1965 Pontiac GTO
1965 Pontiac GTO
Photo: Pontiac

1964 was a good year for car lovers in America. The Ford Motor Company released the Ford Mustang, which would eventually become a symbol of the United States symbol, and thus set the standard for the future pony car class. And General Motors took it one step further. After implanting a big block V8 into the compact Pontiac Tempest in 1964, they bred a new class of automobiles that is perfectly described in two words: muscle car.


As often happens, the Pontiac Tempest GTO was met with phenomenal success but had a difficult time finding its way into showrooms. And if it wasn’t for one stubborn man named John Zachary DeLorean (whom we have already written about in the Life section), we would only know the GTO as a Ferrari model, and not as a Pontiac. DeLorean was already the chief engineer at Pontiac when they launched the family of compact cars named the Tempest in 1961. The project was not a great success, even though the car was not small – at 190 inches (a bit more than 4.8 m) long, it guaranteed enough space, but that wasn’t enough for Americans. So the role of the Tempest was simply to fill the Pontiac model range, where everything was built on the wide-track, full-sized Catalina and the Bonneville “liners” that were their bestsellers at the time.

However, the Catalina and the Bonneville were not of interest to young people with money, and DeLorean really didn’t want Pontiac to just be an old-person’s brand. It didn’t require a lot of thinking, since young people have always been attracted to the cars that burn the most rubber, so the decision came naturally. During a brainstorming session one Saturday in the spring of 1963 to discuss the new 1964 Tempest coupé prototype, one of the engineers – Bill Collins – said: “You know John, with the engine mounts being the same [Pontiac had one family of engines], it would take us about 20 minutes to slip a 389 into this thing.” And just a week later, a car with a 389-cubic inch (6.4-litre) engine and 325 hp was standing in DeLorean’s garage.


John quickly came up with a pretentious name as well – the Pontiac GTO. Ferrari was already using these three letters, but DeLorean found out the GTO name didn’t belong to the Italians in the US, so no one had the legal right to make claims. It’s still not completely clear what these letter mean: at Ferrari they stood for “Gran Turismo Omologato” (“Grand Touring Homologated”), while Pontiac enthusiasts argue that DeLorean had “Pontiac Grand Tempest Option” in mind.

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