The 1971 model year was a busy and difficult time for Pontiac. New car sales continued to falter and changes were made in order to boost them. In addition to the rollout of the new B-body Catalinas and Bonne-villes, and the new top-of-the-line Grand Ville, Pontiac hedged its bets on the lower end of the new-car market with the mid-year release of the Ventura II, a mildly facelifted Chevrolet Nova with no Pontiac powerplants under the hood—only a Chevy six-cylinder base engine or 307ci Chevy V-8 were available.

The performance-car market continued to feel the heat from insurance companies, and with the new requirements of the Clean Air Act of 1970 in full swing, Pontiac compression ratios dropped, in some cases by as much as 2.5 points. The result was significantly lower horsepower and torque ratings. Combined with increasing curb weights of many of its models, performance for most, but not all, Pontiacs was waning.

The GTO faced internal competition from the 19701⁄2 Firebird Formula and Trans Am. Further clouding the waters were the availability of GTO powertrain and styling features on the lower-cost LeMans series. (The T-41 appearance package, which included the GTO hood and Endura bumper with an egg-crate grille and the LeMans fender hashmark mouldings is one example.) These options made it possible to order a LeMans Sport to run just as hard as a GTO or even a Judge, and look almost identical in the process, while negating the insurance hassles of an actual GTO.

Additionally, if one was to check the 455 H.O. box on a stripped T-37 or GT-37, he or she could have a lighter and quicker combination than the GTO. Several were built that way and campaigned in NHRA stock classes with great success.

With all of the troubles that the 1971 GTO faced, there were a few bright spots, namely aggressive styling updates and the introduction of the mighty round-port 455 H.O. GTO sales, however, were increasingly harder to make, as performance became more expensive and harder to come by.

Styling Changes

The 1971 GTO's front-end styling was updated with new sheetmetal from the cowl forward. A new Endura nose was added, with round turn signals mounted below and a wire-mesh grille that recalled the pattern used in the '67 GTO. A new lower hoodline housed a forward-mounted twin-nostril hoodscoop that provided a real ram-air effect if that option was ordered. The front fenders were similar to those used the year before, but featured revised cutouts for the new bumper design and new slotted side marker lamps.

From the cowl back, the GTO remained essentially unchanged from the year before, however new taillamp lenses featured vertical dividers.

In the cabin, the 1971 GTO was also similar to the previous edition, though new door panels and seat upholstery were used, as was a new wood dash insert. A padded steering wheel replaced the simulated wood wheel as the Custom Sports option, though the Deluxe wheel was still standard and the Formula wheel remained optional.

The Honeycomb Wheel Debuts

A new optional wheel became available in the 1971 GTO, as well as other Pontiac models. Called the Honeycomb wheel, it was available in both 14x7- and 15x7-inch diameters. The Honeycomb wheel was penned by Pontiac designer Bill Porter, who was fascinated by inventor/futurist R. Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome, which inspired him to make full use of the inherent strength of the honeycomb shape to construct a sturdy, lightweight wheel that would look great.

As it turned out, cost considerations ruled out the idea of a cast-aluminum wheel, though the look was retained. Instead, a stamped-steel wheel was covered with a flexible, cast-urethane exterior face with the honeycomb contour molded in. The trade name for the material was Neothane and Goodyear manufactured it for Pontiac. The urethane was bonded to the steel to become a one-piece unit, which was adorned with a hexagonal center cap and bright, thin trim ring. The result gave the look of aluminum without the high cost of an alloy wheel. The polycast Honeycomb wheel was attractive, but it was a heavy design that slowed the acceleration of the cars they were bolted to.