1970 Pontiac GTO: Green Machine
We all know the story of the GTO. While others argue whether or not it was the first real muscle car, few can deny its influence on the muscle car era, starting in 1964. The formula was simple: take a midsize car and put a big-car engine in it. But not too big, though, so as not to step on the Corvette’s toes.
By 1970, the GTO was a well-known and popular commodity. It seems like everybody of a certain age either had one or knew somebody who had one. My dad had a 1967 GTO, white with black vinyl top and black interior. It had the standard four-barrel carburetor, but he almost immediately added a Tri Power setup.
Sadly, that car came to a bad end. My dad and his then girlfriend (before he met my mom!) and another couple were driving someplace for the evening. The roads were icy, the car slid, and it ran into the abutment to a bridge over the Rock River.
The engine actually partially breached the interior of the car. Everybody got knocked around pretty well, and my dad broke off the Hurst shifter with his knee. Everybody went to the hospital and got patched up. But the GTO was totalled. My dad still has the top part of the broken-off shift lever though. It broke right around the “R” in the Hurst lettering that ran vertically down the lever.
In the meantime, my grandfather let him use a 1965 Ford Custom company car that had been sitting for a while. Plain Jane in the extreme! But not too much later, my dad graduated high school, and his folks, patrons of Bob Neal Ford and Bob Neal Lincoln-Mercury, got him a brand new 1970 Grabber Yellow Mustang Boss 302. But I’ve digressed enough, so let’s get back to our featured car.
The ’70 GTO was a facelift of the semi-fastback A-body Pontiac coupes that had first appeared for 1968. While the Endura color-keyed nose remained, hidden headlamps—an option on 1968–69 GTOs—were no longer available, though the new quad headlamps and grille were pleasing. Out back, the taillights moved into the bumper and wrapped around the sides.
Standard features included bucket seats, a padded instrument panel, Deluxe steering wheel, dual exhaust, hood scoops, and a three-speed floor-shifted manual transmission. The standard engine was a four-barrel 400-cubic-inch V-8, producing 350 horsepower at 5000 rpm.
Four models were offered: $3267 two-door hardtop, $3492 two-door convertible, $3604 Judge hardtop, and $3829 Judge convertible. The Judge package added as standard a 400-cu-in Ram Air V-8, Rally II wheels, rear spoiler, and very loud Judge-specific striping and decals, among other extras. The Judge package added $337 to the GTO price tag.
Our featured car is one of 32,737 GTO hardtops, by and far the most popular model that year. The GTO convertible sold 3615 copies, the Judge hardtop 3629, and the Judge convertible a mere 168 units. All ’70 GTOs rode a 112-inch wheelbase and had an overall length of 202.9 inches. For comparison, a 2022 Malibu is 194.2 inches long with a 111.4-inch wheelbase. I was surprised how close the dimensions are, since the current Malibu is about as close as you can get to the vintage GM A-bodies of the late 1960s and early ’70s.
This particular GTO was spotted at the monthly Classy Chassy club’s cruise night at the Coral Ridge Mall in Coralville, Iowa, almost 10 years ago. I usually drive up monthly and meet my Uncle Dave so we can see the cars and go to dinner afterward. I was particularly smitten by this one, due to the triple-green color scheme—meaning the paint, interior, and top were all color keyed.
As usual, when I see a show car I’m particularly smitten with, I take a ton of pictures. And it’s good that I did, as I only saw that car once. Oh, I see 1968–72 GTOs fairly regularly—it’s hard not to when you go to as many car shows as I do—but I really liked the colors on this one, and the standard hubcaps that are usually replaced with the ubiquitous Rally II steel wheels these days.
One final anecdote … As I was taking notes for this column, I unearthed my deluxe 1970 Pontiac dealer brochure. Family friend Dave Myers and his wife, Sue, had a 1970 GTO hardtop back in the ’70s. It was, as I recall, their honeymoon car, and they kept it until they started having kids and got something more practical. This memory popped into my head because 20 years ago, I got the brochure on eBay and happened to show it to Dave while we were up at the lake one summer, and he told me about theirs. Of course, it was just an old car when they sold it, not the collectible it is today, but they later bought the 1995 Jaguar XJS convertible for their 25th anniversary that my parents now own. It just reminds me how cars can be such an important part of our lives and memories. I’m sure this green GTO has them too, but unfortunately, the owner wasn’t around on that warm summer night in 2012, so your guess is as good as mine!