Fact 101: The GTO used in the March 1964 Car and Driver GTO-versusFerrari GTO story was a fraud, a glorious, brilliant fraud. The Ferrari never materialized on test day, but that didn’t matter. Masterminded by legendary Pontiac public relations guru Jim Wangers, Pontiac supplied a pair of 4-speed, Tri-Power test cars: a Nocturne Blue pre-production engineering car and a regular-production post coupe in Grenadier Red. What wasn’t regular production was the red car’s 421 engine!
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Jaws dropped at the Daytona International Raceway test area when the red car ran 0–60 in 4.6 seconds and 0–100 in 11.8. Oddly (or not surprisingly if you knew the truth), the numbers generated by the blue car’s legit 348-hp Tri-Power 389 were not as good and didn’t even make it to print. It took years for all parties involved to fess up about the red car’s 421 heart transplant. The net result was priceless publicity for the GTO and a major circulation boost for then-fledgling Car and Driver magazine.
Fact 102: Not published in the Car and Driver GTO-versus-GTO story is the fact the red car spun a rod bearing near the end of the Florida test session. The important acceleration numbers had already been generated (with questionable hand-held stop watches) and everybody was happy. No mention was made of the demise of the 421, err 389, in print. To get the non-operable red car back to Detroit, Jim Wangers flat towed it behind the blue GTO.
Making the northbound trip in January, Wangers encountered snow storms and was delayed because the 3.55:1-geared rear axle (surprisingly) lacked the optional Safe-T-Track limited-slip differential. As such, the return trip took ten days. Once home at Pontiac headquarters, the blue car was eventually destroyed but the red car’s wounded 421 was repaired so it could be drag raced by Wangers and Royal mechanic MiltSchornack on the strip—and street. The red 421-powered sleeper spent more than a few nights on Woodward Avenue.
Fact 103: Manifest #79437, the official Pontiac build notes for the red Car and Driver GTO magazine test car, states that it was built during the second week of October 1963 with the base 325-hp 389 4-barrel, wide-ratio (2.56:1 first gear) M20 4-speed, 3.23:1 axle ratio, and metallic brakes. Though the car was billed to Royal Pontiac, it was first delivered to Pontiac Engineering where a 421 Tri-Power, closeratio (2.20:1 first gear) M21 transmission and 3.90:1 Safe-T-Track differential replaced the stock drivetrain.
Suitably fortified for magazine glory, it was then delivered to Royal and subsequently driven to Daytona by Wangers for its date with destiny. By late summer 1964 the car had served its purpose and was placed on the Royal Pontiac sales lot as a used car with just under 9,000 miles on the odometer. On August 24, 1964, the car was sold to Bill Sherman, who had no idea the 421 was still under the hood. The truth came out in 1968 when Sherman pulled the motor and discovered it was no ordinary 389. Today the car has been restored—complete with a 1964 421 Tri-Power—and makes frequent appearances at Pontiac shows.
Fact 104: Everybody remembers the Monkeemobile, the bright-red GTO custom created for The Monkees hit TV show by Dean Jeffries. Though a popular show car (two were eventually built), Pontiac, or more specifically program liason Jim Wangers, was not happy with Jeffries’ final execution.
Originally envisioned as a mildly customized 1966 GTO convertible, the resulting phaeton body was too far removed from the showroom model for Wangers’ tastes. Making matters worse, the TV show’s producers minimized the car’s on-screen involvement. The real winner was MPC (a plastic model kit maker), which sold almost 7 million 1/25-scale Monkeemobile kits. For many years, they were expensive collector items. Fortunately the tooling was never scrapped and the Monkeemobile has recently been reissued at a very affordable price.
Fact 105: 5This one’s a personal experience. It’s the brief story of a 2004 GTO, legendary Hollywood icon Dennis Hopper, an inadvertent insult, and a very awkward photo session.
When the 2004 GTO arrived on the scene, Pontiac product placement folks worked hard to get plenty of media exposure. The USA Network produced a made-for-TV movie called The Last Ride starring actor Dennis Hopper and, as the producers put it, “In its motion picture debut, the 2004 Pontiac GTO.”
I was at the May 27, 2004, West Hollywood movie premiere on assignment by Tom DeMauro, editor of High Performance Pontiac magazine. After Dennis Hopper and the rest of the cast arrived in a trio of black 2004 GTOs (with a police motorcycle escort, no less) I arranged to take pictures of Hopper posing with a new GTO to support my story. Frankly, he looked pretty rickety that day and I sensed he wasn’t walking well. I told him how I’d like him to pose with the car: “I’d like it if you could crouch down and put your arm over the hood of the car, like it’s your buddy. But if your knees aren’t up to it, you can stand.”
Hey, I could plainly see he was walking with difficulty and I thought I was being compassionate. He glared at me and stood by the car silently. I snapped my pictures and after a few minutes we were done. Check out his expression in the photo and feel the stink eye. Sadly, he was gone exactly six years and two days later, passing on May 29, 2010, from complications of prostate cancer. Dennis Hopper was 74.
Fact 106: Contrary to popular belief, the 1964 hit single “G.T.O.” was not performed by the Beach Boys or Jan and Dean. Though it is known that Jim Wangers wanted the Beach Boys for the song, it was instead performed by a group of Nashville studio musicians who were given the name Ronny and the Daytonas. The song reached number four on the Billboard survey in September 1964, and sold more than 1.25 million copies. Jan and Dean did sing a Pontiacthemed ballad called “My Mighty GTO” on the Liberty label (record number 55704). You can find it on the flip-side of “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena” 45-rpm single.
Fact 107: As part of their contract with Screen Gems, each cast member of the hit TV show The Monkees was given a new Pontiac GTO for personal use. Mike Nesmith (the tallest Monkee) got some unwanted publicity after being stopped on the Hollywood Freeway doing 125 mph. His passenger was none other than Jimi Hendrix.
Fact 108: The fabled “Tiger Button” exhaust system of 1970 was not an exhaust bypass device akin to open headers. Rather, the VOE (vacuum operated exhaust) option delivered a pair of two-speed mufflers with hinged internal baffles. Offered as UPC W73, a vacuum-operated motor toggled the articulated baffles between the standard LeMans exhaust tone and the more aggressive sound produced by stock GTO mufflers. Forget lore claiming the VOE to be a true muffler cut-out system; it just wasn’t so.
A total of 233 GTOs were equipped with VOE in 1970 (212 coupes and 21 convertibles). Today, reproduction VOE systems are available from the GTO restoration supply industry. Ironically, Ram Air III and IV GTOs were not available with VOE because their mufflers were already of the high-flow variety.
Fact 109: Pontiac had high hopes for the VOE option and even produced a 60-second TV spot depicting it in action. In the commercial, a silver 1970 GTO hardtop slowly cruised through the parking lot of a drive-through hamburger joint at night. Faces turn as the driver, looking cool and collected, reaches down and pulls the control knob. The already potent exhaust note increases to a raspy burble as more heads turn. The commercial ends with the words: “The Humbler is here, this is the way it’s going to be, baby.” Check it out on YouTube.
Fact 110: The 1970 VOE wasn’t Pontiac’s first dual-mode exhaust system. A decade earlier, Pontiac offered cast-iron exhaust cutouts as part of the nascent Super Duty program for NASCAR and drag race applications. Approximately the size of a grapefruit, the cutouts were flanged at both ends to bolt between the exhaust manifolds and head pipes. On the side was a removable bolt-on plate, which allowed the escape of exhaust gas without the back pressure caused by the rest of the dual undercar exhaust system.
Unlike the automated VOE of 1970, Super Duty drivers had to get out and reach 2 feet under the car to access the caps. Not too cool at the drive-in. Pontiac devised several Super Duty exhaust cutout configurations between 1959 and 1963, some of which were cast aluminum for the ultimate in weight savings.
Fact 111: Did Pontiac really build GTO station wagons in 1972? The quick answer is no. This bit of Poncho folklore stems from the availability of the sleek GTO “Endura” nose clip on any LeMans body style (including wagons and four-doors) for an extra $41. To clarify, while the standard 1972 LeMans wore a conventional chrome front bumper and flat hood, GTOs (and LeMans ordered with the UPC T41 Endura styling option) came with a much sleeker nose clip consisting of a body-colored bumper, vented fenders, dual-scoop hood (functional when Ram Air was specified), and smaller grille openings. The key identifier was the absence of a driver-side GTO grille emblem on T41-equipped LeMans. Records show that three station wagons were factory assembled with the T41 Endura nose option.
Fact 112: Pontiac led the industry when it came to utilizing aluminum to shed weight from its factory drag racing package cars. Nobody else went so far as to cast aluminum exhaust manifolds! It’s true, in 1962 and 1963 the Big Chief recast its high-flow, dual-outlet, iron manifolds in aluminum and dropped total weight from 72 to 27 pounds per pair. Sold over the counter in 1962, they were factory issue on 1963 421 Super Duty cars.
It’s a shame Pontiac pulled out of racing in March 1963. Otherwise we might have seen similar aluminum manifolds adapted for use on the GTO. But wait . . . Pontiac restoration part suppliers have recently cloned these rare Super Duty Catalina goodies as well as never-was-but-should-have-been aluminum GTO and Firebirdspecific exhaust manifolds. Life is good!
Fact 113: The 1977 Can Am was a special car indeed but did you know it was initially meant to be a revival of the GTO Judge? During its gestation—and before the Can Am name was selected—the goal was to bring some of the Firebird Trans Am’s sizzle to the nowbloated LeMans line. To sell the idea to Pontiac management, a 1976 LeMans was painted 1969 Judge Carousel Red, a shaker hood installed above a T/A 6.6-spec 400-cubic-inch V-8, and replica Judge graphics were applied. The idea was rejected but did lead to the more subdued Can Am for 1977.
Fact 114: Is there any higher compliment for a muscle car than to be used by the US Air Force to help land the CIA’s U-2 spy plane? High-performance Pontiacs have a long history of service at U-2 air bases. Because the U-2 has a skateboard-style central landing gear (with outrigger dolly wheels mounted near the wing tips), landing is a two-person job.
Limited cockpit visibility and twitchy low-speed fl ight characteristics require an extra pair of eyes to ride alongside in an observation car at up to 140 mph so touch-down progress can be radioed to the pilot. In 1963 at least one 421-powered Catalina convertible was employed, and most recently the USAF bought no fewer than twelve new GTOs and G8 GTs for use at California’s Beale Air Force Base alone.
Fact 115: Pontiac revisited the budget GTO idea with the mid-1970 GT37. Standard power was the 350 2-barrel, but any GTO engine was optionally available. Judge-like side stripes and standard hood pins were part of the visual appeal, while rubber floor mats and 3-speed stick kept the base price down. As Pontiac advertisements put it: “There’s a little bit of GTO in every GT37, and you don’t have to be over 30 to afford it.”
GT37s featured the standard Tempest hood, which lacked the GTO’s distinctive twin nostrils. Cheap didn’t equate to popular, and only 1,419 GT37s were sold in 1970. Hot Rod magazine tested a GT37 in its June 1971 issue and pushed the 300-hp, 400-cube machine to a 14.40 at 97.50 mph in the quarter-mile.
Fact 116: Pontiac’s entire Super Duty race parts development program came to a sudden halt in March 1963 (along with all race support at the other GM divisions). Why? It was a political decision intended to divert government attention away from the fact General Motors vehicles accounted for more than 50 percent of annual new-car sales.
Federal anti-trust legislation—intended to break up “unfair” monopolies in our free market economy—was brewing and top GM management elected to reduce its corporate profile in any way possible. In 1960, General Motors controlled 46.1 percent of the market; 1961 output grew to 47.5 percent; 1962 saw a jump to 53.9 percent; and 1963 output reached 53.2 percent. The factory antiracing edict was issued on January 24, 1963, and no further Super Duty engine or vehicle orders were to be taken.
Fact 117: Though Super Duty orders were no longer taken after January 24, 1963, the actual wind-down was delayed so the NHRA Winternationals (February 15, 16, 17) and NASCAR Daytona 500 (February 24) could play out. At Pomona, Bill Shrewsberry wheeled the Mickey Thompson Super Duty Tempest to victory in A/FX, while thirteen Pontiacs were still running at the end of the Daytona 500—with Bobby Johns’ 421 Catalina finishing seventh behind a hoard of Chevys and Fords.
By March 1963, the Super Duty race program was finished, and—happily—government trust busters never mobilized even after General Motors earned a 53.9 market share in 1964. It all begs the question, should a product really be penalized for being popular?
Fact 118: I lived in southern California for sixteen years and was lucky to meet and interact with many Pontiac performance legends. One memorable acquaintance was Mike Morgan, a die-hard Chevy racer—with an infamous connection to the early Super Duty program. Mike’s dad, Bruce (a seemingly gentle seventy-something retiree when I was introduced to him), won the Hurst White Goddess Super Duty 389 Catalina at the 1961 NHRA Indy Nationals. The Poncho was his prize for winning the most points in Top Stock at the wheel of his factory Rochester fuel-injected 1957 Bel Air. When given the car with much fanfare and publicity in Hot Rod magazine, Bruce smiled for the many cameras—then promptly towed the hand-built-by-Royal Pontiac Super Duty cross country from Indiana to California behind his 1957 Chevy race car!
Once home, Bruce briefly campaigned the car before blowing the engine. A Chevy fan at heart, he had little patience for the ailing Pontiac and quickly sold it. The experience put a lasting bad taste in Jim Wangers’ mouth; so bad he referenced it in his 1998 autobiographical work Glory Days: “The Stock Car points winner was an arrogant young racer named Bruce Morgan, who won the title driving an ‘A’ stock 1957 Chevrolet. His reaction to winning the car was very peculiar. He was cool to the fact that it was a Pontiac, let alone a blueprinted race car. He sold it almost immediately and I felt it was a real insult, both to Hurst and to Pontiac, and it taught us a lesson. A straight 2-barrel Catalina coupe would have been a better prize.”
I showed Bruce the quote and he admitted to over-revving the 389. “I couldn’t drive it like my 283 Chevy. After it broke, I used rubbing compound to remove all the Hurst lettering, stuck a stock 389 in it, and sold it.” As an early Hurst/Royal Pontiac project car, its value today would be astronomical. Alas, Bruce has no record of its current whereabouts.
Fact 119:In the 1977 film classic Smokey and the Bandit, four 1977 Trans Am Special Editions were consumed during production. Despite rumors claiming Hal Needham’s production crew stuffed Chevy 454s under their shaker hoods, each car retained its stock 200-hp L78 400 engine. The lone exception was the car used for the infamous bridge jump scene. Pre-jump calculations and rehearsals showed it needed a little help to reach the necessary ramp entry speed. So a plate-style nitrous oxide system was installed beneath the Rochester Quadrajet carburetor and movie history was made
Fact 120: Chevy and Buick both produced muscle cars with engines larger than their external badging proclaimed (the 402-cube 1970 SS396 and the 401-cube 1965–1966 Buick GS400). In 1963, Pontiac took its turn at displacement overdelivery with a 336 engine that was marketed as a 326. By taking its 389 V-8 and reducing the bore from 4.0625 to 3.780 inches (but retaining the 389’s 3.750- inch stroke), the result was a 336-cubic-inch engine.
In those pre-GTO days, General Motors corporate policy limited midsize vehicle engine displacement to 330 cubic inches. Nobody seemed to notice that the 336 was 6 inches too big. For 1964, Pontiac dutifully reduced the bore to 3.718 and a true 326-cubic-inch engine resulted. Though most 326 engines were economy oriented, the L76 HO version (1965–1967) featured a 4-barrel carburetor, dual exhaust, and 10.5:1 pistons for an output of 285 hp at 5,000 rpm and 359 ft-lbs at 3,200 rpm.
Fact 121: The 1974 GTO was the only Pontiac with a functional shaker hood scoop that model year, its hinged air door opening at full throttle. Even the mighty Super Duty 455 Firebird shaker was relegated to non-functional anti-status thanks to a (removable) block-off plate. The ram-air restriction was caused by more stringent drive-by noise standards. Understandably, the mild 200-hp 350 used in the GTO was quieter at full throttle than its 400- and 455-cube siblings, opening the door (so to speak) for functional cold-air induction.
Fact 122: The GTO’s sporting image took a hit in 1966 when Pontiac moved the shift handle for base 3-speed manual transmission cars from the floor (as used in 1964 and 1965) to the steering column. The three-on-the-tree granny shifter was only used in cars built with the Saginaw 3-speed. When the optional M13 heavy-duty 3-speed was chosen, the shift handle returned to its rightful place, on the floor. Incidentally, the M13 unit was designed and manufactured by Ford and was available in the GTO through 1969. In 1970 it was replaced by a Muncie-built 3-speed unit.
Fact 123: The 1976 Firebird Formula double-hump performance hood pays obvious homage to the 1964 GTO hood. Both were nonfunctional and both lasted just one model year. Many years later, when the Holden Monaro–based 2004 GTO needed some extra mojo, stylists again turned the clock back to 1964 and revived the double-hump motif for 2005—and finally it was functional (as a vent). Oddly, Pontiac also offered the previous year’s flat hood to 2005 GTO customers seeking a low profile and got 24 takers.
Fact 124: Each and every 1977 Can Am hood had to be modified by hand to accept the shaker hood scoop. Attempting the job on the fast-paced Pontiac, Michigan, assembly line would have been chaos. Instead, semi-complete cars were trucked in groups of seven from Pontiac to the Motortown modification center in Troy, Michigan, where final assembly (and hood slicing) was completed.
So why didn’t Pontiac just tool up a LeMans shaker hood? Remember, from the start, the scheme was to limit Can Am production to just 5,000 cars (actual output was only 1,377). The expense of specific shaker hood stamping equipment was out of the question. On the other hand, with output of 68,744 units in 1977 alone, the Firebird Trans Am certainly justified its own shaker hood tooling—and got it.
Fact 125: The red 2004 GTO used in the trailer for the USA Network feature film The Last Ride got lots of attention from eagle-eyed Pontiac fans. Unlike the bland flat hood used on showroom 2004 models, this one had scoops! Out back, it also had dual exhaust tips.
In hindsight, the movie car offered a sneak peek at what was coming for the 2005 GTO. I had a chance to inspect this car in person in late-May 2004 and noted that the passenger-side exhaust tip was a fake! Though the bright stainless tip and dual-cutout rear bumper fascia were legit, the right-hand exhaust pipe was less than a foot long and capped by a welded plug; a standard GTO twin-tube exhaust system fed the left-hand exhaust tip.
Fact 126: Pontiac Factory Experimental drag cars came in two distinct flavors for 1963. For battle in B/FX, 14 lightweight Catalinas were produced, and for the heady world of A/FX, 14 Tempest/ LeMans compacts were prepared. Both platforms shared the mighty 405-hp 421 Super Duty engine, and the Catalinas had attractive 421 emblems attached to their aluminum front fenders to warn the competition. As for the smaller LeMans/Tempest compacts, each one was fitted with—get this—a standard 326 emblem in the driver-side front grille opening!
Though it might seem John DeLorean’s competition department was playing psyche-out games, the fact is the 14 Tempests (6 LeMans coupes, 2 Tempest coupes, and 6 Tempest wagons) were based on cars ordered with the optional 326 powerplant. Once converted to 421-powered, aluminum-nosed lightweight drag cars, nobody bothered to change the grille-mounted 326 emblems.
Incidentally, the 326 V-8 was a very popular item among 1963 Tempest/LeMans buyers—52 percent of the 131,490 cars built were powered by the 326.
Fact 127: The scarcest first-generation Firebird hood belongs to the 1969 Trans Am. Made of steel, it’s similar to the hood used on the same-year Firebird 400, but the dual scoops (always functional) are much larger and positioned closer to the leading edge of the hood. Only 697 Firebird Trans Ams were built in 1969, so finding a replacement hood at a swap meet is nearly impossible today.
Fact 128: Owners of 1969 Firebird Trans Ams know they need a 1/2- inch socket wrench and a long reach to change the air filter element. That’s because the filter is trapped inside the hood, rather than being attached to the engine as on lesser Firebirds. The socket wrench is needed to remove the hood plenum base plate to access the round air filter element. General Motors used a similar in-hood air filter element location on 1967–1969 L-88 Corvettes.
Fact 129: 1969 GTO Judge and Firebird Trans Am owners know not to rest an idle hand atop the body when closing the trunk lid. Supported by a pair of struts bolted to the trunk lid, the ends of the 60-inch airfoil, or spoiler, extend past the trunk skin creating a nasty pinch point for unsuspecting fingers and hands. The hazard was eliminated for 1970 thanks to a “flying wing” trunk spoiler for the GTO and a three-piece ducktail spoiler on the redesigned Firebird Trans Am.
Fact 130: GTO (and Tempest/LeMans) gas pedals were redesigned in 1966. Earlier units were attached to the floor with a hinge. The new design moved the pivot point against the fi rewall so the pedal was suspended. This configuration allowed more precise throttle control and helped future restorers by eliminating the earlier gas pedal hinge hold-down bolt holes. Over time the holes admit water, soak the carpet, and rot the floorpan.
Fact 131: The 1967 GTO started a big trend with its optional dealerinstalled hood-mount tachometer. Owners of early units complained the single illuminating bulb made the tach hard to read at night so a second bulb was added in 1968. These 1968-up hoodmount tachs have a flatter, wider housing than the 1967 model and were now installed right on the assembly line, a practice that continued through 1971. For 1972, its final year of availability, the hood-mounted tachometer reverted to a dealer-installed item.
Fact 132: Pontiac intended to offer a sleek, trunk-mounted ducktail spoiler on 1972 GTOs but manufacturing difficulties limited the three-piece design to a small number of over-the-counter sales. Reproductions are available today, but they only fi t hardtop models (convertibles have different quarter panel contours). Between 1969 and 1972, Pontiac devised no less than three unique trunkmounted spoiler configurations for the GTO.
Fact 133: The 1969–1971 GTO Judge featured a unique glove compartment door with pierced holes to accept a laminated metal emblem bearing the words: “The Judge.” The only exception was the first few thousand 1969 Judges (of the 6,833 built), which lacked the emblem due to supplier delays. These Judges were assembled with non-pierced glove compartment doors. Though reproduction Judge emblems are available, they lack the twin mounting posts of the original factory ones and are adhesive-backed instead.
Fact 134: When driving a 1970 GTO, do not be alarmed if you see a pair of tiny red lamps sitting atop the rear speaker shelf. They’re part of the optional U48 Rear Lamp Monitor system. Using fiber optic strands to “pipe” light from the taillamps, the intent was to confirm proper bulb function. If one of the taillamp bulbs failed, the indicator for that side of the car went out too. The U48 lamp monitoring system was not available on convertibles due to the lack of a proper mounting surface for the readout box.
Fact 135: 1964–1969 GTOs equipped with a manual radio antenna had the retractable mast atop the passenger-side front fender. When the optional power-retractable antenna was specified, the front fender was not pierced with a mounting hole. Rather, the antenna was relocated to the passenger-side rear quarter panel where the inside of the trunk compartment allowed plenty of stowage space for the retracted mast and power mechanism. But don’t expect to find an antenna mast of any kind on GTOs built after 1969. A nearly invisible wire-type antenna is embedded into the windshield on 1970–1974 Goats with factory radio equipment.
Fact 136: When was the last time you saw a Grand Prix convertible? The correct answer is never, except for the 1967 model year. That’s when Pontiac (seeking to reignite sales of personal luxury GP models) introduced a ragtop. With a base sticker price of $3,813, the droptop was $264 more expensive than the GP hardtop.
So was the open GP a success? Unfortunately, only 5,856 buyers liked the idea—versus 37,125 GP hardtop buyers—and the droptop was canceled for 1968 and beyond. No doubt the sporty full-size car got plenty of unexpected competition from the GTO convertible (priced $648 less) and fresh new Firebird convertible (15,528 built). Today, any 1967 Grand Prix convertible stands out as an extremely collectible one-year oddity.
Fact 137: The 1967 Grand Prix was the first Pontiac to feature a windshield-embedded radio antenna in place of a traditional mast. Lesser Pontiacs didn’t get the “invisible” radio antenna treatment until several years later.
Fact 138: The restyled 1965 GTO was a stunner. Its stacked headlights in particular defined the “face” of the GTO for three full model years. Its distinctive center-scoop hood was also a huge hit, but more than a few GTO spotters were led astray by words that appeared in the July 1965 issue of Hot Rod magazine.
Writer Eric Dahlquist incorrectly wrote, “It’s plain enough from the strategically-placed insignia that the car is a GTO, but that cool hood scoop marks it as the three-carb charger.” The implication that only Tri-Power cars got the domed hood scoop is erroneous. All 1965 GTOs got this unique hood, including base 335-hp 4-barrel cars.
Fact 139: Production realities doomed the 1965 GTO domed hood to nonfunctional anti-status. But in mid-August 1965, Pontiac offered an over-the-counter Ram Air package for Tri-Power cars. Priced at $29.65, it had nothing to do with the engine or camshaft. This debut Ram Air kit simply consisted of a metal base plate to seal the triple carbs to the underside of the hood and an un-painted, cast-metal, hood scoop insert. Templates were provided to aid cutting the underhood bracing and the scoop insert’s ribbed blockoff sections.
Once sliced open, the scoop insert was to be painted to match the body and installed in place of the stock insert. 1966 and 1967 GTO hoods use the same insert and these later cars were available with factory-installed Ram Air systems that included hotter cams and valve gear. Factory Ram Air installations were uncommon with 190 Ram Air 389s built in 1966 and 751 Ram Air 400s built in 1967. As the Ram Air legend grew, so did demand. By 1969 Pontiac installed 9,250 Ram Air engines on the assembly line (includes RA III and RA IV).
Fact 140: Pontiac chose subtle colors for its 1963 Factory Experimental fleet. The B/FX Catalinas (14 built) were mostly delivered wearing Firefrost Silver (a Cadillac color). The smaller LeMans coupes and Tempest wagons (14 built) were painted white with blue vinyl interiors. Exceptions were a pair of Tempest coupes, one black and one silver. Light colors helped increase identification among drag strip spectators when racers applied sponsor lettering and decorative graphics.
Fact 141: The rear-mounted transaxle of the 1963 Tempest posed some engineering challenges for the Super Duty development team. Intent on competing in NHRA Factory Experimental drag races and NASCAR oval track events, John DeLorean assigned staff engineer Bill Collins the task of adapting the transaxle for racing, and life behind a 421 Super Duty mill. The resulting Powershift transmission packed the contents of two Corvair 2-speed Powerglide transaxles into a fortified case to deliver four forward speeds with ratios of 2.44, 1.76, 1.38, and 1:1.
Pontiac built six 421 Super Duty Tempest wagons, six 421 Super Duty LeMans coupes, and two Tempest coupes. On the strip, the Powershift needed frequent service and most were replaced with live axles as the cars devolved into match racers. But in NASCAR, Paul Goldsmith’s #50 coupe won the 1963 Daytona 250 Challenge Cup race, famously passing a Ferrari 250 GTO. After General Motors quit racing in March 1963, the 421 SD LeMans was sold. The buyer? Daimler-Benz, which shipped it to Germany, dismantled it, and prepared a detailed engineering study of its many unique features.
Fact 142: The 1977 W72 400 was the first Pontiac engine since 1971 to feature chrome valve covers. The first Pontiac V-8 with factoryissue chrome valve covers was the 1964 GTO. What makes the W72 items stand apart is their grainy finish, which adds a no-nonsense vibe while remaining attractive.
Fact 143: The 14 Swiss Cheese Catalina B/FX drag cars built in 1963 were initially delivered with Borg-Warner T-85 3-speed manual transmissions. Most were quickly retrofi tted with 4-speed BorgWarner T-10 transmissions with special aluminum main cases and tailshafts that saved 15 pounds versus the iron-case T-85 (its tailshaft was also aluminum). The T-10’s extra gear helped keep the engine closer to its power peak all the way down the quarter-mile and, despite the need for an extra upshift, T-10 cars were substantially quicker than T-85 cars.
Fact 144: 1964 GTOs built prior to December 19, 1963, lack the heavyduty valvesprings originally specified and were not able to reach engine speeds as high as later engines. According to Pontiac documents, the superior springs are quickly identifi ed by their .170-inch outside wire diameter and a pair of yellow paint stripes. How the standard .162-inch valvesprings found their way onto early GTO engines is unknown. Pontiac rectified the valvespring issue starting with engine number 190810.
Fact 145: Folks bash the 1974 GTO’s 350 as a mundane boat anchor, but let’s remember, every one of them came with a 4-barrel, dual exhaust, Ram Air, and heads with screw-in rocker arm studs to resist pull-out at high RPM. In retrospect, the Nova-based 1974 was a true continuation of the big-engine-in-a-small-car formula that launched the original GTO a decade earlier. And get this, none of the original 389 GTO engines came with screw-in studs, they all arrived with the 400 in 1967.
Fact 146: The 500 ft-lbs of torque generated by the new-for-1970 455 HO was just too much for the GTO’s standard 8.125-inch 10-bolt rear axle. So Pontiac turned to McKinnon Industries (General Motors of Canada) for the solution. Quickly identifiable by its 12-bolt inspection cover, the McKinnon axle featured a 8.875-inch ring gear and larger axle diameters.
Fact 147: Today’s restorers often overlook the fact Pontiac used resonators to fi ne tune the GTO’s exhaust note and create a signature burble at idle and part-throttle cruise mode. Mounted just before the tailpipe outlet, resonators were installed on all 1966 GTOs and automatic-equipped cars in 1967 and 1969. All too often, restorers install a set of basic tailpipes, but that’s not the way they were manufactured. Fortunately, exact-spec reproduction exhaust systems are on the market for those who really care.
Fact 148: The W72 Performance Package T/A 6.6 400 engine used in the 1977 Can Am was identical to the optional W72 installed in automatic-equipped Firebirds—with one difference. Firebirdbound W72s were backed by a Turbo 350 automatic transmission. Can Am engines were teamed with a Turbo 400 to counter the added weight of the full-frame LeMans platform.
Exhaust systems also differed. The Firebird used a transverse muffler feeding dual tailpipes with chrome splitter tips. The larger Can Am exhaled through a conventional inline muffler and single tailpipe exiting below the passenger’s side of the rear bumper. The Can Am was the only shaker-hood-equipped Pontiac with a single exhaust outlet.
Fact 149: Chevrolet wasn’t alone in adopting Rochester mechanical fuel injection in 1957. Though conceptually similar to the units installed on Corvettes and Chevy passenger cars, Pontiac’s fuelie system had many unique parts, the most obvious being its fabricated steel intake manifold. Rated at 295 hp, the 347-cubic-inch, fuel-injected engine was only available in the top-line Bonneville convertible. With a list price of $5,782, just 630 were built.
Fact 150: Pontiac offered its version of the Rochester mechanical fuel injection system for a second (and final) year in 1958. The main difference from 1957 was a switch to a cast-aluminum intake manifold (similar in theme to those used on the Chevy 283 fuelie). For 1958, Pontiac expanded fuel-injection availability to all models and boosted output to 315 hp, thanks in part to a jump to 370 cubic inches. About 400 customers paid the extra $500 to enjoy the benefit of mechanical fuel injection in 1958.
Fact 151: Ever heard of the Pontiac 427 hemi-head V-8? Featuring an aluminum block and heads, Chrysler-esque hemispherical combustion chambers, and SOHC construction, one graced the cover of the October 1970 issue of Hot Rod magazine. Reported to weigh 550 pounds and deliver 640 hp, it featured timed mechanical fuel injection. Unfortunately, it arrived too late in the muscle car era and was canceled. The Hot Rod story says just six of these experimental engines were built. Ever seen one?
Fact 152: Knowing the 1964 GTO wasn’t as heavy as the full-size models its 389 also powered, Pontiac drivetrain engineers gave manual-transmission GTOs a 10.4-inch clutch with a 2,350-pound rating. This placed it between the 2,150-pound clutch fitted to Catalinas and Star Chiefs and the 2,550-pound extra-duty clutch used in Bonnevilles and Grand Prix. In 1970 the 10.4-inch clutch was joined by a higher capacity 11-inch clutch with 2,750-pound capacity.
The larger clutch was installed on 455-cubic-inch applications to keep pace with the massive torque output. All 400-cubic-inch engines, regardless of tune, retained the smaller 10.4-inch clutch right through 1973. Unlike 1969–1972 Chevrolet and Oldsmobile muscle cars, Pontiac never offered the MA6 dual-disc clutch as a factory option (see Fact #59 for more on this subject).
Fact 153: Pontiac shocked the industry by essentially sawing its 389 V-8 in half to create the 1961 Pontiac Tempest Trophy 4 engine. Essentially the right bank of the 389, the 194.5-cubic-inch Trophy 4 used a specific crank, cam, intake manifold, and block but its pistons, rods, cylinder head, valvetrain, and oil pan were totally interchangeable with the 389 V-8. Though most Trophy 4s were sold with 1-barrel carburetion, the top power offering included 10.25:1 compression, a hotter cam, and a single 4-barrel carburetor for 155 hp.
Fact 154: For better or worse, starting in 1967, Pontiac added the socalled “step-down” 400 2-barrel engine option for GTO buyers looking for some extra fuel economy. Using a mild cam and 8.6:1 compression it was rated at 255 hp, a full 80 fewer than the base 4-barrel GTO engine. The step-down mill was only available with an automatic transmission. In 1968 the step-down 400 2-barrel continued but with a 10-hp boost.
Oddly, there was no credit given when this less sophisticated engine was selected. Rather, it was a no-charge substitution triggered by checking option number 346 on the order sheet. The stepdown engine option continued for 1969 but was eliminated with the 1970 model year.
Fact 155: Rumors persist that Super Duty 455 crankshafts were nitride hardened and shot peened for extra durability. This is not correct. Rather, the 1973–1974 SD 455 used a standard nodular-iron crankshaft with one specific change: deep-rolled fillets between the bearing journal and counterweight surfaces. The extra machining operation reduced sharp edges and potential failure points.
By contrast, SD455 connecting rods were quite special and made of forged steel. Produced by Continental Motors (a veteran manufacturer of industrial engines), the rods were individually heat treated, shot peened, and magnetically inspected for defects prior to shipment to Pontiac.
Fact 156: Owners of 1973 and 1974 SD455 engines inclined toward doit-yourself repairs quickly learned to apply sealant to the top row of valve cover hold-down bolts. That’s because the SD’s larger port openings often shared space with the tapped valve cover fastener holes. Without sealant, the intake port roof could suck air past the bolt threads and cause erratic operation from resulting vacuum leaks.
Fact 157: Despite the 1968 SCCA Trans-Am race season exploits of Canadian Firebirds powered by Chevy 302 engines, Pontiac was preparing a true 5-liter killer engine for the 1969 racing year. The resulting Ram Air 303 was based on a severely decked (1.5 inches) 400 block with a billet-steel 2.87-inch crank, forged Carillo rods, and TRW 12.5:1 pistons.
Initially, tunnel-port heads were envisioned and a production order for 500 RA303s was made. A sudden SCCA rules change demanding the sale of at least 1,000 tunnel-port-equipped TA303s forced a switch to less exotic RA IV heads, which the SCCA accepted. The vision of Pontiac 303-powered Firebirds was realized as the Jerry Titus/Terry Godsall race team enjoyed modest success in 1969 and early 1970. Sadly, Jerry Titus was killed at Road Atlanta in August 1970, putting an end to further 303 development.
Fact 158: The 2004 GTO was an extremely potent first volley in the return of The Great One. But for 2005 Pontiac upped the ante, boosting displacement from 5.7 to 6.0 liters, with output jumping from 350 to a heady 400 hp. Part of the recipe was a set of revised exhaust manifolds. By reducing wall thickness by 1 millimeter and trimming flab, the 2005 manifolds are 34 percent lighter but flow 4 percent better.
Fact 159: The Rochester Quadrajet spread-bore, 4-barrel carburetor is generally believed to have first been adopted by Pontiac in 1967. True, it appeared on all 4-barrel 326, 400, and 428 applications (and infamously replaced the GTO’s Tri-Power unit) that year, but the first Pontiac engine equipped with the Quadrajet was the 207-hp overhead cam (OHC) Sprint Six of 1966. The Quadrajet’s small primary venturis and vacuum-operated secondaries were ideally suited to the small 230-cubic-inch six. Interestingly, pictures of a pre-production Sprint Six in the September 1965 issue of Hot Rod magazine show one with a Carter AFB 4-barrel carburetor, an item that never reached production.
Fact 160: It is often overlooked that Pontiac performance engines of the muscle car era (1964–1972) never came equipped with solidlifter camshafts off the showroom floor. Instead, Pontiac relied on maintenance-friendly hydraulic camshafts for its high-power muscle car offerings. The only production-line Pontiac V-8s equipped with solid cams and lifters were the top Super Duty 389 and 421 offerings of 1960–1963.
Fact 161: Pontiac came very close to offering its gorgeous eight-lug wheels on the 1966 GTO. Whetting public appetite, an eightlug-equipped GTO starred in the iconic “Speak Softly and Carry a GTO” magazine ad, and the accessory catalog even listed part numbers for the front hubs, drums, and rims.
So what happened? Though Kelsey-Hayes already supplied the eight-lug wheels for full-size Pontiac applications (as it had since 1960), redesigning the hubs to accommodate the GTO’s smaller 5-on-4.75 bolt circle (big Pontiacs are 5-on-5) added unacceptable cost. The deal was scrapped in January 1966, and full-size Pontiacs remained the only models offered with the eight-lug wheels until their discontinuation after the 1968 model year.
Fact 162: Before the 1967 debut of optional Delco-Moraine front disc brakes, GTOs were built with the same 9.5-inch drum brakes used on six-cylinder Tempests. With 269.8 inches of swept area they were adequate for sane driving but marginal when the fun started. A $53 upgrade got 1965 and 1966 buyers a set of finned-aluminum front drums with integral cast-iron linings. Though no larger than the standard iron drums, heat dissipation was much improved for reduced fade. The best part was the 12-pound reduction in unsprung weight.
Fact 163: The 1963 Swiss Cheese Catalina rode on a very special frame. To shed weight, the bottoms of the longitudinal side rails were sliced open, forming an inverted U-channel. And of course, there were those famous holes visible from the side of the car. The resulting frame was so flexible assembly workers learned to install temporary lengths of wooden 2x4s so frames could be moved around the factory without bending. But that’s the kind of extreme measures it took to help bring the Catalina’s race weight down to 3,300 pounds.
Fact 164: GTO buyers wanting the most rigid chassis available could order the F35 heavy-duty frame assembly from 1964 through 1972. Unlike the standard GTO frame’s C-channel side rails, the F35 frame option placed a convertible frame with fully boxed side rails beneath hardtops and sedans. The stiffer frame enhanced torsional rigidity and improved handling while adding roughly 50 pounds. The F35 HD frame option was discontinued in 1973 because the redesigned Collonade body type was not available in convertible form; thus, there was no convertible frame to borrow from the parts bin.
Fact 165: GTO wheels came in many styles during the 1960s. Despite the varied spider configurations (non-styled basic stamping, sixslot Rally I, and five-spoke Rally II), all were fitted to 14×6 hoops (standard Tempest/LeMans rims were 14×5). It wasn’t until the 1971 model year that Pontiac finally offered 15-inch wheels in the form of upsized Rally II and Polycast (urethane plastic and steel composite) Honeycomb wheels—both a beefy 7 inches wide. The optional new 15×7 wheels opened the door to grippy G60-15 tires and vastly improved acceleration, cornering, and braking.
Fact 166: The final two years of GTO production offer an interesting contrast. For the Colonnade-styled 1973 offering, all wheel hoops measured 15×7 inches (with the choice of non-styled, Rally II, or Honeycomb spiders). The downsized 1974 GTO reverted to the same 14×6 rim dimensions used in 1964, albeit fitted with Rally II center spiders and, for the first time, radial tires.
Fact 167: The original 1961–1963 swing-axle Tempest/LeMans family featured standard 15-inch rims and tires on all models. The goal was reduced rolling resistance for improved fuel economy, better ground clearance, and extended tire life. Pontiac Tempest advertisements claimed: “The 13-inch wheels on the (other) compacts make about 4,900 more revolutions every 100 miles.”
Interestingly, Tempest was the only member of the 1961 GM senior compact series fitted with such large rolling stock. Corporate cousins, the Buick Special and Olds F-85, rolled on much smaller 13-inch wheels and tires. In 1964, Tempest, Special, and F-85 grew from senior compacts into midsize cars. All three were fitted with 14-inch wheels as standard equipment.
Fact 168: New for 1971, the PO6 honeycomb wheel may look like an expensive aluminum item but that’s an illusion. Designed by Pontiac stylist Bill Porter using the geodesic dome principle, honeycomb wheels are actually made of a steel hoop and center to which is bonded a flexible urethane fascia. Pinch one and you’ll see just how flexible it is.
Strictly ornamental, the non-structural honeycomb insert was the first of its kind used in a production application. Critics didn’t like the fact they weighed more than basic steel wheels, were easily damaged by curb contact, and made a mockery of basic form and function principles. But public demand remained strong through the 1976 model year. Honeycomb wheels were produced in 14×7 and 15×7 sizes. In 1977 Pontiac appeased the critics with the lightweight, all-aluminum YJ8 snowflake wheel.
Fact 169: To keep pace with the 2005 GTO’s 50 extra horsepower, front disc brake rotor diameter was increased from 296 to 330 millimeters. A quick identifier of the upgraded 2005 front brakes is the presence of red powder-coated brake calipers with GTO logos.
Fact 170: The 1964–1966 GTO was not alone in its optional provision of aluminum front brake drums. Earlier Tempests could also be ordered with aluminum front and rear brake drums. Like the aluminum brake drums available on full-size Buicks and Pontiacs, the Tempest drums featured integrally molded iron brake liners. The main difference was the Tempest’s smaller 9-inch inside diameter. Later 1964-up GTO aluminum front drums measure 9.5 inches and are not interchangeable with early Tempest components.
Fact 171: Chevrolet upstaged Pontiac in 1969 with its JL8 Camaro rear disc brake option but only 206 were sold at a cost of $503. A decade later, Pontiac got even when a comparable Firebird rear disc brake option arrived in 1979 and sold several thousand units at a more affordable $162. Available through 1981 on Formulas and Trans Ams as RPO J65 (standard with the $481 WS6 Performance Package of 1979–1981), the two systems differ in many ways. JL8 calipers use dual pistons and J65 calipers use a single piston; JL8 rotors have internal parking brake shoes and J65 rotors do not; JL8 rotor diameter is 11.75 inches and J65 rotors diameter is 11.1 inches. Clearly, parts are not interchangeable between these two innovative systems.
Fact 172: With the 1985 introduction of the torque-laden LB9 Tuned Port Injection 305 V-8 in Firebirds, the durability of the standard 10-bolt, 7.5-inch rear axle became a concern. To prevent warranty problems, Pontiac adopted the Australian-built Borg-Warner M78 rear axle assembly, which is identified by a 9-bolt inspection cover. Its larger 7.75-inch ring gear, bolt-in axle shafts (versus C-clips), and 28-spline axles easily withstood the TPI engine. This extra-duty rear axle gave Pontiac fans bragging rights over arch rival Chevrolet, whose Camaro wasn’t available with the 9-bolt axle until the 1987 model year.
Fact 173: The new 1973 Pontiac Grand Am aspired to be the match of European touring cars such as the Mercedes 300 SEL 6.3, Jaguar XJ6, and BMW 3.0 CS, emphasizing sophisticated ride and handling over muscle car acceleration. Instead of reviving its dated Wide Track advertising slogan, Pontiac introduced Radial Tuned Suspension (RTS). Based around specifically designed GR70-15 radial tires, the Grand Am’s coil springs, shock absorbers, and dual sway bars were specifically calibrated for the stiffer, anti-squirm characteristics of the radial sidewalls. By 1974, all Pontiacs built with optional radial tires also got RTS, with a small rectangular RTS emblem affixed to the instrument panel.
Fact 174: In a 1982 move to shed weight and improve rear seat interior space, the third-generation Firebird (and Chevy Camaro) switched to lightweight coil springs, eliminating the heavy iron, leafspring rear suspension used previously. The live axle was located by a pair of lower trailing links, a full-width Panhard rod, and a novel torque arm running forward from the axle housing to the back of the transmission. Taking the place of the usual upper control arms, this torque arm canceled axle hop as effectively as traditional upper control arms, but didn’t eat up valuable over-axle space. The 1982 F-Body torque arm rear suspension was adapted from the configuration introduced under the 1976 Pontiac Sunbird and remained in production until the final Firebird was built in 2002.
Fact 175: 1967 Firebirds employed I-beam traction bars to help control rear axle hop on hard acceleration. Like same-year Chevy Camaros, the monoplate rear springs were prone to fl exing, so cars equipped with the 326 2-barrel V-8 received a single traction bar attached to the right rear spring. Muscle models including the Sprint, the 326 HO, and all 400-powered ’Birds got a second traction bar attached to the left rear spring. Base six-cylinder cars didn’t have traction bars. Pontiac traction bars were made of forged-steel I-beams and differ from the round bars used on same-year Camaros. For 1968, Pontiac went to multi-leaf rear springs and staggered shock absorber mounts on high-power models to combat axle hop.
Fact 176: 1970 Firebirds, regardless of engine option, came standard with excellent 10.9-inch-diameter front disc brakes. There would be no more front drum brakes on Firebirds ever again. A manual (non-power-assist) master cylinder was standard but JL2 power brakes were optional, except for Trans Ams, which came with standard power brakes.
Fact 177: Fouth-generation Firebirds (1993–2002) came with two sizes of spare tire. Both were space-savers: the 1993–1996 wheel measuring 15×4 inches and the 1997–2002 wheel sized at 16×4 inches.
Fact 178: In 1970, second-generation Firebirds (and Chevy Camaros) got a completely redesigned front suspension layout. By relocating the steering linkage ahead of the ball joint centerline, more precise steering feel resulted. Other changes included wider A-arms to better distribute suspension loads into the frame and a 1.7-inchwider front track. Needless to say, none of these parts interchange with 1969 models.
Fact 179: Front stabilizer bar diameter is an effective suspension tuning aid. In 1970 all Firebirds were built with front stabilizer bars. Base cars with 250 or 350 engines got a 1.0-inch-diameter bar; cars ordered with the optional heavy-duty suspension package, Formula 400, and Formula 455 models got a 1.125-inch-diameter bar. The thick 1.250-inch-diameter front stabilizer bar was reserved for Trans Ams only.
Fact 180: 1963 Super Duty Swiss Cheese Catalinas rode on a specially calibrated suspension for maximum rearward weight transfer at the strip. Stiffer than normal front springs and softer rear springs worked to help shift weight off the aluminum-enhanced nose. Special shocks completed the picture, the fronts having zero rebound control (damping) and the rears valved for easy compression.
At rest, a typical 421 Swiss Cheese Cat carried 1,799 of its 3,363 pounds on the front tires. That’s about 531 ⁄2 percent. But with the special suspension, momentary 0/100 (front/rear) weight distribution was possible when launching off the line. Seasoned Swiss Cheese spotters know to watch for a hint of daylight under the front tires when the clutch is dumped at 6 grand.
Fact 181: The most common 1969 Firebird Trans Am drivetrain combination was the Ram Air III/4-speed with 520 built. Next in popularity was the Ram Air III/Turbo 400 automatic with 114 built. The tally of Ram Air IV installations is much smaller, with 46 RA IV/4-speeds and only 9 RA IV/Turbo 400 automatic cars built.
Fact 182: The 1964 GTO 389 engine weighed 675 pounds fully dressed and was 75 pounds heavier than the 326 V-8 installed in lesser Pontiac midsize models. The lightest engine offered in 1964 was the 215-cube inline six, which placed 210 fewer pounds over the front tires than the GTO’s 389. Despite the hefty mill, the upgraded GTO suspension produced excellent handling.
Fact 183: “The ’64 Tempest is in no way similar to ’63 and earlier Tempests in the handling department. Driving methods used with the GTO would have resulted in spinouts had the test vehicle been a ’63 Tempest.”
Those were Ray Brock’s words in the December 1963 issue of Hot Rod magazine praising the switch from IRS to a solid rear axle for 1964. I can only wonder if the GTO would have been possible if General Motors hadn’t morphed the Tempest (and Buick Skylark, Olds Cutlass) out of its unit-construction, swing-axle roots and into a proper full-frame, midsize car. In all likelihood, the chain of events that led to the muscle car era would not have been possible if this important evolution hadn’t occurred.
Fact 184: “In the period of just a few short years, Pontiac General Manager Semon E. (Bunky) Knudsen has directed a transformation that is the talk of the automotive world. He stepped into the top spot of a plodding automobile company that had a reputation for building a solid, dependable, not too exciting car for people of the same description . . . He convinced car buyers that Pontiac was no longer just for the old folks; it was a hot car for the young set too.”
Ray Brock’s words, published in the March 1961 issue of Hot Rod magazine, nicely sum up Knudsen’s impact on Pontiac since his arrival in 1956. Without doubt, he set the stage for great things— and The Great One. Ironically, by early 1968 “the boss” Knudsen jumped ship to Ford, where the 1969 Boss 302 and 429 Mustangs were named after him.
Fact 185: The few Pontiac GT37 sports coupes built in 1970 present an interesting enigma. Technically they should be called GT27s. Here’s why: The “37” part of the GT37 name riffs on the Pontiac model number for a two-door hardtop coupe (no fixed B-pillar). For example, the model number for a GTO hardtop coupe is 24237, a LeMans hardtop coupe is model number 23737, and a Tempest Custom hardtop coupe is a 23537. Note that the final two digits of the three cars is 37 to represent the fact they’re all two-door hardtops. The model number assigned to two-door sports coupes (a.k.a. sedans with fixed B-pillars) is 27. So when the GT37 was ordered on the two-door sports coupe (a.k.a. pillar sedan), the GT37 moniker is technically inaccurate. Still, Pontiac lumped ’em all together, assigning the GT37 name to hardtops and coupes alike.
Fact 186: The 1971 GT37 tested in the June 1971 issue of Hot Rod magazine could have benefitted from some old-fashioned Wangers/ Royal Pontiac pre-testing love. But it was not to be and mechanical gremlins haunted Hot Rod magazine staffer Steve Kelly during road course testing at Orange County International Raceway. “After negotiating the ‘hard’ parts, we began slowing down along a straight section, but when the clutch was depressed, to downshift from 4th to 3rd, the pedal hung against the floor . . . As this is written, the dealer who is dismantling the clutch assembly hasn’t told us what the problem was on the 10.4-inch-diameter semi-centrifugal (bent-finger) clutch.”
So where was Wangers during all of this? By 1971, he’d moved on and was running his own Chevy dealership (Jim Wangers Chevrolet) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Fine-tuned press cars were a thing of the past.
Fact 187: GTO Tri-Power setups were not only good for power, they also aided fuel economy if driven with restraint. Cruising on the middle 2-barrel carburetor employed only 4.48 square inches of throttle bore area. But when floored, the total area of all three carburetors grew to 13.44 square inches. By contrast, the standard Carter AFB 4-barrel only offered the GTO driver 7.72 square inches of throttle area at wide-open throttle.
Fact 188: Automotive journalist Fred Mackerodt made some astute observations during a 421 Tri-Power Pontiac 2+2 road test in the June 1966 issue of Rodder and Super Stock magazine. He wrote: “. . . with tri-carbs the 2+2 can be either a Tiger at the stop light or a kitten at the gas pump, whichever suits your immediate fancy. If you go around with your foot on the floorboard all day long, you’ll get zilch mileage. But if you try to think of the front and rear Rochesters as useless ornaments and don’t pass the progressive point at all, you can get relatively outstanding economy.”
Mackerodt’s mileage varied between 7 and 14 mpg, as he put it, “Pretty amazing when you consider that we’re talking about over two tons of car and 421 cubes of engine.”
Fact 189: The 1970s were not kind to performance car enthusiasts. Chevrolet became so disillusioned it discontinued Camaro Z/28 production for two full model years. Not Pontiac. Its fans were treated to an unbroken string of Firebird Trans Ams throughout the decade and sales were phenomenal. Here’s a recap of annual production totals: 3,196 in 1970; 2,116 in 1971; 1,286 in 1972; 4,802 in 1973; 10,255 in 1974; 27,274 in 1975; 46,701 in 1976; 68,745 in 1977; 93,341 in 1978; 117,108 in 1979. Clearly, the Trans Am was as big a hit for Pontiac as the GTO was a decade earlier
Fact 190: 108 pounds. That’s the weight penalty incurred when 1976– 1981 Firebird buyers ordered the optional T-top. Though the extra mass was carried well above the center of gravity where it helped induce body lean in tight corners and the bisected roof compromised torsional rigidity, T-tops were the next best thing to a convertible and sold well. Early T-tops (1976–1977) were made by Hurst (known as the Hurst Hatch) and used shorter glass panels than later (mid-1978-up) Fisher Body panels, which are not interchangeable.
Fact 191: 89 cc. That’s the combustion chamber volume of the cylinder heads fitted to Pontiac 350 engines. In 1977 they were adapted to the 400 block to help create the 200-hp W72 engine option available in Trans Ams and Formulas, and standard in the Can Am. Besides the smaller combustion chambers, everything else about these heads was identical to those used on the base 180-hp 400.
The key was how the 350 heads boosted the 400’s compression from 7.6 to 8.0:1 without the need for new pistons. Toss in a slightly hotter cam, richer jetting, free-flow exhaust, a standard 3.23:1 axle ratio, and the resulting 1977 W72 was quicker and faster than the previous year’s optional 455. W72 shaker hood scoops wore “T/A 6.6” stickers. Non-W72 scoops read “6.6 Litre.
Fact 192: Pontiac manufactured its final 400-cubic-inch V-8 in November 1977, but built up a surplus inventory that was used well into the 1979 model year. This is why 400-powered 1978 and 1979 Firebirds carry 1977 casting dates (the stamped assembly dates, however, must match the vehicle model year). The supply of 400-cubic-inch V-8s was depleted by March 1979. Subsequent Pontiac V-8s were strictly of the 265- and 301-cubic-inch variety.
Fact 193: 217 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s the coolant temperature threshold at which the 1980 LU8 turbo Trans Am/Formula’s thermostat restricts coolant flow to the plenum chamber water jacket, allowing maximum boost (9 psi). At lower temperatures the hot coolant is desirable to prevent icing of the remote-mounted Rochester Quadrajet carburetor. But over 217 degrees, the extra heat caused detonation which triggered (if not checked) the knock sensor to retard ignition timing. Incidentally, Pontiac borrowed the then-revolutionary electronic knock sensor from the 1978 Buick Turbo Regal.
Fact 194: Firebird Trans Am wheel sizes varied greatly over the years. Here’s a review: 14×7 (1969 and 1982–1984 base T/A), 15×7 (1970–1981 base T/A and 1982–1984 with WS6, 1985–1990 base T/A), 15×8 (1978–1981 with WS6, 1988 GTA), 16×8 (1984–1992 WS6, 1993–2002 base T/A), 17×8 (1996–1997 WS6), and 17×9 (1997–2002 WS6).
Fact 195: 383,320. That’s the number of cars Pontiac sold during the 1959 model year. An astonishing 76.4 percent increase over 1958 output, the sales were spurred by two main ingredients: a totally redesigned body (the first to feature Pontiac’s trademark split-grille styling) and the implementation of the novel Wide Track marketing campaign. Conjured by Pontiac’s ad agency MacManus, John & Adams, the Wide Track moniker was an apt description for the way Chuck Jordan’s stylists pulled the wheels out to the fenders. A full 5 inches wider than the track used on 1958 Pontiacs, the 1959’s 64-inch track was the widest of any U.S.-made passenger car, helping it win Motor Trend’s Car of the Year award.
Fact 196: Today it seems as if every pre-1967 GTO was built with TriPower. The fact is, 4-barrel cars outsold Tri-Power cars by a wide margin. Here’s a rundown of factory Tri-Power installation rates for early Goats. 1964: 25 percent (8,245 out of 32,450); 1965: 36 percent (20,547 out of 75,352); 1966: 22 percent (19,045 out of 96,946).
Reproduction Tri-Power induction kits are readily available today, and many GTOs are frequently upgraded during restoration. The modern repop manifolds are given away by their aluminum construction. Original GTO Tri-Power castings were made of iron. The only factory-issued aluminum Tri-Power manifold was used on the 1961 389 Super Duty engine.
Fact 197: Detroit horsepower ratings took a drastic downward turn in 1971 when the SAE net rating system was adopted. When measured with all accessory drives and full exhaust system in place, advertised output numbers dropped as much as 25 percent. By 1977, magazines—and new car buyers—were used to it.
Road Test magazine’s May 1977 test of a new Can Am sums it up: “Having 200 hp may not seem like much; it was just a few years ago when that number was a little anemic for even family station wagons. Real muscle cars had at least twice that. But a 1977 car that runs the quarter-mile near 17 seconds flat at just a shade over 80 mph is a real rarity. The Can Am does that . . . if you pick your opponents from among those less than two or three years old you will have no trouble at all.”
Fact 198: The fourth-generation Firebird Formula and Trans Am arrived on the scene in 1993 packing more net horsepower than any Pontiac since the 1974 SD455. It’s 275-hp rating was often read at the rear tires so the 5.7-liter LT1’s flywheel output was actually higher. And to think, it was done with a single exhaust pipe! Floorpan packaging restricted true duals so engineers used a largediameter, single head pipe feeding a transverse-flow muffler and dual tailpipes.
Car and Driver magazine tested a 1993 Formula and noted “. . . a V-8 rumble that becomes intense on the Interstate. We don’t know exactly at what age this becomes a damn nuisance, but our guess is that anyone beyond his mid-thirties will wish for something else after just a few mile markers.” It seems the passage of time had mellowed the Car and Driver test crew
Fact 199: Five. That’s the number of times Pontiac, or a Pontiac product, won the coveted Motor Trend magazine Car of the Year award. The first COTY was awarded to the entire Pontiac Motor Division in 1959 for recognition of how the Wide Track stance, bold styling, and youth-oriented marketing reinvigorated the once moribund division. The second COTY was awarded in 1961 for the Tempest’s many engineering advances. The third COTY was given in 1965 to the entire division for its continued youth market domination. By 1968, Motor Trend got more specific and singled out the muscular GTO for COTY laurels and, finally, the 1988 Grand Prix took a fifth, and final, COTY award.
Fact 200: Arnie “The Farmer” Beswick was a dominant force on the drag strip through the 1960s, often traveling 70,000 miles per year campaigning his “outdated” Pontiac Stock, Super Stock, Factory Experimental, and match-race machines
In its September 1964 issue, Drag Racing magazine asked (and answered) a persistent question: “Is he really a farmer? 160 acres worth, 1,000 chickens, 200 to 300 hogs, some feed cattle, and many an ear of corn inhabit the Beswick farm near Morrison, Illinois, each year. ‘We plant from April 1 until the end of May, then harvest in October–November, so there’s not much time for racing those months. I miss an occasional meet or two while haying in the summer too, but even at $500 an appearance it wouldn’t pay to leave the farm.’” So yes, he was an active farmer. Today, Beswick is over 80 years old and still going strong.
Written by Steve Magnante and Posted with Permission of CarTechBooks