Knowing that the exhaust flow of an engine should theoretically be around 85% of the intake, Pontiac engineered the exhaust system to reduce the flow to the proper figure, meaning that the engine performed optimally with the exhaust system installed, as opposed to most other engines that needed the exhaust system uncorked.

The end result was one of the most powerful engines of the entire musclecar era. Rated at just 6 horsepower more than the 400 H.O. or Ram Air I, the 366-horse Ram Air II was, in reality, far more powerful than that. Car Life road testers opined that the engine could well have been making a third more power than its rating would suggest. More modern estimates put the gross horsepower in the 425-plus range.

Promoting The Great One

With new and more stringent rules coming from the upper management offices at GM, Pontiac's ad agency, MacManus, John & Adams, had its work cut out for them. The corporation was prohibiting displays of power or aggressive driving, even requiring that the cars in the ad appear stationary. Of course, the creative folks in charge of the account were masters of staying within the letter of the ruling while completely going against the spirit of it.

To that end, Pontiac released one of the more infamous print ads ever. The two-page spread showed a Verdoro Green GTO with two young men in it, and the car was stopped on a turnaround on Woodward Avenue in suburban Detroit. The ad copy read "The Great One by Pontiac. You know the rest of the story." It was a blatant reference to street racing. After a similarly themed billboard went up near the shoot location and caused the municipalities to uproar, the magazine ad was pulled and the billboard was taken down.

The TV ads fared better. One of Pontiac's most famous marketing moves showcased the GTO's innovative Endura bumper. A 60-second commercial was produced in which gravel-voiced actor Paul Richards explained the new bumper design and then took a large crowbar to it, striking seven times without damage. He then threw the crowbar on the cement floor, and the loud clanging confirmed the crowbar was made of metal and was not a plastic prop. It proved to be one the most effective and memorable ads that Pontiac ever released.

Car of the Year

Speculation for the coveted Motor Trend Car of the Year Award (COTY) was mounting, with the '68 GTO in the running, along with the all-new Dodge Charger and the budget-priced Plymouth Road Runner. In the end, the GTO held on for the win, the fourth for Pontiac in nine years (previously 1959, 1961, and 1965).

The editors said: "Never before has an automobile been so successful in confirming the correlation between safety, styling ,and performance as the '68 GTO. With the new combinations of aesthetic unity, unbroken styling lines, decreased body vulnerability, increased impact absorption, and responsive power, handling, and controllability, it convincingly proves that optimum design/function criteria for nearly all automotive purposes, can be achieved in one unit."

As a result, the award was used extensively in GTO advertising for the rest of the model year and was a huge source of pride for the entire Division and for DeLorean personally.

As well as the COTY award, the Feb. '68 issue of Motor Trend also contained a road test of two '68 GTOs: a base-engine automatic with 3.23 gears and a Ram Air I four-speed with 4.33s. The base car ran 0-60 in 7.3 seconds and clicked off the quarter-mile in 15.93 seconds at 88.32 mph. The Ram Air clicked off a 6.5-second 0-60 and ran a 14.45 at 98.20 mph on slicks, compared to a 96-mph run on street tires. This compared rather consistently to the Ram Air I, four-speed, 3.90-geared GTO tested by Car Life, which ran a 6.6-second 0-60 and covered the quarter-mile in 14.53 at 99.7 mph.

Production Numbers

The production total for '68 GTO was 87,684 units, a jump up from the previous total of 81,722. This broke down to 77,704 coupes and 9,980 convertibles. Ram Air I manual-transmission GTO production was 650 units, while 158 automatics were built. A total of 199 Ram Air II manual GTOs were built, with just 47 automatic Goats produced.

Across town, Plymouth's Road Runner was making headlines and selling very well, with its taxicab-like appointments and potent powerplants. With a loaded Hemi Roadrunner coming in at a price comparable to a moderately-optioned GTO, it was staking its claim in the marketplace, and cutting into GTO sales.

The beginnings of the slowdown in the musclecar era were starting to creep in, but it would be a few more years before the inertia of new federal laws, rising insurance costs, and vehicle-safety advocates would bring the reign of the GTO to a close. Before it ended though, Pontiac would still bring some of its biggest winners to the showroom.