The fast-rising auto executive Semon E. 'Bunkie' Knudsen was named to the presidency of General Motors' moribund Pontiac Motor Division during the mid-1950s and tasked with 'kill or fix it.' Knudersen quickly restored Pontiac's health, with 'Wide-Track' swagger, a successful factory racing program, and industry-leading marketing from the fertile mind of Jim Wangers. Sales were overwhelming for 1964 and refinements for 1965 enhanced the breed to create what many modern enthusiasts consider the definitive first-generation GTO, highlighted by crisply restyled bodylines, stacked twin headlights per side, a muscular hood buldge, and revised tail lamps.
Chief Engineer John DeLorean, lead engineers Bill Collins and Russ Gee, and ad-man Jim Wangers side-stepped GM's Engineering Policy Committee that limited power-to-weight ratios to no fewer than 10 pounds per cubic-inch for new models only, by offering the 389 CID V8 as an option package in the new A-body mid-sized Pontiac Tempest. It was called the GTO, for Gran Turismo Omologato, and instantly birthed the muscle car movement and redefined the compact car.
The GTO package received distinctive visual identification including a recessed and blacked-out grille, wraparound taillights, hood scoop, and GTO emblems. Under the hood, the 389 cubic-inch V8 engine produced 335 horsepower, matched with suitable suspension and handling upgrades to cope with the increased power, including stiffer front and rear coil springs, shocks and stabilizer bar. 7.75 x 14 red line performance tires mounted on 6 inch wide wheels.
The Tempest line, including the GTO, was restyled for the 1965 model year, adding 3.1 inches to the overall length while retaining the same wheelbase and interior dimensions. It wore Pontiac's characteristic vertically stacked quad headlights, heavy-duty shocks were standard, as was a front anti-sway bar, and the brake lining area increased nearly fifteen percent. The interior dashboard design was improved, and an optional rally gauge cluster added $86.08 to the base price, adding a more legible tachometer and oil pressure gauge.
The 389 engine's breathing was improved through revised cylinder heads with re-cored intake passages. The rated power increased to 335 hp for the base four-barrel engine and the Tri-Power was rated at 360 hp. The Tri-Power engine had slightly less torque than the base engine 424 lb·ft at 3,600 rpm versus 431 lb·ft at 3,200 rpm. Transmission and axle ratio choices remained the same. The three-speed manual was standard, while a four-speed manual or two-speed automatic was optional.
The GTO had a new simulated hood scoop, and a rare, dealer-installed option was a metal underhood pan and gaskets to open the scoop, making it a cold air intake. The scoops low height and proportions made its effectiveness at improving airflow was questionable, but it allowed more of the engine's noise to escape.
Road Tests The 1965 GTO with Tri-Power was tested by Car Life, recording a zero-to-sixty mph time of 5.8 seconds, the standing quarter-mile in 14.5 seconds with a trap speed of 100 miles per hour, and an observed top speed of 114 miles per hour at the engine's 6,000 rpm redline. The car had a total sticker price of (US) $3,643.79 and came with a close-ratio four-speed manual transmission, power steering, metallic brakes, rally wheels, 4.11 limited-slip differential, and Rally Gauge Cluster.
Motor Trend tested a four-barrel GTO convertible with a two-speed automatic and devoid of a limited-slip differential. The car achieved a zero-to-sixty mph time in 7 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 16.1 seconds at 89 miles per hour.
Critiques The GTO was found to have mediocre brakes and its steering was viewed as slow, with a ratio of 17.5:1 and four turns lock-to-lock. The metallic brakes on the GTO tested by Car Life were highly rated, but the Motor Trend and Road Test car with four-wheel drum brakes with organic linings was found to be inadequate in high-speed driving.
Performance Options Selected as Motor Trend magazine's 1965 'Car of the Year', the GTO was quickly imitated by both Oldsmobile and Buick and marketers other than Pontiac quickly seized upon the GTO to attract the attention of their markets. Uniroyal, the supplier of the GTO's Red Line performance tires, leveraged the GTO's visibility to sell millions of 'Tiger Paws', however, no one utilized the GTO more successfully or aggressively than George Hurst whose Hurst Performance Products, three and four-speed shift linkages, were a performance car essential. The products were further promoted by a string of outrageous cars like 'Hemi Under Glass' for drag racing exhibitions and hiring the still-famous Linda Vaughn to appear at races throughout the U.S. as 'Miss Hurst Shifter.'
GTO Convertible Pace Car The opening race of the 1965 NASCAR season was the Motor Trend 500 at Riverside, California. Hurst took the opportunity to introduce a new line of wheels, with forged aluminum five-spoke spiders, steel rims and clip-on aluminum beauty rings to hide balancing weights. They were introduced to the public on January 5th of 1965 and less than two weeks later were featured on the GTO convertibles which Hurst and Pontiac provided to pace the NASCAR stockers around Riverside's nine turn 2.7-mile road course on January 17. One of the two GTO convertibles were given by Motor Trend and Hurst Performance to the race winner - Dan Gurney driving a Wood Brothers' Ford in the second of three consecutive Riverside wins. The other GTO convertible pace car was given away to a lucky ticket holder.
The original warranty Protect-O-Plate is made out to 'MOTOR TREND,' and the original 1964 California application for title is to 'Mr. George Hurst, Hurst & Campbell Company.'
GeeTO Tiger To further boost sales of performance parts and the GTO, a nationwide contest was held based on a song record by a band called 'The Tigers' on the Colpix label. The song was 'GeeTO Tiger' and the Grand Prize was a specially prepared 1965 Pontiac GTO that was equipped with over 28 factory options and special gold Hurst mag wheels, a special Hurst Gold paint job and a gold-plated Hurst Shifter. Wangers described it as 'a total street machine, the nicest GTO you could put your hands on.' Pontiac offered the record in many of its ads, and, in total, more than 450,000 'GeeTO Tiger' albums were distributed. The winner was a last-minute entrant: 19-year-old Alex Lampone of West Allis, Wisconsin, who received the keys from George Hurst at the 1965 NHRA Indy Nationals.
The GeeTO Tiger, one of the most significant GTO of all time, was an original Royal Bobcat car that was hand-assembled by Pontiac Engineering and Hurst Performance Products. The Tri-Power 389 V8 had 10.75:1 compression and 360 horsepower, dual exhaust with splitters, synchronized four-speed manual transmission, 3.55 Safe-T-Track rear axle, power brakes with HD aluminum front drums, power steering, power windows, power driver's seat, black Cordova top, parchment and black bucket seat interior with center console, and tilt steering column. it had Verba-Phonic speaker, windshield washer and dual-speed wipers, back-up lamps, seat belts with an outboard retractor, custom sport steering wheel, and rally gauge cluster with tachometer.
Production A year after its introduction in 1964, the GTO option was on 41 percent of the 182,905 Tempest Le Mans built in 1965. Only eight percent more than the base Tempest Le Mans 326 V8 convertible's base price, the additional $296 brought a pleasant increase in performance. An additional $116 added the Tri-Power 360 hp V8.
Pontiac's GTO literature proclaimed, 'Designed as a piece of performance machinery, its purpose in life is to permit you to make the most of your driving skill. Its suspension is firm, tuned more to the open road than to wafting gently over bumpy city streets. Its dual exhausts won't win any prizes for whispering. And, unless you order it with our lazy 3.08 low-ratio rear axle, its gas economy won't be anything to write home about.' More than straight-line performance, the GTO was the first American car in decades that promised to handle.
The GTO option was installed in 32,450 Tempest models in 1964, and 75,352 the following year, thanks in part to its attractive styling, performance, vast options list, affordability, and creative advertising. Nearly 97,000 examples were built in 1966 followed by 81,722 in 1967.
Pontiac built 8,319 examples of the two-door Tempest LeMans coupe with the GTO option in 1966 at a base price of $2,790. The hardtop listed for $2,855 and 55,722 examples were built. The convertible had a base price of $3,090 and 11,311 examples were built. Of the 75,352 GTs built in 1965, 18,974 had automatics and 56,378 had synchromesh transmissions.
Pontiac Tempest The Pontiac Tempest was introduced in 1961 as the entry-level compact and produced through 1970. Its platform was redesigned in 1964 with a mid-size frame, and renamed A-body. It was re-designated as an intermediate-sized car with a traditional front-engine, front transmission, frame and solid rear axle design used by most of GM's other cars. Along with its sibling, the Tempest Le Mans, it moved to the new A-body platform shared with the Chevy Chevelle. The Le Mans names were discontinued as a separate series, so now the cars were, in ascending order, base Tempest, Tempest Custom, and Tempest Le Mans. In 1966, the Pontiac GTO became a separate series with unique trim and distinguished by GTO badges. by Daniel Vaughan | Jan 2021
Related Reading : Pontiac GTO History
The Pontiac GTO, in all respects a muscle car, debuted in 1964 and continued until 1974. John Zachary DeLorean, best known for the Delorean automobiles, was the individual who forced the development of the legendary GTO. The vehicle was very successful because it was able to capitalize on a segment of the market that had not been fully realized. Most of the muscle cars during this time were full-size.... Continue Reading >>
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John DeLorean created the first muscle car in 1964 when he offered the 389 cubic-inch engine from the full-sized Pontiac Bonneville as an option in the mid-sized Pontiac Tempest. DeLorean borrowed the acronym 'GTO' from a car winning races in Europe,....[continue reading]
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1965 Pontiac Tempest LeMans Production Figures
GTO Coupe 8,319
GTO Hardtop 55,722
GTO Convertible 11,311
802,000 total vehicles produced by Pontiac in 1965 The 1965 Pontiac Tempest LeMans accounted for 22.8% of Pontiac's 802,000 production.