MotorCities National Heritage Area
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By: Robert Tate, Automotive Historian/Researcher 
Images: Courtesy of Robert Tate's Collection
Posted: 03.31.2015

One of the hottest designed muscle cars of the 1960’s was the 1966 Pontiac GTO produced by General Motors. The models were unique in both engineering and design and offered a great new distinction of style and performance. John Z. DeLorean, who was General Motors Vice-President and Pontiac's General Manager, was in charge at the time. In 1966, the entire Tempest line had been redesigned and expanded by the addition of five new models including a new GTO series. The new Pontiac GTO series included a sports coupe, hardtop coupe, and a convertible. The GTO was a completely new model for 1966.

file 20150331195617 1966 Pontiac GTO1966 Pontiac GTO

These models offered their own unique front end design that included an amazing looking grille, parking lamps, hood, and ornamentation. The side view design showed a full length rocker panel molding plus rocker extensions on the front and rear fenders. The 1966 Pontiac GTO models rear end styling had its own tail light designs consisting of horizontal painted louvers on each side of the rear end panels. The 1966 Pontiac model line were restyled for a lower silhouette and wider appearance while maintaining the look of power and prestige identified with Pontiac's signature trade look. All 1966 Pontiac GTO models had their own interior identification on the doors and instrument panels along with six interior color choices in Morrokide material. The Pontiac GTO models were introduced to the public on September 27, 1965 and were called the “Ultimate Tiger” by GM's advertising. The all new body designs were very pleasing to the eye from any angle. Many automotive enthusiasts referred to the 1965-66 Pontiac styling as the cars with the coke bottle shapes.

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Other popular options for 1966 GTO model included red line tires or rally wheels which had debuted in 1965, and were later updated slightly in 1966 adding black-painted center caps. Red line tires were once again standard equipment on many models. By the 1960's, muscle cars’ popularity had a significant impact on the big three automakers and consumers. During the sixties, many young adults wanted more horsepower and cool styling which many of the automakers began producing. The year 1966 was the year that, for the first time in history, the GTO models were sold as a full-fledged model and not just an optional package for the LeMans series name plate. The name GTO name plate stands for Gran Turismo Omologato, an Italian phrase which means “a grand touring production car”. When it came to engines, the standard GTO engine was a 389 cubic-inch, four barrel carburetor with 335 horse power. The GTO option was rated at 360 horsepower and had three two-barrel carburetors. If a consumer wanted to purchase a new 1966 GTO model, the base price for a sports coupe was $2,783 dollars. A hardtop model would have cost the consumer $2,847 and the popular convertible was priced at $3,082 dollars.

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Pontiac offered great advertising for the GTO models for 1966. Many of the popular advertising for GTO in 1966, included “Speak softly and carry a GTO” or “Pretenders, beware.” However, the most famous was “The Great One.” Most of the advertising was featured in Car Craft, Car and Driver, and Hot Rod magazines. In 1966, Pontiac held on to its third place in national sales by an astonishing 232,000 units over its competitors. Pontiac also celebrated its 40th year in 1966 with a 11,000,000th vehicle that rolled off the line during the model run making the third year in a row that a million milestone had been marked.

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In conclusion, The GTO models were stylish automobiles and were very popular among many young adults in America. GTO became its own model line and was very popular. The styling was led by the late Bill Mitchel and his talented design team at General Motors along with John Z. DeLorean who was one of the brightest and most interesting automotive figures at General Motors. He joined Pontiac as an engineer in the late 1950's and by early 1960’s he became division general manager. He was the Director for Pontiac Advanced Engineering Department (1956-1961) Chief engineer (1961-1965) General Manager Pontiac (1965—1969) and General Manager, Chevrolet (1969-1972). During the 1960’s, Pontiac continued to thrive under De Lorean’s leadership. Sales continued to climb, increasing a healthy 27 percent between 1964 and 1968 and the GTO models were a part of that great muscle car tradition. For these reasons and more, the ’66 Pontiac GTO will forever be remembered in our automotive heritage.

A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for donating the story to the MotorCities Story of the Week program. Photographs are courtesy of Bob Tate’s Collection. (Bibliography: Gunnell John. “75 Years of Pontiac Oakland”, March 1982. De Mauro Thomas. “Original Pontiac GTO the Restorer's Guide 1964-1974”. 2001)

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