In 1963, John Z. DeLorean gathered a group of engineers at General Motors’ Milford Proving Ground to test a prototype 1964 Pontiac Tempest. What made this Tempest a prototype was the 389 cubic-inch engine stuffed under the hood. As one would expect, the car wasted no time turning the back tires into black stripes on the Milford pavement. Those engineers had just witnessed the genesis of the Pontiac GTO.
DeLorean was searching for a way to hook the valuable youth market. Past Pontiac marketing promoted performance in its advertising, particularly Pontiac’s involvement in competitive motorsports. In 1957, GM had signed an agreement with the other American auto manufacturers to abstain from motorsports involvement following the tragic 1955 24 Hours of LeMans accident that killed driver Pierre Levegh, 82 people in the grandstands, and injured 120 more. The Automobile Manufacturers Association, in an effort to avoid U.S. government intervention, formed the voluntary agreement. It did keep the Feds from interfering with the auto makers, but it did not keep the auto makers from helping competitors, albeit in a more clandestine fashion.
There was a secondary fear, at least for GM brass. In the early 1960s, General Motors held fifty-five percent of the new-car market in the U.S. GM brass feared the anti-trust arm of the federal government might be interested in splitting up the company. Drawing any undue interest, through motorsports competition or otherwise, was something GM leadership desperately wanted to avoid. In early 1963, word came down from the top that GM would no longer be involved in clandestine racing efforts. This happened as Zora Arkus-Duntov was getting the Chevy Corvette Grand Sport program spooled up, resulting in only five Corvette Grand Sports being completed, rather than the 125 that had been planned. DeLorean and Pontiac were left scrambling to find marketing to attract younger buyers. What to do? Why not stick the biggest V8 you have into a light, mid-size car and name it after a famous Italian racing coupe? I give you the Pontiac GTO.
The Pontiac GTO had some obstacles to overcome before it would hit showroom floors. First, GM had a rule limiting the size of engines in mid-size cars to fewer than 330 cubic inches. DeLorean sidestepped the rule stating engines that were part of an option package didn’t count, and the GTO was to be an optional trim pack for the Tempest. DeLorean also had to convince Pontiac GM Pete Estes the GTO would sell enough copies to justify offering it as an option. Estes set an initial sales goal of 5,000 copies. Pontiac sold 32,450 GTOs the first year.
Checking the Pontiac GTO option box for your new Tempest got you the 389 cubic-inch V8, a Carter AFB four-barrel carburetor, chrome valve covers and air cleaner cover, dual exhaust, your choice of either a two-speed automatic, three-speed manual, or four-speed manual gearbox. The manual transmissions were both equipped with a Hurst chrome shifter. The suspension came with a thicker front sway bar, stiffer springs, and 7.50 x 14 inch wheels wrapped in redline rubber.
For the 1966 model year, Pontiac restyled their intermediate line, and the Pontiac GTO became a model unto itself. It received unique taillights, rear fenders had a more pronounced arch, and the grille was new. The rear window had a tunneled appearance. The body was wider, as was the rear track. Available body styles included two-door post, two-door hardtop, and a convertible. Interior refinements included Strato bucket seats, walnut veneer on the dash, and the ignition migrated from the left to the right side of the steering wheel.
Our feature 1966 Pontiac GTO hardtop has been the subject of a thorough restomod build. Having covered just 1,500 miles since completion in 2022, the GTO is finished in white over a gray and blue interior. The door handles are from Kindig-it, the drip rails have been shaved, and exterior badging has been replaced by decals. Inside the GTO, the floor has been leveled and interior sound deadening has been applied throughout. Creature comforts include Vintage Air, power windows, power locks, new glass, a Rockford Fosgate audio system, and a Dakota Digital dash. The interior comes courtesy of Armando’s Custom Upholstery in San Jacinto, California.
This Pontiac GTO is powered by a 6.0-liter LS2 V8 that moves power to the rear wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission and a 2006 GTO independent rear end with 3.55 gears. The engine resides in a highly detailed engine bay with a smoothed firewall. The LS2 exhales spent gasses through custom headers, two-and-a-half inch stainless exhaust and Magnaflow mufflers. The driveshaft was custom built by Driveline Specialties. The suspension features front coilovers, rear sway bar, rear coilovers and shocks all from RideTech. Schott Fuel Series wheels wear Nitto low-profile rubber.
This stunning LS2-powered 1966 Pontiac GTO restomod will cross the Mecum Auctions block at their Las Vegas event happening November 9th through the 11th.