The GTO Origin Story


One of the most interesting facets of a superhero’s story is the origin—the tale of how the hero became super. The superhero formula is often simple and familiar. The unsuspecting soon-to-be hero is living life day to day, and then suddenly tragedy strikes. The tragedy then motivates the character to resolve the situation, perhaps breaking a rule or two and pushing the boundaries in a laboratory, which usually leads to some sort of freakish accident in the lab—and bam, pow! We suddenly find the hero dealing with newfound power.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2018/03/01/the-gto-origin-story


I have no idea as to its veracity, but I recall hearing that one member of GM brass, Pontiac’s sales manager, was furious with DeLorean at a board meeting where his chicanery was exposed and where he was asking approval to build the car. Since orders were already coming in a compromise was reached and 5,000 cars were authorized. Supposedly the sales manager, who had been kept in the dark and was dead set against the car, angrily challenged DeLorean and said he’d never be able to sell the cars and the company would be stuck with them. DeLorean then turned to Jim Wangers and told him to “Get Those Orders” which went on to become one of many unofficial explanations of what “GTO” stood for. Ultimately over 32,000 1964 GTOs were sold.


The GTO was not the first muscle car. The “Chevrolet First And If We Can’t Make That Work Let’s Pick Another GM Brand” biased car magazines may like to push that LIE, but Mopar was making 413 powered MID-SIZED cars in 1962. They were, despite the magazine lies, readily available at dealers across the country.
A friend of mine in NYC got his first job at AT&T in 1962, went straight to a dealer and bought a 413/Torqueflite Dodge. No special orders. No waiting.
If a 413 and later 426 wedge and later a 426 Hemi engine in a mid-sized car, starting 2 years before the GTO was introduced, doesn’t qualify as a muscle car, then what does?
Mopar did it first.
Stop spreading lies Hagerty.


I don’t think we can forget the great 409 Chevrolet cars starting in 1961. They definitely define the term “muscle car” (with up to 425hp by 1963/64), and the the much rarer factory production 409 Z11 which was rated at 430hp but without doubt produced closer to 475hp. I also never understood why the GTO got all the credit. The party had started well before1964 !


The GTO was the first muscle car. Your just jealous.


I vividly remember the first GTO entered our neighborhood. The owner actively campaigned it in B stock at the local strip. a silver black top and interior convertible 4 barrel 4 speed. regularly in the 12s. He was the big car on the area. Traded it next year for a 426 Dodge.


I own a numbers '69 Judge and love it, and I owned a '55 Pontiac convertible, back in1961, but my 1st drag car was a '56 Chevy 2-door post. I thought the muscle era started with the tri-fives, but I recall some hot '39 flat heads w/ chopped tops and multiple carbs. Detroit was late to the game, guys & gals!


The key in claiming “Muscle Car Rights” should always be based on regular production vehicles. The age-old argument of “what car was the first muscle car” seems to essentially focus on the 1960’s and maybe rightfully so. However, digging into the archives will reveal that many Automotive Historians argue that the 1950 Oldsmobile Futuramic Rocket 88 Holiday Coupe (with its relatively light weight of 3535lbs. and “big” 303 cid engine) was an absolute terror on the streets. The early Rocket V-8 delivered 135 hp at 3,600 rpm and more impressively, 263 lb-ft of torque at a lazy 1800 rpm. It could go 0-60 in 12.2 seconds! By today’s standards we’d label this “anemic” but back in 1950, it was considered mind-bending POWER! Nobody had seen anything like this before - straight from the factory.


I’m talking about mass production off the assembly line with a big engine. nuff said

March 8 |

I own a numbers '69 Judge and love it, and I owned a '55 Pontiac convertible, back in1961, but my 1st drag car was a '56 Chevy 2-door post. I thought the muscle era started with the tri-fives, but I recall some hot '39 flat heads w/ chopped tops and multiple carbs. Detroit was late to the game, guys & gals! Visit Topic or reply to this email to respond.
In Reply To

March 8 |

The GTO was the first muscle car. Your just jealous. Visit Topic or reply to this email to respond. To unsubscribe from these emails, click here.


During an Army weekend at home, in Sept. 1964, I ordered a 1965 GTO, coupe, tri-powered, auto trans.( getty married in Aug.'65 forced the auto. ).
After about 1 year driving this version, a military bud ( with same car BUT w/4 spd.trans.) complained his new bride COULDN’T DRIVE his 4 speeder. We agreed to SWAP trannies! incl pedals, clutch installation, center consoles, shifting linkage…etc…etc.
Made arrangement with a Merrick Rd. Laurelton Ny, shop for an All DAY SUNDAY "SWAPAROO ".
Memory tells me it ran $300.00…almost 3 months apartment rent.
My 4 spd. GTO, never ground a gear…
I sooo regret trading for a Buick Riviera in '68.


It is not a legend as noted ,it is true. What is missing is my reason for doing it… In hopes of running in the NASCAR races if we extended the wheelbase !! John and Wangers made it the production option and the success it was.
Bill Collins


I won’t argue with mass produced big blocks, Brother Bagwell, I just wanted you to know, I ain’t jealous or envious of mass anything… I love classics and did a little roddin’, back in the day, when goin’ fast in a straight line was about as American, as apple pie! Best regards!


I ordered a Gold 66 GTO Hardtop with TriPower, 4speed, 3:90 Posi rear & all the heavy duty options while in Vietnam, factory direct, as a coming- home present in case I made it home. This, my first New car, was an “ego stomping”, “Chick Magnet”, that was the most fun to drive car I’ve owned including Nice Street Rods & my 65 Stingray Coupe. It also earned me my nickname by friends & coworkers- “Rod Rocket” 'Nuff Said.


I always thought that a muscle car was a combination of an oversized engine in a smaller car.

Thus the concept of “muscle car” would have been initiated by Bill Frick with his Fordillacs (1949).

The GTO was the first production intermediate car with a big block engine.

Wasn’t Chevrolet the first to offer a big block (truck) V8 (348) for the 1958 Impala?

The discussion wouldn’t be complete without a mention of Studebaker’s Lark R2, the first hot compact.


Nice try. You have to keep in mind that we’re talking about the ‘post’ racing ban timeframe, of which yes to your disappointment the GTO is in fact the first ‘official’ musclecar. By your logic however, using early 60’s models, we could still give the title to Pontiac. Have you forgotten about the 421 SD Catalinas? Pretty sure they were faster than early 60’s Mopars.


I don’t know about ‘first’, but my first car was a '64 GTO hardtop. 3-spd, AFB. My current car is a '64 GTO convertible, 4-spd, tri-pwr. And it won’t be the last.


So are you the very same Bill Collins who stuffed the first 389 into a Tempest and called John DeLorean over to look at it?