Though it is debatable, depending on your precise definition of a muscle car, many people would say that the classic American muscle cars started with the release of the Pontiac GTO for the 1964 model year.
Everyone has heard of John DeLorean. Of course, he was the founder of the DeLorean Motor Company, the company that built the “Back to the Future” car. We will certainly delve into that vehicle in a different post, but we are talking about the GTO here.Unbeknownst to many, John DeLorean was a superstar automotive engineer for General Motors before he struck out on his own. He was one of the masterminds behind the Pontiac GTO, along with Bill Collins, who was a chassis guy, and engine expert Russell Gee.
One of the first questions that may come to mind when you think about the Pontiac GTO is the origin of the name. What in the world is a GTO?
As the story goes, the name was John DeLorean’s idea. The car was supposed to be a masterwork of engineering, a vehicle built for speed and precision. The Ferrari was the gold standard in that regard, so DeLorean “borrowed” the name from Ferrari. The Italian automaker produced the Ferrari GTO 250 from 1962 through 1964.
The GTO did not become a model in and of itself until the 1966 model year. During the roll-out year of 1964, the GTO was a part of the Pontiac LeMans line. It was offered as a two-door hardtop, a two-door coupe, and a two-door convertible. (I’ll take a convertible, please.)
The standard engine for that initial model year was a 389 cubic inch, 325 hp V-8. The car came equipped with a four-barrel carburetor and a three-speed manual transmission, complete with a Hurst shifter.
Pontiac sold over 32,000 of these cars during the first model year, and the GTO was unquestionably a huge hit.
By the time it was a standalone model in 1966, nearly 97,000 units were sold. This was the biggest selling year for the car, but it remained popular through the rest of the decade.
The last year of production for the original GTO was 1974. A re-badged Holden Monaro was offered in America as a Pontiac GTO for the 2004 model year, but it just wasn’t the same, so it only lasted through 2006.
The Pontiac GTO was the quintessence of American muscle, and it spawned a niche that still captures the imagination of classic car lovers around the globe.