was launched in the U.S., the Australian dollar's growth against the U.S. dollar had inflated the price of the car to well over $34,000. Both of these elements played a role in the car's lukewarm acceptance by the general public.
The GTO was assembled by GM's Holden subsidiary at Elizabeth. It was equipped with the 5.7 liter LS1 V8 engine for the 2004 model year, the same engine found in the concurrent model year Chevrolet Corvette, with a choice of a 6-speed manual transmission or a 4-speed automatic. Changes from the Australian-built Monaro included bracing additions to the body to meet U.S. crash standards, a "corporate Pontiac" front facia, new badging, "GTO" stitching on the front seats, and a revised exhaust system. GM Engineers benchmarked the sound of the 1964 GTO held in the Pontiac historical collection, as well as other LS1-powered vehicles, while working with the exhaust vendor to tune the system. The effort was made to make the new GTO invoke the same sound as the original while still meeting the noise threshold required by some states. The 2004 GTO exhaust was a true dual system that followed the original Monaro exhaust routing, thus both tailpipes exited on the driver side of the vehicle. General Motors claimed performance of 5.3 seconds to 60 and a 13.8 second quarter mile time, which was closely verified by several magazine tests.
Initially in 2004, the car was offered in several colors: Barbados Blue Metallic, Cosmos Purple Metallic, Quicksilver Metallic, Phantom Black Metallic, Impulse Blue Metallic, Torrid Red, and Yellow Jacket.
GM had high expectations to sell 18,000 units, but the Monaro-based GTO received a lukewarm reception in the U.S. The styling was frequently derided by critics as being too "conservative" and "anonymous" to befit either the GTO heritage or the current car's performance. Given the newly revived muscle car climate, it was also overshadowed by the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, Dodge Magnum, and the new Ford Mustang, which all featured more traditional "muscle" aesthetics. Critics also pointed out the car's high sale price. Sales were also limited because of dealer tactics, such as initially charging large markups and denying requests for test drives of the vehicle. By the end of the year, the 2004 vehicles were selling with significant discounts. Sales were 13,569 of the 15,728 imported cars for 2004.
The hood scoops that originally were slated for production in 2005 were pushed into production as part of an over-the-counter Sport Appearance Package. The 2004 Sport Appearance Package also included a taller and more angular rear spoiler, as well as deeper inset grilles.
Closing out the 2004 model year was the W40 package featuring an exclusive paint color called Pulse Red, red GTO embroidery on the seats, and a grey colored gauge cluster. The last 794 of the 2004 model year GTOs were built with the W40 package.
The 2005 model year continued with standard hood scoops, split rear exhaust with a revised rear fascia, and late in the year, optional 18 inch (45.7 cm) wheels. The major change for 2005 was the replacement of the LS1 engine with the LS2 engine. This 5,967 cc (364.1 cu in) engine increased power and torque in the GTO to 400 hp (300 kW) with 400 lb·ft (542 N·m) torque. Other changes included larger front rotors and caliper hardware from the Corvette, and the drivetrain was strengthened with the addition of a driveshaft with larger "giubos" and a larger differential flange, as well as revised half-shafts. Dashboard gauge graphics were revised. The optional dealer-installed Sport Appearance Package became available and differed visually by having a different lower rear fascia, aftermarket mufflers with quad chrome exhaust tips, revised spoiler and front lower fascia extension, recessed grilles, and revised rocker panels. This package was available from GM as an accessory in red, silver, black, or primer for other color cars. Production was 11,069 due in part to a shortened model year. Barbados Blue and Cosmos Purple were dropped this year, but Cyclone Grey and Midnight Blue Metallic were added. Customers also had the option to order their GTO without hood scoops (RPO code BZJ), though only 24 were produced this way. There was a 17-inch chrome wheel option. Only 17 GTOs had the chrome wheel option because this option was not offered until May 2005 and the 2005 production run ended in June. Another reason was this option was expensive, which resulted in low demand. With this improved powerplant, GM claimed the car capable of 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 4.7 seconds and a 13.0 second quarter mile at 105 mph (169 km/h) (automatic transmission). Car and Driver magazine tested the car at 0–60 mph in 4.8 seconds and the ¼ mile in 13.3 seconds at 107 mph (172 km/h) for the quarter mile with its BFGoodrich g-Force T/A KDWS, 245/45ZR-17 95W M+S front and rear tires but manual transmission. The 0–100 and 0–130 times were 11.7 and 19.6 respectively.
For 2006, two additional colors were added, Spice Red Metallic and Brazen Orange Metallic, while Midnight Blue Metallic and Yellow Jacket were dropped. Changes for 2006 included revised blacked-out tail lamps, illuminated steering wheel radio controls, faster moving power seat motors, and an interior power door lock switch. The climate control button for the A/C also had the word "Defog" added to it for the 2006 model year. Along with the 2005 model, the 2006 GTO was equipped with the 400 hp (300 kW), 6.0 L engine.
On February 21, 2006, Buick-Pontiac-GMC General Manager John Larson announced to dealers that GM would halt imports of the GTO in September, making 2006 the last model year for the new GTO. The explanation was the inability to meet new airbag deployment standards for 2007. The final production numbers of the 2006 Pontiac GTO are 13,948 cars, an increase from 11,069 from the previous model year.
The last Pontiac GTO, which was also the very last Monaro-based coupe produced, came off the assembly line in Australia on June 14, 2006. Total production for all three years was 40,808 vehicles. This generation GTO was only intended as a limited production run for those 3 years from the beginning of the program.Top Speed - 160 (With Speed Limiter)
Top Speed - 188 (Without Speed Limiter)
0-60 mph - 4.6 seconds
0-100 mph - 8.6 seconds
Quarter Mile Drive - 13.3 seconds
David Pearson drove a 1971 GTO in the Winston Cup Series.
Following are the production numbers for the Pontiac GTO from 1964 to 1970.