Hagerty’s Greg Ingold guides us through the second generation of the Supercar that started it all in THE GREAT ONE: 1968-1972 PONTIAC GTO.


Pontiac called it “A Device For Shrinking Time & Distance.” Magazine editors called it a “Supercar”. And in 1964 enthusiasts flocked to Pontiac dealers from coast to coast to see the new GTO, an option that breathed life into a Tempest. Pontiac, not Ford, Chevy or Plymouth, essentially created an option that ignited the Supercar Revolution and an almost cult-like, youth-market movement. The GTO’s extensive performance and comfort and convenience “menu” was the envy of the industry. It was the Supercar for all seasons and reasons and started a performance revolution in Motown.

The musclecar genre actually predates Pontiac’s launch of the 1964 GTO by many years. There were a number of earlier cars built on midsize platforms that had engines originating in larger, more powerful cars. Oldsmobile built midsize 88 models with big OHV V8 engines in 1949 that could be had with three-speed-stick or automatic transmissions. And, they were successfully raced. But the GTO, an option offered on Tempest models in 1964 had an almost endless option list that covered performance as well as appearance upgrades. It was the total package, from 389-inch V8 to four-speed and limited-slip rear with road and track gearing. The second-generation model – THE GREAT ONE: 1968-1972 PONTIAC GTO – upped the game with bigger, more powerful 400-455 cubic inch Ram Air engines and higher visibility with models like The Judge.

It’s no stretch to call Pontiac’s GTO the single most important car of the musclecar era. Yes, there are varying opinions as to when and how the American musclecar really kicked off. But the fact remains that the standard formula of taking a mid-size car and stuffing a large engine under the hood started with the GTO. Launched in 1964, it first came as an option on the Tempest Le Mans, increasing the engine size to 389 cubic inches for a stout 325-horsepower in base form, and 348 with Tri-Power (three two-barrel carbs).

The GTO’s performance and sales success put everyone on notice, including Pontiac’s siblings within General Motors, and forced other brands to play catch up. But while the likes of Chevrolet and MOPAR focused on putting down huge raw power numbers, Pontiac struck a balance of offering excellent power with killer looks and more creature comforts than more entry-level manufacturers like Chevrolet, Dodge, and Ford.

THE GREAT ONE: 1968-1972 PONTIAC GTO.1967 would be another watershed year with the old 389 being swapped out for Pontiac’s all-new 400 cubic inch engine. At least in the eyes of Poncho enthusiasts everywhere, the Pontiac 400 ranks among one of the all-time great engines and would be the basis for Pontiac’s famed “Ram Air” option. And with the introduction of an updated engine, it was time for Pontiac to update the GTO as a platform. While it had big shoes to fill, the second generation 1968-1972 GTO was more than up to the task. Those were arguably the model’s best years but, being a musclecar with a wide range of available powertrains, performance options, convenience features and colors, the market for the second-gen Goat is a nuanced one, and values can range from barely above entry-level to well over half a million dollars.

GM completely refreshed the A-Body platform on which the GTO rides for 1968. It was a welcome change, leaving behind the boxiness of the 1964-1967 models in favor of the softer, curvier “Coke bottle” style popularized in the later part of the 1960s. Pontiac’s styling department also went to town on the GTO setting it far apart from the competition. The biggest innovation to the GTO’s look was the introduction of the revolutionary “Endura Bumper”, a GTO exclusive. In short, the bumper shook up the industry by eliminating the traditional chrome front bumper and instead replaced it with a painted, impact-resistant piece made of a rubberized material, which could be molded to any shape and withstand minor impacts with minimal damage.

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The full range of Gen I and Gen II GTOs, including Royal Pontiac Bobcats, are extensively covered in DAY ONE,