Most hobbyists consider the GTO the vehicle that launched the musclecar era. Its recipe of a large-displacement engine in a relatively small body was an immediate success, and most other manufacturers quickly followed suit. In later years, however, emphasis was redirected from performance to fuel economy and emissions, turning most performance cars into little more than appearance packages.

Since its introduction in 1964, the GTO had always been based on the intermediate A-body platform. As years progressed and vehicle sizes grew, the intermediates lost much of their lightweight character. Horsepower dwindled from stricter emission standards, and GTO performance began to suffer. But that wasn't all. Fuel economy became a key selling point during the '70s, and smaller vehicles with smaller-displacement engines became the economic choice for most buyers.

As GTO sales declined again in 1973, Pontiac took a different approach by changing the GTO's platform for 1974. Based on the X-body Ventura, and with the 350 four-barrel as the only available engine, the '74 GTO was a classic example of a performance car that was downsized to follow the market trend. But with just over 7,000 units built, this new GTO was cancelled after only a year, and is one that many new hobbyists are unfamiliar with. Follow along as we explore one of Pontiac's most misconceived models and give it some long overdue attention.

Exterior And InteriorThe Ventura was built along side the Chevrolet Nova, the Buick Apollo, and the Oldsmobile Omega at General Motors' Willow Run, Michigan, and Van Nuys, California, assembly plants. To keep vehicle pricing at a minimum, the base Ventura included only a few standard convenience options. The WW3 GTO package, however, incorporated several unique characteristics to separate it from other Ventura models. Its availability was limited to Ventura or Ventura Custom models in either two-door coupe or two-door hatchback styling. Option package pricing ranged from $413 to $461 based upon model and body styling and whether the Space Saver spare tire was ordered.

To retain as much performance persona as possible, the GTO package included such sporty options as dual exhaust, the ride and handling package, and Rally II wheels without trim rings. In addition, the GTO received specific color-coordinated decals, a unique grille treatment, dual outside sport mirrors, and interior doorpanel badges.

The GTO's most unique characteristic is more commonly associated with the Firebird Trans Am. A functional Shaker hoodscoop with a solenoid-operated air valve at the rear allowed the carburetor to ingest cooler air under heavy acceleration. Its actuation system incorporated a vacuum-controlled electric switch that prevented function until vacuum levels dropped below approximately 2 inches. And a temperature-sending unit located in the cylinder head prevented electrical current from passing through the vacuum switch until coolant temperature exceeded 140 degrees.

Color availability included any of the 16 regular-production Ventura exterior colors along with a few special order hues. When combined with the wide variety of interior colors, buyers could create a unique GTO. As with other V-8- powered Ventura models equipped with a manual transmission, the GTO's shifter was floor-mounted whether bucket seats or front console were ordered. Automatic cars, however, received a column-mounted shifter unless a front console was ordered-then it was relocated to the floor.

The Powertrain And SuspensionAt the heart of the GTO was the L76 350ci four-barrel engine churning out 200 hp at 4,400 rpm and 295 lb-ft at 2,800 rpm. For the first time since its debut in 1964, no optional performance equipment or larger engines were available. But rumors of specific head castings, unique camshafts, or different internal parts have obscured reality. With the discovery of Pontiac's Engine Assembly Manual from 1974, we now know that the GTO's engine is virtually identical to those found in various Pontiac models. However, the X-body did require unique exhaust manifolds with center outlets to fit its subframe. Because of this, the entire Ventura line received its own series of block codes.

Any Ventura model equipped with a manual transmission received a WP-coded engine. And any bound for California received a ZP-coded engine along with an automatic transmission. Codes YP and YS are the 49-state applications for any Ventura equipped with an automatic transmission. It does appear, however, that the GTO received only the YS. Referring to said assembly manual, we found that the YP and YS engines differ only in the EGR valve part number. Because the L76 engine was also available with single exhaust, this may indicate that different block codes were required for engines with single and dual exhaust. But we are continuing to research this theory.