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1964-1974 Pontiac GTO Collector's Guide

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by Barry Kluczyk  More from Author

A look at the history, model-year differences and current values of the original muscle car.

Although automotive historians will cite predecessors like the Chrysler Letter Series cars of the Fifties and 409-powered Chevys of the early Sixties, most agree the 1964 Pontiac GTO was the car that launched the muscle car era. At least, it created the format on which the others were based – a lightly equipped, midsize coupe with a high-performance engine and complementing chassis/suspension components. The cartoonish, brightly colored models that arrived at the end of the decade took the concept to the extreme, as manufacturers strived to make their muscle cars stand out in an increasingly crowded market.

With the famous “Judge” model, the GTO dabbled in the “hey, look at me” side of the business, but most models were restrained and comparatively refined. In fact, many other muscle car competitors relied on the “stripper” ethic of going faster for cheaper by tossing out all creature comforts, the GTO never did. Sure, it could be ordered with minimal accoutrements, but its strength was always in its big engine/midsize platform format.

After more than 45 years since its introduction, the granddaddy of muscle cars remains a cornerstone of the collector world and, of course, an icon of American culture. Enthusiasts who are looking to jump into the world of Goats have never had a better time, as the downturn in the collector car values has made them more affordable than they’ve been in the 10 years or more – even Judge models.

Indeed, while some GTO models are downright bargains others are offered at seemingly giveaway prices. There are reasons for that and here are the main ones:

  • Big production numbers – after the public caught on to the GTO in 1964, production mushroomed from about 32,000 that year to more than 75,000 in 1965 and nearly 97,000 in ’66. In short, there’s no shortage of GTOs out there, which keeps prices in check.
  • Popular options drive prices up – although more than 500,000 GTOs were produced during the 1964-1974 run, relatively few came with popular options, such as Ram Air IV engines. Consequently those are the cars that command the biggest prices, making base-model cars with standard equipment worth less. The same goes for a four-speed transmission. Automatic-equipped GTOs simply aren’t as desirable.
  • The Judge skews all – at least when it comes to 1969-1971 cars, Judge models are worth two or three times their non-Judge counterparts. Judge prices have fallen recently, too, making “regular” 1969 or ’70 GTOs excellent values.

Of course, we couldn’t talk GTO values without mentioning Judge convertibles. There were only 108 built in 1969, 162 of them in 1970 and a mere 17 in 1971. Unless you’ve got about $200,000-$300,000 burning a hole in your pocket, you’re not likely to add one to your garage. They represent the holy grail of GTO collector models, but you can still buy a heck of a nice GTO for only about 10 percent of Judge convertible money.

The key to buying the GTO that’s right for you is your intention for it: Are you buying it as an investment or are you buying it to enjoy, with no preconceived notion of when you’re going to sell it or make a profit on it? If you’re looking for an investment, stick to 1965-1967 models with Tri-Power engines, four-speed transmissions and popular colors, such as Montero Red or Barrier Blue. Because of the Judge effect on later models, the 1968-1972 cars are very affordable, although you’re more likely to find an automatic transmission with them.

To be honest, a ’69 non-Judge with a base 350-horsepower, automatic transmission and an “off” color just won’t appreciate much in value, even when it’s concours-restored. So, you’ll be better off in the long run buying a restored car for a slightly higher price than sinking money in a project and restoration that won’t be worth your investment when the polishing dust settles. And with so many GTOs restored to excellent standards during the past decade, there are plenty of great examples to choose from – all at bargain prices compared to only a few years ago.

Now, as for the 1973 and ’74 models, to say they’re underappreciated would be an understatement – even among GTO purists. Sure, there’s a minor cult following among those who own them, but there rest of the collector world has all but shunned them. Don’t buy one hoping the market will wake up to them soon. Buy one because, for whatever reason, it’s the car you always wanted – and buy the nicest one you can find, because the restoration market does not cater to them.

One more word about shopping for a Goat: Beware of fakes. With so many GTOs produced and the value in them rooted in popular options and the more powerful engines, there are all too many cars running around with non-original powertrains and other equipment. Numbers-checking and paperwork is an absolute must when considering a GTO. We’ve found excellent engine/transmission code information at GTOalley.com and we highly recommend Eric White’s illustrated guide, “The GTO Association of America’s 1964-1974 GTO/GT-37 Illustrated Identification Guide” (www.whitehouse-graphics.com). Get familiar with reading a GTO’s trim tag, too.

We’ve outlined the basic information on 1964-1974 GTOs, highlighting the basics of identification, popular options and estimated price ranges for them. It’s by no means definitive, but it will serve as an excellent primer when you start your search for your first Goat.

Note: Price ranges cited are considered general and to be used for reference only. They are for very-good to excellent-condition collector-condition cars.

 

 

The good news is virtually everything needed to restore a GTO is available in the aftermarket, however “plain” models without Ram Air engines or non-Judge models may not be worth a concours-style restoration. Restore the car because you love it, not because you’re going to make money with it.

 

Building a “phantom” GTO wagon is a fun way to enjoy the hobby without the worry of impacting collector value with every mile added to the odometer.

 

Hurst wheels were never a factory option, but they’re inextricably linked to the GTO and can enhance the value of a car. Better still, they look fantastic.

 

Despite its popularity today, Tri-Power wasn’t opted for in great numbers by original GTO buyers. Many have been transplanted on base four-barrel engines, so diligence is a must to confirm all of a car’s numbers.

 

1964

Production: 32,450

Current Price Range: $30,000-$65,000

Discreet almost to the point of being innocuous, the original ’64 GTO slipped out of Pontiac under the watchful eye of GM’s brass as an option package on the Tempest LeMans line. A pair of simulated scoops in the hood and subtle badging were the only external clues that the car was packing the Bonneville-based 389 V-8, rated at 325 horsepower – 348 horsepower with the optional Tri-Power induction. Weighing in just shy of 3,500 pounds, the GTO’s success was due to its enviable power-to-weight ratio. Because so many of these early cars were taken straight from the dealership to the dragstrip, many an original 389 and/or four-speed transmission was blown up in the quest for low ETs. Numbers-matching cars will always be more valuable than those with replacement motors, so check carefully to ensure the original powertrain is intact.

 

The original ’64 GTO was an instant success, racking up 32,450 sales in its inaugural year; only 8,245 of them came with the Tri-Power induction system.

 

1965

Production: 75,352

Current Price Range: $28,000-$55,000

The second year into the GTO production run was an unqualified success. Beyond the 75,000 examples sold, the floodgates of high performance were opened in the Motor City. With big profits to be realized, GM’s engine edict that previously prevented large-displacement motors to be installed in smaller cars evaporated – and the other cross-town rivals quickly got into the muscle car came. The GTO’s body lengthened by about 3 inches in ’65, while the front-end styling turned the headlamps from side-by-side duals to vertically stacked duals. As with the ’64 models, there were two 389 engine choices: the standard four-barrel or the optional Tri-Power. The base engine outsold the triple-carb setup by about 2.5 to 1. When shopping for a ’65 GTO, keep an eye out for those with a metallic-looking “engine turned” instrument panel insert. It was part of the ’64 GTO package and fit the ’65 models, but the factory 1965 GTO dash had a woodgrain insert. Because they fit, look good and they’re readily available in the aftermarket, many cars have them. If you’re stickler for originality, you’ve been apprised.

 

This clean ’65 GTO sports period-perfect red-line tires and American Torq-Thrust wheels, which was a common setup with enthusiasts in the ’60s. They complement the GTO’s long, straight body lines perfectly.

 

1966

Production: 96,946

Current Price Range: $30,000-$70,000

To many, the ’66 GTO is the quintessential Goat. It featured new, sensuous Coke-bottle body styling that looked long, low and sexy. It also retained the vertical headlamp arrangement introduced in 1965. The great styling was complemented by the classic Tri-Power powertrain option, making the ’66 GTO one of the most unique cars from Detroit that year. Curiously, only about 20 percent of the nearly 97,000 cars built that year had Tri-Power – although all the restored examples these days seem to have that induction system, so check the paperwork carefully when inspecting a potential buy. Published reports showed a Tri-Power-equipped car capable of mid-14-second ETs and sub-seven-second sprints to 60 mph, but with the hindsight of knowing advertising/marketing guru Jim Wangers’ test car slights of hand, you can’t help but wonder about the authenticity of those numbers.

 

There’s not a better looking muscle car than a Montero Red ’66 GTO wearing polished Hurst mags.

 

A Candlelight Cream GTO with Deluxe wheel covers is a rare sight these days, but won’t command the highest resale price. Red paint, Rally wheels and Tri-Power is the way to go for higher value.

 

1967

Production: 81,722

Current Price Range: $35,000-$75,000

No more Tri-Power. That was the headline for 1967. In fact, the 389 engine that made the GTO a star was gone altogether. It was replaced by a new 400-cubic-inch engine that was offered with only a single carburetor. However, they weren’t all four-barrels. Pontiac listed an optional “economy” version of the 400 with a gas-sipping two-barrel. It was rated at 255 horsepower, rather than the standard four-barrel engine’s 335 horses. The four-barrel marked the introduction of the infamous Quadrajet, which prompted many an enthusiast to ditch the original induction system for an aftermarket intake and Holley carb. If you insist on a numbers-correct car, bone up on the carb numbers and make sure the car you’re looking at doesn’t have an incorrect carb intended to look original. As for styling, the ’67 looked very much like the 1966 models, but with a varied take on the twin-port grille, including mesh grille inserts. From the side, the GTO emblems moved from the mid-point on the front fenders down to the rocker molding trim.

 

The ’67 GTO was the first that didn’t offer Tri-Power and it introduced the 400-cid engine. And with all the other muscle cars on the market, it was the first year GTO sales dipped – although 81,722 examples sold were more than respectable.

 

The hood tach was a popular option that cost $63.19 in 1967.

 

1968

Production: 87,684

Current Price Range: $25,000-$50,000

It was a milestone year for the GTO – and all GM intermediates – as they received an all new design. The more formal styling gave way to a sleeker silhouette. The cars were about 5 inches shorter and rode on a shorter, 112-inch wheelbase, but were slightly wider and undeniably heavier. Their most unique feature was a urethane front fascia, which was available with fixed or hidden headlamps. Powertrain options were all based on the new 400 engine, with a 350-hp version the base and the two-barrel version racked up a surprising 3,273 sales. Top engines included the 360-hp H.O., the 360-hp Ram Air and the 366-hp Ram Air II (featuring heads with round exhaust ports). The Ram Air engines were late additions and only 808 Ram Airs and 246 Ram Air IIs slipped out of the factory, making them the most desirable of the nearly 88,000 GTOs built that year.

 

Because of concerns over public acceptance of and actual problems with the new-for-1968 Endura urethane front bumper, the ’68 GTO was available with a LeMans-style chrome bumper. Ordering it netted the buyer a $26.33 credit.

 

1969

Production: 72,287 (including 6,833 Judge models)

Current Price Range: $25,000-$50,000 (non-Judge), $65,000-$135,000 (Judge hardtop)

This was the year the Judge was appointed to Pontiac’s bench and it pretty much overshadows the rest of the lineup. At a glance you can spot the difference between a ’68 and 1969 GTO by the front turn signals and the vent windows. The ’68s have vent windows and rectangular lamps that wrap around the lower-front corner of the nose, while the 1969 cars deleted vent windows and have non-wraparound lamps with “crosshair” bezels. The ’69 grilles have a honeycomb texture, while the rear bumpers and taillights changed, too. There were four choices of 400 engines to pick from that year, including the 265-hp “economy” version with a two-barrel carburetor. The Judge models came standard with the 366-hp Ram Air III, with the 370-hp Ram Air IV optional.

 

The ’69 GTO is identifiable by its turn signal housings, which feature “crosshair” bezels. This example has the standard fixed headlamp nose, while hidden headlights were only a $52.66 option.

 

Only 108 ’69 Judge convertibles were built, putting them on the podium with the two other most valuable factory models – the 162 1970 Judge convertibles and the 17 1971 Judge convertibles.

 

Spotter’s note: The bright trim rings on this Judge are incorrect. They were left off the wheels of Judge models.

 

1970

Production: 40,419 (including 3,797 Judge models)

Current Price Range: $25,000-$50,000 (non-Judge); $60,000-$120,000 (Judge hardtop)

Mild styling updates, including a change inboard dual grille openings and the elimination of the sometimes-troublesome hidden headlamp feature, separated the 1970 models from the ’69s. Under the hood, it was all the same, as well as a new 455 engine that delivered a whopping 500 lb-ft of torque – although at 360 horsepower, it didn’t make quite the horsepower as the Ram Air III and Ram Air IV 400 engines. Judge models featured new “eye brow” graphics over the wheel openings and a lighter, wing-style rear spoiler. When confirming whether a potential buy is a real Judge, check the paperwork for RPO 332. It’s the option code for the model.

 

A unique nose and creased fenders identify the ’70 GTO. This rare convertible is one of only 3,783 built out of the model year’s 40,149 production run.

 

1971

Production: 10,532 (including 374 Judge models)

Current Price Range: $20,000-$42,000 (non-Judge); $50,000-$100,000 (Judge hardtop)

This model year marked a turning point in the GTO’s production history. The era of high-compression muscle car engines was over and a new era of government-mandated safety regulations was beginning. That’s why the GTO’s nose was redesigned for ’71 with a larger, protruding profile. The standard 400 engine was rated at 300 horsepower, while an optional 455 was rated at 325 hp and the 455 H.O. delivered 335 hp, along with great torque. Judge production plummeted to only a few hundred, including only 17 Judge convertibles. Generally speaking ’71 GTOs register lower on the Goat value meter, but the handful of Judges that year are among the most valuable of any year. As was the case in 1970, RPO 332 was the option code that designates a true Judge.

 

A new nose in 1971 was standard, while the honeycomb wheels were optional. Many cars wear a Judge-style rear spoiler, which was a dealer-installed option, but most seen today are aftermarket reproductions.

 

Nineteen-seventy-one was the final year for the Judge. Only 357 hardtops, like this one, were built. Another 17 convertibles were sold, too.

 

1972

Production: 5,807

Current Price Range: $18,000-$37,000

The easy way to spot a 1972 from a ’71 model is front fender vents. The ’72s have them and the ’71 models don’t. Apart from that, the cars are mostly identical when it comes to powertrain (standard 400, optional 455), interior and options content. However, the GTO was no longer a distinct model in 1972; it was downgraded to an option package on the LeMans line. A lot of restoration parts are available for the ’72 models, so fixing one up isn’t a problem. Getting your money back out of it is. A 1972 GTO is a rare sight, but not a particularly valuable one.

 

The ’72 GTO is marked by vents in the front fenders and recessed grille inserts. This example wears the RPO D98 Rally Stripes. Only 5,807 cars were ordered with the GTO package that year.

 

1973

Production: 4,806

Current Price Range: $12,000-$21,000

Built on GM’s new-for-1973 “Colonnade” platform that was the new LeMans and Grand Am that year, the GTO differed only slightly from the LeMans with a NACA-duct hood and subtle identification graphics. As with 1972, the GTO was considered an option package on the LeMans line. The 400 engine was standard and a 455 was optional. Nearly 40 years on, the Colonnade body looks sleek and modern. Had it come two or three years earlier, when higher-power engines were offered, this might have made for a true GTO performer.

 

The GTO was an option on the LeMans line in 1973 and fewer than 5,000 were ordered. This Cameo White model rolls on the standard steel wheels and bright hub caps. Rally II and Honeycomb wheels were optional.

 

1974

Production: 7,058

Current Price Range: $9,500-$16,000

The first era of the GTO did not go out on a high note. In fact the GTO still wasn’t a specific model in ’74; it was an option on the compact Ventura line. To most people, the ’74 GTO looked like little more than a Nova with a Trans Am hood scoop. Unfortunately, they were mostly correct. The only engine for that final Goat was a smog-laden 350 rated at a measly 200 horsepower. The words “Ram Air” were nowhere to be found. Excellent examples are difficult to find, but waiting for one is better than trying to restore a needy project. And if you have the choice, the rarer hatchback version is more interesting than the conventional coupe.

 

Although not much respected these days, the Ventura-based ’74 GTO sold more than 7,000 copies, which was more than the 1973 and ’72 model years. A 200-hp 350 was the only engine offered.

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