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Second Chance Garage

For the Classic Car Restoration Enthusiast

Second Chance Garage


Second Chance Garage

For the Classic Car Restoration Enthusiast

Second Chance Garage

Second Chance Garage

For the Classic Car Restoration Enthusiast

Second Chance Garage

BUYERS' GUIDE

Classic Car Buyer's Guide: 1968-1972 Pontiac GTO

By Patrick Smith

The Pontiac GTO kick started the American muscle car trend when it debuted in 1964 as an option on the Tempest. Although other GM divisions released their own intermediate sized rivals, Pontiac developed a strong lead. The 1968 redesign was completely new and revitalized GTO's image at a time when competition was fierce. The 1968-1972 era shared the same shell under the sheet metal, yet ongoing changes and additions make each year interesting to collectors. If you're seriously considering a GTO from that era, this guide gives you the facts on separating a good car from a rolling shed. We won't be covering The Judge as it's a separate model with extensive equipment and annual changes. It is given detailed coverage in a special article.

Year to Year Visual Changes: 1966 was the first year the GTO model became encoded in the manufacturer's VIN plate. This makes it easier for buyers to ensure they're getting a genuine GTO model. By 1968 it was Motor Trend's "Car of the Year" winner. It was the first year for the endura nose body painted bumper, the Ram Air II engine and the last year for the optional Hurst His'n Hers' shifter and vent windows.

1969 was a restyled 1968 minus vent windows. Few body parts interchange between them. It's cheaper to buy a '69 than to rebody a 1968 car.

1969 was a restyled 1968 minus vent windows. Few body parts interchange between them. It's cheaper to buy a '69 than to rebody a 1968 car.


For 1969, GTO received a subtle restyle with many new parts. It's considered by many to be the most desirable GTO. 1969 was the first year for Ram Air III and IV engines. The vent windows disappeared and rear half of the car had new sheet metal. It was the last years for hideaway headlamps which were troublesome to maintain.

1970 was the first year for the 455 engine and last for the Ram Air IV. You'll pay a premium for a high performance 1970 GTO.

1970 was the first year for the 455 engine and last for the Ram Air IV. You'll pay a premium for a high performance 1970 GTO.


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The 1970 GTO showcased another major restyle with flared fenders and quarter panels, a new endura nose and sleek chrome bumper with integral tail lamps. The Judge option returned. 1970 was the last year for high compression engines and Ram Air IV.

For 1971, GTO had another facelift with two chrome grilles and new twin hood scoops which were functional on Ram Air engines. Engines included the 400 and 455 versions in mild or hot HO tune. 1971 was the last year for the GTO convertible and name as a separate model.

1970 was the first year for the 455 engine and last for the Ram Air IV. You'll pay a premium for a high performance 1970 GTO.

1970 was the first year for the 455 engine and last for the Ram Air IV. You'll pay a premium for a high performance 1970 GTO.


The 1972 GTO was optional on the Lemans series. The GTO can be identified by front fender vents and black recessed grilles with a GTO badge on the left side. The engines were carryovers from last year. 1972 was the last year for this body. For 1973 GTO changed completely using the new Colonnade shell.

Engines: The GTO is defined by its drive train and certain options make some more expensive and desirable than others. You could buy a 1968 with anything from a Turnpike Cruiser with two barrel carb all the way to the Ram Air II with 360 horsepower. 1969 added a Ram Air IV with 370 horsepower. The performance engines were Ram Air II, III and IV which used round port cylinder heads. In 1970 you could get a 455 engine in regular or HO trim. Pontiac improved the HO package in1971 with round port heads, Ram Air induction, hot camshaft and four bolt main bearings. The base 455 used the D port heads and was an automatic transmission only car. The hottest engines were Ram Air IV, 455HO, and Ram Air IIIs in that order. They're the most expensive and demand maintenance as they're sensitive to tuning changes. The reward is intense acceleration with mid twelve second ETS possible using slicks, headers and proper tuning. If drag racing isn't your hobby, a stout 400-four speed will satisfy you.

The Ram Air IV engine was GTO's hottest engine. The expense and maintenance issues are balanced by remarkable performance.

The Ram Air IV engine was GTO's hottest engine. The expense and maintenance issues are balanced by remarkable performance.


If you want air conditioning or use the car for travel, consider a tamer 400 or base 455. Many novices buy too much engine and regret wrestling a four speed car with manual steering because someone told them a stripped Ram Air GTO is the car to own. Match the car to your lifestyle and needs.

Those who like to drive a lot may prefer a base 400 or 455. The 455HO is a great compromise of driver comfort and power.

Those who like to drive a lot may prefer a base 400 or 455. The 455HO is a great compromise of driver comfort and power.


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