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Thread: '74 GTO - last of the line

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    '74 GTO - last of the line

    The original muscle car era lasted roughly a decade, from 1964 to 1974 -- the final year before the industry-wide adoption of catalytic converters and the inexorable trend toward cars that were designed to be ever more socially responsible -- and ever more civilized, too. A trend that continues to the present day.

    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 especially well-received at the time of its introduction. By then, the GTO had been on a downward slide that began in 1972, when GM cut compression ratios across the board and began to throttle back the wild-child engines that had made the early GTO's bones on the street and track. It was clear the peak had passed; each new model year seemed to bring yet more bad news for GTO fans.

    When 1974 finally rolled around, the GTO had been completely transformed.

    A major "downsizing" had taken place, for starters. Instead of being based on the mid-sized LeMans coupe (as had been the case the previous year), the new GTO was based on the compact Ventura -- the Pontiac version of the Chevy Nova -- in the buyer's choice of hatchback or standard coupe bodystyles.

    This was the only year buyers could order a hatchback GTO.

    It was also the first -- and only -- 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 gone for good -- 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, unlike previous GTO mills, was not really a performance engine in the sense of having a hot camshaft, high-flow heads or any internals 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. By previous year GTO standards, the '74 was rather demure-looking. 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.

    One interesting feature of the '74 GTO was its unique, rear-facing,Trans-Am style "shaker" hood scoop. 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, using 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 -- and 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 belied by the car's none-too-shaby performance. Its 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 stamped 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 rest was mostly dead weight -- and the cars were nearly even in terms of their on-the-road performance.

    But the '74 was arguably a better-balanced car -- literally. 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. 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.

    More than 30 years have ticked by since the last GTO came and went -- and 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. The '74s are also the last of the classic-era GTOs that are still relatively affordable to buy, too.

    That is, if you can find one.

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

  2. #2
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    Re: '74 GTO - last of the line

    Maybe thats a GTO I can afford. The new ones are still way too expensive.

  3. #3
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: '74 GTO - last of the line

    Quote Originally Posted by swamprat
    Maybe thats a GTO I can afford. The new ones are still way too expensive.
    The '74s are still manageable; the problem is finding one. They were not produced in large quantities - and it's a one-year-only model. Andbecause they were considered not worth saving for 20-plus years afterward, many were just beaten to death - and then crushed.

    Still, if you can find one, I'd snap it up. I've seen a couple stock restorations and they looked really good. And a 455 fits in a '74 GTO as well as stock 400!


  4. #4
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    Re: '74 GTO - last of the line

    Having grown up in this era, it was depressing to see the GTO transition from the Judge to a freakin' NOVA. When the new car pictures came out in the magazines, all you would hear was, ?they ruined the GTO!? We were reduced us to complimenting on trim packages - like the new 1974 Z28 with the giant billboard graphics reaching down the hood. We didn?t know that was it until T/A took off like a bandit a few yrs later.

    Gas rationing, courtesy of the Arab Oil Embargo, and long lines at the pump (with odd/even license plates being served on alternate days) was barely over and rising prices that doubled and tripled made the news nearly every day. Ugly, man! We went from landing on the moon and the excitement of the SST (wiki that) to the grim reality of an era of labeled by an economic pullback called "stagflation"; job prospects were gloomily reported, e.g., the collapse of the aerospace industry. I was interested in engineering, but all the gov't guides and my guidance counselor said the future of the profession was bleak with layoffs aplenty. With that zeitgeist, most people buying a new car thought a lot about gas mileage, like my mom who bought a Vega(!). We thought it was cool that a buddy convinced his parents to buy a 350 Pontiac Ventura. It was gold with black stripes and a black interior. But his practical parents insisted on no buckets and the bench seats on those were quite crappy. I don?t remember seeing a ?74 GTO on the road back then ? who would buy one? If you wanted the image, there were slightly used real musclecars prowling the road and driving a castrated ?74 goat would be like riding a 250Suzuki and pulling up to a Harley! Of course, it was prime time to go wild and buy a loaded 5yr old musclecar, but few did?again, the gas mileage thing-it was almost a dollar a gallon!

  5. #5
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: '74 GTO - last of the line

    Hey Scrambler!

    I found out some interesting things about the '74 GTO - among them, that it was actually about as quick, 0-60, as some of the older GTOs of the '60s. I used to mock the thing, too. But time passes, perspective changes. I'd happily take a '74 GTO over a new one. I'd bet you'd feel the same, too, if you had a chance to see the two side by side...

    Another neat thing about the '74 GTO - its shaker actually did work. The '74 T/A's was boarded up and not functional....

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    Re: '74 GTO - last of the line

    Have to agree with Eric, the '74 GTO is an unslung hero, it's performance was on par with a '64 4bbl 389 GTO (325 horsepower - gross) which went 0-60 mph in 7.5 seconds and 1/4 mile in 15.7 seconds. The '74 GTO (200 horsepower - net) went 0-60 mph in 7.7 seconds and the 1/4 mile in 15.72 seconds (Cars Magazine).

    As Eric mentioned this is an easy car to drop a Pontiac 400 or 455 into, since the motor mounts and all engine accessories are the same and the external block dimensions of the Pontiac 350 is the same as the Pontiac 400/455. So dropping a in a high performance 400 or 455 makes for some great performance due to the '74 GTO's very light weight.

  7. #7
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: '74 GTO - last of the line

    Quote Originally Posted by Disco Man
    Have to agree with Eric, the '74 GTO is an unslung hero, it's performance was on par with a '64 4bbl 389 GTO (325 horsepower - gross) which went 0-60 mph in 7.5 seconds and 1/4 mile in 15.7 seconds. The '74 GTO (200 horsepower - net) went 0-60 mph in 7.7 seconds and the 1/4 mile in 15.72 seconds (Cars Magazine).

    As Eric mentioned this is an easy car to drop a Pontiac 400 or 455 into, since the motor mounts and all engine accessories are the same and the external block dimensions of the Pontiac 350 is the same as the Pontiac 400/455. So dropping a in a high performance 400 or 455 makes for some great performance due to the '74 GTO's very light weight.
    Amen!

    And don't discount the 350 Poncho out of hand, either. In HO trim, it was a credible performer - and most all the Pontiac speed parts that work on a 400 or 455 work on the 350, too - including intakes, cams, etc. I have no doubt one could get 250-275 "real" (SAE net) horsepower out of an otherwise stock Pontiac 350 with just a mild cam, the factory HO-style exhaust headers and some carb/ignition tuning. In a relatively light car like the '74 GTO, 275 hp would probably give you 0-60 and 1/4 mile times as good or better than a stock Ram Air III 400 Judge!

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    Re: '74 GTO - last of the line

    Eric,

    Excellent point. The Pontiac 350 H.O. was on par with the Olds 350 W31. With very little tweaking a '69 Tempest or Firebird with the 350 H.O. could break into the high 13 second 1/4 mile range. I agree the '74 GTO low compression 350 could easily hit 250 - 275 net horsepower or more with a mid cam, factory style exhaust headers, carb performance tuning, ignition tuning, and good set of heads like 6x's.


  9. #9
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: '74 GTO - last of the line

    Quote Originally Posted by Disco Man
    Eric,

    Excellent point. The Pontiac 350 H.O. was on par with the Olds 350 W31. With very little tweaking a '69 Tempest or Firebird with the 350 H.O. could break into the high 13 second 1/4 mile range. I agree the '74 GTO low compression 350 could easily hit 250 - 275 net horsepower or more with a mid cam, factory style exhaust headers, carb performance tuning, ignition tuning, and good set of heads like 6x's.

    I think the 350 HOs are also pretty rare!

    I'm gonna look into current price ranges for the '74 GTO and see what they're fetching...

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