The Pontiac GTO is an American classic muscle car made by the Pontiac division of General Motors. The first generation began with the original model in 1963. The GTO was the creation of engineer Russell Gee, Bill Collins, and chief engineer John DeLorean. By the early 1960s, Pontiac's advertising and marketing approach was heavily based on performance, and racing was an important component of that strategy. GM had a ban on racing, so Pontiac's management turned its attention to street performance instead.
The first Pontiac GTO was an option package for the Pontiac Le Mans, however it was so widely popular that Pontiac began mass production of the GTO as its own model. Pontiac restyled its entire line to have a more curvaceous, sleek “coke bottle” look in 1966. It gained even more notoriety over the course of the year, and by 1967, Pontiac had expanded the line to include three different body styles.
Hardtop- approximately sixty five thousand hardtop models were produced. This was the most popular version by far and continued its popularity for generations.
Convertible- approximately nine thousand were produced.
Sports Coupe- approximately seven thousand were produced.
Most people think the the first generation GTOs were superior to the later models. Many changes occurred over time, including body style, engine, and power but the first three generations all maintained the classic muscle car style and performance.
Following the first generation, many variations of the GTO came and went. One of the most popular models was the 1969 GTO Judge. It was meant to be low cost option devoid of extra features so that I could hold up in competition with the Plymouth Roadrunner. It was originally only released in one color, Carousel Red, but as later versions emerged so did other colors. The Judge also featured a rear spoiler that produced a small down force at high speeds to gain better aerodynamics. Roughly ten percent of the GTOs sold in 1969 were The Judge variant. The Judge’s name was originally a play on a popular comedy skit “Here Come de Judge” made popular by the vivacious Sammy Davis Jr. Some popular lines from the skit were “All rise for The Judge!” and “The Judge can be bought,” which fit in perfectly with GM’s campaign for affordability.
In 2004, the GTO emerged in the United States as a small two door coupe, meant to rival the Opel Omega B and Cadillac Catera. It was equipped with the 350 horsepower, V8 engine, the same engine found in the concurrent model year Corvette, with the usual option of a 6-speed manual transmission or a 4-speed automatic. There was significant effort made to make the new GTO have the same sound as the original classic GTO, however they had to be mindful of the legal noise threshold in certain states. General Motors claimed performance of 5.3 seconds to reach sixty miles per hour, which was closely verified by several magazine and track tests. Even with the outstanding performance ratings, popularity with consumers decreased vastly over the years and the GTO was removed from production in 2006.
In its prime, the Pontiac GTO was the embodiment of the muscle car genre, with power under the hood and a sleek, attractive, body design and top performance ratings. It held its rank through the 70s before resurfacing as a new concept that never quite caught on. Many people still own classic GTOs and maintain them to keep their former glory. Some might even go as far as to consider the GTO a staple in the classic and muscle car communities.