When Pontiac decided to venture into the muscle car world, no one in the boardroom at General Motors had the foggiest idea that the three letters chosen for a vehicle’s name would not only become iconic, but would also outlive the automaker itself.
That’s the story of the 1964 Pontiac GTO. From those three letters sprang a song that is still the anthem of the muscle car era, “Little GTO,” by the Ronnie and the Daytonas and those three letters also set the theme of a generation that was steeped in power and to whom the Pony Car wars were just another phase. Who would have thought that when the Pontiac Division of General Motors decided to put the biggest engine they could find into their lightest mid-line chassis, they’d have a bone fide icon on their hands.
The first lyric of the song “Little GTO,” pretty much spells out exactly what the vehicle was:
“Little GTO, You’re Lookin’ Fine”
“Three deuces and a four-speed and a 389…”
In a nutshell that was the GTO. Based on Pontiacs 1964 Tempest LeMans Sports Coupe, the base vehicle itself was fairly plain. It was just a mid-sized coupe that featured the classic dual quad headlights sitting at the outer edge of a chromed-grille that was dominated by the Pontiac bump.
The square lines flowed back through the doors and on through the quarter panels with a low-level beltline. The hood showed the stock Pontiac hump and featured two scoops as it ended at the base of the windshield. The windshield was somewhat sloped and the roof did flow a bit back toward the slightly sloped rear window.
All-in-all, out of the box, it is was a pretty plain auto, but when Pontiac decided to take the lightest of the three styles offered of this line – a convertible, hardtop coupe (with B-pillar) and Sport Coupe – which happened to be the Sports Coupe and then jam the largest engine they could find under the hood, the large-block 389 and add three two-barrel carburetors so that the GTO cranked out 349 horsepower and then pushed that power to the “SafeTTrack” rear limited slip differential through a four-speed Hurst shifter, the legend was born.
Although it shared the corporate A-body with Chevrolet and Buick, Pontiac chose standard body-on-frame construction techniques, rather than the semi-unitized construction the other divisions used because it used a limited slip rear differential and the rather tall 3.90:1 rear end that was available. Its front suspension was coil over shock A-frame, while its rear was a four-link A-frame that also used coil over shock construction to give the GTO its reasonably good handling, for that era.
Indeed, the GTO had a wide range of powerplant choices ranging from the 389 with a four-barrel that turned out 325 horsepower; the three two-barrel setup and a finicky fuel-injected engine that most people left alone. There was also a 421 HO (High Output) version of the powerplant available with hotter lifters.
Indeed, the 1964 Pontiac was not only an iconic vehicle it was also one whose name has outlasted the division that created it.