Cohort Classic: 1966 Pontiac GTO – A Brief Talk With The Legend

’66 Pontiac photos from the Cohort by nifticus392.

Q: It’s great to have you here to answer a few questions for CC. Let’s not beat around the bush; first, how does it feel to be a legend?

GTO: F….’n great! Geez, it’s been almost sixty years –SIXTY!– and people are still talking about me! That’s what I call L-E-G-A-C-Y! I mean… try doing that with a Plymouth Savoy!

Q: Was there a Savoy in ’66? I don’t think…

GTO: Like I would remember! But that’s the point I’m making. Say Savoy to a bunch of car people and maybe –MAYBE– some Mopar nerd will blink in acknowledgment. On the other hand, say GTO, and ears will perk up and heartbeats will rise. Even those who don’t like me, LIKE me, but won’t admit it as such. But that’s what you get for being the trailblazer of the Muscle Car era.

Q: Let’s follow up on that. Most agree you certainly had much to do with making the genre popular, but it’s not like you were the first one…

GTO: Of course, I wasn’t! That’s well documented. But I mean, some trends may be out there, being fringe. Outliers, waiting for the right car to place them in the public’s consciousness. Someone to make the concept accessible and sexy. And that’s certainly me: a lusty mix of power and style! Then again, if you’re nitpicky enough, and take sexiness out of the equation, you can certainly claim there were predecessors. And there was certainly a “Horsepower war” back in the ’50s. But well, can you say Muscle Car and not think of a GTO?

Q: Agreed. Following on that, can you give me your specs again?

GTO: Certainly! The name of the game were choices. For ’66 that was a 389cid V8, and depending on state of tune providing 335bhp with 4-bbl. carburetion and 360 bhp with 3×2-bbl. carburetion. As for shifting, there was a standard 3-speed manual with a column lever and both 3-speed and 4-speed Hurst floor shifters. There was also a 2-speed automatic as well. I could go on… In any case, a ’65 was tested by Car Life with the Tri-Power 360bhp engine and 0-60 arrived in 5.8 secs. Top speed was 114mph at 6000rpm. Wild stuff for the time! Of course, that was the top setup. But even with the 2-speed, Motor Trend clocked me going 0-60 in 7 secs.

Q: Impressive (blushing). That said, followers are split between the ’65 and ’66. There’s debate on who’s the preferred one.

GTO: I’m not gonna get into that. All I’ll say is that we were at the height of our powers in that decade. I mean, even the lesser Pontiac from that era was a LOT of Pontiac. You couldn’t really do wrong with any of us.

Q: Pontiac did face some hard times after your era.

GTO: They just lost the plot. Painful to watch, but well… the GTO legacy remains. That’s what I care about.

Q: How do you feel about that whole revival matter, the 2004-2006 GTO?

GTO: There’s NO 2004-2006 GTO! You got that? And don’t you make me repeat myself.

Q: Any thoughts on the legends around you? What about Knudsen and DeLorean?

GTO: Knudsen was gone by the time I came off the assembly line. At Chevrolet if I recall correctly. Too bad he left for Ford, would have been interesting to see his career at GM lasting some more. Could it have stopped the General’s decline? Doubtful. There’s more to a corporation than a couple of fellas. But regardless, it would have been interesting.

Now, when it comes to John, rather sad. Not that I knew him that well, but the truth is, I always thought he did better when he was below a protector. Someone tough, that could take the corporate flak and let him do his job. He always came across to me as someone slightly aloof and not as outgoing as he pretended to be. He did create this ‘persona’ that made him stand out from the rest, but that wasn’t hard to do among a bunch of corporate grey suits.

On the other hand, he did have a point about that whole “gotta be into what the kids like” mentality. The rest of GM’s corporate suits had no idea what the public wanted, as it became all too obvious later on. But John did get lost in that “Corporate Serpico” thing he was doing.

Q: Let’s get back to you. Do you have any skeletons in the closet?

GTO: I’ve one actually, right here by the driver’s seat. Unlike DeLorean, I like to be straightforward, you know?  My ills are well-known and almost predictable. As cool as I am (and I AM cool), I’m a Detroit product. My handling was decent, for the time… assembly could be iffy, and braking wasn’t great by any standards. But you know, ills that most owners have tended to in some way or another in most surviving GTOs.

Q: Let’s move on. What do you think of current automotive trends?

GTO: Look, it’s a different era with different needs, that’s all there’s to it. Performance was a new thing in the ’60s, and looks! Looks mattered a lot. But today, just about every car has enough performance for daily duties and the young are worried about cubbyholes and dashboard apps. But what can you do? It’s their world! It’s really hard to compare the two eras!

To begin with, as I said, the looks! There was a whole mystique about it. You were created in secret, away from the public’s eye, and arrived to dealers… shrouded! Covered in sheets! It was quite the show to be unveiled and be the talk of the town! Nowadays? Design studios post proposals online and people comment: “Looks like crap!” How can you take risks when you’re always on your toes? But that’s just the way it is, right? The world I come from was one of high risks and high profits, while the world of today is one of low risks and low profits.

Q: Last question, are you really a GTO or a Tempest in disguise?

GTO: That’s for me to know, and for you to find out. Did I tell you there was no way to go wrong with any Pontiac from the ’60s?


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