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My 67 GTO from Rough to Tough

History of the GTO


     The origin of the GTO, the vehicle that became an icon for the muscle care set, is really a story of one man's battle against the corporate establishment.  That man, John Z. DeLorean, was, at the time, chief engineer of Pontiac.  What he wanted was to build a normally mild-mannered mid-sized sedan powered by a big V-8.

     The GTO concept developed in early 1963 when DeLorean, along with members of his engineering staff, were experimenting with the Tempest, an economy Pontiac introduced the previous year.  The cars four-cylinder engine was inherently rough-running and vibration prone.  As a cure for the car's power deficiency, it was suggested that, since the Tempest's four cylinder shared the same engine mounts as the V8 it would be easy to install the big motor into the little car.

     A prototype was cobbled together using a Tempest Lemans coupe as a test bed.   It contained a 389- cube V8 borrowed from Pontiac's full size Bonneville, as well as a four-barrel carburetor and heavy duty four-speed manual transmission.  The resulting transplant not only made the car quick, but was also a blast to drive.

     It was also DeLorean who named the car.  The term GTO stood for Gran Turismo Omologato, or, in plain English, Grand Touring Homologated.  The word "homologation" was used to describe a race car constructed from a variety of parts in sufficient quantities to be approved for production-class competition by the International Automobile Federation. (FIA)

     As it turned out, a limited edition Ferrari was already using the GTO name.  But, as the initials could not be copy-righted, it was no problem for Pontiac to adopt them for its newest creation.  In the '60s, it was GM policy that no specific model could have more than 10 pounds of total weight per cubic inch of displacement.  Since the GTO weighed about 3,500 pounds, it meant that the 389 motor was too large by nearly 40CI.   DeLorean's way around this rule was to make the GTO, a Lemanns option, instead of a separate model.  That somewhat loose interpretation of corporate edict allowed the beefed-up Pontiac to sneak by top management so long as nobody looked too carefully.

     Originally, the division's skeptical sales department committed to just 5,000 GTO option packages for 1964.  But as the word got out, dealer demand gobbled them all up within days of the official announcement.  The '64 GTO became a certified hit before it had even arrived at any Pontiac showrooms.  So sensitive were the GTO's creators to breaking the engine size rule that initially no mention was made of the car in any of Pontiac's sales literature.  News of its existence was communicated in a few automobile enthusiast publications only.

     Every GTO-optioned Tempest(base-priced at around $3,200)started with a 325-horsepower 389 V8, dual exhausts, floor mounted Hurst three-speed manual transmission, heavy-duty suspension, front bucket seats and chromed air cleaner, valve covers and oil-filter cap.  Buyers could also add a more powerfull 348 horsepower version featuring three two-barrel carbs, as well as options such as a Hurst four-speed or GM-built two-speed automatic, limited slip differential, extra-heavyduty shocks and a faster steering ratio.

     By years end, total sales of Tempest Lemanns hardtops, coupes and convertibles equipped with the GTO option totalled a whopping 32, 450, a far cry from the original GM approved plan.  For 1965, the GTO (or Goat, as it was now beginning to be called.) remained and option, but now featured attractive new front and rear end styling, improvements to the engine and suspension and new rally-style wheels.  That year total GTO sales exceeded 75,000.

     It wouldn't be until 1966 and the arrival of the second-generation Tempest that the GTO would be marketed as a separate model.  By then, other manufacturers were scrambling to create their own versions of the GTO in an attempt to cash in on Pontiac's success.  But, there was simply no substitute for the original.  With a little planning, underhanded, inventiveness and a lot of luck, the GTO created the madness for muscle cars that captured the imagination of a generation of drivers.