Reprint Courtesy of Source Interlink Media Archives

To appreciate the ’65 GTO’s story and its impact on the era’s market and car culture, we dug up this article that ran in Car Craft’s March ’65 issue. It features a road test conducted by The Chaparels Car Club of Tustin, California, and coordinated by the legendary LeRoi “Tex” Smith. (After more than 50 years in the magazine business, Tex Smith is still at it, offering up his inimitable style as a columnist for hotrodonline.com.) We hope you enjoy this time warp back to when the GTO was still a hot new car on the scene. —Don Keefe


Conducted by the Chaparels Car Club, Tustin, California
Coordinated by Leroi Smith, ICCA Field Director

(Editor’s note: LeRoi “Tex” Smith, field director of the International Car Club Association and official club coordinator of Car Craft’s new car club road test series, has had a long association with special automobiles. Included in this experience is extensive sports car racing in Europe, thus it is that we wanted to include at the outset of the GTO test story a few of his enthusiastic remarks after driving the car.)

“Frankly, I’ve never been so thoroughly impressed by an American car. I’m a firm believer that the U.S. produces the best automobiles in the world, and that virtually any factory could, upon necessity, build a special car to compete successfully with the best of any European racing builder. In this particular GTO, there is everything the most critical purist would demand—exceptional flexibility of engine, transmission, and rear end; and a superior chassis/brakes combination. It’s the most complete dual-purpose American car I’ve ever seen, perfect for high-speed cruising or limited GT racing (ideal for hill climbs), and absolutely charming for around-town hops.”

When Car Craft asked us if we wanted to test the GTO, it didn’t take a special club meeting to finalize an answer. Man, we were all for it. In fact, we felt this was something of a privilege, since the Paragons of nearby La Crescenta had done last month’s Dodge Coronet series. Seldom will two clubs in one state be picked, so we naturally leaped at the chance.

As delivered, our test Pontiac GTO had 1600 miles on the odometer, mostly due to use in some special Hollywood-produced Pontiac commercials. The engine was broken in, the brakes were well seated, and the gears loosened up just right.

Car Craft told us the car was one of the special jobs, with heavy-duty suspension, metallic brakes, four-speed transmission, and the new high manifold 389 V-8. A couple of the fellows in the club own Pontiacs, so we felt we’d at least be on first base in the acquaintance department. But before we get into our actual driving results and reactions to the car, let’s jot down the basic technicalities of the vehicle.

Frame

Part of the recent popularity of the new GTO must certainly be attributed to the frame, which gives excellent rigidity under the most trying conditions. Called a swept-hip-perimeter design by the factory, the framework is basically a rectangular box configuration with three cross members.

The side rails are located just inboard of the body rocker panels, and extend from the cowl rearward to the fender-well area. On the closed-top vehicles, the side-rail section looks like a “C” with a slightly downward-bent top. The convertible has a reversed C-section added to the inside of the channel for added strength.

The swept-hip term comes from the shape of the frame at front and rear ends, where it sweeps inward and upward before continuing. From the cowl area forward, the framework is completely boxed, constructed with an integral deep-dip front crossmember. The upper A-arm and coilspring perches are located on the frame at either end of this strong crossmember. The frame extensions running forward for radiator and sheetmetal support are also boxed. This latter item is quite important, as it provides very stiff mounting for the short bumper brackets, giving a strong bumper. When you jack up the front of this car with a bumper jack, everything moves, not just the bumper.

At the rear, the inward/upward sweep starts about the rear seat and is also boxed completely. At the innermost apex of the sweep are two rearend locating-arm mounts. The rear crossmember is nearly straight, with coilspring-mounting flanges directly adjacent. From the top of the kickup rearward, a single channel extends straight back to a terminal-channel crossmember, which is both a bumper-mounting area and rear body support.

A fourth crossmember becomes a part of the structure when the transmission is added. This member mounts via rubber bushings to either side rail. The bushings cut down on the amount of engine vibrations transmitted into the car body. On the subject of passenger-compartment noise reduction, soft butyl-rubber mounts are used at all body bolt points (there are seven on each side, which also contributes considerably to the rigidity of the completed car).

Suspension

Here’s where we came unglued—not at the standard package so much as with the options offered. Of course, you’ve got to start with something awfully good. Springing is by coils all around, designated as Heavy-Duty items on all GTOs, with wheel rates of 89 and ll0 pounds per inch, front and rear. These springs are more than sufficient for any use, so very few would consider any other rates necessary.

The independent front suspension uses two spherical ball joints at top and bottom of the steering knuckle with “fixed-boot” grease seals. Under normal conditions, you can expect 12,000 miles or one year between grease jobs, if you use the specially recommended factory grease. The unequal length A-arms are made of heavy-gauge stamped-steel and pivot on the inner points through rubber bushings. The wide stance inner mounts of the A-arms assure a minimum amount of front-end alignment trouble, since such mounting tends to resist normal driving abuse.

Part of the GTO’s handling qualities come from the big stabilizer bar used up front. Standard at 0.938-inch-diameter, this bar bolts below the frame horn extensions in large rubber bushings and connects to the lower control arm well to the outer end for maximum travel. With this big bar, front end roll is reduced considerably, but normal up and down movement of the front suspension doesn’t seem too severely hampered.

The shocks normally fitted are valved for a firm ride, with even firmer options available. Our test car was fitted with the super-boss stiff thingies, which we really liked. But for average Joe Driver, the normal shocks will prove quite satisfactory. The rear suspension has coilsprings and a four-link locater.

One of the first things we noticed about this car was the lack of rear end movement (twist and hop), so we crawled under to look. It has two stamped U-section locaters that run forward from the bottom outer ends of the axle housings to the frame. These locaters run parallel with the frame. Castings integral with the third member housing (on top) provide mounting points for two more U-section locaters that also run forward. These two locaters are shorter than the bottom two, and bolt to the back of the rear crossmember. They intersect the framerails at about 45 degrees. Rubber bushings are used at all mounting points to reduce noise transmission.

With this locater system, axle wrap-up and sidesway is virtually eliminated. About all that’s left to the performance enthusiast is the addition of Air-Lifts to the coilsprings.

Steering

As with most American cars, the GTO offers two basic steering systems, power and manual. The rotary-valve safety power steering gear gives an assist only when required, and has been improved over previous models through the rotary valve feature. A “torsion bar” incorporated in the design gives a better “feel” and minimizes over-steering. The power steering ratio is 17 to 1. The standard manual steering has a ratio of 24 to 1, with the same basic recirculating ball-bearing design as the power unit. An optional quick steering manual unit is available upon request, with a ratio of 20 to 1.

Brakes

Pontiac has made a definite effort to improve upon the efficiency of its brakes, which is a refreshing attitude from Detroit. Dictates of styling and cost have too long kept sufficient braking from the average American car, contributing to much of the scorn by sports car addicts. But the GTO offers braking for the most critical.

Of the standard hydraulic, internal expanding, two-shoe design, the 1965 items have finned drums with a 9-1/2-inch diameter. Giving a total swept area of 269.8 square inches, the standard brakes have linings with thicker secondaries and longer primaries.

Wider and heavier, the drums are offered in both iron and aluminum. In iron, the front drums are centrifugally cast in a corrugated steel shell while the rears are statically cast with 40 axial ribs around the outside. Both front and rear iron drums have cooling flanges that extend out into the airstream for better cooling. Aluminum drums are available as a front end option only, and metallic linings are available with all axle ratios except 3.08:1. These linings are standard equipment on all production line vehicles having a 3.90 axle ratio.

Our test car was equipped with the metallic linings and the power assist mechanism (Delco Moraine Power Brake). The power brake is a sealed, self-contained unit that fits on the firewall between the hanging type pedal and master cylinder. Engine vacuum is used to provide the pedal pressure assistance. The power brakes are suggested with the metallic linings, since the metallic brakes require much higher pedal pressures.