It’s 1963, and a pack of engineers has joined John Z. DeLorean at GM’s Milford Proving Ground to test the coming 1964 Pontiac Tempest. The group had the bright idea to stuff the biggest engine that would fit under the Tempest’s hood. The brawny Tempest was smoking the tires with ease. The Pontiac GTO had just been born.
DeLorean had been looking for a way to capture the youth market. Before 1963, Pontiac relied heavily on the idea of performance in its advertising. This included its involvement in competitive motor racing for attracting young customers. However GM, along with all other American auto manufacturers, had entered into a voluntary agreement in 1957 to stay out of motorsports after the horrific accident at the 1955 24 Hours of LeMans that killed driver Pierre Levegh, 82 spectators, and injured at least 120 more. The Automobile Manufacturers Association formed the agreement out of the fear that the U,S, government would intervene if they didn’t. It worked, in that the government left the manufacturers to self-govern. It didn’t work, in that most of the automakers kept helping competitors, just in a more covert fashion. Covert meant that advertising for the youth market was chilled, at least as far as competitive motorsports involvement was concerned.
There was another fear, at least for GM brass. In the early 1960s, GM owned 55 percent of the new-car market in the U.S. It was afraid the anti-monopoly arm of the government would become interested in breaking up GM. This could potentially draw interest in GM’s competition efforts, so word came from on high that there would be no more clandestine help to supply privateer racers with parts, cars, or even engineering assistance. This came just as Zora Arkus-Duntov was firing up the Chevy Corvette Grand Sport program, and is why only five exist instead of the 125 Duntov had intended. Thus, the race on Sunday, sell on Monday modus operandi was crushed, and DeLorean and the rest of the Pontiac posse was left to scramble for a way to attract those youth dollars. Why not cram a powerful V8 into a relatively light mid-size car, creating a factory hot rod? While you are at it, lift the name from a famous Italian racing coupe. This is how the Pontiac GTO got its start.
There were hurdles for the Pontiac GTO before it left Milford. General Motors had an internal rule about mid-size cars displacing no more than 330 cubic inches. DeLorean argued the GTO was an optional trim level for the Tempest, so the rule didn’t apply. DeLorean also had to convince Pontiac general manager Pete Estes the GTO would sell well enough to justify the addition to the Tempest line. An initial goal of 5,000 units was set, but overwhelming response to the hot new car drove first-year production to 32,450. Pontiac had a hit on its hands.
The 1964 Pontiac GTO came with a 389 cubic-inch V8, a standard four-barrel Carter AFB carb, chrome valve covers, air cleaner cover, and dual exhaust. Transmission choices were a two-speed automatic or three- or four-speed manuals with a Hurst shifter. The suspension was beefed up with a more substantial front sway bar, stiffer springs, and wider 7.50 x 14 inch wheels shod in redline rubber.
In 1966, the Pontiac GTO became its own model, and in 1968 received a complete redesign. The wheelbase was shorter, as were overall length and height. Headlights were horizontally arranged, and the chrome bumper was dropped in favor of the body-colored Endura bumper to meet federal crash standards.
1970 would be the pinnacle of Pontiac GTO performance with the available 400 cubic-inch Ram Air IV engine rated at 370 horsepower. The suspension gained a new rear anti-sway bar, stiffer front anti-sway bar, and optional variable-ratio power steering.
Our feature Pontiac GTO received a frame-off, rotisserie restoration in the early 2000s. It is finished in Starlight Black with a black vinyl top over its original sheet metal. The GTO is powered by the numbers-matching Ram Air IV engine, three-speed automatic transmission and 3.90 Positraction rear differential. The interior is Dark Saddle vinyl. It is equipped with power steering, power brakes, in-dash tachometer, Rally gauges, AM-FM radio with 8-track player, wood-rimmed steering wheel, and Pontiac Rally Wheels. The GTO is being sold with Pontiac Historical Society documentation.
This handsome 1970 Pontiac GTO Ram Air IV will cross the Mecum Auctions block at their Dallas, Texas event happening September 20thth through 23rd.