In the middle Sixties fires shot among brands, the Pontiac GTO probably ranks a close second to one of the most potent bullets of the decade. Like the Ford Mustang, it satisfied a thirst for wild abandon behind smaller, sportier, more powerful machines from Detroit’s big three. The GTO maximized profits even further than the Mustang since it shared its humble body with other mid-sized Pontiacs, which, in reality, meant it shared quite a bit with offerings from Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Buick as well.
Pontiac, holding court as the third most popular brand in America in the mid 60’s, saw that its latest crowned performance prince became the winner above all others when it came to the image of being the best jock on the road. For its sophomore season, it secured its ranks on the Varsity team of performance cars in the United States.
Pontiac was a bit overwhelmed that it sold nearly 6 times the projected sales of the 1964 option package, so they were ready to rumble for 1965. Although it remained an option package on Tempest Coupes and Convertibles, improvements added more muscle toning compared to the first year.
First up, the base V8 for the package saw an uptick of 10 horsepower, to 335. The Tri-Power set up was now rated at 360 horsepower. Even handicapped by the limited range of the non variable pitch version of the Super Turbine 300 2 speed automatic, the basic 335 horse GTO could still clear 0-60 in 7 seconds flat.
For the amount of performance one received, with handy upgrades to handling, it’s easy to see why sales, under the influence of cheap gasoline, more than doubled during the robust 1965 selling season. The GTO wasn’t without its flaws however.
Although beefed up and nowhere near as soggy as a regular Tempest Le Mans Coupe, contemporary reviewers noted the sluggish steering response and all around drum brakes could make the GTO somewhat of a handful to deal with, given the outright performance capabilities of the engine, especially backed with the more favorable transmission options. In corporation rivals, in particular Oldsmobile’s 4-4-2, presented a more refined take on providing maximum performance to buyers.
Nevertheless, with styling that captured the best of Pontiac’s recent triumphs in a more managable package with hellraising performance continue to push in front of the parade. More than 75,000 people unleashed The Tiger in 1965, and more would do so as the GTO became a stand-alone model in 1966.
For a Pontiac with a stolen name, it made out like the best Cat Burglar among 1960’s performance cars. Fewer names still carry this level of power, swagger and magic 50 years later, more than the dead brand these beasts from the Jungles of Michigan sprang from.