History of the GTO
The origin of the GTO, the vehicle that became an icon for the muscle car set, is really a story of one man's battle against the corporate establishment. That man, John Z. DeLorean, was, at the time, chief engineer of Pontiac. What he wanted was to build a normally mild-mannered mid-sized sedan powered by a big V-8.
The GTO concept developed in early 1963 when DeLorean, along with members of his engineering staff, were experimenting with the Tempest, an economy Pontiac introduced the previous year. The cars four-cylinder engine was inherently rough-running and vibration prone. As a cure for the car's power deficiency, it was suggested that, since the Tempest's four cylinder shared the same engine mounts as the V8 it would be easy to install the big motor into the little car.
A prototype was cobbled together using a Tempest Lemans coupe as a test bed. It contained a 389- cube V8 borrowed from Pontiac's full size Bonneville, as well as a four-barrel carburetor and heavy duty four-speed manual transmission. The resulting transplant not only made the car quick, but was also a blast to drive.
It was also DeLorean who named the car. The term GTO stood for Gran Turismo Omologato, or, in plain English, Grand Touring Homologated. The word "homologation" was used to describe a race car constructed from a variety of parts in sufficient quantities to be approved for production-class competition by the International Automobile Federation. (FIA)
As it turned out, a limited edition Ferrari was already using the GTO name. But, as the initials could not be copy-righted, it was no problem for Pontiac to adopt them for its newest creation. In the '60s, it was GM policy that no specific model could have more than 10 pounds of total weight per cubic inch of displacement. Since the GTO weighed about 3,500 pounds, it meant that the 389 motor was too large by nearly 40CI. DeLorean's way around this rule was to make the GTO, a Lemanns option, instead of a separate model. That somewhat loose interpretation of corporate edict allowed the beefed-up Pontiac to sneak by top management so long as nobody looked too carefully.
Originally, the division's skeptical sales department committed to just 5,000 GTO option packages for 1964. But as the word got out, dealer demand gobbled them all up within days of the official announcement. The '64 GTO became a certified hit before it had even arrived at any Pontiac showrooms. So sensitive were the GTO's creators to breaking the engine size rule that initially no mention was made of the car in any of Pontiac's sales literature. News of its existence was communicated in a few automobile enthusiast publications only.
Every GTO-optioned Tempest(base-priced at around $3,200)started with a 325-horsepower 389 V8, dual exhausts, floor mounted Hurst three-speed manual transmission, heavy-duty suspension, front bucket seats and chromed air cleaner, valve covers and oil-filter cap. Buyers could also add a more powerfull 348 horsepower version featuring three two-barrel carbs, as well as options such as a Hurst four-speed or GM-built two-speed automatic, limited slip differential, extra-heavyduty shocks and a faster steering ratio.
By years end, total sales of Tempest Lemanns hardtops, coupes and convertibles equipped with the GTO option totalled a whopping 32, 450, a far cry from the original GM approved plan. For 1965, the GTO (or Goat, as it was now beginning to be called.) remained and option, but now featured attractive new front and rear end styling, improvements to the engine and suspension and new rally-style wheels. That year total GTO sales exceeded 75,000.
It wouldn't be until 1966 and the arrival of the second-generation Tempest that the GTO would be marketed as a separate model. By then, other manufacturers were scrambling to create their own versions of the GTO in an attempt to cash in on Pontiac's success. But, there was simply no substitute for the original. With a little planning, underhanded, inventiveness and a lot of luck, the GTO created the madness for muscle cars that captured the imagination of a generation of drivers.
What's In A Name, You Ask?
Although the Pontiac GTO's existence was borne of original thinking, its name was not. The GTO moniker was "borrowed" from Ferrari, which had a short production run (40) of sports racing cars of the same name starting in 1962. GTO in that case stood for "Gran Turismo Omologato" the english translation of which is "Grand Touring Homologated", a fancy way of saying that it was approved for certain classes of international sports car racing. Controversy over the name theft continues today, with many insisting that the Pontiac owners deserved more original thinking. It was noted in a commercial advertising the 1965 GTO where girls were often seen driving the GTO, the announcer stated G-T-O wasn't meant to mean "Girls Take Over." Jokesters of the time also claimed that GTO stood for "Gas, Tires, Oil", all of which both the Pontiac and the Ferrari used in large quantities. Fans and owners of the Pontiac GTO proudly call their favorite car a "Goat" and label their meetings as a "Gathering of the Goats".
But, as told by Jim Wangers at a seminar at the GTOAA National Convention in 2008, he stated the name GOAT was conceived when the letter "A" was added to the letters G-T-O to form a word from the GTO abbreviation. The advertising gimmick was not well received by the GM brass as they didn't like the GTO name sake linked to an animal. Be that as it may, the name GOAT stuck. Despite how many versions there are of the way the name GOAT came to be, Jim Wangers version is the official one.