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1966 GTO


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GTO 1964-1967

Shelby Mustang




1966 GTO

The Juggernaut Rolls On

When the 1966 GTO was introduced in September 1965, DeLorean's stewardship as Pontiac general manager was only a few months old. The 1966 model year would prove to be pivotal in the history of the GTO for several reasons. Most significantly, the GTO matured from an option package based on the LeMans to a separate series with its own 242 model designation. Thanks to the resounding success Pontiac had enjoyed with the GTO in 1964 and 1965, the future of the GTO was ensured for at least the next five model years. Sales of the 1964 GTO had tallied 32,450 units and the 1965 GTO had surpassed Pontiac's projection of 50,000 units by a total of 75,352 cars. With the tremendous success of the GTO in the showroom, Pontiac penciled in sales projections in the 80,000 range for 1966.

Another factor in the GTO's elevation to series status was the climate within General Motors. GM management had come around to the concept of the musclecar, and the engine displacement ceiling for mid-sized cars was raised to 400 ci. Buick, Oldsmobile and Chevrolet were given the corporate nod to aggressively field their own versions of the GTO. Oldsmobile's 4-4-2, which had been released in the tail end of the 1964 model year, had grown into a 400 ci contender in 1965, and for 1966 offered a three two-barrel induction system, its first since the J-2 option of the late 1950s. Buick's Gran Sport was repackaged with the 401 and upgraded options; however, at 340 hp, small exhaust valves and no specific performance camshaft, it still was no match for the GTO. Sister division Chevrolet was the biggest in-house threat to the GTO. The SS396 Chevelle was offered in three horsepower versions—the base 325 hp, 360 hp and a thumping 375 hp engine that was available on special order.

Ford and Chrysler weren't sitting on their hands while the GTO and other GM musclecar programs were gathering strength. Ford's weakness was their lack of a large-displacement engine to drop into the redesigned 1966 Fairlane and Mercury Comet. The GT and GTA were added to the Fairlane line-up, equipped with the venerable 390 ci FE engine that produced 335 hp. Mercury's Cyclone GT was a carbon copy of the Fairlane GT. At the tail end of the model year, a few of these cars received the 425 hp, 427 ci engine, but it was produced in limited numbers, mostly to enhance the product line's image. Combined sales of the Fairlane GT and Cyclone GT were a disappointment to Ford, barely breaking the 53,000 unit mark.

Chrysler was in a much stronger position to counter the success of the GTO, and they rolled out the heavy artillery in 1966 in the form of the street Hemi. Dodge also released the new fastback Charger in January of 1966. Although the majority of Chargers were sold with the more mundane 318 and 361 two-barrel engines, both Dodge and Plymouth offered the 325 hp 383 ci engine and the pavement-melting 426 Hemi. Interest-ingly enough, the Hemi-powered Plymouth Satellite, with 425 hp—65 more than the Tri-Power GTO—only turned the quarter a few tenths quicker than a Royal-prepared GTO, although Popular Hot Rodding did record 13.25 seconds at 109.9 mph in a 1966 Hemi Satellite.

All this competition did little to slow the GTO's momentum. At the end of the model year, Pontiac's cash register rang to the tune of 96,946 units as the GTO sales juggernaut rolled on. The Wide Track Tiger was simply too entrenched in the minds of young, performance-minded enthusiasts, and Wangers' genius in promoting the GTO's image was a major contributing factor in the GTO holding back the wave of fledgling competitors.

Much of the GTO's appeal in 1966 can be attributed to Pontiac's handsome restyling effort. Although still riding the same 115 in. wheelbase, all the GM intermediates were reskinned for 1966, and the GTO seemed to benefit the most from the restyling. In fact, it looked more like the full-sized Grand Prix, and it attracted buyers who were drawn to the Grand Prix's styling but resisted the high sticker price and the dimensions of the larger model.

Pontiac again expanded the GTO's option list in 1966, and upgraded the car's interior appointments. According to Wangers: "A maturer performance market emerged as a significant factor, and we felt that perhaps some people might be turned offbytheGrand Prixor the Bonneville as being just too big. We thought they may be looking for some kind of personal sophistication in a little smaller package."

When the sales figures for the 1965 and 1966 Grand Prix are examined, a case can be made that the GTO possibly did purloin some potential customers from the GP. Sales of the 1965 Grand Prix totaled 56,881, while 1966 GP sales turned down to 36,757 (excluding chassis sales, which totaled 643 in 1965 and 553 in 1966). Whether the GTO is directly responsible for the decline in 1966 GP sales is conjectural; however, it is interesting to note that GTO sales went up 21,594 units in 1966 while Grand Prix sales went down 21,124 units. How significant the GTO was to the decline in GP sales will never be fully ascertained.

The restyling of the 1966 GTO started at the front. The thematic Pontiac split-grille style was retained, but the grilles were plastic like the GP and deep set, with the parking-turn signal lamps incorporated into the grille,also like the GP. The Pontiac crest was moved to the hood, and the air scoop bubble and ornament were identical to 1965. Although the flanks were devoid of chrome trim, a bright rocker panel molding extended from the rear of the front-wheel opening to the front of the rear-wheel opening. Brightwork also trimmed the wheel openings. A single, thin pinstripe traced the upper beltline. The 6.5 Litre emblem was retained on the trailing edge of the lower front fenders and the GTO nameplate was affixed to the quarter panels. A smaller GTO nameplate was attached to the deck lid. The taillamp panel was cleaned up, with the name Pontiac spelled out in block letters and thin, bright eyebrows trimming the taillamp louvers again, similar to the Grand Prix.

The rooftop was redesigned, with curved side glass and the sail panels extended back in a semi-fastback effect; the rear glass was more vertically inset into the C-pillars. As in previous years, a hardtop and sport coupe were offered in 1966, along with a convertible.

The standard wheels were stamped steel and adorned by a simple hubcap with the words Pontiac Motor Division spelled out. Deluxe, Custom and wire wheel covers were offered optionally, as was the 14x6 in. Rally wheel. The Rally wheel was similar to the 1965 version, but the center cap was now painted black. As expected, US Royal 7.75x14 in.redline Tiger Paw tires were standard. Whitewalls were available on request.

Inside, the GTO's interior was completely restyled. The dash pad was larger and extended from door to door, with a deep overhang above the instrument panel. The grab bar over the glovebox was redone, and the instrument panel fascia was enlarged and covered by a real wood applique.

The four-pod gauge layout was re-tained from previous years, and standard instrumentation was a combination of telltale lamps, a fuel gauge and speedometer. An optional Rally clock, placed in the far right-hand pod, was available only with the standard gauge cluster. The Rally gauge cluster was carried over from 1965. The left-hand pod contained the fuel gauge and the battery telltale lamp. The left center pod housed the 120 mph speedometer and an odometer. An 8000 rpm tachometer with 5200 rpm redline was in the right-center pod, and the water temperature and oil pressure gauges resided in the far right-hand pod. The alphanumeric characters on the gauges were white on a green field. Accessory switches, such as power top, rear speaker fader or power antenna, were located above the gauge cluster, attached to the lower side of the instru-ment panel ledge. Controls and switches for wipers, headlamps, ignition and cigar lighter were below the gauges on the cluster fascia. The standard steering wheel was a solid, two-spoke design, and could be upgraded by the three-spoke Custom Sport wheel option, which was unchanged from the 1965 model.

The bucket seats were redesigned, with more padding and featuring horizontally rib-patterned upholstery. Two new seat options included a reclining passenger seat and headrests, in keeping with the more luxurious upgrade of the overall interior. The door and quarter , trim panels echoed the rib pattern of the seats, and the GTO emblem was mounted in the center of the door panels. A host of power and luxury accessories was offered in 1966, including AM-FM radio, tilt steering column, power driver's seat and power windows. The GTO office was considerably more posh in 1966.

While the GTO's exterior and interior ; were totally redesigned for 1966, the drivetrain and underpinnings were virtually a carbon copy of 1965; the only changes being a new cylinder head with the same valve diameters as 1965, and an enlargement of the center carburetor on Tri-Power engines.

An even-odd pattern of alternating styling and engineering cycles had begun in 1965 and would continue through 1971. In odd-numbered years, the drive-trains would be revised while in even-numbered years, major styling changes would take place. Consequently, the 1965 GTO received new drivetrains, while the body was only given a facelift. In 1966, the body was restyled, while the drivetrain was carried over. This cycle would hold true in 1967 (new engine and transmission, cosmetic styling changes); 1968 (major restyling, drivetrain retained); 1969 (new engine options, styl-ing facelift); 1970 (same engines, new body style); and 1971 (new engines, cosmetic facelift).

One addition to the GTO engine line-up was quietly released in February of 1966. Designated XS (denoting the engine code), this was a factory-built Tri Power Ram Air package. The over-the-counter, cold-air package that had been released in 1965 was again offered in 1966; however, the XS option went beyond just a carburetor air cleaner tub and open scoop element. The XS option also included a new camshaft (part number 9785744) and stiffer valve springs that used a single spring with an inner spiral flat metal damper instead of the usual inner and outer valve spring arrangement. The 744 camshaft had the same .406 in. lift as the Tri-Power cam-shaft, but the lobe profiles were different, with intake duration of 301 degrees and exhaust duration of 313 degrees, and an overlap of 76 degrees. The 744 cam would become part of the factory-installed Ram Air package offered from 1967 to the middle of the 1969 model year.

A set of mandatory options was required with the XS option. The buyer had to accept the M21 close-ratio, four-speed transmission, 4.33:1 rear gearing, limited-slip rear, heavy-duty fan and metallic brake linings. The XS engine was capable of propelling the two-ton 1966 GTO through the quarter mile in 13.91 seconds at more than 100 mph, about 0.2 second and 3 mph quicker than the standard Tri-Power.

The release of the XS option received little fanfare and, according to Pontiac historian Pete McCarthy, only 190 XS engines were built; it's estimated that approximately 185 GTOs received the XS option. Pontiac Engineering also experimented with a four-barrel version of the cold-air induction package for the 1966 GTO, using a smaller pan fitted over the Carter AFB carburetor. Although it was abandoned before the 1966 model year began, it, and the XS option, pointed the way for future GTO Ram Air engines.

The GTO had come a long way in just three years, selling more than 200,000 units and dominating its market niche. Next to the Ford Mustang, the Pontiac GTO had been the most successful new car ever launched by an American car maker. But internal and external forces beyond the control of John DeLorean or Jim Wangers were about to converge and have a profound effect on how the GTO was equipped, imaged and marketed. The GTO had reached its zenith as the dominant marque in the musclecar field, and the phenomenal success of 1966 would never again be duplicated.

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1966 GTO


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TITLE: Car Consumer Reports and Consumer Guide at Auto Lemon - Used Car History Check

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Cars Topics: car consumer reports on automobile, brake, buying car, car care, car cost, car safety, cooling system, drivetrain, electrical, exhaust, emission, fluid check, fuel system, ignition system, lubrication system, suspension and steering.