Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival
Saturday June 2, 2018
There has been a lot of fanfare about the 50th anniversary of the Ford Mustang this year, but the Mustang wasn’t the only great American classic car introduced in 1964. This was also the year that the Pontiac GTO and Plymouth Barracuda were introduced. Talk about a vintage year!
Before John DeLorean got into the stainless-steel-bodied-gull-winged-kinda-sports-car business, he was Pontiac’s chief engineer and eventually became the division’s head. Perhaps his greatest achievement while he was there was the creation of the GTO, a.k.a. “The Goat,” a.k.a. “The Tiger,” a.k.a “The Judge.”
In 1963 GM completely withdrew from its involvement with auto racing, which had up until that point been a driving force behind Pontiac’s sales success. Determined to nonetheless preserve Pontiac’s performance reputation, DeLorean spearheaded the GTO (stands fo Gran Turismo Omologato in Italian, which means Grand Tourer Homologated in English) through development.
While the name didn’t entirely fit, the GTO was is a seminal figure in the world of muscle cars, and paved the way for a slew of muscle cars that would follow. It was essentially a Pontiac LeMans/Tempest, with most of its important performance bits substantially upgraded.
Very much a car of its time The GTO was only produced for 10 years. By 1974, the idea of a GTO (which could also practically mean Gasoline Total Obliterater) just wasn’t as appealing to the car buying public as it had been before the 1973 energy crisis. The GTO badge was recycled in 2004 onto a captive import from GM’s Australian Holden Division. Unfortunately Pontiac was already in its final death throws, and the modern GTO, while still popular among some enthusiast was too little too late. Based on an old but venerable Holden platform, the GTO was already essentially at the end of its life cycle by the time it made it to the US.
The Barracuda’s origins are very different from the GTO’s, but both models ended up in similar places by 1974 when they coincidentally were both discontinued. Predating the release of the Mustang by two weeks, the Barracuda wasn’t initially envisioned as a brutish muscle car, but a sporty compact car, very much what is described as a “pony car.” It was originally based on the Plymouth Valiant. 10 years of development turned a demure little fastback with a wrap-around rear window into a wide, powerful gran coupe and convertible.
In 1970 Plymouth made a radical departure from the Barracuda’s Valiant-based origins, and moved to the same platform that the Dodge Charger was using at the time (though the Charger’s wheelbase was a bit longer). Once thought of as a compact economy car, Plymouth obliterated this image in 1970 with massive V8’s and carburetors which gleefully poured gas into them.
Today, the Barracuda is a highly sought-after collector’s car, especially the ’70-’74 E-bodies. With only 11 ever built, the 1971 HemiCuda convertibles have done particularly well in auctions recently fetching as much as $2 million.
Both of these American Classics while only seeing 10 years of production, are just the same great pieces of automotive design and history. In the hullabaloo surrounding the birth of the Mustang, we’d be remiss not to mention these other great muscle cars that came from 1964.
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