PONTIAC HISTORY 1955-1981
This page provides information on the Pontiac V-8 era, from 1955 through 1981 and on items related to Pontiac History.
**Note: This page, while informative, is far from complete. More photos and content will be added as time allows.
Also, check the "About Pontiac Heaven" page for more history.
Pre-1955 The flathead era, straight 6 and straight 8 engines with 6 volt systems were coming to an end
1955- Very big changes at Pontiac. A new body and chassis with an upgraded 12 volt electrical system. Sporty 2 door "Safari" introduced. The big change was however, the introduction of one of the finest engine designs ever built. The 287 cu in "Strato Streak" V-8! GMC trucks now come with Pontiac engines when ordering a V-8
1956- Engine size increases to 316 cu in by enlarging the bore. A 2 4bbl induction system is offered.
The big news is that Semon "Bunkie" Knudsen took over in charge of Pontiac on July 1, right before the introduction of the '57s are released. His first change was to pull off the familiar chrome strips or "suspenders" on the hood of the 57 models. This man would change the image of Pontiac that remains to this day.
1957- Another increase in displacement by stroking yields 347 cu in. New model "Bonneville" is introduced, all were convertibles with fuel injection, the change to the performance direction is evident. Tri-Power (3-2 bbl carbs) becomes available. Pontiac wins prestigious Daytona Speed Weeks in Florida
1958- 58s got a new frame and new coil spring rear suspension, Bonneville now is available as a hardtop and with Tri-Power or fuel injection. 2 door Safari dropped, last year the Chieftain model, all models now have 4 head lights, V-8 is bored to 4.06" to increase displacement to 370 cu in. Arnie Beswick switches to Pontiac. Daytona Speed Weeks won again second year in a row!
1959- Another very significant year for Pontiac. The 370 is stroked to 3.75" which brings out displacement to 389 cu in., 4 bolt main caps introduced on top engines and main journals are enlarged to 3", production engines now have cast cranks, first year for side motor mounts, Pontiac engines no longer used on GMC trucks, A styling trend is started by using a split grille theme, the arrowhead emblem is introduced and a new advertising slogan is used "Wide Track" ( actually, it was "Wide Track Wheels" )
Here is Mickey Thompson sitting in an injected Pontiac slingshot dragster with a '59 Bonneville Safari behind it in what looks like a southern California neighborhood. '59 was the first year Pontiac offered the top of the line Bonneville in a Station Wagon
1960-Mickey Thompson takes 4 engined Pontiac powered streamliner to 406 mph making the Pontiac V-8 the fastest engine on the planet!
This has gotta' be the baddest Pontiac of all time!!!!!
4 speed floor shifted T-10 trans now available, alum drum/wheel introduced ( 8 lugs), Ventura model is introduced, Jim Wangers wins US Nationals in S/S class with a '60 Pontiac, Fireball Roberts turns top qualifying time at Daytona 151.56 mph. During the 1960-62 period, Mickey Thompson set more world speed/acceleration records in various cars with Pontiac engines than you can imagine, dozens of them. Pontiac was well on the way to being the Premiere performance leader in the industry.
We are currently looking for more info on this above car, it's restoration is in planning- I attached some period photos of a Scotty Fenn K-88 front engine dragster . I intend to restore it as raced back in the day. I am currently deep into researching the dragster. It is a Mickey Thompson car that was raced I am told by Lloyd Cox.
If anyone has any info on this car, please email me email@example.com
1961- Elliot M. "Pete" Estes becomes Pontiacs new General Manager.
Full sized models downsized with trimmer, cleaner look, less weight too. First year for perimeter frame (giving more leg room, etc) and 4 link rear suspension. Pontiac, again makes "Car of the year", 421 introduced over the counter in late summer, SD engine had forged (990) crank and rods, etc, Tempest compact introduced with innovative 4 wheel independent suspension, a 4cyl 195 cu in engine ( this was the right half of a 389),even a 4bbl version was available!, Marvin Panch wins Daytona 500 with a '60 Pontiac (158mph), Pontiac wins 30 out of 52 races!, Hayden Proffitt drove Mickey Thompson's '61 Pontiac to a O/OS class win at the US Nationals,
It was at this time that M/T in conjunction with Pontiac upped the ante and offered HEMI conversions. Who knows, could have ended up in the parts books if not for the ban (see "About Pontiac Heaven" page), must have drove the chev boys nuts! (what are we going to do now?!) ha ha ha ha
Two friends, a Ram Air V and Pontiac HEMI head pose for the camera.
It is a fallacy that these heads are a direct copy of the Chrysler 392. They were based on them but, the M/T HEMI head is well advanced with better ports, cooling and they're aluminum opening up great potential for further development. Besides, mopar guys, Chrysler gave up on the HEMI in '58 and could care less at the time. Kinda' makes you wonder if Chrysler engineers got a hold of these babys and decided to make the 426 HEMI 2-3 years later! Note: The V stuff isn't mine, it is owned by my good friend Wayne Fern. Coincidently, they were once owned by my brother Joe from '77-about'82 and I bought my first pair of M/T HEMIs from Wayne.
1962-Lemans and Grand Prix introduced, 421SD now factory installed along with 389SD.
The Mickey Thompson aluminum Pontiac powered Rail featured HEMI heads and won the '62 US Nationals "Top Eliminator". Driver was Jack Chrisman.
Here is the second Pontiac HEMI rail out of the Thompson camp. This was Jack Chrisman's own car 1962 and ran on Nitromethane
Fireball Roberts wins Daytona 500 again in '62 Pontiac (avg speed 152mph, top speed 170 mph)
Eddie Hill's twin Pontiac gas dragster runs 200 mph on May 6 at Hobbs, Nm. This was a full 2 years prior to Don Garlits exceeding 200 officially ( on nitromethane) at a NHRA event. Very Impressive indeed.
Back when Eddie "the Thriller" Hill ran real engines, Pontiac Power!
Tom McEwen drove another of Mickey Thompson's Pontiac diggers for awhile too. Here he had low ET with his Pontiac at 8.59 on gasoline in 1962.
Bill Alexander (above) with his foot in it and the "Pond" known as San Fernando Raceway in '63
Bill Alexander's fuel Pontiac dragster "Shudder Bug" beats the feared Greer-Black-Prudhomme fueler at Lions Drag Strip, Long Beach, Ca. This was no small task, the GBP fueler has the greatest win-loss record of all time. It was beat only about 7 times in over 200 races. Where were you in '62? I am happy to report as of Jan '02, Bill and friends are re-creating the Shutter Bug complete with blown Pontiac engine, they are planning to debut the car in the fall of '02.
The Shudder Bug recreated! (2002)
Bill Alexander pauses for a quick pose with the recreation of the Pontiac fueler he drove 50 years ago. Gabe Gutierrez is behind Bill and was his partner back then as well as a partner of the recreation. This is an outstanding addition to Pontiac drag racing history. Look for more on this car on the "Race Car" page.
1963-389SD is dropped, big guns now is 421SD tempest in ht and s/w form, absolute terrors!, "Swiss Cheese" Catalina's make their own noise, 421 now available in street form in 4bbl or tri-power configurations with cast cranks and 4 bolt mains, racing ban goes into effect in Jan forbidding Pontiac to continue development in Super Duty program including multiple over head cam designs. Tempest now available with new 326 engine.
AJ Foyt started the '63 season with Pontiac until the GM racing ban was put into effect in Jan '63
This injected slingshot was built in '64 and ran a '59 engine. It has been restored and ran at Norwalk '06
1964-New mid size platform with live rear axle and full perimeter frame and block mounted starters. Pontiac counters the ban with the introduction of a high performance package for the street, enter "GTO" w/ 389 4bbl or 3-2bbl engine, last year for the "slim jim" and hydra-matic trans, 2+2 model introduced.
The latest updated version of Eddies twin with a full painted body and much longer wheelbase
The Team of Ray Cox, Dean Turk and JD Braswell out of Arizona. They ran an AA/Fueler with Pontiac for many years through 1966. This shot appears to be in '63 or '64 and at the hot car fire up area at Beeline Dragway ('63-'81) east of Scottsdale, Az
Here is yet another Pontiac AA/Fueler. The team is Swanson & Huerta
1965- John Z. Delorean becomes General Manager at Pontiac. Shown below with OHC 6 engine which would debut the following year.
Pontiac again, Car of the Year, GTO sales soar, 2 +2 has 421 standard, revised high rise style intake and bolt pattern. 400 Turbo Hydra-Matic introduced for full size models (thank you). First year for the "Tiger" theme advertising. A service bulletin was issued about the frames being damaged on the intermediates and frame braces were built to remedy the situation, seems they were being ripped out by owners running the cars hard, this applied especially to the stick shift cars.
Here is Eddie Hills last Pontiac AA/Fueler from '64-'66. Eddie was one of the last to switch to the smaller motorcycle type front wheels.
In early '65 Lew Arrington and Jim Leiberman built and ran the GTO "Brutus". Originally, it ran a blown, injected 421 M/T HEMI headed Pontiac engine. This first pic is pretty rare as it is before its well know and photographed 2nd lettering job-
Later in the year, they stretched the front end for a longer wheelbase and gave better handling. They also lowered the front end of the car.
History is made April 17, 1965 at York US30 Dragway, Arnie Beswick clocks the sports first 9 second funny car ET with '64 GTO blown on gas with a 9.96 at 140.00mph (check out those headers).
John Abbott ran a Pontiac powered AA/FD from '63-'65. Here are some pics from his collection, thank you John. Here is the '63 car version with the larger front wheels
This is the longer car with wire wheels in front
Don Gay built his first funny car out of a '65 GTO. Brother Roy later drove it too. This car was called "Infinity"
Jess Tyree also built a Pontiac funny car for '65 in the form of a '63 Tempest with injected 421 SD power
This '65 blown GTO Funny car was ran by the team of Reinauer & Cobb
Another Pontiac funny car built and raced in '65 was this entry by Dick Jesse from Michigan. Known as "Mr Unswitchable" ( in reference to the 1-63 GM racing ban), this car ran an injected 421 on nitromethane
1966- Star Chief name now known as Star Chief-Executive. OHC 6 engine introduced, including 4bbl "Sprint" version, last year for Tri-Power, only year that Tri-Power uses all 3 large carbs, GTO becomes its own model, sales peak, stick cars have rear frame braces, headrests now optional for all models, recliner passenger seat available, successful "Tiger" theme advertising is no longer allowed by corporate brass, they said it was"too aggressive". Last year for 389 and 421.
Above pic at Bristol Dragway Spring Nationals '66 Car debuted here.
My personal favorite drag car of all time and a BIG influence for my funny car project. Don Gays "Infinity II". This was a serious high dollar blown-injected 421 powered funny car that ran on nitro as well as hydrazine, benzene and what ever else it took to whump the chevs, SOHC Fords and HEMIs. Low ET to the best of my knowledge is a 7.85! This thing had leaf spring rear suspension (!) and collector street style headers too! That's in '66-7!. Absolutely gorgeous too, it was based on a real GTO shell. Does anyone know what became of this outstanding automobile? This is definitely significant part of Pontiac performance history!
Shown here at a night match race at Lions Drag strip Long Beach , Ca
Here is Larry Swietek s '66 GTO funny car with injected 421
1967-400 and 428 engines introduced with better cyl heads, 2.11" & 1.77" valves, first year for screw in rocker studs, Q-jet makes debut on V-8s, the "Ram Air" era starts officially 4.33 rear gear mandatory. Last year for 2+2 and the 326 engine. GTO, this year dubbed "The Great One" finally gets a performance automatic, the 400 THM, many other options made available for the first time. Some are cruise control, hood tach, Rally II wheels, am-fm stereo. All full size Pontiacs have hidden wipers, "Woody" station wagons available for the first time in the V-8 era, standard on Executive Safari, Pontiac introduces " Lane Change " feature (other GM divisions follow in '68), Firebird introduced with 4 models including the 400. Disc brakes offered on all models, Don and Roy Gays 421SD blown fuel firebird funny car runs a 7.90 at 183mph at Orange County Raceway, Ca. GP offered as a convertible this year only.
The season opener was in Phoenix at the AHRA Winternationals for many years. Here is the competition Eliminator winner Larry Edwards driving a sling shot with a slant 4 Pontiac Tempest engine, blown, injected with a M/T HEMI head. The text states he "mowed down a crack field to take the win".
Also competing at Beeline Winternations in '67 was Arnie Beswick with 2 cars
His '66 GTO and '63 Tempest
Don Gay's Infinity III Firebird debuted in 1967. This 421 SD Pontiac Funny car really screamed and it was pretty too!
1968-Stunning GTO restyled with rubber "Endura" front bumper, Motor Trend makes it Car of the Year, Hide-a-way head lights offered as option, all engines now have open chamber style heads, 350 engine introduced, shoulder belts standard by about Oct of model year, last year for Grand Prix on full size "B" platform, Mid year Ram Air II introduced with round ex port flanges and computer optimized "041 or T" cam. All '68 models now have side marker lights, Firebird drops vent windows.
Jess Tyree builds his second Firebird funny car. After losing his first one in a fire, another is built, still with a 421 for awhile, then switches to a Chevrolet eng (Boooo!). Jess continues to this day to run Chevy engines in his Pontiacs (shame) yet still considers himself a Pontiac man (huh?). Later he puts 69 trim on it, cuts the A pillars and bends the roof and adds blue paint. I bought this very rare body (very few vintage Pontiac funny car bodies exist), the roof has been put back to its original shape and the '68 front was put back on. I would like any historical info on this car to add here if anyone has any to share, drop me an email. This will probably be built into a nostalgia funny car and with REAL Pontiac power of course!
Here is his first Fuel flopper with Blown 421- VERY pretty car
Here are a few pics of the car in 1969
Arnie Beswick's first flip top funny car, a '68 GTO. Body flipped up from the rear.
1969-The "Break-a-Way" year, Trans Am, Custom S & Judge models introduced, new Grand Prix on stretched "A" platform in standard model "J" and top of the line "SJ" (SJ has 4-bolt, big valve, 4bbl 428, Rally gauges and auto leveling). it's a big hit but, it is DeLoreans last big punch with Pontiac. Ram Air IV replaces Ram Air II, Ram Air cars have driver actuated hood scoops, Ram Air IV is the first Pontiac engine since the SD era to have an aluminum intake and forged pistons, vent windows deleted on all hts, headrests now standard, ign key moved to steering column, 428 now standard in Bonneville (standard 360hp only 428 with small valve heads and 2 bolt mains)
Arnie Beswick brings out his lastest, and last GTO Funny car The "Super Judge"!
Here is another '69 Judge funny car. This one from Michigan with an injected Ram Air V on nitromethane.
1970- OHC 6 dropped, 455 engine is introduced and is surprisingly marketed as an engine to "handle accessories", Ram Air IV 400 still top performance engine ( BIG mistake, Pontiac goofed here, should have built a 455 Ram Air IV, to compete with the Stage 1, W-30, Ls-6 and such. Could this blunder have had something to do with John DeLorean leaving?), Stunning second generation Firebirds introduced at mid-year ( disc brakes are standard, a Pontiac first ), Formula and T-37 debuts. All models now have side beams in doors and bracing in quarters to aid in side impact, Last year for high compression engines. Last year for full size Ventura and Executive, 455 "A" and "G" bodies have 12 bolt rears (identical to the HD chev unit, main difference is the companion flange, still uses u-bolts). 455 stick cars get new 11" clutch, GT-37 introduced
Pontiac Introduces new 455HO LS-5, Standard on Trans Am and Judge, optional on Formula, GTO, GT-37 and Lemans. All engines now have 8 to 1 compression, this the only year that both gross and net horsepower ratings are advertised. Formula now available with 350, 400 and 2 455s. High back bucket seats introduced in all Firebirds. Honeycomb wheels optional in 14" and 15" sizes on all "A", "G" and "F" bodies, standard on Trans Am w/o trim rings. Cassette player introduced, Last year for the Performance sales brochure. From now onward all "F" and "A" bodies with standard 455 option require automatic trans, full size or "B" body gets redesign with disc brakes standard, Grand Ville is new model. Arnie Beswicks blown fuel "Boss Bird " funny car turn all time low ET for a Pontiac 6.94 215mph. (to date)
New rules for NASCAR in '71 restricted displacement to 6 litres
David Pearson drove this '71 GTO with 366" engine
About in the same time frame was this slant 4 Pontiac Tempest twin slingshot
called "8 the hard way"
Here is another injected Pontiac Tempest slingshot, that is me standing next to it. Beeline Dragway, Phoenix, Az 1971
1972-Net horsepower ratings take effect, changes in head castings made for better cooling, 5/8s spark plugs now used. This is the first year that the engine code is in the vin #, Judge, GT-37 and GTO conv discontinued. GTO returned as an option as in '64 and '65, 455HO still standard in T/A and now standard in Formula 455, WW5 package introduced to "A" body, including 455HO with complete suspension and performance enhancements, unitized ignition introduced
1973-EGR introduced (lovely), so do those 5mph bumpers, 455HO dropped which is bad but, 455SD replaces it which is good. Problem is, 455SD production is very limited and only allowed on T/A and Formula, "A" body restyled (no comment on appearance but, disc brakes are now standard ), GTO regulated to standard type 400 and 455 engines ( for the first time a high performance engine is not available in a GTO), Grand Am introduced, electric sun roof now an option on "A" & "G" bodies, a Pontiac first. It was at about this time when, what I call, the "modern era" of Pontiac performance knowledge came about when Craig Hendrickson and Kern Osterstock formed H-O Racing Specialties. These two men did more to promote Pontiac knowledge and performance through their business and their mailings than anyone else I know of throughout the 70s (more to follow).
1974-Late '73 oil embargo hurts US auto industry including Pontiac big time. 455SD still available and production actually increases but, not but by much. GTO now an option on the Ventura ( Venturas were the last Pontiacs with standard drum brakes )with a 350 engine. Last year for 455 Formula, last year for 400thm in firebird.
The 1974 GTO was based on the smaller "X" body. It was the only year GTO for many things. Some of them- All had functional cold or Ram Air, shaker hood, unitized body, leaf spring rear suspension, only year with 350 engine (also no engine options), hatchback body style, no GTO emblem in left grille. It was a changing world when the '74s were introduced in late '73. After the bad sales of GTOs for a few years (and all muscle cars for that matter), Pontiac tried to appeal to a newer market by downsizing/ lightening the car and used new marketing too. The industry was already hurting and adjusting to changes imposed on them by the government. Things like upcoming mandatory unleaded fuel requirements, 5 mph bumpers (later reduced in the 80s), strict emissions standards. All those things hurt horsepower/performance and/or added weight. The GTO and performance were not popular words when you had to wait an hour or more to get gas and more expensive gas too! With another poor sales year in '74 , Pontiac axed the GTO. It was still a good car but, facts are facts, if people aren't buying them they can't make money and that is that.
1975-First year for catalytic converters, compression drops into the 7s, horsepower falls further,455 dumped on T/A only to be reintroduced late in the year, GTO gone, on the bright side the HEI ignition is introduced and T/A sales continue to climb, rectangular headlights are introduced on Bonneville and Grand Ville, last year for full size convertibles, Astre introduced in US
Raymond Walker ran this blown Pontiac powered Vega bodied funny car
1976-Pontiac celebrates its 50th year with Grand Prix and T/A anniversary editions, T-tops were an option ( Hurst Hatches ), Formula has new steel hood and graphics, last year for 350, 455 Trans Am fastest-best handling car in US, last year for 400thm in full size models, last year for Honeycomb wheels,
1977-Pontiac introduces new engine for better mileage the 301, 455 dropped for good, T/A6.6 replaces it. Black and gold special edition Trans Am w/ t-tops is a big hit, full size models are downsized to cut weight and improve economy, Grand Prix production soars, last year for 400thm trans for Pontiac
1978-mid sized models are now downsized, including GP, WS-6 suspension introduced for Trans Am including the 15x8 "snow flake" wheel, Gold edition replaces black edition for most of the year, black returns after paint problems cannot be solved with gold paint, nicer, larger Fisher T-Tops introduced, last year for 400 engines offered on full size models, last year 400 with automatic available on Trans Am and Formula
1979-Pontiac introduces 4 wheel disc brakes to the WS-6 package. The press goes wild about this car and rightfully so, Trans Am peaks in production, Formula gets WS-6 as an option. 301 first available in T/A as a delete option, 403 Olds engine standard in T/A with automatic ( for the first time in Pontiac history, the top performance car has a standard engine from another manufacturer ). The 400 was available for the last time, only with super T-10 4spd ( '79 400 T/As and Formulas are recognized as the last muscle cars of the era. This gives Pontiac the first ('64 GTO) and last muscle car of the era) . 10th anniversary T/A "Silverbird" available with 403 or 400.
1980-400 discontinued, now the 301 Turbo is the new engine, 265 engine introduced (small bore version of 301), Trans Am paces Indy 500. Turbo T/As and Formulas with WS-6 have different style wheels now known as "Turbos", all Trans Ams and Formulas have automatics, 4spd dropped. Only Pontiac offered this year with a clutch is a V-6 base Firebird
1981-301 Turbo still top option but, still only with automatic. Pontiac paces with Daytona Special edition T/A, 4spd returns but only with a 305 chevy ( the writing is on the wall ), worse yet this will be the last year for Pontiac V-8 production, ending an era and splitting Pontiac fans forever. T 1000 introduced starting a "number" trend in Pontiac names, last year for second generation F body ending a well liked 12 year production run, the new "Door Stop" type body style firebird will debut in '82 with all v-8s supplied by chev
A lot has happened since the apparent death of the Pontiac V-8 by GM in '81, most thought the motor would dry up and fade away but, us die-hards know that that could not happen. Today there more parts available for Pontiacs since the "juicy" early SD era and more are on the way! Post '81 history and development will be covered here too! Check back from time to time as things are constantly changing. Any input to this page or my site is appreciated and welcomed. Thank you, Steve Barcak
Fast forward to 2003
2003- (Summer), Rodney Butler breaks all time Pontiac powered ET record (held by Arnie Beswick since 1972) with an outstanding 6.91 in his '65 GTO with turbo chargers, alky and EFI.
2003- Oct- My Pontiac powered Rail Dragster "Pontiac Heaven Special" it is the first time in 40 years (maybe ever) that a Pontiac has entered an NHRA event in Top Fuel. The car stumbled, went more than half track and only ran a 7.50. We'll get it tuned better and progress from here. Ron Maroney was driving.
2005- John Welter from Iowa run several 6.8 runs in his Firebird making him the new #1 for fastest Pontiac ever. John runs an all aluminum Butler built motor with large turbocharger in a late model Firebird body.
2006- Oct 7, 2006 15th annual NHRA Hot Rod Reunion. Pontiac Heaven Special AA/FD runs absolute best ET ever for Pontiac at 6.77