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Thread: 1974 Pontiac GTO: Close, but not quite

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    1974 Pontiac GTO: Close, but not quite

    The original muscle car era lasted about ten years, from 1964 to 1974 - the final year before the industry-wide adoption of catalytic converters, which made old-school muscle all-but-impossible. It would take another decade before advances in technology - specifically, fuel injection and computer controls - made it possible for the car companies to build V-8s that made power without also making lots of pollution.

    Book-ending this era were two very different Pontiacs wearing the same legendary three-letter badge: GTO.

    The 1974 - and final - classic-era GTO was not well-received at the time of its introduction but in retrospect, it wasn't half-bad. We just didn't realize it at the time - and by the time we did realize it, of course it was already way too late.

    The problem was mostly one of perception rather than of fact. The '74 GTO was a small car compared with previous GTOs. It was based on the compact Ventura rather than the mid-sized Tempest. So it looked a little shrimpy - and a little subdued - compared with the wildly styled, He-Man GTOs of previous years.

    It was also the first GTO to offer Pontiac's small-displacement 350 cubic inch V-8 as the standard (and only available) engine. The Ram Air and HO 400 and 455 V-8s of past years were history - and this would be the final year for a new GTO with a Pontiac-built engine of any kind at all.

    The 5.7 liter 350 V-8 was not really a performance engine in the sense of having a hot camshaft, high-flow heads or heavy-duty parts that differed significantly from the bread-and-butter 350s used in non-GTO Venturas and other Pontiac models. It was basically a smaller-bore version of the 6.6 liter 400 cubic inch V-8 and other than true dual exhausts (which would disappear after '74, when catalytic converters appeared) it was just your basic small-displacement four-barrel V-8.

    The 350 had a mild cam, small-valve 6H heads and its compression ratio was just 7.6:1 - which at least assured that detonation from burning low-lead unleaded gas would never be a problem.

    Pontiac rated this engine at 200 horsepower at 4,000 RPM, net. The buyer had his choice of manual three or four-speed or three-speed automatic transmissions - except in California, where the automatic was mandatory - with either a 2.73 or somewhat more aggressive 3.08 ratio rear axle with limited slip differential.

    Base price for the '74 coupe was $3,173. The hatchback was slightly pricier, with an MSRP of $3,313.

    A multitude of colors were available, including Buccaneer Red, Admiralty Blue, Sunstorm Yellow and Carmel Beige. Buyers could select contrasting interior colors - and a vinyl roof option was offered as well. Still, by previous year GTO standards, the '74 was sedately styled. No wild graphics packages; just a few discretely placed "GTO" emblems and a pair of chrome-plated exhaust splitters clued you in to the car's other-than-Ventura status.

    With one exception.

    An interesting feature of the '74 GTO was its unique, rear-facing,Trans-Am style "shaker" hood scoop. It worked, too. While the Trans-Am's scoop had been boarded up and rendered purely decorative after 1972 - some say to comply with federal drive-by noise regulations - the '74 GTO's scoop was fully functional, just like the early Trans-Am shaker. It used a vacuum-actuated flapper door to admit cooler outside air to the single Rochester 4-barrel carburetor when the driver floored it. This was the only year a shaker scoop was used on a GTO. The scoop is actually slightly different from the TA's and does not directly interchange.

    During its brief production run - which barely lasted a calendar year - '74 GTOs were assembled at either GM's Van Nuys, CA plant (alongside the Camaro/Firebird) or Willow Run in Michigan. Though there are rumors Pontiac at least entertained the idea of continuing the GTO into 1975 (there are photos of prototype '75s that have appeared in buff books), the market for performance cars seemed to be tanking. Worse, a '75 GTO would have had to have catalytic converters - and therefore, given budget constraints, a single exhaust system - which would probably have lopped another 10-20 hp off the top and fatally undermined the car's claim to being anything other than a decal package disco machine.

    And so the decision was made to retire the GTO rather than drag a great name through the mud.

    That said, the perception that the last real-deal Goat ("real," because it was the last one to be equipped with a Pontiac-built engine) was a dog unworthy of the GTO crest is unfair to the car. It wasn't half-bad, actually.

    And it might have been a lot better, had GM stayed the course.


    Consider: The '74 GTO's 0-60 time of 7.7 seconds was actually only slightly slower than the original '64 389 GTO's 0-60 clocking of 7.5 seconds. And the '74's quarter-mile time of 15.7 seconds was almost exactly the same as the '64s.

    Even compared with the high water mark 1970 Ram Air III 400-equipped GTO, the '74 was not an embarrassment - being only about a second and a half slower to 60 mph and needing another second to make it through the quarter-mile.

    How was this possible with only 200 hp - vs. the original's 325-hp 389 V-8 or the '70 model's 366-hp Ram Air III 400?

    One reason was simply the '74 GTO's curb weight - which had dropped by several hundred pounds. The trimmed-down '74 compensated for lower output by having less steel to lug around. Also, the way advertised horsepower was measured had changed since the GTO's inception in 1964. The original Goat's 325-hp was arrived at by what would be considered cheating today - with the engine on a stand and free of power-robbing accessories (including a full production exhaust system). The SAE "net" standards that replaced SAE "gross" ratings (beginning with the 1972 model year) were a much more realistic gauge of actual power output. The '74 GTO 350's 200-hp would probably have been rated 225-250-hp under the same standard used to measure and rate the original GTO's 325-hp V-8.

    The Ventura-based '74 GTO was also a much better-balanced car. While the GTOs of the mid-'60s were stunning cars to look at and often formidable performers in a straight line, their handling and braking were typical mid-'60s - which is to say, not exactly SCCA material. Since Pontiac engineers had less and less leeway to develop high-horsepower engines (as a result of the new emissions regulations and pressure to build at least semi-economical cars), they spent more time on other aspects of performance for the last GTO. Lighter on its feet to begin with, the '74 featured Pontiac's innovative Radial Tuned Suspension (RTS) system, which took advantage of the latest developments in tire technology and focused on decreasing body roll (via beefy front and rear anti-swaybars) instead of ultra-stiff leaf and coil springs. The result was a car with a very compliant ride that could take a turn at speed with much more confidence than some of the older Goats would dare to try. This is not surprising when you stop to consider that the '74 Ventura on which the '74 GTO was based shared its basic platform with the Chevy Nova - and the Nova shared a great deal of its chassis (front subframe and suspension, especially) with the Camaro and Firebird - two of the mid-late 1970's best-handling cars.

    The '74s power disc/drum brakes and 15-inch Rally II wheels complemented the rest of the chassis and gave the driver a car that was more a GT coupe than an all-out muscle car.

    Now imagine what might have been had Pontiac just hung in their a little while longer... .

    By 1977, performance cars were making something of a comeback. The Trans-Am - which had also come very close to being cancelled at about the same time the GTO was axed - was enjoying a popularity boom, in part because of the publicity of "Smokey And The Bandit" but also because Americans once again wanted fun cars. Chevy recalled the Z28. Ford was trying hard to breathe some life into its Mustang II.

    The Ventura-based GTO was made to order for a comeback, too. Equipped with the 220 hp L78 "T/A 6.6 litre" 400 cubic inch V-8 that first became available in the Trans-Am for 1977, it could have been at least as quick as the Trans-Am, but with usable back seats and a decent-sized trunk. The Trans-Am's WS6 suspension with 15x8 snowflake rims and four-wheel-disc brakes would have made it handle better than anything else on the road, too - except maybe the Trans-Am itself.

    And Pontiac could have priced it lower down the food chain, like the original GTO, as an affordable supercar, since by this time the Trans-Am had become a flashy GT usually loaded with options and just about the most expensive Pontiac you could buy at the time.

    It calls to mind the saddest words in all the English language: What might have been.

    Almost 40 years have ticked by since the last GTO came - and went . In hindsight, the car looks better and better all the time. Pontiac came up with a pretty decent package, considering the times and what it had to work with.

    Just 7,058 were produced in all - the lowest production run of the classic-era GTO's history. Of these, 1,723 of these were hatchbacks - making a '74 GTO hatchback among the rarest classic-era Goats ever made.

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    Senior Member Mase's Avatar
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    Last edited by Mase; 01-24-2010 at 05:05 PM.

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    Senior Member Mase's Avatar
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    Senior Member Mase's Avatar
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    Good GTO web site HERE.


  5. #5
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mase View Post
    Great pics! Esp. the interior shot, which sows the min-tach to the left of the speedo and the secondary gauges on the console....

    You've gotta show me how to do this sometime....

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    The original GTO - I believe a take off of the Tempest was a rocket!

    While I had a 428 SCJ (68 Torino), my buddy Paul had a 383? GTO. Both nice cars.

    When they got into the 'Judge' it was ghetto.

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    Senior Member J. ZIMM's Avatar
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    While the GTO was a great muskle car, There was another Pontiac that was somewhat of a Go Getter. Lest we forget the La Mans. This little car had the largest '6' Cylinder Engine produced at the time. In 1964, I believe, Pontiac had a 400 CI stuffed under the hood. 400 cubic inches, overhead cam, cog timing belt, as seen in todays econo boxes. It, in itself, was a pretty hot little unit. You don't see any of these mini rockets around anymore. At least I haven't, and I go to a lot of Show and Shines.

  8. #8
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dBrong View Post
    The original GTO - I believe a take off of the Tempest was a rocket!

    While I had a 428 SCJ (68 Torino), my buddy Paul had a 383? GTO. Both nice cars.

    When they got into the 'Judge' it was ghetto.
    Not all of those early GTOs were fast! Believe it or not, there was even a low-performance 2-barrel 389 offering; it looked tough but it was slow. And the truth is most production GTOs of the 1960s were low 15 second/high 14 second cars. By today's standards, that's weak! (A new Corvette is an 11-12 second car in the quarter mile and has a top speed of 170-plus.)

    As far as the Judge:

    It was intended to be a "return to pure performance" (read: affordable, with few comfort options but all the muscle hardware) GTO, inspired by the Super Bee and GTX produced by Mopar.

    Regular GTOs had often become very luxurious (and expensive) by the late 1960s, when the Judge appeared.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Mase's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    Great pics! Esp. the interior shot, which sows the min-tach to the left of the speedo and the secondary gauges on the console....

    You've gotta show me how to do this sometime....
    Posting photos? Piece o'cake. There are two ways, you can post them or you can post a link to where they already are on the interwebs <G>.

    Copying and posting photos you don't own/didn't take with your own camera can have copyright implications unless they are in the public domain, but AFAIK posting a link to something that is already on the web is perfectly legal.
    Last edited by Mase; 01-25-2010 at 02:48 PM.

  10. #10
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by J. ZIMM View Post
    While the GTO was a great muskle car, There was another Pontiac that was somewhat of a Go Getter. Lest we forget the La Mans. This little car had the largest '6' Cylinder Engine produced at the time. In 1964, I believe, Pontiac had a 400 CI stuffed under the hood. 400 cubic inches, overhead cam, cog timing belt, as seen in todays econo boxes. It, in itself, was a pretty hot little unit. You don't see any of these mini rockets around anymore. At least I haven't, and I go to a lot of Show and Shines.
    I think you're thinking of the SOHC Sprint Six. Pontiac never made a production overhead cam V-8 (though there were a few experimental ones).

    The Sprint Six was one of the first American OHC engines; it featured a nylon timing belt that was very innovative for the time. It also could be ordered with a 4-BBL Rochester Quadrajet and so equipped, was a good performer.

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