50 Years Later
The Pontiac GTO
Eric Lawrence - January 02, 2014 10:00 AM
The 1964 GTO got it started. As a Tempest LeMans with the GTO option, it is considered by many to have been the first true muscle car.
On its return, the GTO in 1965 took on a new look with vertical headlights and non-functional air intakes cut in half.
A nice '66 GTO convertible can expect to fetch north of $20,000, with some extreme examples getting closer to $45,000.
While Esso (Exxon) was putting a “tiger in your tank”, Pontiac was capitalizing on the tiger craze with its own connections for the GTO.
The 1967 GTO has a favorable place in today's market. Though very similar to the '66, the prices tend to be a little higher when sold.
There were plenty of changes with the arrival of the 1968 GTO, including the Enduro bumper (which this car does not have, making it rare) and production numbers were again increased.
To call yourself "The Great One" takes more than the liberty to scramble the lettrs in your name. Sales and popularity backed up the contention for 1968.
There are no front vent windows on a 1969 GTO, but their similiarity to the 1968 will keep values close when selling or buying.
Clearly influenced by popular culture, Pontiac chose the Judge moniker based on a television show's comedy routine (that also appeared on records). The Judge has established itself in car culture as well.
Slight changes for 1970 included an arching of the wheel wells for the muscular look. The aggressive styling plays well in the appeal to modern day buyers.
“The 1970 GTOs, with their more aggressive looks, tend to bring a little bit more money than their 1968-’69 counterparts. ”
Wouldn’t you have loved to be a fly on the wall during the three martini lunch five decades ago when the GTO was first talked about?
I’ll bet it went something like this:
“Listen to me … I’ve got a great idea. All we need to do is take one of our new mid-sized bodies and drop in a big engine from one of our full-sized cars.
“We’ll give it a cool name, maybe something Italian. It’ll be really fast and I’m sure that we’ll sell a ton of them.”
OK, it was probably a little more complicated than that, but the general concept really is that simple – just ask any hot rodder.
Since Pontiac already had plenty of powerful engines originally designed for their full-size cars, like Catalinas and Bonnevilles, and their new mid-sized car line, the Tempest, had a roomy enough engine bay, basically all they had to do was engineer a few new mounts and linkages and then start taking orders.
The 1964 Pontiac GTO, which was technically a Tempest LeMans with the GTO option, is universally accepted as the first true factory muscle car. Although there had been high performance cars produced by the major car companies much earlier, such as the Chevrolet Impala SS409, the GTO marked the first time that a manufacturer had combined one of their lighter weight mid-sized bodies with one of their biggest and most powerful engines for the sole purpose of making a relatively low-priced, high performance automobile.
Under the direction of General Manager John DeLorean, and with the assistance of marketing genius Jim Wangers, Pontiac sold 32,450 GTOs in 1964; 7,384 coupes, 18,422 hardtops, and 6,644 convertibles.
The standard engine was a V-8 displacing 389 cubic inches fed by a single four-barrel carburetor rated at 325 horsepower. A 348 horsepower version was optional and used the famous Rochester Tri-Power set-up, which featured three two-barrel carburetors, “three deuces”, aligned in a row, each with their own separate air cleaner. The center carb was the primary and the front and rear were vacuum-operated as needed … and yes, they were often needed! Roughly one in four buyers selected the Tri-Power option.
A three-speed manual transmission was standard, but a four-speed manual or a two-speed Powerglide automatic were also available. The GTO package included other mechanical upgrades such as dual exhaust and beefed up brake and suspension components. Cosmetically, the GTOs were really not all that different from the LeMans models they were based on, which was itself an upgraded version of the Tempest. The GTO had several identifying interior and exterior emblems, an engine turned dash insert, and a dual intake hood (non functional).
The 1965 models are not tremendously different, but are easy to tell apart from the earlier cars. Their headlights are stacked vertically, instead of side-by-side as on the 1964 model. The hood was redesigned with a single air intake, sadly, once again non-functional. The standard 389 engine was now rated at 335hp, while the Tri-Power version rose to 360. All carburetor linkages, except Tri-Power automatics, were now mechanical. Sales were up, way up, with Pontiac selling 8,319 coupes, 55,722 hardtops, and 11,352 convertibles. Tri-Power percentage was again roughly one in four.
In today’s market, 1965 GTO hardtops in good condition are currently selling for right around $18,000 to $21,000. Top restored cars or very well preserved originals are up in the $35,000 to $37,500 range. Deduct roughly $1,000 to $1,500 for coupes, which are different in that they have a “B” pillar or hard frame around the front windows. Nice convertibles can be found for $22,500 to $25,000, with the best ones bringing up to $45,000. If the car is equipped with Tri-Power (documented original), add an additional $3,500 to $5,000. The 1964 models are not quite as popular as the 1965s, even though they are the first year of production; you’ll need to deduct about five to 10 percent from the 1965’s values.
The 1966 GTOs were restyled, but still bore a close resemblance to the earlier models. The wheelbase remained 115 inches, but the body was larger and the sides more sculpted. Engine availability was unchanged from the previous year. Production rose to 10,363 coupes, 73,785 hardtops, and 12,798 convertibles. This year, the Tri-Power percentage was roughly one in five.
The 1967 models look a lot like the 1966 cars, but there are a few differences that make them easy to tell apart. In the front, the plastic grille insert was replaced by wire mesh for 1967, the chrome top of the headlight pods is different, and the taillights switched to four slots stacked two on top of each other.
The biggest change was under the hood, where the 389 had been replaced by a 400. Even with the extra 11 cubic inches, the standard engine was still rated at 335hp, and a detuned two-barrel option rated at 255hp joined the line-up for those who wanted the look of a performance car without the hassle of all that extra power. The 360hp version now featured a single four-barrel Rochester carburetor instead of the Tri-Power set-up and was called the 400 HO. A functional Ram Air system was available on the 400 HO; however, its addition did not increase the published horsepower. The two-speed Powerglide was replaced by the three-speed Turbo-Hydramatic, on which the Hurst dual gate shifter was optional. Total production was off a little this year, falling to 7,029 coupes, 65,176 hardtops, and 9,517 convertibles.
Today, 1966-’67 models are more desirable in the marketplace than the earlier cars. 1966 hardtops in good shape are currently right around $20,000 to $23,500, with restored ones up around $37,500 to $40,000. Once again, coupes trail by $1,000 to $1,500. Nice convertibles are $24,000 to $27,500, with really well restored ones clocking in around $48,500. The Tri-Power setup adds its usual $3,500 to $5,000. 1967 models have a slight edge in popularity, and tend to run about $1,750 to $2,000 higher across the board than their 1966 counterparts. Add about $2,500 to $3,000 for the optional 400 HO, and tack on an additional $1,500 to $2,500 for Ram Air.
GM did a MAJOR redesign of its mid-sized cars for 1968. The “boxy” look that had endured since 1964 was gone, replaced with much more aerodynamic and rounded bodywork. Pontiac was most proud of the GTO’s revolutionary new front end treatment, which featured an Endura molded front bumper. Painted body color, it gave the cars a more refined and finished appearance.
With the introduction of the new sheet metal, the coupe body was discontinued, leaving just the sportier hardtop and convertible body styles. Production increased roughly 6,000 over the 1967 totals, with 77,704 hardtops and just under 10,000 convertibles. The base engine was still the 400, but it was bumped up 15 horsepower to 350. The two-barrel economy motor was once again available, and its rating was increased by 10hp to 265. The 400 HO and the Ram Air option returned as well, once again both rated at a conservative 360hp. Late in the model year, a new higher performance engine called the Ram Air II was introduced.
The 1969 GTO was pretty much unchanged, but an easy way to tell them apart is that the 1969 models no longer had front vent windows. Production numbers were beginning to drop, a trend which would continue and get worse. Hardtop production was 58,126 and convertibles totaled 7,328. A new sub-model, the GTO Judge, accounted for an additional 6,725 hardtops and just over 100 convertibles. The standard GTO engine was still the 400 rated at 350hp, and the 265hp version was also still available. The 400 HO and 400 HO Ram Air were combined into a single offering, called the Ram Air III, which was rated at 366hp and let the driver control the airflow into the engine from the cockpit. An entirely new engine joined the line-up, the Ram Air IV, grossly underrated at a published 370hp.
1968-’69 GTOs are very similar, so they bring about the same money. Expect to pay $15,000 to $17,500 for a hardtop in good condition, and a little north of $30,000 for a really nice one. Convertibles run $3,000 to $4,500 more. Not that there are many two-barrel GTOs left (most have been “upgraded” to four-barrels by now), but you’ll want to deduct at least a couple thousand dollars. For 1968 only, add about $2,000 to $2,500 for the optional 400 HO, and tack on an additional $1,500 to $2,500 for Ram Air. For 1969, add $2,500 to $4,000 for the Ram Air III. The Ram Air IV is very collectible, and in many cases will double the car’s value.
The GTO Judge, which was available from 1969-’71, was a high profile muscle car that represented the marriage of over-the-top looks and performance. It came standard with the Ram Air III (the Ram Air IV was optional) in 1969-’70 and the 455 HO in 1971, but what really caught people’s attention was its appearance – high impact colors, tape stripes, spoilers, and psychedelic “The Judge” emblems. Judge hardtops run between $40,000 to $80,000, depending on condition, and the convertibles, which are very rare, can bring up to $200,000, or even more for the ultra-low production 1971 model.
The GTO was restyled slightly for 1970, with the most noticeable addition being arches over the wheel wells that gave the car a more muscular look. 1971-’72 models kept this same basic design, but their noses were extended a few inches and their hood scoops were enlarged and moved forward.
Foreshadowing the end of the muscle car era, production totals dropped almost by half to about 32,500 hardtops and 3,600 convertibles (plus 3,635 Judge hardtops and 162 convertibles) for 1970. The decline accelerated for 1971, when production plunged to under 10,000 hardtops and 700 convertibles (Judge production fell to 357 hardtops and 17 convertibles). Convertibles were discontinued for 1972, and hardtop production fell below 6,000.
For 1970, Pontiac finally deleted the two-barrel version and added a torquey new 455 rated at 360hp to the option list. The 366hp Ram Air III and 370hp Ram Air IV were still available. For the 1971 model year, both Ram Air engines were discontinued and the base 400 was reduced to 300hp. A pair of 455s were optional, one rated at 325hp, and the other, called the 455 HO, which came in at 335. These engines all returned for 1972, but at lower published horsepowers.
The 1970 GTOs, with their more aggressive looks, tend to bring a little bit more money than their 1968-’69 counterparts. You can expect to see $16,000 to $18,500 for nice hardtops, with great ones approaching $35,000. Convertibles once again run $3,000 to $4,500 more. Add $2,500 to $4,000 for the Ram Air III, about the same or maybe a little more for the 455, and, as in 1969, expect to pay as much as double for the Ram Air IV.
1971-’72 GTOs are not quite as expensive as the 1970 models and their values trail the earlier cars by $2,000 to $3,000 across the board. The Ram Air III and IV might be gone, but you can still add $1,500 to $2,500 for the 455 and $4,000 to $6,000 for the highly collectible 455 HO.
1973 and 1974 GTO
The LeMans line was totally redesigned for 1973, but the GTO was still available on the option list, powered by either the standard 230hp 400, or the higher performance 455 rated at 250hp. Fewer than 5,000 were sold. In an apparent attempt to steal some Nova SS customers, Pontiac moved the GTO badge over to the Ventura for its final year of its first run, 1974. Only one engine was available, a 200hp 350 cubic inch V-8, the smallest ever offered in a GTO. Production was just over 7,000 units. Expect to pay $7,500 to $9,000 for either one of these years in good condition, and up to $20,000 a really nice one.
Eric Lawrence has been the editor of the CPI Collectible Vehicle Value Guide since 1988, and has written monthly columns for various car enthusiast magazines since the early 1990s.He can be reached at: ELawrence@BlackBookUSA.com.