Cars & Racing | 5 August 2016The Ringer Share article facebook twitter google pinterest The era of the American muscle car was a different time. It was a time of cheap gasoline and open roads. The era started in 1964 when the Pontiac GTO rolled off the line. The technology of the American muscle car is flawed, but the appeal was not about the technology of the car. The appeal was its symbol; a middle finger to conformity. Here’s a bit of history from Darwin Holmstrom’s American Muscle Cars. The Ringer A test that appeared in the March 1964 issue of Car and Driver magazine pitted a Pontiac GTO against a Ferrari GTO, one of the most exclusive and exotic automobiles in the world. The cars didn’t actually compete head to head, except in an oil painting commissioned for the magazine’s cover, and performance numbers weren’t exactly fair, since Jim Wangers, Pontiac’s point person at its ad agency Campbell Ewald, later admitted he secretly replaced the test car’s stock 389-cubic-inch engine with a tweaked 421 cubic-inch HO motor. Wangers, who attended the test, also knew the flawed quarter-mile testing procedure the magazine use was producing numbers bordering on fantasy, but he had no interest in correcting them. Quarter-mile times of 13.1 seconds in the spec box and photos of Pontiac’s baby boom car sitting on the test track next to a mighty Ferrari gave the Pontiac instant credibility. Recognizing that this story compared apples to oranges, the writer asked if, in Pontiac’s case, the GTO initials hadn’t stood for “Going Too far Overboard?” No matter. GTO sales exploded upon publication of the article. GTO sales for the 1964 model year totaled 32,450 units. This was on top of sales of the base Tempest and LeMans models, and thus represented an unbudgeted financial windfall for General Motors. While a car like the GTO infuriated GM’s fun police, ultimately General Motors was a corporation, and the goal of any corporation is to earn a profit. The GTO option most certainly earned a profit for the Pontiac division. The success of Pontiac’s GTO lit a fire under other US auto manufacturers. Suddenly everyone wanted to jump into the muscle car game and get as many baby boom dollars as possible. The GTO might have been a cash cow for Pontiac, but it also became a target at which every other automaker in the United States was about to take aim. In particular, Pontiac’s sister divisions Oldsmobile, Buick, and Chevrolet chafed at being outsmarted by Pontiac. These divisions had a distinct advantage over Ford and Chrysler—they had their own A-body cars that were, for all practical purposes, versions of the GTO. However, GM’s other divisions’ earlier decisions to pursue separate small-block and big-block engine families meant that dropping larger engines in the bays of their A-body cars would take a lot longer than the 20 minutes it took Bill Collins and Russ Gee to create the first GTO. Oldsmobile wasted little time creating a GTO competitor. The division had little time to waste. It needed all the help it could get when trying to develop a car for the youth market. The company that had earned a reputation as General Motors’ performance division when it introduced the Rocket 88 V-8 in 1949 had become GM’s aging spinster, selling stodgy conservative sedans that held little appeal for the baby boomers. Olds had attempted to gain a foothold in the emerging youth market with its F-85 version of the GM X-body platform, but that attempt was less than successful. Even though the F-85 had the prerequisite V-8 engine from the very beginning—the aluminum-block Rockette—the F-85 was one of the industry’s slowest-selling small cars. Even the lowly Studebaker Lark outsold Oldsmobile’s smallest model. With the GTO, Pontiac had shown Oldsmobile the path to performance redemption. In the middle of the 1964 model year, Oldsmobile introduced a muscle car option package for its F-85 Cutlass with big V-8 power, or at least as big as Oldsmobile could offer without extensively redesigning its version of the A-body chassis. Dubbed the 4-4-2 (which stood for four-speed, four-barrel, dual-exhaust), Oldsmobile initially gave its car a souped-up version of the division’s 330-cubic-inch V-8 engine. While this engine produced 290 horsepower, putting it on par with the 300-horsepower Chevy Malibu SS, neither version of GM’s A-body could compete with the 348-horsepower Tri-Power GTO. More importantly, neither car could touch the massive 428 lb-ft of torque the bigger Pontiac engine produced. “Some amazing things occur when you get this 115-inch wheelbase animal on the road, not the least of which is the admiring glances passed out, especially from the young people. It’s plain enough from the strategically placed insignia that the car is a GTO, but that cool hood scoop marks it as the three-carb charger. On twisty, short-radius-turn roads, where driving as the average person would, the car handled beautifully; tracks well and goes where it’s pointed without complaint. Increase the speed from 40 to 55 or 60 mph in an identical situation and that big hunk of cast iron under the bonnet begins to exert Newtonian influences, causing noticeable under-steer.” -Hot Rod magazine, May, 1965 Buy from an Online Retailer US: UK: This is the muscle car history to own–a richly illustrated chronicle of America’s greatest high-performance cars, told from their 1960s beginning through the present day! In the 1960s, three incendiary ingredients–developing V-8 engine technology, a culture consumed by the need for speed, and 75 million baby boomers entering the auto market–exploded in the form of the factory muscle car. The resulting vehicles, brutal machines unlike any the world had seen before or will ever see again, defined the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll generation. American Muscle Cars chronicles this tumultuous period of American history through the primary tool Americans use to define themselves: their automobiles. From the street-racing hot rod culture that emerged following World War II through the new breed of muscle cars still emerging from Detroit today, this book brings to life the history of the American muscle car. American Muscle Cars tells the story of the most desirable cars ever to come out of Detroit. It’s a story of flat-out insanity told at full throttle and illustrated with beautiful photography. Share article facebook twitter google pinterest If you have any comments on this article please contact us or get in touch via social media.