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Pontiac GTO | 50 years as judge and jury

1964 Pontiac GTO.

I refer, of course, to the birth of the one and only Pontiac GTO, the muscle car that started the muscle car revolution. The GTO was born in a time of cheap fuel and high horsepower dreams. Leading up to 1964 America's car companies had been engaged in a horsepower war with each other. All of it was focused on getting Detroit's full-sized cars to sixty miles an hour and down the quarter mile in the shortest possible elapsed time in order to give bragging rights on and off the track and in dealer showrooms.

Consider Pontiac in 1963. They were building a performance image for the brand and went to extraordinary lengths to ensure their cars were quick. So, they slipped a massive 421 cubic inch V8 (that's 6.9 litres!) into their 2.5 tonne Super Duty Catalina coupe and sat back while young gents delivered smokin' 0-60s in a jaw dropping 5.4 seconds on skinny cross-ply tyres. That's quick, even today.

And then guys at Pontiac had an even better idea. They decided to put the big engine in a smaller, mid-sized car. Enter the GTO. Many folk give Pontiac advertising executive Jim Wangers the credit for inventing the idea. Wangers himself tells a different story: "I came into the project only as a marketer. What really happened was that Pontiac chief engineer, John De Lorean , held regular 'what if' sessions at the GM proving grounds in Michigan.

The birth of the GTO took place during one of these sessions. It was in mid-1963. A prototype of the 1964 Tempest coupe equipped with a 326 cubic inch V8 was up on a lift. One of the engineers, Bill Collins, remarked to De Lorean "you know, it would take us about 20 minutes to slip the bigger 389 cubic inch (6.5 litre) V8 into this  thing". 

One week later they were back at the test track with the bigger motor in fitted. Needless to say, those who drove it were overwhelmed. And the rest, as they say, is the stuff that dreams are made of. Quite simply, the GTO is the benchmark by which all muscle cars are measured and will continue to be measured. You see, the GTO is the judge and the jury.

David Burrell is the editor of