The 1964-67 Pontiac GTO is undoubtedly one of the most iconic classic muscle cars in existence. Its exterior commands a muscular presence while retaining a unique sense of poised grace. The triple carburetor engine pioneered a unique design and sparked the origins of the blanket term “Tri-Power”. This original GTO is often referred to as the first American muscle car.
An option on the original 1964 GTO, the Tri-Power engine would eventually be phased out by the Rochester quadrajet carburetor in 1967. Its performance legend would persist throughout generations, making Tri-Power editions uniquely desirable for today’s collectors.
Let’s discover the characteristics of the classic Pontiac GTO that make it a distinguished legend.
1964-67 Pontiac GTO: The Original Muscle Classic
The original Pontiac GTO was offered in three body styles: the 2-door sedan, convertible and pillarless hardtop. From its inception in 1964, it became legendary within the muscle car domain and beyond. The GTO with Tri-Power was not destined to be just another 2-door high performance car. Its well-executed styling combined with an impressive quarter-mile time (under 15 seconds) also contributed to its popularity.
Beginning in 1964, all first generation models were fitted with a 389ci V8 and had a compression ratio of 10.75:1. These models offered a 2-speed Powerglide Auto or 4-speed Muncie M20/M21 manual transmission. The package incorporated certain accommodations for the 3×2 setup, such as a unique intake manifold. Customers with the Tri-Power model could indulge in an optional limited slip differential and metallic brake linings.
1965 models flaunted an updated exterior, including stacked headlights, the Rally I wheel, and a modified grille. This model was notable as it was the first to have “Ram Air”, featuring a more functional hood scoop and updated cam. Most of the improvements for 1966 were aesthetic, adding red fender liners. A total of 81,722 models were sold in 1967, the last year of the first generation GTO.
The “Tri-Power” Triple Carb Setup
The Tri-Power package was available from 1964-1966. It would cost the customer $90 to $100 (with $6.75 or $7.50 handling). This was much more affordable than some fuel injection systems of the time and offered a significant performance boost, increasing horsepower to 360. The Tri-Power featured front and rear carburetors that opened progressively in response to throttle, supplementing the center carb when necessary.
The Rochester 2G carburetor, originally made in 1955, formed the 3×2 carb setup in Tri-Power models. “2G” was the standard model, while the “2GC” and “2GV” were designed with an automatic choke. This carburetor had a throttle body flange of 1-1/4” or 1-1/2” and sizes of 225-435cfm depending on application. It would be featured on select GM vehicles until its automotive use was phased out in 1979.
The GTO wasn’t the only model with a 3×2 Rochester configuration; The first was the ’57 Oldsmobile J2. 3×2 was offered on select 1957-66 GM vehicles with engine designations 347, 370, 389, and 421. The “Tri-Power” designation on the Pontiac GTO would become a blanket term for engines with 3×2 setups. Its frequent usage, even without knowledge of its origins, is yet another sign of the Tri-Power’s unique historical significance.
A Persistent American Legend
Policies designed to limit horsepower on production cars were prevalent during the GTO’s era. With the exception of the Corvette, the 3x setup was discontinued completely in response to a 1966 GM policy. It would be replaced by the four-barrel Rochester Quadrajet air-valve type carburetor.
The GTO, often referred to as “The Great One”, would persist as a popular muscle car throughout the decades; The distinguished Tri-Power option is sought by collectors for its unique history and performance.
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