CONCORD, N.C. – Pontiac’s GTO, the car that gave birth to the American muscle car phenomenon, will be celebrated through a special 50th anniversary exhibit during Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Sept. 18-21 AutoFair.
The display, housed in the Nationwide Insurance Pavilion, will feature a dozen of the rarest, most desirable examples available, including the earliest known 1964 GTO, a ’66 Tri-Power model, a ’69 Judge Ram Air IV and a ’71 Judge convertible.
The earliest Baby Boomers were ready to buy new cars in the early 1960s, and they were willing to pay extra for speed and style. Pontiac electrified the youth market when it took a 389-cid V-8 from its big family car model, squeezed it into a mid-size Tempest, and sold it as a performance package. Pontiac “borrowed” the name GTO from Italian automaker Ferrari, whose own GTO race cars had dominated European road courses only a few years earlier.
The ’64 GTO came standard with a four-barrel carburetor and 325 horsepower; paying extra for a three-carburetor “Tri-Power” layout raised the bar to 348 horses, giving the car a power-to-weight ratio like nothing else on the road. Its immediate sales success (32,000 sold in the first year) caused Ronnie and the Daytonas to immortalize the new Pontiac in the song “Little GTO.”
The next 10 years set a blistering pace of style evolution and increasing power for the GTO, since Pontiac knew the competition was always trying to catch up. A styling change to the ’65 Tempest gave the second-year GTO an aggressive look to match its power output, and three-carb option boosted horsepower to 360. The Tempest and GTO received a complete redesign for 1966, gaining a longer body with a “Coke bottle” profile, so called because Pontiac incorporated muscular haunches over the car’s rear wheels that, coincidentally, mimic a bottle of the famous soft drink lying on its side.
This iconic combination of looks and power sold 100,000 GTO coupes and convertibles that year. For ’67, the GTO’s V-8 engine increased its displacement to 400 cubic inches and gained a hot new performance option—a Ram Air package that fed more atmosphere to the hungry “Goat” through hood scoops.