Reprint courtesy of Source Interlink Media Archives
It's a treat to read an article written over 40 years ago about a new car and have that article accurately predict that vehicle's rightful place in the historical perspective.
Such is the case with the following article on Motor Trend's Car of the Year (COTY) for 1968 (Feb. '68). MT's editors grabbed onto the personalities behind the '68 GTO, noting their youth and ability to produce remarkable results with small teams free of committee constraints.
As a special treat to readers, the photos that accompany this article include many outtakes that weren't published in the original Motor Trend story. We hope you enjoy this trip back in time. —Don Keefe
Once again in 1968, the traditional criteria used to select the recipient of Motor Trend's coveted Car of the Year Award has been "that combination of engineering, styling and market timing that when perfectly enjoined creates progress sufficient to set an industry trend." The significance of automotive concept, in addition to pure mechanical achievement, was among the prime considerations and, as in the past, contenders must be introduced to the public by January 10th. This year, following careful evaluation of the 1968 product lines of all domestic manufacturers, the winner of the Car of the Year Award was the unanimous choice of Motor Trend's editorial staff.
Pontiac people eat well. Prime rib an inch and a half thick, choice veal with a grapefruit and cheese condiment, filets, grapefruit in V.S.O.P. brandy for dessert... all in the company cafeterias. Maybe that's where they developed their technique.
They're all epicureans ... sophisticated ... they know that the best way to assess the competence of the chef is by his omelette. Turning a proper omelette takes guts and time and some pretty crafty legerdemain, but once it's done you'll stand two heads higher than the next man.
With most people, their eggs shall always be chickens. Never benedicted. Not even a mediocre liver omelette. Just chickens. They're members of The Establishment, so they let things develop in their own conventional, natural, inferior way without any attempt to buck the tide with improvements. Then they all disappear in anonymity.
But lots of people are different. John DeLorean, for instance, is Pontiac's general manager and only 42 years old; Jack Humbert, chief stylist, is 40; Josh Madden, plastics expert, appears to be less than that; and they're all just too far removed from that inglorious moment of being dropped into the dregs of oblivion known as corporate retirement programs, to let it dull their acumen. So they spend their time perfecting that omelette and turning out new ones, because that's where the fulfillment is. The result speaks for itself, and it's considerably more than a plastic-lipped supercar. It's five years of new attempts that have matured into a new-dimension-type automobile that is almost revolutionary without being kooky.
Ever since the GTO brazenly established itself in 1964, it has exuded an undeniable kind of magnetism that distinguishes it from its imitators. It is the important kind of magnetism that seems to be imparted without conscious effort. It was just there, and you somehow knew that if anything new was ever introduced, it would be done by the GTO.
The product itself was already a clue to this. Never before had anyone tapped such a dynamic reservoir of meaningful desires, nor had satisfied them with such a soulful solution. Those youthful heads working on the car were far beyond the rest of us, and they just seem to stay there. About the time everyone else appears to be catching up they introduce another keen discovery and away they go again.
Their timing is uncanny. Right in the middle of the displacement mania, when engine sizes were running rampant, Pontiac offered an overhead cam powerplant and changed the standards of engine sophistication.
But 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 all combining to substantiate it as the outstanding intermediate of the year, and the outstanding car.
It's a good lesson in the old epigram that you simply cannot create by committee. The flexible bumper concept has been around since World War II, but under the onus of bureaucratic niggling and the inertia of archaic trivia, an efficient and intelligent compatibility between materials technology development and aesthetic values has been impossible.
Pontiac saw that the only hope was to extract itself from this morass of mundane mentalities and start thinking by themselves rather than by corporate priorities. The talent was there, but it wasn't found until Pontiac had the smallest engineering department in the corporation and only five engineers in New Materials Engineering. Parkinson's Law.
For the first time in 20 years, intelligent cooperation between engineering and styling was possible. Each recognized the other's contribution, and most important, the synergism that was possible only through joint effort, finally achieved reality. Styling studios were opened to engineers, engineering labs were opened to stylists, and the entire division became materials-development conscious.
It wasn't merely a naive, vertical attempt at developing an automotive defense system that would simply rebound your adversary. Now, everything was one, and it all had to make sense aesthetically. After all, it had been proved that the human being was more than a utilitarian, corporeal mechanism. He also had cultural and aesthetic standards that any functional object had to meet. So, Pontiac put the body engineer and stylist in the same building, made sure there was intimate intellectual contact and rapport, and assigned both to the same basic projects from the start.
Before long, various experimental foams and non-rigid materials were discovered to possess possible applications values, and under the direction of DeLorean, the stage was set to feed him every new concept there was, regardless of its immediate validity.
The most logical of all new materials applications was the flexible bumper, and if used as a color and styling element, it would also allow for tasteful and different "A"-body designs, a visual body balance and a unified personality that was perfectly consistent with the neo-integrationists of modern automotive artwork in which prevailing philosophies demand elegance to be defined as the absence of ornamentation - a greater unity. Realistic application began in 1964 when the flexible bumpers were attached to push trucks in Pontiac's yards. They not only withstood impact, but weathering and corrosion as well. The basic material, called Endura by Pontiac, had been resolved: high-density urethane-elastomer foam weighing 44 pounds per cubic foot, and with a deflection of 1/2-inch under a 1000-psi. load, with complete recovery in 24 hours after depression by a 4000-pound load for eight hours.