Pontiac GTO (1964-1965)
Pontiac wasn't the first to drop a big motor in a mid-sized car, but they were the first to market a mid-sized car with a big motor. Rivaling anything on the road in straight-line acceleration, the 1964 Tempest-based GTO was wildly successful, prompting others to use the same basic formula. Every U.S. car manufacturer began packaging a factory hot rod with youth-oriented advertising, bringing about the muscle car phenomenon of the Sixties.
1961-1963 Pontiac Tempest
GTO history starts with the Pontiac Tempest, first appearing in 1961 as an entry-level compact car. A unique drivetrain arrangement had the front-mounted motor coupled to a rear-mounted transaxle through a torque shaft, eliminating the floor hump and giving the car a near-perfect front/rear weight distribution. Equally unique was the engine, a 195-cid straight-four cylinder derived from the right cylinder-bank of Pontiac's 389-cid V8.
For 1962, an optional Tempest LeMans package gave customers a more deluxe coupe or convertible with front bucket seats and console. A Buick-built 215-cubic inch V8 was available, but was not a popular option. The following year, Pontiac's 326-cubic inch V8 became available. Boasting an output of 260 horsepower and 352 ft/lb of torque, the new engine option proved to be very popular, and was ordered on more than half of all Tempest models. The LeMans became it's own series in 1963, and accounted for nearly 50 percent of Tempest sales.
1964 A-body Tempest
Along with the Buick Special and Oldsmobile Starfire, the Pontiac Tempest was enlarged from unibody compact to full-frame intermediate-sized car for 1964. The new platform, called the A-body, used a conventional front-engine, front transmission, rear-wheel drive configuration. The Tempest had grown a longer wheelbase of 115 inches and overall length of 203 inches. Standard engine was a 215 cubic-inch inline six-cylinder. Capitalizing on last year's successful V-8 option, two versions of the 326-cid V8 were offered.
Looking to make the new LeMans even more appealing, Pontiac executives realized their 389-cid motor, found in full-sized Catalinas and Bonnevilles, would easily fit under the hood. There was, however, an obstacle in offering the larger V8. General Motors had set a corporate policy on all A-body series cars, stating engines were to be no larger than 330 cubic inches. The corporate ban did not seem to apply on options, so promoting a 389-equipped Tempest as a special model, Pontiac got around the rules. The new performance package would be a low-volume option on the LeMans series, named GTO.
1964 Pontiac LeMans GTO
Available with the two-door coupe, hardtop coupe, or convertible LeMans models, the GTO package featured front bucket seats, floor shifter, and a well-planned performance image. Standard engine was a 325 horsepower 389 V8, topped with chrome valve covers, chrome air cleaner, and a Carter AFB four-barrel carburetor. A floor-shifted three-speed manual with Hurst shifter was standard, with a four-speed manual or two-speed automatic transmission optional.
Standard features on the 1964 GTO included dual exhaust, seven-blade clutch-fan, stiffer springs, and larger diameter front sway bar. The exterior was set off by 14"x6" wheels, 7.50"×14" redline tires, non-functional hood scoops, and GTO badges. Performance options included quick-ratio steering, semi-metallic brake shoes, and limited-slip differential in a choice a gear ratios.
GTO Tri-Power Option
Topping off the option list was the 389 Tri-power engine, featuring an induction system Pontiac had used on their full-size models since 1957. Three two-barrel Rochester carburetors sat on top of a cast-iron intake manifold, each with it's own small, chrome air filter. The engine ran off the center carb at idle and low speeds. When the gas pedal was mashed down, all three carbs opened together. Engine output was boosted to 348 horsepower. With the GTO weighing around 3,500 pounds, power-to-weight ratio was nearly one-to-one. No car in its price range could match it's performance.
By the end of the 1964 model year, the GTO had proven itself at the track, as well as on the street. Road and Track magazine had clocked a tri-power-equipped GTO in the standing quarter-mile, resulting in 14.1 seconds with a top speed of 104.2 miles per hour. A 375-horsepower fuel-injected Corvette, tested by MotorTrend magazine that same year, clocked 14.2 seconds at 100.0 mph.
Originally intending to build only 5,000 the first year, 7,384 coupes, 18,422 hardtops, and 6,644 convertibles were ordered with the GTO package, making a total of 32,450 sold for 1964.
1965 Pontiac GTO
The Tempest line, including the LeMans and GTO, was restyled for the 1965 model year. A new split grille had vertical headlights similar to the larger Pontiacs, revised taillights wrapped around the sides, and the rear deck was more slanted. Although the new hood's simulated scoop was non-functional, an optional dealer-installed ram-air kit included a metal underhood pan, scoop, and gasket, allowing cooler, denser air to enter the motor.
Beginning with the 1965 model year, cylinder heads were revised and no longer had stud oiling passages. Intake manifolds were also different, and will not interchange with earlier motors. Horsepower increased to 335 at 5,000 rpm for the standard 4-barrel engine, tri-power motor output jumped to 360 horsepower at 5,200 rpm. Because of the longer duration cam profile, the tri-power engine had slightly less torque (424 lb/ft at 3,600 rpm) than the base engine (431 lb/ft at 3,200 rpm).
Pontiac GTO sales more than doubled in its second year, with 8,319 sport coupes, 55,722 hardtop coupes, and 11,311 convertibles sold, making a combined total of 75,342.
GTO VIN Information
Early model GTO's (1964-1967) had the VIN number stamped on a metal plate on the driver's-side door pillar. For 1964 models, it is an eight-digit number. From 1965-1971, the VIN number was 13 characters. Pontiac also stamped the last eight digits of the VIN on a metal pad on the right-hand front of the engine block. Unfortunately, it is fairly easy to re-stamp this number, making original engine blocks hard to authenticate.
The song "Little GTO" by Ronnie and the Daytonas was a Top-Ten hit in 1964, and remains one of the all time greatest classic car songs. It reached #4 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart and sold over one million copies.