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The 1964-1965 Pontiac GTO was one of those great ideas that was bound to happen. That it happened at Pontiac speaks volumes about the division's marketing savvy in the '60s, as well as its ability to satisfy the public.
Pontiac's new-for-'61 Tempest compact had satisfied enthusiasts seeking technical sophistication, but not the vast majority of buyers who valued smooth, effortless performance and reliable simplicity. That began changing for 1963, when Tempest offered a new 260-horsepower 326 V-8 option, a debored version of Pontiac's then-legendary 389. But adman Jim Wangers wanted even more, and fate played right into his hands with a Tempest bulked up to mid-size proportions for 1964.
It appeared with taut, geometric lines on a new corporate A-body platform shared with Chevrolet's new Chevelle, Oldsmobile's F-85/Cutlass, and Buick's Special/Skylark. Unit construction was abandoned for body-on-frame, a conventional driveline ousted the radical "rope drive" and rear transaxle, wheelbase was stretched three inches to 115, rear swing axles gave way to a solid axle with full-coil suspension, and there were bigger new bodies with extra underhood space for bigger engines.
With help from division chief engineer John DeLorean and Pontiac general manager "Pete" Estes, Wangers got his "muscle car." But a General Motors policy prohibited such antics, so they had to package it as an option (at just under $300) for the '64 Tempest LeMans coupe, convertible, and two-door hardtop.
Wangers liked to race cars, so he knew his hot rod had to have more than just a big engine. He thus specified three-speed manual transmission with floorshift, quick steering, heavy-duty suspension, upgraded tires, dual exhausts, and racy touches like a simulated engine-turned metal dash applique. To top it off, Wangers brazenly borrowed "GTO" from a recent Ferrari. The initials denoted Gran Turismo Omologato, Italian for a racing-approved production grand touring car.
The 1964-1965 Pontiac GTO had the heart of a hot rod. Learn more about this car's powerful performance features on the next page.