In The Beginning….

 First off, let me say that I am not a “Historian”.  I do not have the inside track on events or conversations within General Motors or Ford Motor Company.  All I can relay to you is the events and stories about what happened to cause the time known as “The Muscle Car Era”.

 In the late 1950’s the “Hot Rodder” groups were established with the preferred equipment being the “flat head Ford” engine.  Overhead cam V-8’s were the newest upgrade for horsepower, but were still being developed for what true power-hungry “rodders” needed.

With this background the factory’s in Detroit were trying their best to provide what racers wanted.  While the large sedans were getting large V-8 engines and multiple carburetors the smaller cars were relegated to being workhorse transportation.  To improve the power to weight ratio on these vehicles there was 2 schools of thought.  First increase the engine size and second make the cars smaller and therefore lighter. 

With the Chevrolet Corvair, General Motors felt they had a small performance coupe for the market.  When it was produced for 1960, Chevrolet felt they had a leg up on the European Sports cars and were going to be real contenders.  Because the Pontiac Division at GM also wanted to appeal to the younger racer market they got a version of the Corvair as well.

Their’s was the Pontiac Tempest.  Unlike the Corvair with its rear engine and tail heavy layout, the Pontiac used a front engine-rear transaxle layout that gave nearly 50-50 weight balance.  The engine was a forbearer of things to come, as they took the 389 engine’s right cylinder bank and created a 4 cylinder slant 4 engine.  The factory called it a 195 or a 194 since it was actually 194.5 if you do the math.  The engine gave Pontiac a small sporty car for 1961.  But the guys running Pontiac weren’t quite satisfied so they also experimented with the Buick designed 215 aluminum V8 as an optional factory upgrade.  Pontiac’s chief engineer and the guy credited with the design of the Tempest was none other than John DeLorean.  The beige car shown in the first 2 pictures are 1962 models showing the cars side view and the 194 four-cylinder.

  With the addition of the LeMans name as an upgrade package towards the end of 1961, the stage was set for what was to come.  That was in 1963 when the 326 was created and became the replacement for the 215.  The 1963 version was actually a displacement of 336, but due to what has been said was a Corporate “policy” that less-than-full-size cars could not have larger engine’s than the Corvette’s 327, Pontiac labeled it at 326.  This engine is a 1 year only deal as in 1964 it became 326 CID to match it’s labeling.  In 1963 Pontiac came out with 14 Super Duty Tempest cars for NHRA drag racing.  These were built in December 1963 because in January 1964, General Motors was planning on banning “factory” racing.

In 1964 the Tempest was reconfigured into a larger car with a conventional layout of front engine and rear axle with a proper transmission mounted and directly connected to the engine.  This was due to a corporate rule that the Tempest should be the same platform as the Oldsmobile F-85/Cutlass, Buick Special/Skylark and the new Chevrolet Chevelle.

The 194 4 cylinder was replaced by a 215 CID straight 6 engine that while exclusive to Pontiac was a bored out Chevrolet 194 6-cylinder.  They also created a new version of the 326 engined Tempest LeMans and called it the GTO.  While the factory endorsed it as the GTO Tiger and used a Tiger in advertising at the time, the hot rodder’s referred to it as the “Goat”.  The name is still used to this day, only now as a sign of reverence.

The GTO is credited to John DeLorean as far as being the creator but he had help from fellow Pontiac engineer and engine specialist Russell Gee and chassis engineer Bill Collins.  While the corporate rules were to limit the engine size for midsize cars to 330 CID, they decided to put the 389 engine from the full size Bonneville and Catalina into the GTO.  With the approval of Pontiac Division General Manager Elliot Estes the GTO circumvented the rules as it was an “option” and not an actual model.  Thus the Pontiac Tempest LeMans GTO was born. 

 With the ban on factory racing from the bigwigs at General Motors, the flood gates had been opened and now the attention was to get performance cars onto the street.  The cat was out of the bag and every carmaker in Detroit would get into the battle for “Street Supremacy” in the coming years.  By the end of the 1964 model year the Chevelle SS and the Buick Gran Sport or GS as well as the Cutlass 442 would join the GTO as GM’s first salvo in the “Horsepower Wars”.

 So while other car makers had already come up with street racers disguised as “Track Ready” factory machines, the GTO was the first regular production vehicle to actually come into existence.

 And while there were better and faster and more powerful vehicles to come, the GTO is credited with starting the whole genre, just like Dodge is credited with the invention of the minivan.  Not quite the same type of invention, but then what can really compare to the “Muscle Car” anyway ?

Davey Boy


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One Response to “In The Beginning….”

  1. joseph Says:


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