What cars would you put on your bucket list? No-one likes to talk about dying, but if you had to create a short-list of cars that you would like to drive before you kick the proverbial bucket, what would you choose?
If you’re into sports cars, maybe it’s your dream to drive a Ferrari, or a Lamborghini, along the Italian Riviera. Or perhaps you’d like to drive an Aston Martin, or an E-Type Jaguar, around the streets of London. You might wish to cruise down Sunset Boulevard in a Porsche 356, or swan around the South of France in a McLaren F1.
There are so many possibilities…
But if muscle cars are your thing, there is probably just one car that immediately springs to mind. A car that kick-started the whole muscle car era when it hit the streets in the early sixties; the Pontiac GTO.
A Piece Of Muscle Car History
The GTO started life in 1964. Pontiac wanted something special, a sporty-looking car that would appeal to young buyers. In Italy, the Ferrari 250 GTO race car was receiving a lot of interest, so they decided to pinch the Gran Turismo Omologata tag.
Between 1964 and 1965, the GTO was an optional package on the intermediate-size Tempest model. It proved so popular, Pontiac went into full production with it from 1966 onwards.
By the late sixties, and amidst fierce competition from Chevrolet, with the all-new Camaro, Ford with the infamous Mustang, and Dodge with the Charger, the muscle car era was well and truly in full swing. Pontiac decided to give the GTO even more muscle. They bulked up the power, giving it 350 ponies, and introduced a new race-ready Ram Air package.
Around 1968, they offered new 366 and 370 horsepower versions (Ram Air III and IV). This generation of GTOs had high-rise aluminum exhaust manifolds, bigger and wider high-flow cylinder heads, larger 4-barrel carburetors, and heavier camshafts. These credentials gave the GTO real street-racer status.
Many consider the 1969 model to be the ‘daddy’ of the bunch. It epitomizes everything that muscle cars stand for. With a pedigree like that, who wouldn’t want to try out the driver’s seat of one?
The GTO Is Phenomenal On The Road
The GTO is a car that oozes sixties cool. It has so many great features. Turn the key, and you get to enjoy the wonderful sound of its burbling V8. Jump into the driver’s seat, feather the gas pedal, and you get to feel the raw power of those eight cylinders working out beneath the hood.
Push the shifter into Drive, get the GTO on an open road, hit the gas, and you get to experience a boost of adrenalin that’s like no other. The GTO attacks your senses. And it won’t fail to carve a massive smile on your face as you barrel along the street in it, looking like The Joker, but without the makeup.
In its day, the GTO was a very quick car. According to FastestLaps, the popular 370 hp Ram Air IV model could hit sixty mph in 5.1 seconds. And it has a very impressive top speed of 153 mph. The all important quarter mile timing, for drag and street-racing, is fairly cool too, at 13.9 seconds.
When you see or hear one of these rides coming down the street, you can’t help but admire it. The GTO is a thing of beauty, that deserves your attention. It’s aggressive, typically sixties fastback looks, make it stand out from the crowd.
We have to mention the GTO’s really cool, concealed vacuum operated headlights. Hidden behind the front grille, they are such a beautiful touch. And the car’s sculpted hood, with its center bulge flanked by two scoops. Topped off with a hood-mounted tach, that is just a work of art. Its body-colored Endura front bumper, also blends really nicely with the rest of the car’s contoured lines.
The GTO’s interior is simple and well-laid out. The elevated Hurst shifter on the center console is just in the right place. All in all, the whole package is superb. If you really want to make your friends jealous, then this has to be the car to drive past their houses in.
The Legendary ‘Judge’
It was originally intended to be a stripped-down, low-cost version, to compete with the Plymouth Road Runner. But instead, Pontiac decided to give GTO fans what they wanted. They gave it a Ram Air 400 engine, Rally II wheels, a Hurst shifter (T-shaped handle), wider tires, decorative stripes, fancy decals and a rear spoiler. And for $332, it was a bargain.
They shamelessly exploited the TV show’s household phrase “Here Comes de Judge”, with advertising slogans such as All rise for the Judge and The Judge can be bought, in a bid to boost sales. And, it certainly did the trick, by the late 60’s Pontiac pretty much owned the muscle car market.
The famous Judge was certainly well-appointed. Carousel Red was the most popular color. It came standard with a 366 hp Ram Air III version of the 400 cid V8. And buyers could also opt for more power, with the Ram Air IV (370 hp). With a four-speed transmission, front disc brakes, and power-steering, it was, and still is, a badass piece of kit.
We owe a debt of gratitude to Pontiac. For if it wasn’t for pioneering car designs like the GTO, we may never have had a muscle car era. So, when you are writing your bucket list, spare a thought for the GTO, because we think that ‘The Judge Rules!’, long live the GTO!
Hemmings Find: Iconic 1969 Pontiac GTO Judge