While the Pontiac GTO is one of the most iconic American cars muscle cars ever, some models were unfortunately horrible. Considered to be the first true American muscle, the GTO caused quite a stir when it arrived in 1964 as an optional package on the midsize Pontiac Tempest. The winning formula to appeal to the youth market was quite simple – stuff in a powerful V8 engine in a lighter and cheaper car. It became an overnight success, and with sales far exceeding management’s predictions, it became a standalone model in 1966.
Powered by well-tuned high output engines, the reasonably priced GTOs sold so well that fierce competition soon followed. Unfortunately, by the end of the second generation, the GTO was no longer a separate model, and from then, it was downhill all through. Although many regard the GTO as one of America’s great classic cars, towards the end of its lifespan, the models were just a lineup of failures that culminated in a discontinuation of the GTO. In an 11-year production run plus a brief revival in 2004, here are the five best and five worst Pontiac GTOs ever made.
10 BEST: 1964 GTO
The 1964 Pontiac GTO is one of the best muscle cars ever made – the one that set the standard not only for subsequent GTOs but also for other muscle cars to follow. Under the hood, it packed a massive 6.4 liters Pontiac V8 engine, which exceeded GM’s limit of 5.4 liters for midsize cars.
Output was a stout 325 hp through a 3-speed manual transmission in standard form and 348 hp with the optional “Tri-power” carburetion. Despite a gloomy sales forecast of 5,000 units by management, a whopping 32,450 1964 Pontiac GTO models were sold, making it an unprecedented success.
9 BEST: 1965 GTO
Restyled for 1965, the GTO grew longer, gained a redesigned dashboard, vertically stacked quad headlights, in addition to several mechanical enhancements. With the new look came some changes under the hood, and the base engine now churned out 335 hp, thanks to improved airflow to the engine.
The Tri-power unit was now making 360 hp and, when paired with the optional 4-speed manual transmission, could produce a 0-60 mph time of 5.8 seconds. Although criticized for its slow steering, sales of the 1965 GTO exceeded 75,000, a success that led to competition from within and outside.
8th BEST: 1966 GTO
For 1966, the guys in management decided that the GTO was strong enough to stand on its own instead of continuing as a trim package. With the entire GM A-body platform restyled, the GTO became a standalone model available as a coupe, a hardtop, and a convertible.
Power options remained the same, although the Tri-Power option was dropped mid-model year for the XS Ram Air unit that churned out 380 hp. Displaying few weaknesses and exuding massive curb appeal, it became the highest-selling GTO ever with sales of nearly 100,000 cars.
7 BEST: 1967 GTO
For the last model year of the first generation, the GTO got some cosmetic changes and features like power brakes and air conditioning. The engine, now displacing 6.6 liters, was offered in different versions with output ranging from 265-360 hp, while a 3-speed Turbo-Hydramatic (TH-400) transmission replaced the 2-speed automatic.
A 1967 Ram Air GTO with a 3-speed transmission could hit 60 mph in 6.1 seconds and run the quarter-mile in 14.5 seconds. Even with a significant price increase, Pontiac shifted an impressive 81,277 units.
6 BEST: 1969 GTO Judge
“The Judge,” announced in 1968, was a special edition of the ’69 GTO that Pontiac developed to compete directly with the Plymouth Road Runner. Stripped of luxury features to enhance performance, it got wider tires and a rear spoiler that didn’t add much to performance at road-legal speeds.
It also got the Ram Air IV 400 V8 engine which delivered 370 hp and 445 lb-ft of torque through a 3-speed manual transmission. Priced at $332 above the standard ’69 GTO, the judge drew attention to Pontiac with its bold styling and robust performance.
5 WORST: 1973 GTO
Relegated in 1972 to an option package on the LeMans, the GTO entered 1973 poorly designed and insufficiently powered. With the A-body platform now using “Colonnade” hardtop styling, the fixed rear side windows, and the ugly bumpers, it is not surprising that it wasn’t well-received.
The two engines offered, a 230 hp base unit and even the 250 hp optional unit, were not powerful enough to offset the GTO’s weight. Facing competition from better-styled platform mates, only 4,806 units of the ’73 GTO could be sold, with 500 models packing the larger engine option.
4 WORST: 1974 GTO
Bending under the harsh economic realities of the day, Pontiac switched to the compact GM X-body platform and offered the GTO as a package on the Ventura. As if that wasn’t scandalous enough, the sole engine offered was a 5.7-liter unit that could only spew out 200 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque.
The best acceleration time it could manage was a 0-60 mph run in 7.7 seconds and a quarter-mile dash in 15.72 seconds at 88 mph. With that joke of a performance, Pontiac limped off the GTO stage with a car that simply wasn’t worthy of the GTO badge.
3 WORST: 2004 GTO (Worst)
After keeping the GTO badge on ice for 30 years, Pontiac revived it for the fifth generation based on the third-generation Holden Monaro. On arrival stateside, it faced hatchwarm reception due to its conservative styling that matched neither its GTO heritage nor its performance.
Furthermore, there have been complaints about the wheels/hubs, the drivetrain, the clutch, and a front passenger seat that refuses to move forward or backward. Other problems include stalling or low engine idle speed, insufficient extended life coolant, and leaking water pumps which may cause overheating.
2 WORST: 2005 GTO
For 2005, the GTO had just one significant change: a new engine, a 6-liter unit that produced 400 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. Despite the impressive performance, the 2005 GTO was plagued by several problems, including front tires that often blew out due to rubbing in the struts.
The list of electrical system problems includes keys that froze in the ignition, doors flying open while rolling down the window, the failure of the engine control module, etc. There have also been complaints about airbags that fail to deploy, steering that seized, and blower failure.
1 WORST: 2006 GTO
Sharing the same disappointing and non-traditional styling of the 2004 and 2005 models, the 2006 GTO also failed in the areas of safety. While there have been no recalls for the last Pontiac GTO, NHTSA has reported 216 complaints, the latest being about power train problems.
However, most of the complaints have been about premature wearing and blowing out of tires due to contact with the struts. Other problems include seizing of the ignition lock, leaking/contamination of coolant, stalling, brake system failure, and the check engine lights coming on while driving.
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