Road Test

Where were you in 1964? Dan Gurney whiled away the year racing a Formula 1 Brabham Coventry-Climax, winning both the French GP at Rouen and the Mexican GP in Mexico City; he spent his spare time in Southern California laying the founda­tion for his own All American Racers team. A Ferrari 158 carried John Surtees to the World Drivers' Championship, and the prancing horse also romped through the Formula One Constructors' Champion­ship and the Manufacturers' Champion­ship for GT and Prototype cars. It was an anxious year for Pontiac: the 1961-63 "rope-drive" Tempests were a failure, rac­ing involvement was taboo by corporate mandate, and the division's carefully nurtured performance image was going to be tough to uphold. Meanwhile, Car and Driver was exploding off its One Park Avenue launching pad with the most rabble-rousing diatribe ever to blister the pages of a car magazine. It was "Dan Gurney for Presi­dent!" one month and "King Kong Rides Again!" the next. Typewriters sizzled with fiery prose, and C/D readers hiked their eyebrows, wrote nasty letters to the editor, kicked in their sleep, and pawed the pages for more.

Twenty years ago was a golden age. De­troit got off the dime. Muscle cars were born. Pontiac discovered the Hurst shifter. America produced its best-ever race driv­ers and a few awesome race machines. Car and Driver invented the comparison test.

So return with us now to those glorious days of yesteryear when our forebears pit­ted a Pontiac against a Ferrari and declared the Pontiac the winner.

Car and Driver's March 1964 cover de­picted a hypothetical racetrack upset: a red Ferrari coupe led a green Pontiac by one car length through a downhill, right-hand kink. The headline read, "Tempest GTO: 0-to-100 in 11.8 sec." Inside, the story was a bit different, but no less thrilling. The Ferrari was mentioned briefly but neither tested nor shown in a photograph. C/D staffers did drive a pair of Pontiac GTOs 3500 miles, including a New York-to­-Florida round trip. Acceleration runs were conducted at the Daytona speedway, where the pair of Pontiacs were also flogged around the steeply banked tri-oval and the infield road course. After the dust had set­tled, the C/D crew conceded that Ferrari's fastest street-legal coupe might be able to beat the Pontiac on a closed circuit, but the Detroit iron would certainly prevail in a drag race.

Could this be true? What better time to find out? In celebration of the twentieth birthday of the comparison test, we bring you GTO versus GTO, the rematch. The contenders face off for real this time as we see whether a golden moment of history can withstand the harsh reality of modern test procedures.

Dan Gurney will serve as referee. He never made it as a presidential candidate, pulling in not quite as many votes as Barry Goldwater, but he did rack up seven vic­tories in Formula 1 and two seconds and a third in the Indy 500 during his thirteen-year driving career. Gurney hasn't raced professionally since 1970, but we can as­sure you that he has not lost his touch. The man has but two racetrack speeds: off and flat out.

Signing Gurney for our comparo was much easier than drumming up a 1964 Pontiac Tempest LeMans GTO and a Ferrari with the same call letters. After a lit­tle help from the Pontiac division and the Pontiac Oakland Club International, we ended up (on bended knee) at the doorstep of Carl Huboi, of Los Gatos, California. Carl was in high school in 1964, and he spent his spare time tooling around the bay-area suburbs in the shotgun seat of the same silver GTO convertible you see here. (In your mind's eye, you may draw a smug look on the young Huboi's face.) The local Pontiac dealer who owned the car had optioned it out as closely as possible to its namesake Ferrari—no power steering or brakes, most powerful engine available, four-speed transmission—then sent it to school with his son to troll for potential customers. Nine years later, Carl found his high-school ride wrecked and rotting be­hind a gas station; he bought it for $500 and restored the beast to its present pris­tine condition. As a devout Pontiac GTO enthusiast, Carl Huboi knew all about the 1964 C/D altercation, and when we called proposing a retest, he took up the gauntlet like a true gentleman.

Ferrari built only 39 250GTOs, plus two prototypes, so the elimination process for the other half of the card was a breeze. (In comparison, Pontiac cranked out 32,450 GTOs in 1964, 8245 with the triple-two-­barrel engine.) After a few false starts, we found Bob Donner in Colorado Springs, Colorado, a former Pontiac GTO owner who currently has a stable of a dozen or so Ferraris, including the very last GTO ever made. (For the Ferraristi in the audience—we know you're out there—that's serial number 5575 GT.) It was with more than a little trepidation that this gen­erous sportsman tossed his prized posses­sion into the fray—one of only three 1964 models built, it is worth at least $300,000 on the open market—but we convinced him that the glory of Ferrari was at stake. Although Dormer's machine is different in bodywork from the 1962-63 GTO on the old C/D cover, it is perfect for this rematch: it is in mint condition, Donner has raced it regularly in vintage events, and it is painted Rosso Cino (Chinese red), the one hue guaranteed to make car nuts paw the earth and bay at the moon.

Both GTOs were originally conceived for competition. Ferrari had legitimate GT racing in mind; Pontiac, in the face of GM's new corporate ban on direct racing in­volvement, groomed its GTO for the stop­light grand prix. In 1963, Pontiac's third-place rank in U.S. sales was due partly to victories on stock-car tracks, at drag strips, and in land-speed-record runs, and it was obvious that hanging on to that market po­sition was going to be tough without a racing program. The Pontiac Tempest, formerly the weak sister in the house because of persistent transaxle failures, had been redesigned with a conventional powertrain for the 1964 model year, and adman Jim Wangers proposed transferring the divi­sion's hard-earned racing image from the track to the street by stuffing serious horsepower into the new body. General manag­er John De Lorean passed the idea on to engineer Bill Collins, who was already test­ing a prototype powered by Pontiac's 389­cubic-inch "super duty" engine. The muscle car—a huge engine in the smallest-possible body—was born.

To slip the combination past the squinty eyes of GM's engineering policy commit­tee (which had limited engine displacement for intermediate bodies to 330 cubic inches), the GTO package was played down as an equipment option. The com­mittee saw through this ruse and fought the very existence of the car, but De Lorean had already sold dealers on the idea and several orders had been placed with the factory. A small production run was reluc­tantly approved, the GTO's opponents confident that the car would never sell. How wrong they were. The hot Pontiac took off—hyped by Ronny & the Daytonas' hit song "GTO" and by smoking-tire maga­zine ads—and all naysayers hid their heads.