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The Legendary Pontiac GTO: The Car That Started It All

Vukasin HerbezMay 7, 2019

  1. 1972-3 Pontiac LeMans GTO

The early ‘70s Pontiac GTO was no longer a separate model, but only an option on the mid-size Le Mans. They shared the same body style with sporty details and a few exterior features. However, for the 1973 model year, they redesigned the GTO, making it closer in appearance to a regular LeMans coupe.

The power was down, so the base 400 and 455 both delivered 250 HP for 1972, although the 455 had much more torque for a better performance. In 1972, a rare engine option was the 455 H.O. producing 300 HP, which you could call a true muscle car. However, in 1973, they dropped the High Output version and the 400 V8 delivered just 230 HP, while the 455 got 250 HP.

  1. 1979 Pontiac Ventura GTO

They downsized the once mighty Pontiac GTO from a separate model to only a trim line option for the 1974 Pontiac Ventura. The Ventura was the smallest and most affordable Pontiac at the moment. Basically, it was a Chevrolet Nova sister model. But it was sad to see the once glorious muscle car downgraded to just a trim level.

In fact, all they did was put some decals on an economy model with a 5.7-liter V8 engine producing only 200 HP. As a result, Pontiac experienced slow sales for the GTO line for a few years. And despite the relative success of the smaller Trans Am/Firebird line, the GTO wasn’t popular enough to justify investing into a separate model.

Most people considered the 1974 GTO to be a pathetic attempt to recapture the former glory of the GTO, but the market didn’t fall for the trick. This was also the final year for the classic GTO nameplate because after producing 7,000, the GTO quietly left the scene.

  1. 1999 Pontiac GTO Concept

Pontiac spent decades producing Firebirds and Trans Am, leaving the GTO to the history books. Sadly, for such a specific muscle car like the original GTO, the market was gone. But most muscle car fans never forgot the timeless style and performance of the GTO, which was the original muscle car.

So, at the 1999 Detroit Auto Show, Pontiac surprised everybody with a fantastic concept they named the GTO. It was a modern, aggressive muscle car that drew a lot of attention from the crowd. Also, it showed Pontiac there was a lot of people who wanted to see the GTO make a comeback. The GTO concept was a pure styling exercise, but General Motors realized they had a market niche they could fill.

  1. 2004-06 Pontiac GTO

Pontiac got the message with the success of the GTO Concept in 1999. But the biggest problem was that they planned to discontinue the Firebird/Trans Am, so there was no appropriate platform or design to base the GTO on. Pontiac and General Motors didn’t have the time or money to invest in a new platform, so GM looked to its subsidiaries, finding the perfect car in Australia.

Holden, GM’s Australian branch, produced a rear wheel drive muscle car they called the Monaro. It sat on a modern chassis with an independent rear suspension and disc brakes. They produced it with a sleek two-door body just like the original GTO. GM’s plan was to import the Monaro to the USA and rebadge it as a GTO. But things didn’t work out as they planned.

The first year for the modern GTO was 2004 and the car received universal praise from the buyers and the car press. The design wasn’t new or aggressive, but the GTO had the muscle car form and street presence. Under the hood was the LS1 5.7-liter V8 with 350 HP, delivering enough performance to be one of the hottest American cars for 2004. The target sales figure was 18,000 and Pontiac sold almost 14,000, which was a success.

Pontiac presented the 400 HP 6.2-liter engine, delivering a better performance in 2005. Although it had a 0 to 60 mph time of just 4.6 seconds, sales started to decline to 11,000. For 2006, the final model year, they sold just 14,000. The car didn’t excite customers like the original GTO. The design was restrained and not aggressive. Although it was fast, as an overall package, the new GTO didn’t appeal to drivers. And that was the main reason for its early demise.

  1. Royal Bobcat GTO

One of the best stories of how dealerships and major manufacturers combined their efforts to promote, build and race muscle cars is the tale of Ace Wilson’s Royal Pontiac dealership from Royal Oak, Michigan. He established the dealership in the late ‘50s and put it on the map by sponsoring and preparing local drag racing Pontiac. And he did that with the help of Pontiac’s marketing guru, Jim Wangers.

When Pontiac started racing and building performance machines on a bigger scale in the early ‘60s, Royal Pontiac was the company that helped prepare and test the car. However, the popularity of Royal Pontiac exploded with the GTO. In fact, Ace Wilson prepared all the GTOs before sending them to magazine testers.

Jim Wangers knew the magazine testers needed to be blown away with the performance of the new GTO. So, he instructed Ace Wilson to install the mighty 421 V8 and disguise it as a 389 V8. The trick worked and the legend of the GTO was born.

  1. Arnie Beswick’s GTO Drag Car

The main arena for those classic muscle cars was the drag strip. And since the GTO was the first proper muscle car, they often used it for racing. One of the most popular and widely recognized racing GTOs was Arnie Beswick’s “Farmer” GTO. It was a wildly-colored and brutally fast car.

Beswick first started racing in the stock car class. But by the end of the ‘60s, he had evolved into the funny car class with a Plexiglas body GTO. It also had a custom chassis and supercharged engine. Although he never had big sponsors, he was able to keep the red GTO up there with the factory teams, winning many races.

  1. 1971 GTO Judge Convertible

The Pontiac GTO was always a popular and a strong seller. But with so many competitors in the early ‘70s, sales were down. They continued the popular Judge version they introduced in 1969 for 1971. It featured big block 455 V8 engine, crazy graphics and a big spoiler on the trunk, which was wild for the 1971 model year.

Since the displacement limit was higher, intermediate cars from GM could have the biggest engines available. So, they gave the GTO a 455 big block V8 they rated at 335 HP. Although that’s a modest number compared to earlier GTOs, in 1971 Detroit moved from DIN to SAE horsepower ratings, which lowered the numbers.

Because the Judge version was relatively expensive, it didn’t sell as well as before. Also, the convertible cost $4,000 over the base price, which was a lot of money back then. And that is why they only built 17 GTO Judge 455 convertibles that year, making it one of the rarest GTOs and muscle cars they ever created.

  1. 2004 Pontiac GTO Ram Air Concept

The market was eager to see the new GTO in 2004 and Pontiac added to the excitement with their 2004 Ram Air Concept. From the outside, it was only the bright orange color that showed this was a special car since most of its unique features were underneath the body.

The power came from a special 389 V8 that pumped out 575 HP. The engine was mated to a six-speed manual transmission. Also, the performance figures were astonishing. Unfortunately, the orange Ram Air GTO remained just a concept car.

  1. Pontiac GTO from The Punisher

As a legendary muscle model, they used the GTO in many movies. But one of the most popular was the 1969 GTO they used in the action movie, The Punisher. In most movies, you see shiny and well-prepared examples, but in this film, the main character drives a rugged street fighter car that is far from perfect, but cool because of its flaws.

  1. Pontiac GTO from XXX

The 2002 action movie, XXX brought the classic 1967 Pontiac GTO back to the spotlight for car and movie fans alike. They equipped the dark purple GTO with weapons, as well as some tasteful modifications like the intake on the hood and side pipe exhaust. The look and the stance of this classic GTO make it one of the legends of the muscle car world and movie history.

Now you know much more about the legendary Pontiac GTO. It was the car that started it all, which makes it an important part of muscle car and motoring history.

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