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Throwback Thursday: 1964 Pontiac GTO

The mid 60s were a different time for the automotive industry. Performance cars had been around for ten years, but were mainly large, heavy sedans with powerful engines, without the suspensions and brakes to really enable a driver to push the envelope. That all began to change with the ’64 Pontiac GTO, however.

The GTO started as a performance version of the lightweight Tempest, available in coupe, hardtop or convertible body styles. What you got with the GTO package, however, was a 389 V8 and 4-barrel Carter carburetor, dual exhausts and dress-up parts like chrome valve covers, yielding 325 horsepower. The GTO also offered sharper handling with a larger front sway bars, wider wheels and stiffer springs; options included a four-speed manual, two-speed automatic, more powerful “Tri-Power” carburetion (three two-barrel Rochester carbs for 348 horsepower) and a suite of comfort and convenience accessories.

As if the stock-off-the-rack GTO wasn’t strong enough, Ace Wilson’s Pontiac dealership in Royal Oak, Michigan offered a “bobcat” package (Bonneville/Catalina) that included a thinner copper head gasket to raise compression ratio, a recurved distributor, a carburetor riser, larger carb jets and locking rocker nuts to allow the engine to hit higher RPMs without experiencing valve float. The Bobcat package could add as much as 50 horsepower (with premium gas), and could allow the GTO to do 0-60 runs in a blistering 4.6 seconds.

The ’64 GTO may not have been a game-changer in terms of revolutionary design, but it certainly upped the stakes in the performance market. It was a good-looking, affordable car that offered strong performance that hadn’t been seen before in GM’s midsize segment, and coincided with the introduction of the Ford Mustang. Although the GTO and Mustang were in two separate categories, the race was on as far as performance, and it was soon up to Chrysler and the other GM divisions to play catch-up and see what kind of game they could bring to the streets.