MotorCities National Heritage Area

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian/Researcher
Images Courtesy of the Robert Tate Collection
Published 10.7.2014

1964 was a great year for the Pontiac Motor Division. General Motors introduced a new and different breed of Pontiac models for its new line of automobiles. Pontiac, introduced all new styling and new body types for its intermediate model line for their great new car line up.

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Elliott Estes, a General Motors vice president and general manager of Pontiac Motor Division, described the 1964 Pontiac intermediate models as being a completely restyled automobile. Mr. Elliott Estes, also said “The design concept of Pontiac's newest family -size Tempest will enhance our position as an industry leader”. The new Tempest models were introduced to the public in dealer showrooms on October 3, 1963. With its divided grille the 1964 Tempest models were easily identified as a dazzling new member of the Pontiac family of successful automobiles. The Pontiac Motor Division's Tempest models along with the Le Mans and GTO series for 1964, established the most extensive design change for any car in the division 37-year history.

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Pontiac Motor Division regular series lineup for 1964, had been completely restyled yet had retained a strong and impressive Pontiac identity. The Pontiac models were more graceful, distinctive and were more appealing than ever before. The introduction of the mid-1964 Tempest GTO, was the first of its kind to become known as the “Muscle Cars”. The nickname was well taken and the models were well equipped with the proper options, for example, a GTO model could deliver unprecedented performance for a six-passenger automobile. The GTO package included a floor-shift, 389-CID engine, quick steering and dual exhaust along with many other features for the customer, who wanted to have that extra power when driving.

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The 1964 Pontiac GTO models, can be generally credited to Mr. John Delorean, who was Pontiac's chief engineer at the time. Mr. DeLorean was also responsible for the popular Pontiac Grand Prix models which had sold very well for the Pontiac division.

The GTO models was a specialized car that sold very well to many young adults. The original automotive production plans had called for only 5000 vehicles to test the market however by the end of January, 1964 a total of 10, 000 GTO models had been sold which left Pontiac dealers extremely happy with the sales volume.

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Mechanix Magazine Illustrated said” The GTO I tested with the 389 mill, is one of the hottest turnpike cars in the world regardless of size. I feel that with the addition of the new GTO series, the Tempest has more to offer than any other small car being built in the world today”.

The GTO models also became very popular at Daytona regarding-racing when a Tempest model with a big engine, driven by Mr. Paul goldsmith competed with Ferrari's, Sting Rays and Jaguars models for the 250-mile race. However, Car and Driver said, “A good Pontiac would trim the Ferrari in a drag race and lose on a road course but with the addition of NASCAR road racing suspension, the Pontiac will take the measure of any Ferrari other than prototype racing cars”. 

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In conclusion, the 1964 Pontiac GTO models were very popular. The GTO models were so popular that even a song was introduced by the Surf Rock group, Ronnie & The Daytona’s in 1964. The group had their debut single, “GTO”, that reached no. 4 on the American Billboards pop single charts. The song sold over one million copies and received a gold record. The song also promoted the 1964 Pontiac GTO models as well, which made General Motors very happy.

The 1964 Pontiac intermediate models which included the famous GTO models will always be a great part of automotive history along with a great song.


Bonsall, Thomas E. “Pontiac: The Complete History, 1926-1986.” Bookman Publishing, 1985.

Car and Driver magazine. “Tempest GTO: 0-to-100 in 11.8 sec.” March 1964.