See The Best Year for the Classic Pontiac GTO

All Original 1966 Pontiac GTO Convertible
All Original 1966 Pontiac GTO Convertible. Photo by Mark Gittelman

Of course, picking a favorite year for the GTO boils down to a personal preference. However, if someone asked me what the best year for the classic Pontiac GTO is I have no problem voicing my opinion. The Pontiac Motor Division of General Motors built the first generation cars from 1964 through 1967.

Like many classic Pontiac car collectors I find these cars the most interesting. Digging into this group a little deeper I also think the changes made along the way in the four year build contained major improvements.

Not only from a styling point of view, but also from a reliability, safety and performance perspective.

In this article we'll talk about the first GTO and then move onto the last two years of this first generation classic muscle car. We'll explore the differences between the 1966 and 1967 model years. Finally, I'll reveal my personal pick for the best year of the classic Pontiac GTO and why I feel this way.

The First Year for the GTO

For the first time in 1964, Pontiac offered the GTO option package on the midsize Pontiac Tempest. The almost $300 performance pack came standard with the 389 cubic inch big block. The basic GTO upgrade on the Tempest Lemans pushed the price tag to just shy of $3000.

However, what you got with the base model was the single four barrel 325 HP version of the 389. The standard transmission featured a Hurst shifter, but only had three forward speeds. Upgrading to a Tri-power 389 Trophy Motor and a four-speed carried additional charges.

In fact, you could keep on adding options until the price tag reached over $4500. They built a grand total of 32,450 Tempest Lemans GTO cars in 1964. When you come across a 1964 example, claiming to be all original, you'll have to do some research into what the car came with from the factory.

Fortunately, organizations like the Pontiac Historical Society can provide complete factory information packages for under $100.

This detailed report is must have information for serious car collectors. It can also come in handy as a sales tool when reselling the automobile down the road.

Last 2 Years of the First Generation GTO

In 1964 and 1965 they called the GTO a fast and fancy Tempest Lemans. In 1966 Pontiac gave the nameplate the respect it deserved and spun the vehicle off as its own separate model. Sixty six would be a big year in many ways for the midsize Pontiac performance model.

First of all they would sell nearly 100,000 total units in 1966. This would go down as the best-selling year in the history of the GTO model. And despite dropping the tri-power option you could get a 389 V-8 pushing out an underestimated 360 HP. In 1967 they would drop the 389 motor in favor of the larger displacement 360 HP 400 cubic inch V-8.

The legendary Pontiac 400 would remain a staple for the division for more than a decade and soon it would be offered in the Ram Air I through IV high performance versions. There's also a big difference in the automatic transmissions offered in 1966 and 1967.

Two of General Motors best transmissions of all time, the Turbo Hydra-Matic 350 and the Turbo Hydra-Matic 400 is now available starting in 1967.

Gone forever are the two speed slush boxes or better known as the Pontiac version of the Powerglide.

Even the interior went through a lot of changes in the 1966 redesign. It became more thoughtful and also more comfortable. They moved the ignition key to the right side of the steering column. General Motors Corp. launched their new Strato bucket seats that offered contoured cushions and adjustable headrests. All interior knobs and handles switched from the brittle pot metal to a more durable plastic.

What are the Differences Between a 1966 and a 1967 GTO

When I was researching this article I found a few paragraphs saying there was very little difference between the last two years of the first generation GTO. I strongly disagree with this statement. In fact, when I started to think about the things I use to tell the difference between the two model years I started getting quite a long list.

Before we start talking about the interior, exterior and safety differences let's not forget that the 1966 cars came with a 389 and the 1967 models came with a 400 cubic inch V-8. That's a major difference right there. However, when I see one at a car show I usually head for the tail lamps as the first indication of the year.

In 1966 they used a unique louvered cover over the 12 bars, six on each side, rear taillights. For the 1967 model year they did away with the louver cover and changed the taillight design into eight, four on each side, bar style taillights. Another big difference between the two years is the front grille. Although they both utilized a vertically stacked quad headlamp set up with integrated fog lights they looked very different.

The 1966 model had a square egg crate style inset surrounded by a 2 inch plastic molding painted in a contrasting silver color. In 1967 they went with a diamond pattern mesh inset with a black border. The two styles look drastically different. Also on a walkaround it's easy to tell the years apart by looking at the chrome rocker trim.

On the 1966 model the trim is about an inch thick and the GTO emblem is located separately in between the door and the wheel opening on the front fender. In 1967 the rocker trim is much wider and now the GTO emblem became integrated into the rocker trim located behind the front wheel.

I can't help but think back about some of the articles I read where they described the differences between these two years as very little.

However, I have only scratched the surface as we move onto the interior and the safety features. Let's knock out some of the safety items included in 1967, but not on the 1966 models.

The last year of the first generation cars included some of General Motors Corp.'s new safety features. Some of the big ones included the padded dash and collapsible steering column. These were designed to protect drivers in the event of a front end collision. Another safety improvement for 1967 is the first year for a dual chamber brake master cylinder as standard equipment.

This provides a level of redundancy in case of catastrophic brake failure. Also in the braking department drum brakes on the front are now replaced with disc assemblies as standard equipment. This improvement reduced stopping distances considerably.

Picking the Best Year for the Pontiac GTO

This is no easy task for me as I like the grille, chrome trim and the rear taillight louvers on the 1966 model. However, with the 1967 cars coming with so many safety improvements and the 400 cubic inch V-8 engine, I have to go with the 1967 model.

I had the brakes go out on a single chamber master cylinder while driving a Chevrolet Master Deluxe Business Coupe. So I would have to perform that upgrade to the 1966 right off the bat. Another issue steering my decision is in the engine parts department. Goodies for the older 389 are not readily available. However, for the popular Pontiac 400 they're inexpensive and easy to obtain.