By the late 1960s, most manufacturers had answered back to the GTO. While such premium models were often beyond the fiscal reach of youthful performance-car buyers, economy-minded performance models from Detroit's others, or "junior muscle cars" as the magazines of the era named them, were gaining in popularity. Typically entry-level models containing little else but sporty external packaging and small-cube performance engines, they delivered an acceptable combination of acceleration and fuel economy at an attractive price. Magazines loved them because it gave them another market segment to write about.
Automakers soon learned that the concept created another distinct market. Performance enthusiasts were willing to forego most of the standard and optional convenience amenities to simply go fast. That meant taking an entry-level Road Runner, for instance, and stuffing a large, powerful engine under the hood. These high-horsepower, no-frills competitors were stealing a portion of the market segment the GTO once owned, and many of Pontiac's in-house performance enthusiasts noticed, including Special Project Engineer Herb Adams.
Adams is a performance extremist. Always looking to extract the most performance and handling from vehicles, he spent much of his time at Pontiac tweaking packages to improve the Division's presence on the race track and street. To his credit, during the late-1960s he was key in the development of the Pontiac Firebird Sprint Turismo (PFST) and Trans Am package, the story of which is outlined in a three part series here at www.highperformancepontiac.com. But he also had a hand in a very special Tempest that likely laid the groundwork for what became the most special GTO package of all time.
Creating A Concept
"John Sawruk stopped by the Special Projects office one day and asked us about creating a low-cost GTO to compete with the Road Runner," recalls Herb, who about that time had convened his own team of four young enthusiastic engineers to evaluate ideas about performance, engine, and package names, and visual cues. "It took about an hour for us to go through the accessory list and pick the appropriate options to assemble a low-cost performance package."
Former Pontiac Engineer Dan Hardin was one of those in Herb's group. "I remember discussing this car and just how understated it should be," he adds. "The Road Runner was an option on a pretty stripped car, with minimal visual appointments in its first year—kind of a sleeper at the time. We debated adding Rally wheels and other discretionary items to our concept. They were constructed of stamped steel and likely didn't cost much more than a typical stamped-steel wheel, but [Pontiac] Marketing treated them as a premium wheel and charged accordingly. We figured if we didn't use trim rings, they would give the car a very sporty look and cost very little to manufacture."
Herb brought the idea to Assistant Chief Engineer Bill Collins and Administrative Engineer Tom Schreitmueller for consideration. "Both liked the idea of a low-cost performance car very much," Herb adds. "Since we were selecting from what was already available, there wasn't any development time involved. Tom's job was to consider costs, and he immediately jumped at it because it was a no-cost way to bring out a new Pontiac. Bill provided me with the necessary approval to build a demonstrator, which they could take to [John] DeLorean for consideration."