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The Mystique of the Pontiac GTO: Part 3

The Pontiac GTO’s last two years of production are some of its most controversial. With the introduction of the Grand Am and with rising sales of the Firebird and Trans Am, it now seemed like Pontiac treated the GTO as an afterthought. Government regulations on emissions, extortionate insurance rates, and an OPEC oil embargo didn’t help much either. What was once king of the hill was now put out to pasture. Let’s turn back the clock and look at two of the Pontiac GTO’s most contentious years of production.

1973: What Could Have Been

“The 1973 Pontiac GTO is a one-year beast so rare that some refuse to believe it ever existed. To them, the car is a Le Mans in clever disguise, driven by a guy wearing a Nixon mask.Mike Bumbeck, Hemmings Muscle Machines magazine, February 2011

The GTO was once again available as an option package on the LeMans and the LeMans Sport Coupe. It consisted of dual performance exhaust with chrome extensions, dual NACA hood scoops, heavy-duty front and rear stabilizer bars, and stiffer springs. The package also included 15×7-inch wheels, poverty hubcaps, and a blacked-out grille. It should also be noted that this is the first and only year the GTO was built on the Colonnade body style. This was also the first year for the federally-mandated 5 mph front bumper. GTOs built on the LeMans Sport Coupe got fixed louvered rear quarter windows.

The aforementioned NACA hood scoops were initially created to feed fresh air into the carburetor through an induction system. However, it didn’t meet federal restrictions on noise and, supposedly, the system was turned into a dealer part that drivers could order after taking delivery of their GTO. It’s been said that approximately 10 were built.

The standard engine was a 400 cubic-inch L78 code which produced 230 horsepower and 325 lb.-ft. of torque. An optional 455 cubic-inch L75 code bumped the power under the hood to 250 horsepower and 370 lb.-ft. of torque. It was a decent performer with a 0 to 60 time of 6.6 seconds and a quarter mile time of 14.69 seconds at 96 mph. The bad news is the 455’s extra 20 horses didn’t seem to incent buyers since only 544 cars came equipped with this powerplant. The big news for 1973 was the availability of the 455 Super Duty for the Pontiac A-bodies, Firebird, and Trans Am. This engine was rated at 310 horsepower and 390 lb.-ft. of torque. While other manufactures had turned their backs on big block power, Pontiac upped the ante with the 455 Super Duty.

Noted automotive journalist Joe Oldham put the 1973 Pontiac GTO Super Duty through its paces for the April 1973 issue of Hi-Performance Cars magazine. He raved about its performance and handling and felt the car was a shoo-in for the magazine’s Car of the Year award. Oldham wrote:

“In thirteen years of selecting Top Performance Car of the Year candidates, flogging them on the open road and under controlled test track conditions and finally selecting the Top Eliminator, never has our job been easier. It is the first time that one car has emerged— head and shoulders —above every other entry. In fact, you might even say it wasn’t a contest. Pontiac came, saw, and conquered. With its all-new GTO, Pontiac challenged all of Motown to a supercar showdown. And, when the smoke had cleared, it appeared that the GTO—once again—was King of the Street.”

Soon after the issue went to press, Pontiac brought on board a new general manager, Martin J. Caserio. During a review of Pontiac’s current projects, Caserio learned about the Super Duty program. After being told about why the engine was being produced, Caserio immediately put the brakes on the Super Duty. Believing Pontiac’s focus should be on more fuel efficient and safer cars, Caserio ordered the program cancelled. Eventually, he compromised, and allowed the engine to continue as an option for the Firebird and Trans Am. Sadly for Hi-Performance Cars, it was too late to retract the award since the magazine was already on press. They awarded their coveted Car of the Year honor to a car that never would exist.

Incidentally, brochures were printed that listed the Super Duty as optional for the LeMans, LeMans Sport Coupe, and Grand Am. Adding insult to injury, stock photography of the 1973 Grand Am equipped with Super Duty engine was also printed.

Sales of the GTO were down once again with only 4,806 built for the 1973 model year.

1974: End of the Road

“You can’t inherit a name like GTO. You have to earn it. And we built our compact ’74 GTO to do just that.” 1974 Pontiac GTO brochure

Another radical change was in store for the GTO. Based on the X-body Ventura and Ventura Custom, the WW3 GTO option was available as a two-door coupe and hatchback coupe. The GTO came standard with a blacked-out grille with parking lights, functional shaker hood scoop, body-colored mirrors, and slit-style taillights. Other exterior features include Rally II wheels and multi-color GTO badging. Inside, drivers were treated to cloth bench seats trimmed in Morrokide upholstery, deluxe two-spoke steering wheel, and wood-grained vinyl door trim.

The only engine available was a 350 cubic-inch L78 with 200 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque. A three-speed manual transmission was standard, but drivers could opt for a four-speed manual or a Turbo Hydra-matic three-speed automatic. If you lived in the Golden State, the Turbo Hydra-matic was the only transmission available.

Cars Magazine tested the 1974 GTO for its May 1974 issue. It was capable of running from 0 to 60 in 7.7 seconds and could sprint the quarter mile in 15.72 seconds at 88 mph. Motor Trend’s test of the mini Goat resulted in a 0 to 60 time of 9.4 seconds and a quarter mile run of 16.5 seconds at 84 mph.

A total of only 7,058 GTO’s were built for 1974. 5,335 coupes and 1,723 hatchbacks rolled off the assembly line for the GTO’s last year of production. Even though sales were much better than the previous year, Pontiac still decided it was time to put the Goat to rest. It would be 30 years before Pontiac would bring back the GTO. This time around, it was based on the Holden Monaro from Australia. This version of the Pontiac GTO lasted until 2006. On April 27, 2009, General Motors announced its decision to drop Pontiac in lieu of a restructure and hopes of getting a government-backed bankruptcy loan. Long live the Poncho!

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