1964 GTO HISTORY

Legend has the conception like this: The scene is Pontiac General Manager Pete Estes's office. The time is early 1963. The man walking through the doorway is Jim Wangers, Pontiac account executive for MacManus, John and Adams, the Pontiac advertising agency. Wangers is also an avid performance enthusiast, drag racer and part-time product planner for Pontiac.

"Have you seen the memo, Jim?" Estes asks.

"Yeah, no more racing. Why don't those guys tend to their corporate stuff and leave the details to us," Wangers says. "Look, Pete, with no more racing that means no more Super Duty 421 Catalinas and that means no more performance image to the young guys who are buying our cars. We've got the image now and I don't want to lose it. Remember, it's the young guys who have pushed us into third place in sales and they're the guys who are keeping us there."

"I know that, Jim. We've got to do something. But what?" Estes asks. "Look, I've got this crazy idea. It may work and it may not. I think we should give it a try," Wangers says. What's the idea?" "It's just an old hot rodder's trick but I think it could work. An engine swap," Wangers answers.” What?" Estes is puzzled.

 

"Look," Wangers goes on, "we've got the new intermediate A-body series coming out in the fall. Our Tempest will be a compact size with a nice 115-in. wheelbase. Instead of offering just the 326 engines, let's drop in the big 389s from the full-size cars, put on some heavy-duty suspension components and call it something with a racing connotation, something like ... GTO--like the Ferraris."

 

"You're crazy," Estes says. "The GM front office just gave the word. No racing. They'll never go for it." "That's the beauty of it," Wangers explains. "We won't be racing it and we're not building a race car. We're building a high-performance street machine. There's a big difference. And besides, we don't exactly have to yell about what we're doing. Let them find out after the model is out." "What about the engineering side of it. Will it work?" asks Estes, a former Pontiac chief engineer. "I'm almost positive it'll work, Pete," says Wangers. "But let's call John and make sure." A call is put through to John DeLorean, Pontiac chief engineer. Estes outlines the plan "Well, what do you think John? Can it be done?" asks Estes. "No sweat," answers DeLorean.

And so, the '64 Pontiac GTO is born.

And with it grows a legend and a whole breed of car that was to completely dominate the automotive industry until the safety, insurance and emissions advocates sounded the super car’s death knell in 1971. Those were some cars, those early GTO’s. Buyers recognized it, too. Original production plans called for about 5000 units just to test the market. But by January 1964, hardly into the model year, 10,000 had been sold and dealers were happily compiling waiting lists of performance-happy customers who couldn't wait to get their hands on one. By the end of the model year, there were 32,450 proud GTO owners. The '64 GTOs had either the standard Bonneville engine--389 cubes, 325 hp with a single 4-barrel Carter AFB, 273/289 camshaft--or the same engine with three 2-barrel Rochester carburetors that raised the output to 348 hp. Other goodies you could order were a 4-speed trans, a brace of rear axle gears, optional suspension stuff on top of the already stiffer standard GTO setup, and all the other comfort, convenience and performance options that had made Pontiac's option list the envy of the Industry.

The year was 1964 and full size cars dominated the early stages of the muscle car era. At GM, corporate policy prohibited any intermediate size car from having engines greater than 330 cid. The engineers at Pontiac had a different idea. They boldly made there 389 cid engine an option on the midsize Tempest and called the option package GTO, which copied Ferrari's GTO (Gran Turismo Omologato) model.

 

 The GTO package included the 389 V8, quick steering, dual exhaust, and premium tires, a bargain at just $300. The 389 cid engine came with 325bhp with a single 4bbl carb or 348bhp with the optional Tri-Power setup, 3 2bbl carbs. Pontiac hoped to sell 5000 copies they ended up selling 32,450.

 

The car that was marketed under a Tiger motif but soon became known as the "Goat" would stand the automobile industry on end and lead to a host of imitators. But no one in the mid-sixties would get it together quite like Pontiac.

Production: Sports Coupe: 7,384 Hardtop Coupe: 18,422 Convertible: 6,644


Engines: 389 V8 325 bhp @ 4800 rpm, 428 lb-ft @ 3200 rpm. 389 V8 (3x2) 348 bhp @ 4900 rpm, 428 lb-ft @ 3200 rpm.


Performance: 389/325: 0-60 in 7.5 sec, 1/4 mile in 15.7 sec @ 92 mph. 389/348: 0-60 in 6.6 sec, 1/4 mile in 14.8 sec @ 95 mph

 

 

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