The Pontiac GTO is credited by many as the first “Muscle Car.” Certainly there have been others throughout automotive history that shoehorned a large V8 engine into a small chassis in the quest for ultimate performance, but no one prior to the GTO managed to do it, and sell it, with the brazenness of Pontiac Motor Division. Pontiac General Manager Elliot “Pete” Estes and Chief Engineer John DeLorean incurred the wrath of General Motor’s upper management and risked their careers to push the GTO to the forefront of a new class that would become known as Muscle Cars.
Pontiac becomes a performance car
Until the mid-‘50s Pontiac was noted for building staid, reliable cars. Pontiac didn’t make cars that anyone really noticed – it was best known for making what everyone called ‘old man’s cars’. A new, younger Pontiac Division management, including Estes as chief engineer and DeLorean on his staff, changed all that.
The new leadership grabbed Pontiac by the lapels and by 1959 had given the brand a high-performance image. By the time Estes became Pontiac General Manager and DeLorean became chief engineer, Pontiacs were successful at NASCAR tracks and NHRA drag racing strips throughout the country. Sales increased and life at Pontiac was good.
General Motors bans racing
In the late 1950’s, the Automobile Manufacturers Association (AMA) strongly recommended that their members, which included all U.S. car manufacturers, abstain from any program that supported motor racing. General Motors then banned all official racing programs and limited the size of V8 engines in their upcoming intermediate-size cars, which included the Pontiac Tempest, to 330 cu. in. Pontiac duly gave up its NASCAR aspirations in the early ‘60s, but they weren’t ready to terminate their newly won street performance image.
Estes and DeLorean realized how easy it would be to drop Pontiac’s 389 cu. in motor into the engine bay of their new intermediate, making it a “Super Tempest,” but that it would violate GM’s engine size limitation. After giving the matter some thought, including what might happen to their careers if they proceeded, Estes and DeLorean concluded that, since the 389 engine would only be an option for the Tempest (not a new model), it would not require GM management to sign off on the 389 engine. The new “super” Tempest, now known as the GTO, was given the green light without any input from GM upper management.
GTO becomes a sales success
The GTO launched in the fall of ‘63 as an option package (option RPO 382, quite a bargain at $295.00) for the 1964 Tempest. With sales for 1964 totaling 32,450 cars, the GTO was an immediate success. The buzz created by the GTO carried over to other Pontiac models and total Pontiac sales for 1964 hit 740,000 cars, an incredible increase of 25% over 1963.
1967 was the GTO’s biggest sales year, with 81,722 passing through Pontiac dealerships into customers’ anxious hands. By then, the “Goat,” as the GTO became known, had a new, more rounded body style with a divided grille pinched near the center, and the rear window of the coupe flanked by buttress sail panels on each side. Power-wise, the engine was increased to 400 cu. in. and the top engine was now conservatively rated at 360 horsepower. You could buy a ’67 GTO that would hustle you from 0 to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds and get you through the quarter mile in a tick over 14 seconds with a final speed of 101 mph.
After 1967, GTO sales spiraled downward until its last model year of 1974. By then, the GTO was an option for the Ventura, Pontiac’s version of the Chevy Nova. The former king of the Muscle Cars had been reduced to nothing more than a few decals on a compact car. It was an ignominious end to a once-proud brand.
Hagerty estimates the average price of a 1967 GTO to be about $21,600, ranging between a #1 concours condition value of $53,400 and a #4 fair condition value of $12,000. Prices of the excellent cars have risen slightly since May of 2014, while prices of lesser cars have remained flat.
Wondering what became of “Pete” Estes and John DeLorean? Reportedly, Estes was called on the carpet by GM management for disregarding their engine size limitation edict. Whatever punishment they considered took a back seat to Pontiac’s astounding 25% sales increase in 1964, which was directly attributable to Estes’ actions. A short time later, Estes was promoted to the general manager of Chevrolet Division.
John DeLorean was promoted to Pontiac General Manager when Estes left for Chevrolet. He later left General Motors and formed his own company to build the DeLorean, a two-seat sports car. While the DeLorean was never a big seller, it achieved fame on the silver screen in 1985 as the vehicle that took Marty McFly Back to the Future.
My Classic Garage https://myclassicgarage.com/marketplace/knowledge_base/1967-pontiac-gto
Auto Museum Online http://automuseumonline.com/1967-pontiac-gto-history-and-specs.html
Ate Up with Motor http://ateupwithmotor.com/model-histories/pontiac-gto/
Back to the Future https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Back_to_the_Future