Home » Pontiac Made A GTO For People With Light Wallets And Everyone Forgot About It: Holy Grails

Pontiac Made A GTO For People With Light Wallets And Everyone Forgot About It: Holy Grails

Bargain Gto Holy Grail Ts
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Ask any classic car enthusiast about their favorite Pontiac and you’re likely to hear the letters G.T.O. uttered from their mouths. It’s a good answer, too, because it’s hard to picture American muscle car history without those lovely three letters. However, not everyone could afford the GTO when it was new, or the insurance rates it commanded. So, the folks of Pontiac produced the GT-37, the lowest-priced A-body Pontiac but with goodies and performance borrowed from the GTO. Despite the allure of cheaper speed, more people went for the fabled GTO, making the GT-37 rare. Let’s take a look at this forgotten performance special.

The great thing about car culture is that what’s old and forgotten becomes fresh again thanks to younger generations. The cars of the 1990s were worthless until the kids who grew up in the backseats of those cars grew up and attained wealth of their own. Someone recently paid $18,591 for a one-owner 1991 Honda Accord SE. In any other situation, that car would be on Craigslist with crappy photos and no description, but here we are.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Unfortunately, if you finally have the cash to buy something even older, you might find that your favorite car is now worth far more than you could ever afford. A decent Pontiac GTO from the mid- to late-1960s will cost you $50,000 or more. Some pristine examples are well over $100,000! Sadly, that’s the state of so many iconic muscle cars right now, but there are alternatives.

6156745 1971 Pontiac Gt 37
ClassicCars.com Seller

Back when these cars were new, even the manufacturers knew that there was a market of people who just couldn’t afford to pay muscle car prices. For Pontiac, the answer was simple: Offer something with much of the look and feel of a GTO, but stripped of everything that wasn’t necessary to go fast. This car would be cheaper, more accessible to demographics normally locked out of muscle cars, like young people. As a bonus, those buyers wouldn’t get side-eye from their insurance providers. That’s the T-37, and it’s still largely forgotten in the classic world.

Born To Run

188431 1
Mecum Auctions

This story opens up in 1960. Downsizing was in vogue and automakers scrambled to cater to a fresh market of buyers who didn’t need their front and rear bumpers to exist in different postal codes.

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The General Motors of the past few decades is not like the General Motors of the past. If you bought a Chevrolet Venture in 1998, you also saw that van sold as the Pontiac Trans Sport/Pontiac Montana and the Oldsmobile Silhouette. If you then went to Europe, you’d also see that van as the Chevrolet Trans Sport, the Opel Sintra, and the Vauxhall Sintra. A stop in China could have netted sightings of the Buick GL8. These were literally the same vans, just with different brands.

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GM

In decades past, GM’s brands had more autonomy than that. Sure, brands may have robbed the corporate parts bin for platforms and some components, but each marque had its own engineering, its own engines, and its own technology. For example, you could buy both a Buick and a Chevrolet with a 350 cubic inch V8 under the hood. They were even on sale at the same time. But it’s not as simple as Buick and Chevy sharing an engine, like they would today. Instead, there were significant differences between getting a V8 from one brand versus another, even if they had nominally the same displacement.

When Pontiac witnessed the success of cars like the Chevy Corvair, it wanted a piece of the compact car pie. The competition was good, too, as Ford had its Falcon, Plymouth had the Valiant, and Volkswagen rocked the world with the Beetle. However, while a modern automaker might rebody or rebadge an existing car to save cash, Pontiac had the power and the engineering to make its own compact.

1962 Pontiac Tempest
GM

As Hemmings writes, Pontiac was an innovative brand in the late 1950s. John DeLorean was a part of a team of engineers including chief engineer Pete Estes and they worked under general manager Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen. DeLorean joined Pontiac in 1956 and wasted no time bringing inventions to the table.

One developed by DeLorean and Pontiac engineers was a rear-swing-axle four-wheel independent suspension. The fruits of their engineering labor was a rear transaxle design. DeLorean is also credited with creating a low-profile flexible driveshaft. The only thing missing was a car to put these innovations into. As Hemmings notes, the new transaxle was intended to go into 1959 full-size models, then Pontiac shifted gears toward a smaller car.

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Images Pontiac Tempest 1961 1
GM

The new technology would go into a vehicle riding on the Y-body. Pontiac’s new car would share unibody bones with the Buick Special and Oldsmobile Cutlass, but the Pontiac would be unique. The car’s platform mates had front engines and transmissions hanging off of the back of them. The Pontiac Tempest would do something different by keeping that engine up front and placing the transaxle in the rear, with the innovative driveshaft connecting them.

As Hemmings writes, the driveshaft had the nickname of “rope drive” and it consisted of a thin bar of forged SAE 8660 triple-alloy steel with an arch in its center. The rope drive sat in a torque tube and transmitted power like a torsion bar. As DrivingLine notes, automatics and manuals would get this drive setup and having a transaxle in the rear meant that the Tempest benefited from nearly a 50/50 weight distribution. Further, the design of the drivetrain and body meant that passengers in the vehicle didn’t have their comfort interrupted by a transmission tunnel. The use of an independent swing axle gave the car four-wheel independent suspension and an additional feature came in the form of small drum brakes but large (for the time) 15-inch wheels.

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GM

The Tempest made its debut in 1960 and was marketed as an economy car and it showed under the power barn. The base engine was a 194.5 cubic inch four that was essentially cut-down from a 389 cubic inch V8. At launch, it was Pontiac’s first four and it made a respectable 110 HP and 190 lb-ft of torque. The engine made even more power from there, including the ability to make 155 HP using a four-barrel carburetor. Other engines included the Buick aluminum 215 cubic inch V8, a 336 cubic inch V8 that was marketed as a 326 cubic inch V8, and a real 326 cubic inch V8.

The original Tempest was a sales success and 375,500 examples went to new homes during its three-year life. It even outsold its platform mates! In 1964, the Tempest moved up into the intermediate size and lost its innovative drivetrain. Instead, it was now based on the A-body platform with a traditional front engine and transmission layout.

Of course, the most famous A-body car in 1964 was the LeMans GTO, which became its own model and muscle car star. Yet, we’re not here to talk about the GTO, at least not directly.

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Body Like A Coke Bottle

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For this, we have to go to the late 1960s. In 1961, DeLorean became Pontiac’s chief engineer and by 1965, he became the youngest person to head a division at General Motors. After wins like the GTO and Firebird and attempted developments including the Banshee, DeLorean helped establish Pontiac as the fun, high-octane thrill division of GM. Even when GM’s sales struggled, Pontiac still raked in cash. DeLorean bowed out in 1969 to leave his mark on Chevy.

In DeLorean’s place was a less famous engineer and businessman named Francis James McDonald. While not a celebrity, McDonald worked his way from the bottom of GM at a foundry to eventually rising to the top and becoming president in 1981. As the Washington Post reports, one of McDonald’s moves was streamlining production at GM’s brands by consolidating GM’s five independent divisions into a pair of units that made cars. If you think GM’s cars of the 1980s looked too similar, McDonald was part of the blame.

Before all of that, McDonald was in charge of Pontiac. In 1968, the Tempest moved to its third-generation. It still rode on the A-body platform and featured GM’s famous curvaceous styling. The GTO was still around and for some, 1968 was its best year yet.

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GM

One of the greatest advancements offered by the 1968 GTO was not its engine, but its front bumper. It was called Endura and it was made out of hard, painted foam. The Endura bumper didn’t just look fantastic, but it was designed so that the vehicle could shrug off impacts up to 4 mph without damage. Advertising and journalists alike loved bumping GTOs into things and hitting the Endura with a hammer to show how durable it was. We take body color plastic bumpers for granted today, but back then some hailed it as the future. While Pontiac was willing to sell you a GTO with a boring metal bumper, Endura was out of this world.

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Aside from the frankly breathtaking styling, the 1968 GTO brought firepower to the table, too. The ’68 brought a 400 cubic-inch V8 making a rumored to be underrated 350 HP gross. Add in concealed windshield wipers, a hood-based tachometer, plus redline bias-ply tires, and you have yourself an American-grown supercar.

Motor Trend called the GTO its 1968 Car of the Year, saying:

“The finest commentary on the fallacies of modern technology has now been presented to the American automotive world by the 1968 GTO—a car that incorporates not only the best taste in GM’s ‘A’-body variations—and an excellent handling and performing supercar package—but also the most significant achievement in materials technology in contemporary automotive engineering.” “Like the fabled tiger connected with GTO, it paws around corners flat and true, then leaps through short straights, ready to have another go at a seemingly hard turn.”

A GTO with an automatic hit 60 mph in 7.3 seconds, but slam a Hurst four-speed manual and a Ram Air system on top, and buff mag testers got the GTO to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds.

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GM

Then came The Judge, which was named after the Here Come de Judge skit on the Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In TV show. The Judge was initially created as a stripper GTO with fewer standard features, a bright color, and wicked graphics. In doing this, Pontiac really created the fastest GTO.

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Despite the fury and the style, the GTO eventually began falling behind the competition. In 1969, Pontiac moved 72,287 GTOs, of which 6,833 units were The Judge. Good numbers, but beaten by the Chevrolet Chevelle SS396 and the Plymouth Road Runner.

The Grail

6156728 1971 Pontiac Gt 37
ClassicCars.com Seller

Weird things started happening in 1970. There was a hierarchy at Pontiac. Tempest was the base model while moving up the line netted you a LeMans before you landed on the GTO and the Judge.

However, Pontiac wanted more. It wanted to have the cheapest coupe at GM. In 1970, Pontiac introduced the T-37, essentially a Tempest with fewer standard features for a rock-bottom price. The name was a bit weird, but the “T” stood for “Tempest” while “37” was Pontiac’s internal code for hardtop coupe. Creative, I know.

Pontt
Pontiac via eBay

A cool thing about the T-37 was the fact that while it was the low-buck Pontiac, it was still available with every engine. So long as you were willing to live with cloth seats and a rubber floor, you could get a factory sleeper with a 455 cubic inch High Output V8 with 335 HP gross, a four-speed manual, and 4:33 gearing.

If you wanted to be shouty about it, there was the GT-37. This was a T-37 with the same engine options, but bits of kit borrowed from the GTO. This is the car reader Joe The Drummer says is a real grail:

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Being a lifelong Pontiac man – see profile pic – I wanted to give a shoutout to one of their most secret weapons from their heyday, conceived as a “stripped GTO,” but available with any drivetrain option offered in the same year model of GTO. The advertising of the day said, “There’s a little GTO in every GT-37, and you don’t have to be over 30 to afford it.” And they apparently stripped out all the right things and kept or installed all the right things as well – the 1970 model, when optioned with a 400 Ram Air III, was the fastest car they had ever made at the time, even outclocking the GTO and the Trans Am when similarly equipped. 
 
The Grail version? The 1971 T-37 was available with the then-new 455 HO and a Muncie “rock crusher” 4-speed manual. They only made 54 of them, and a scant 11 units were post coupes. Pontiac guru Dan Jensen regularly ran his example in the 11s/12s at Pure Stock Drags/F.A.S.T. events – on bias ply tires. Holy crap. And from the outside, it looks just like the two-door grocery getter that Grandma bought for herself after Grandpa passed away and all the kids were grown – the ideal intersection between “sleeper” and “grail.”
Gt37poster1000 Me
Pontiac

The standard GT-37 engine was a 350 cubic inch V8 working with 255 HP and 355 lb-ft of torque. Opting for the GT-37 got you the GTO’s exhaust system, a Muncie three-speed manual with a Hurst shifter, special Rally II wheels, white letter tires, hood locking pins, and a slick graphics package.

In 1970, a GTO hardtop was $3,267, plus $337.02 for the Judge package. Meanwhile, the T-37 was roughly $2,600 and change, plus $198 if you wanted it in GT-37 flavor. Period tests noted the GT-37 was a quick car, so it didn’t just have the looks, but backed them up, too.

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Craigslist via Barn Finds
6156707 1971 Pontiac Gt 37
ClassicCars.com Seller

GT-37s came equipped with Morrokide-clad bench seats, deleted sound deadening, and rubber floor mats. Options included a dash-mounted tachometer, three choices of steering wheel, and more. Of course, if you wanted the 400 cubic inch V8 or bigger you could option that, too, including the H.O. 455 V8 that made 335 HP.

In other words, the GT-37 allowed buyers to have a discount GTO so long as they were willing to live with a stripper interior and so much road noise.

6156716 1971 Pontiac Gt 37
ClassicCars.com Seller

However, it should also be noted that there were enough options to make a GT-37 more expensive than a GTO. The real magic was in the boring T-37 name and Tempest classification. Insurance companies don’t like it when people under 30 try to insure a high-powered muscle car. However, the GT-37’s ace was fooling insurance companies into thinking it was a tamer car. Thus, Pontiac saw the GT-37 as the perfect car for the young person looking to save a buck.

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In marketing, Pontiac even said “There’s a little GTO in every GT-37. And you don’t have to be over 30 to afford it!”

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Pontiac via eBay

Did this pitch work? Sort of. Pontiac built 45,000 T-37s. It didn’t light the sales charts on fire, but it’s not really rare, either. It’s not known how many GT-37s were built in 1970, but just 5,802 GT-37s were built in 1971. A whopping 5,015 of them were equipped with the base 350 V8. The holy grail of the holy grail would be a 1971 GT-37 with the LS5 455 H.O. engine, of which just 54 were sold. That’s the one that’s going to give you the closest feel to something like the GTO.

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Gateway Classic Cars

By 1972, the T-37 was replaced by the base LeMans pillared coupe, so the experiment was a short-lived one. Sadly, the rarity of a GT-37 means you aren’t likely to find one quickly. But if you do, they seem to have a far cooler market than the rich GTO and The Judge. Somewhat recent sales suggest you could score a GT-37 for around $25,000 to $40,000, give or take. The harder part will be just finding one. Even if you have to wait, that’s still cheaper than so many classic GTOs out there.

All of this just makes me sad that Pontiac isn’t around anymore. There’s something awesome about not just offering cheap speed, but doing so in a way that feels like a middle finger to insurance costs. I’d love to see something as brazen as that today.

(Update: Added our reader’s recommendation!)

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Do you know of or own a car, bus, motorcycle, or something else worthy of being called a ‘holy grail’? Send me an email at mercedes@theautopian.com or drop it down in the comments!

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Scott McAfee
Scott McAfee
24 days ago

Wow, great article. Myself and a couple of friends vowed not to ride the bus to school ever again so we bought an ancient ’69 GTO for $175 with dreams of hot-rodding to school with all the girls swooning over us cool guys. What could go wrong? Keeping that wreck running became our avocation and many days we arrived at school covered in grease and oil. Thanks for the memories!

Schrödinger's Catbox
Schrödinger's Catbox
25 days ago

Fun to think that AMC was in step with, if not ahead of GM on this one. AMC produced the AMC SC/Rambler and the decidedly un-subtle Machine from the mild-mannered Rambler American and Rebel sedans.

Both followed essentially the same formula as the GT-37 – rubber floors, very basic equipment, parts-bin underpinnings, and ferocious power.

Unlike their innocuous brethren, these were tarted up in white with blue and red stripes and some loud detailing, so there was no doubt who built them.

If you haven’t seen one of these, you’re truly missing out. The hood scoops and decals were straight out of a Hot Wheels fever dream.

CSRoad
CSRoad
25 days ago

I think the success of the 1968 Plymouth Roadrunner set the stage and it was easy enough to copy with graphics and lower level trim. There is a Brock Yates tale to that one.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
25 days ago

I had no idea the T/GT-37 existed! Nice article, very worthy of the Grail status.

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
25 days ago

When I was in high school, I was looking for a cheap car and I guy I worked with had a Pontiac T37 for sale. I didn’t buy it but I always wondered where that model name came from…now I know. That’s more value than I get from most of my subscriptions and it didn’t require anyone to live in a van down by the river.

Delta 88
Delta 88
25 days ago

The arrowhead horn button being upside down on that steering wheel is driving me insane

Chronometric
Chronometric
25 days ago
Reply to  Delta 88

To be fair the steering wheel is symmetrical so the wheels might be turned.

Delta 88
Delta 88
25 days ago
Reply to  Chronometric

The horn button should turn with the wheel though, no?

Chronometric
Chronometric
25 days ago
Reply to  Delta 88

Yes, the steering wheel might be turned 180 degrees in the photo.

Last edited 25 days ago by Chronometric
Delta 88
Delta 88
25 days ago
Reply to  Chronometric

Oh I see what you were saying originally. If you look at it, the steering wheel opening is wider at the top than it is at the bottom, so the arrowhead should be pointing down regardless

Chronometric
Chronometric
25 days ago
Reply to  Delta 88

You are correct. My first look thought it was symmetrical.

Marantzer
Marantzer
25 days ago
Reply to  Delta 88

It is a gross aftermarket wheel.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
25 days ago
Reply to  Delta 88

It’s fiiiiine…

Musicman27
Musicman27
25 days ago

What about the 2004-06 GTO? It was better than a lot of people thought.

Marantzer
Marantzer
25 days ago
Reply to  Musicman27

Ran great but looked like hell……..well just dreary styling. I wanted so hard to like them but could never stand them.

Myk El
Myk El
25 days ago
Reply to  Marantzer

Gonna have to disagree with you, but I’m biased as an owner of one.

CSRoad
CSRoad
25 days ago
Reply to  Musicman27

What about the 1974 GTO, a one year wonder, NOVA based with a Pontiac 350, perhaps the wrong car at the wrong time given the upswing of the Firebird.

Schrödinger's Catbox
Schrödinger's Catbox
25 days ago
Reply to  CSRoad

That motor was a detuned, lower-compression version. Just about 200 HP. About 7k copies were sold, though Pontiac had set a sales goal of 10k. All show, little go, and not cheap for what you got on a very meh X-body platform (not the godawful Citation platform).

You could get better performance and better looks from the Firebird/Camaro if you wanted something truly sporty. Parked side by side, the Camarobird was way sexier than the Nova/Ventura/Apollo/Omega/Phoenix/Concours.

However, that same X-body platform was the basis for the K-body Seville, which wound up being a winner for GM.

Marantzer
Marantzer
25 days ago

200hp net for 1974 was not bad at all. The top 350 power option for the Camaro Z28 made 185 net with 168 for other Camaros. For the Firebird to get the 400-4V you had to order at least the Formula and that made around 225 net. The 400-2V on Espirt and base had around 175.

Ford’s 351CJ 4-V had about 245 net (last year for it) and the Mopar 360 had about the same.

Myk El
Myk El
25 days ago
Reply to  Musicman27

I got well-cared for 2005 model about a year ago. It’s fun. I think it looks best in the more ridiculous colors offered: the yellow (what I have), purple and orange. But what it isn’t is a muscle car. It’s really more of grand tourer.

Musicman27
Musicman27
24 days ago
Reply to  Myk El

If it’s got RWD a Big V8 with lots of power and it’s a sedan or coupe. I think it can be called a muscle car.

Joe The Drummer
Joe The Drummer
25 days ago

I guess I have to give myself my own shoutout for sending this one in… hmph. LOL

Last edited 25 days ago by Joe The Drummer
Joe The Drummer
Joe The Drummer
25 days ago

No worries – I know you’re a busy lady. Honestly, I was just funnin’ – I’m just glad to see the article at all. Thanks!

Musicman27
Musicman27
25 days ago

I just thought of something and now I can’t unthink it.

For those who wish to see my innermost idiocy
Streeter but with K instead of the 2nd T…

Sorry you had to see that.

Last edited 25 days ago by Musicman27
Austin Vail
Austin Vail
25 days ago

The ’69 GTO Judge is my favorite classic muscle car, so naturally a T-37 is on my list of things to look for as the closest thing to a GTO I’ll ever be able to afford. Last one I saw for sale was $15,000 with the 400 V8 so there’s hope.

Matt Wishart
Matt Wishart
25 days ago

I recently sold my ’72 Lemans Hardtop coupe (looks pretty much identical to a ’71). It was a 350 car with factory bucket seats and Rally II wheels. Loved it, however I’d have to say that it’s not a pretty car from the front. Unfortunately the ’71 T-37/GT-37 is saddled with that front end too.

Jim Zavist
Jim Zavist
26 days ago
Attila the Hatchback
Attila the Hatchback
26 days ago

I have never really been a fan of the bulging, rounded look of certain 1970’s cars. It just makes them look overweight and boatish when compared to something like the Tempest from the 1960’s.

I have the same opinion of the ‘fit-looking’ 1990’s BMW 7-series versus the bloated, rounded look of the early-2000’s Bangle Butted 7-series. Perhaps Bangle took some inspiration from 1970’s American designs when he was planning his early-2000’s designs?

James Carson
James Carson
26 days ago

The T-37 and GT-37 were more common the GTO’s where I grew up. Not sure if it was due to farm boy cheap or smart.

Mike TowpathTraveler
Mike TowpathTraveler
26 days ago

Yep, it was an attempt by GM to beat the insurance companies who were killing sales of their intermediate muscle cars with high premiums. Pontiac had the GT37, Chevy had the Heavy Chevy Chevelle and Oldsmobile had the Cutlass Rallye 350. Buicks intermediate was the GS with the 350 Buick engine.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
26 days ago

Good stuff. Aways preferred these over the GTO.

Question. Trying to understand the idea of the early driveshaft that works “like a torsion bar” though. I know about torsion bars, my understanding of them is that they flex, but do not spin. As such am hoping someone may be able to explain this to me please?

Last edited 26 days ago by Col Lingus
Matt Wishart
Matt Wishart
25 days ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

It was called ‘Rope Drive’, which I never understood until it was explained to me. If you look at the cutaway of the Tempest in the article you can see that the torque tube between the engine and the transaxle has a bow in it. within that is the thin, flexible drive shaft that conforms to the shape of the torque tube as it spins. I used to think that the thin driveshaft within the torque tube has some kind of spline drive on it resembling a rope, hence the name. Nope, it merely refers to the shape of the torque tube/drive shaft, as it appears like a sagging rope suspended at either end.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
25 days ago
Reply to  Matt Wishart

Thank you a ton..

John Klier
John Klier
25 days ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

I compare it to a big speedometer cable.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
25 days ago
Reply to  John Klier

Appreciate it John.. Thanks!

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
26 days ago

This was actually a time when a car company made it possible for people to circumvent some insurance gouging. Now they actively rat you out for money by selling connected vehicle driver data. For the times they are a changing.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
25 days ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

Well, now they have no interest in building a stripper for you. They only build loaded cars now.

Phuzz
Phuzz
25 days ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

Citroen sold loads of Saxos in the UK when they first came out, by offering the first year of insurance free. For a newly qualified driver, (especially if you were male), that was worth several thousand quid. I couldn’t afford a new car back then, my first car cost £100, and my first year’s insurance was over £800.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
26 days ago

The new GTO from 2004, the 2-door Catera, should’ve been offered with the 3800 over here. In the AUDM, they sold it with both NA ans supercharged 3800 as well as the LS1.

The V6 would’ve given it a lower base price.

GM was also too stupid to offer the sunroof over here 🙁

Marantzer
Marantzer
26 days ago

Pontiac was not the only that did the budget hot rod and keep it on the down low from the Insurance industry. Olds did it with the Cutlass S, one could get a 70 Ford Fairlane 500 with a 429 Cobra Jet Ram Air etc.

One of the best things about the Big 3 from back then was ala cart ordering.

CSRoad
CSRoad
26 days ago
Reply to  Marantzer

Dealer orders were interesting if you could get one to play along for you, some became quite famous for doing it.
There were money saving packages too, in 1969 you could take a base Camaro check the RPO Z28 box and be out less than $500 more than the $2,800 base and get quite a transformation.

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