Once Pontiac’s base-optioned Tempest was offered its very first extracurricular performance package during the 1964 sales year, the phrase “door-slammer” was one that became a reality in the realm of American muscle, probably for the very first time ever. The early-to-mid ’60s was the golden era of factory-modded drag racing, but the GTO would set a bar for Pontiac and bring the plain-Jane Tempest into a whole other caliber of out-of-the-box performance.
Initially, the GTO was offered as a motor and suspension upgrade for the Tempest, while offering a cosmetic upgrade that added an aggressive sense of styling to the midsized sedan. Originally a $296 package, the most low-optioned GTO featured a 325-horse 389, 3-speed manual with a Hurst shifter, 7.5 x 14 redline tires, a large diameter front sway bar, upgraded springs that were stiffer than stock and a host of “GTO” badges with an outlandish hood scoop.
Pontiac’s new stoplight racer was flexible in its list of options, as the GTO could be further upgraded with a Tri-Power carburetor setup that bumped the 389 mill to 348 horses, and a 4-speed that could be coupled with a limited-slip differential. The “Goat” could also be ordered with a dash-mounted tach to add to the car’s race-ready setup.
Most of the popular road tests that have been performed on the 1st-Gen Goat were done with the optimally-ordered, Tri-Power 4-speed cars, and consequently the publication Car Life once clocked a 389/4-speed GTO from 0-60 in 6.6 seconds with a 14.8 quarter-mile pass at 99 miles per hour, quite a substantial run for the era.
In our featured video from 1965, Motor Trend exalts Pontiac’s Goat as their “car of the year,” reinforcing through demonstration the hot rodded sedan’s reputation of brute street performance balanced with everyday driving practicality. Some of the things they do in their demonstrations we wouldn’t dare do today with a brand new car, but it does serve to prove that the GTO was as durable back in the day as it was fast.
The ’60s was the decade of the muscle car, and the GTO put Pontiac in the high-performance pool with the rest of GM, simultaneously making Pontiac one of the General’s most innovative nameplates!