This is Part 2 in our Pontiac GTO History Series. As discussed in Part 1, Pontiac hit a home run with the GTO’s introduction in 1964. It caught the automotive world by surprise. Soon thereafter there were many competitors in the new “muscle car” segment which the GTO had created. Sales continued to rise each year until sales slightly declined in 1967. Pontiac realized it was going to have to up its game for 1968 and 1969 in order to stay ahead of the competition. The end result was the GTO was given legendary sleek body styling well ahead of its time and additional versions of its powerful 400 cubic-inch V8. During this time period it was hard to believe the GTO by the mid-1970s would be forced into automotive retirement.
The GTO Continues to Lead the Pack:
By 1968 the muscle car competition was fierce, and Pontiac did not even break a sweat. Pontiac’s strategy for the GTO was to continue to offer better versions of its high-performance 400 cubic-inch V8 and improve exterior and interior styling to increase GTO sales. For 1968 this strategy worked perfectly with total sales increasing to 87,684 units. The 1968 GTO had a new body style that was more rounded and was enhanced by optional hide-away headlights. These headlights were bordered by a new beautiful Endura front bumper that was painted to match the exterior body color. The Endura front bumper was a technological innovation, it could sustain a light hit and within a few hours revert back to its original shape. Similar body colored plastic bumpers are today currently available on most cars and SUVs. Pontiac at the time was not sure how GTO buyers would react to the new Endura front bumper so it offered an Endura delete option that replaced the Endura bumper with a traditional front chrome bumper. These fears were unfounded, the Endura front bumper was a mega success, very few buyers opted for the Endura delete option.
For 1968, there were five 400 cubic-inch V8 engines to chose from: an economy 265 gross horsepower 2-barrel carburetor equipped 400, a 350 gross horsepower 4-barrel carburetor equipped 400, a 360 gross horsepower 400 HO, a 360 gross horsepower Ram Air 400, and a 366 horsepower Ram Air II 400. The Ram Air II which was offered starting in the middle of the 1968 model year had new free-flow exhaust manifolds, round exhaust ports, and other performance goodies.
The 1969 GTO was essentially a carryover from 1968. A new front parking light design and a new rear taillight and rear chrome bumper design were the primary changes along with a few other slight changes. By 1969 GTO sales were still very good however there were dark clouds beginning to appear on the horizon for the GTO and every other muscle car. Dark clouds that even the new for 1969 GTO option package called the “Judge” could not prevent. The Judge was first intended to be a budget GTO package to compete with the low cost budget oriented Plymouth Roadrunner.
However by the time Pontiac engineers were done with developing the Judge for production, the Judge had evolved into a high-end GTO option. The Judge had standard items such as a rear spoiler, unique stripes, and Judge decals. The Judge was standard with the 366 gross horsepower (D-port) Ram Air III 4-barrel 400. Optional was the (round-port) Ram Air IV 4-barrel 400 which had a factory rating of 370 gross horsepower, its true output was a little over 400 gross-horsepower. These two engines were also available in any 1969 GTO. The standard 1969 GTO engine was the 350 gross horsepower 4-barrel 400 V8, the 265 gross horsepower 2-barrel 400 V8 was also available. When compared to 1968 GTO production, total 1969 GTO production had dropped to 72,287 units but overall these were still good production numbers. 6,725 of these were Judge hardtop coupes and only 108 were Judge convertibles.
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