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.

Regardless of its block code, all GTO engines received cylinder head casting No. 46 with a secondary application stamp of 6H. These heads have 1.96-/1.66-inch valves and a combustion chamber volume of approximately 96cc producing a compression ratio of 7.6:1. Many believe the GTO received a unique No. 46 head with threaded rocker arm studs. But as we learned in "Heading for Controversy" (Dec. '03 HPP), all production heads assembled after May 7, 1973, received threaded studs-which means the GTO No. 46 heads are the same as those found on any other non-GTO 350ci.

Atop the cylinder heads were a cast-iron four-barrel intake manifold and a Rochester Quadra-jet carburetor. Backing the small-displacement mill were three transmissions from which buyers could choose-the standard M11 three-speed manual, the optional M20 four-speed manual, and the optional M38 automatic transmission. Power was transferred to the pavement through a leaf-sprung 8.5-inch GM 10-bolt rearend with 3.08 gears. The G80 limited-slip differential was an extra-cost option.

The GTO package included the F41 Special Performance Suspension comprised of a 0.812-inch front swaybar, a 0.562-inch rear swaybar, firm-ride shocks, and 14x6-inch Rally II wheels without trim rings. The standard tire was an E70x14 blackwall, but white-lined or white-lettered tires were available at extra cost. Buyers opting to further improve ride and handling could order FR78x14 steel belted radials with either white lines or white letters-both included Radial Tuned Suspension that boasted of computer selected front and rear springs to maximize the effect of radial tires when combined with the F41 suspension.

As with other Ventura models, manual steering and drum brakes were standard on the GTO, but J50 power drum and JL2 power front disc brakes were available at extra cost. N41 power steering was another extra cost option. It was, however, required on any air condition-equipped Ventura model. Among other options were three different steering wheels-the basic two-spoke was standard on the base Ventura while the three-spoke Custom Cushion was standard on the Ventura Custom. The three-spoke Custom Sport was optional on either.

In its May 1974 issue, Cars magazine compared a well-optioned '74 GTO complete with four-speed manual transmission and 3.08 gears to a '64 GTO with a 389 four-barrel engine, automatic transmission, and 3.55 gears. Pontiac performance legend Nunzi Romano of Nunzi's Automotive in Brooklyn, New York, was on hand to perform the comparison. With Romano behind the wheel, the '74 posted a best quarter-mile pass of 15.72 seconds at 88 mph, while the '64 model was slightly quicker, turning 15.64 at 90 mph. Zero-to-60-mph times for the two were similar at 7.7 and 7.4 seconds, respectively. But even though the new model was not as quick, writers raved not only about its performance balance, but also how much ride and handling had improved since its inception.

Even with less displacement and output than larger 455ci engines from the same year, the smaller body allowed the '74 GTO to perform similarly to its predecessors. Not laden with standard convenience options and power-robbing accessories, a sharp buyer wanting a lightweight street fighter could easily select the proper options to create a boulevard racer running stoplight-to-stoplight with many comparable cars of its time.

Some hobbyists who own earlier-model-year GTOs consider the '74 as the proverbial red-headed stepchild within the GTO family tree. Just 7,058 were built during the '74 model year. Total production numbers can be broken down to 687 hatchbacks with manual transmission, 1,036 hatchbacks with automatic transmission, 2,487 coupes with manual transmission, and 2,848 coupes with automatic transmission. But when you consider that only 4,806 A-body GTOs were built during the '73 model year, it appears the smaller, X-body GTO may have offered to buyers more practicality than earlier models.

As with most cars of its day, the '74 GTO was not considered an instant collectors item, nor did many survive their tour of duty. Even though clean, original examples like that featured here can still be found, many unknowing enthusiasts still regard them as nothing more than a glorified Nova and rarely give them a second look on the show field. Only now, while in the midst of the new GTO era, might we realize how much effort Pontiac set forth in 1974 to retain the GTO nameplate without it becoming another decal package. But no matter how you perceive the '74 GTO, no one can deny it closed a glorious chapter in Pontiac history. After all, it was the last GTO for 30 years.

The Admiralty Blue '74 GTO featured in our article belongs to Tom Nelson of Yankton, South Dakota. Tom purchased his car in 1994 at a young age and continued to drive it until a full restoration could be performed. It was completely dis-assembled and fully detailed to create its stunning appearance today. After several years and countless hours of hard work, Tom's GTO is now limited to light street and show duty.

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