1964 Pontiac GTO
First, It Was Wide Track
1964 Pontiac GTO.
The famous "Bunkie" Knudsen arrived as Pontiac's General Manager in 1956. He was a lover of performance and speed and immediately set out to change Pontiac Division's personna. His engineers were given the green light to bolt multiple carburetors onto the V8 engines and to install hotter camshafts as well. For the 1959 model year, the entire Pontiac line appeared with a new, aggressive, stable stance which was immediately dubbed "Wide Track".
By the end of the 1961 model year Pontiac was solidly in the #3 sales position, behind Chevy and Ford and was doing very well in NASCAR and NHRA. Knudsen got promoted to head Chevrolet and Pete Estes took over at Pontiac. Estes took an immediate liking to Pontiac's chief engineer, John Z. DeLorean. The two men got to work tweaking power out of their 421 cubic-inch engine and designing lightweight body panels for the race cars. All of these efforts translated to big bucks at the showrooms.
The Famous Edict
GM management, fearing public backlash, issued an edict to all divisions during the winter of '62-63. The famous edict ruled that no division could compete, support or otherwise promote motorsport competition of any kind. At Pontiac, the division most benefiting from motor sports, the reaction was one of fear and depression.
1964 Pontiac GTO.
Well, for most of the Pontiac people except DeLorean. Following an earlier suggestion from ad-agency executive Jim Wangers, DeLorean proposed the concept of a "Super Tempest." The idea was simple in that a 326 cubic-inch V8 could be offered in the new A-body Tempest car. At that time, no other car company offered V8's in its "economy car" lineup and DeLorean reasoned that there was a huge market out there waiting to buy such "packaged" performance, as he called it. The idea was an instant success. Thousands of buyers opted for the 326 and started ordering more options on the Tempest than originally anticipated.
In actuality, DeLorean wanted to put a 389 engine into the Tempest but GM management also had a 330 cubic-inch limit for the A-body cars. After much argument between DeLorean, Estes and sales manager Frank Bridge, a reluctant agreement was reached in that 5000 units could be produced and offered with the 389 engine package and performance-oriented trim details. These units would be offered at the beginning of the 1964 model year. The performance package would be called the GTO. Its engine would put out as much as 360 horsepower and part of the option list would include a special gear shifter from George Hurst, the famous drag-race shifter manufacturer. The car would list at $2,674. Every GTO would be fitted with 7.75 x 14 US Royal "Tiger Paw" tires with a red sidewall stripe.
The GTO hit the showrooms like a blizzard. Not only were those 5000 units sold, they were sold out before Thanksgiving! Orders for 10,000 were filled by January 1st. By the end of 1964, 32,450 GTO's were on the road. Even so, GM management was furious that Estes and DeLorean circumvented their engine-size edicts and called Estes to the Boardroom. He was warned not to do any such devious thing again and told to keep selling GTO's!
Contrary to popular interpretations of the era, GTO did not mean "Gas, Tires, & Oil", nor did it mean "Get Turned On". In fact, DeLorean wanted the car to be different and for its name to evoke some sort of mysterious or foreign image. He loved Ferraris. One of his favorites was the GTO, which in Italian meant "Gran Turismo Omologato". The words translate to "grand touring in agreement", which can mean anything you want, or nothing at all. Still, it really looks and sounds good when it's spelled out: GTO.
The GTO is, arguably, the original muscle car. As such its popularity has always remained consistent and demand for the mid-60s models is strong. Expect to pay at least $13,000 for a '64 convertible that you'll have to put lots of money into restoring. Hardtop models in the same condition run close to $9,000. Oddly enough, the '65 and '66 GTO's command the most attention, with fully-restored convertibles easily topping the $30,000 level.