The Pontiac GTO debuted for the 1964 model year, born from Pontiac’s need to attract the youth market. Pontiac had long tied its marketing to racing involvement, but a horrific crash at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1955 had spurred the Automobile Manufacturers Association to ban participation in motorsports competition lest the American government should intervene. The agreement was inked in the late 1950s, but many U.S. car companies had continued to support racing efforts through clandestine methods, supplying privateers with parts, cars, and engineering know-how. GM brass finally came down hard in 1963, leaving Pontiac marketing in the lurch.
The solution to Pontiac’s marketing conundrum came at a testing day at GM’s Milford Proving Ground. A group of Pontiac engineers led by John Z. DeLorean came to the conclusion that the Pontiac Bonneville’s 389 cubic-inch V8 would fit in the mid-size Pontiac Tempest, resulting in a factory hot rod with impressive performance. Just a week later, a prototype was smoking the tires at Milford. The Tempest-based brute would become the 1964 Pontiac GTO, and set the muscle car wars in motion.
The Pontiac GTO’s moniker was lifted from the 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO, much to the chagrin of Mr. Ferrari. GTO stood for Gran Turismo Olomogato, or Grand Touring Homologated in English, referring to the number of cars that had to be built by a manufacturer to qualify for FIA Grand Touring competition. American car fans quipped that it may well have stood for “Gas, Tires, and Oil.”
The Pontiac GTO shouldn’t have gone into production, as GM had an internal edict limiting the displacement of mid-size cars to 330 cubic inches, but the division got around this rule claiming it didn’t apply to optional trim levels (before becoming a stand-alone model in 1966, the GTO was a Tempest trim option.) The GTO was stuffed full of 389 goodness, topped by a single four-barrel Carter AFB carb (three two-barrels could be had as an option called “Tri-Power”), and featured chrome valve covers, air cleaner cover, and true dual exhaust. Output was 325 horsepower for the singe four-barrel carb arrangement, and 348 ponies for the Tri-Power. Transmission choices included a two-speed automatic, a three-speed or four-speed manual with a Hurst shifter. The suspension had a thicker front sway bar, stiffer springs, and wider wheels that measured 7.50 x 14 inches wearing redline tires.
The initial run of Pontiac GTOs was supposed to be just 5,000 copies for the first year, but demand drove production to 32,450 units. Pontiac had hit a home run and secured the youth market it was seeking.
As previously mentioned, for the 1966 model year, the Pontiac GTO became its own model. In 1968, the GTO received a thorough redesign along with its GM A-body brethren. The wheelbase shrunk slightly, as did overall height and length. Headlights were arranged horizontally rather than vertically. Government crash standards mandated the chrome front bumper be dropped in favor of the body-colored Endura flexible impact bumper.
The 1970 model year would be the acme for Pontiac GTO performance, until the Holden Monaro-based GTO bowed for the 2004 model year. For 1970, GM removed their internal restriction to 400 cubic inches of displacement for mid-size passenger vehicles, allowing for a 455 cube option (the Corvette was not included in that edict). The Ram Air 400 was standard for the GTO, with an available 400 cube Ram Air IV engine rated at 370 horsepower. An upgraded suspension included a new rear anti-roll bar, a stiffer front anti-roll bar, and available variable-ratio power steering.
Our feature 1970 Pontiac GTO Judge Ram Air IV convertible is one of just seven built with a Turbo-HydraMatic 400 automatic transmission. Finished in Palladium Silver over a black vinyl interior, it has been the subject of a frame-off restoration to a very high standard. The GTO has received a Concours Gold award at the 2015 Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals.
Aside from being just one of seven Pontiac GTO Judge Ram Air IV convertibles with this drivetrain configuration, this GTO has twenty-three options including the Judge package, Saf-T-Track 3.90 rear end, Rally II wheels with Firestone Wide Oval tires, power front disc brakes, power steering, wheel arch moldings, door edge guards, remote control driver’s mirror, day/night rearview mirror, Soft-Ray tinted glass, Formula steering wheel, woodgrain center console, AM radio, Rally gauges with speed minder, bucket seats with headrests, reclining passenger seat, convertible top boot with storage bag, and more.
Included in the sale are Pontiac Historic Services documents, an owner’s manual, convertible top boot with storage bag, and a reproduction window sticker. This rare Pontiac GTO will cross the Mecum Auctions block at their Indianapolis, Indiana event happening May 12th through 20th.