“The Great One” was Pontiac’s answer to a youth market with attitude and disposable cash. Detroit exploited a generation’s rebellion by creating cars with machismo to burn. In 1964, John DeLorean, Pontiac’s chief engineer, shoehorned the division’s biggest V8 into the timid little Tempest compact with electrifying results.
He then beefed up the brakes and suspension, threw in three two-barrel carbs, and garnished the result with a name that belonged to a Ferrari. In 1966 it became a model in its own right, and Detroit’s first “muscle car” had been born. Pundits believe that the flowing lines of these second-generation GTOs make them the best-looking of all. Engines were energetic performers, with a standard 335 bhp 389cid V8 that could be specified in 360 bhp high-output tune.
But by ’67 GTO sales had tailed off by 15 percent, depressed by a burgeoning social conscience and federal meddling. The performance era was about to be legislated into the history books.
John DeLorean’s idea of placing a high-spec engine in the standard Tempest body paved the way for a whole new genre and gave Pontiac immediate success in ’64. Had Ford not chosen to release the Mustang in the same year, the GTO would have been the star of ’64, and even more sales would have been secured.
Five-spoke Rally II sport wheels were a $72 option.
Pontiac was the first mainstream manufacturer to combine big-block power with a light body. In tests, a ’66 Convertible hit 60 mph (96 km/h) in 6.8 seconds.
The GTO had a mischievous image and was described as a “methodist minister leaving a massage parlor.”
It might look long, but the GTO was actually 15 in (38 cm) shorter than Pontiac’s largest models.
The GTO came with heavy-duty shocks and springs as standard, along with a stabilizer bar.
Sales peaked in 1966, with over 95,000 GTOs going to power-hungry young drivers whose average age was 25. The convertible was the most aesthetically pleasing of the line.
First-generation GTOs were facelifted in ’66 with a more aggressive split grille and stacked headlight treatment and gently kickedup rear fenders. 1966 GTOs such as the example here were Pontiac’s most popular, with sales nudging close to 100,000 units.
Turn signals in grille were meant to mimic European-style driving lights.
Muscle-car buffs dubbed the GTO “The Goat.”
The stacked headlights were new for Pontiacs in ’65 and were retained on GTOs until the end of the decade.
Reclining front seats could be specified as an extra.
Road & Track magazine wrote that the theft of the GTO name from Ferrari was “an act of unforgivable dishonesty.”
The base 335 bhp 389cid block had a high-output Tri-Power big brother that pushed out 360 bhp for an extra $116. The line was expanded in ’67 to include an economy 255 bhp 400cid V8 and a Ram-Air 400cid mill that also developed 360 bhp, but at higher revs per minute.
The HO model could do the standing quarter in 14.2 seconds.
GTOs were equipped to the same high standard as the Pontiac Tempest Le Mans. Items included ashtray lights, cigarette lighter, carpeting, and a power top for convertibles. Air-conditioning and power steering could be ordered at $343 and $95 respectively.
GTOs could be ordered with Rally Cluster gauges, close-ratio four-on-the-floor, center console, and walnut grain dash insert.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
MODEL Pontiac GTO Convertible (1966)
PRODUCTION 96,946 (1966, all body styles)
BODY STYLES Two-door, five-seater hardtop, coupe, and convertible.
CONSTRUCTION Steel unitary body.
ENGINE 389cid V8s.
POWER OUTPUT 335–360 bhp.
TRANSMISSION Three-speed manual, optional four-speed manual, and three-speed Hydra-Matic automatic.
SUSPENSION Front and rear coil springs.
BRAKES Front and rear drums, optional discs.
MAXIMUM SPEED 125 mph (201 km/h)
0–60 MPH (0–96 KM/H) 6.8–9.5 sec
A.F.C. 15 mpg (5.3 km/l)