Pressured by a constant onslaught of insurance-rate hikes, federal regulations, and parent corporation General Motors shifting away from high-performance vehicles, the Pontiac GTO returned for '72 but as an option package on the LeMans.

Adding insult to injury, the GTO's strong brand identity—literally every GTO option, including its signature Endura bumper—was shared with the LeMans Sport. To make matters even worse, the new '72 Luxury LeMans, not the GTO, became the top-of-the-line Pontiac A-Body.

In the new-car marketplace, there was heavy competition between the GTO and the Firebird Formula and Trans Am, though production numbers of all these sporty Pontiacs were severely compromised by a United Auto Workers (UAW) strike that lasted 67 days. The strike delayed the new-generation A-bodies until '73, forcing the '72 GTO to carry on as a mildly facelifted version of the previous year (on a platform which debuted in '68).

The GTO's demotion to option status meant that available body styles were different than the previous year. The W62 GTO option package was available on the two-door hardtop body style and—for the first time since '67—a pillared two-door coupe. The convertible was no longer available, though a nearly identical car could be ordered as a LeMans. It was also possible to build a GTO-like four-door or wagon, though they were clearly not GTOs.

Pontiac was in favor of producing LeMans models with the performance and appearance options of the GTO, as it was a way to get performance onto the street without incurring the wrath of the insurance companies. The GTO name, by this time, was a red flag as far as insurance companies were concerned, so a big-engine LeMans had a much better chance than a GTO of sliding by an unwitting underwriter.

Very little was actually new for the aging Second-Generation GTO body style. Interestingly, Pontiac's changes to the GTO for '72 were intended to give it more of a design tie-in with the Trans Am. Pontiac was sensing that the Trans Am, not the GTO, was its performance-car future, and the company hoped giving the GTO some T/A-inspired flair would help boost the GTO's declining sales.

Up front, the wire-mesh grille design used in '71 was traded in on a plastic egg-crate design with a chrome surround and argent shells that recalled the '70 GTO. It was similar in execution to what was on the Trans Am that year, though the T/A had gained a honeycomb grille design by then. The GTO's grille mesh was set farther back into the Endura nose than the year before.

The other significant change to the '72 GTO was the addition of forward- leaning, slotted fender extractors. They were a different shape and located lower in the fender than those on the Trans Am. Like those on the T/A, however, they relieved underhood pressure that caused front-end lift at high speeds. The presence of the fender extractors positively identifies a GTO or T-41–optioned LeMans as a '72, as it was a one-year only affair.

New Stripes and a New Spoiler … Almost

The loss of the Judge during the '71 model year meant there was no longer a top-of-the-line GTO option. Pontiac designers wanted to change the GTO into a more mature, all-around performance machine. With the new grille and fender extractors already in place, they planned to complete the look with a new stripe package and a rear spoiler.

The stripes were similar in overall outside shape to those used on the '71½ GT-37, though the similarities end there. Available in black or white, the stripe featured nine horizontal pinstripes within its confines, making for a very unique and eye-catching appearance, especially when teamed with a bright, contrasting body color. Only 150 cars came with this stripe option.

The other part of the visual upgrade for '72 was one that did not come to pass. Pontiac designers approved a very attractive ducktail spoiler that would bring a Trans Am-like design to the A-body platform. Intended for use on the LeMans and GTO, only about 10 or 12 were built before tooling problems killed the project. Only two or three were factory-installed, and the leftovers were assigned a part number, which was hand-written in marker and put into the parts stream. At least one '72 GTO owner purchased one for his car in this manner.

Minor Interior Revisions

With the GTO reverting back to an option package, it inherited the same interiors as the LeMans models. The Confortweave upholstery was dropped, and a cloth and vinyl bench seat was the standard interior choice. The pillared coupe body style was even more spartan, with rubber floormats becoming standard equipment over conventional carpeting. A new two-spoke steering wheel was standard; the LeMans Sport's tri-spoke wheel and the padded Formula wheel were optional.

Fortunately, more familiar interior appointments were a check of the option box away. The LeMans Sport's vinyl bucket seat interior with console was available on the GTO hardtop, though the door panels no longer had GTO callouts on them.