- By Mike Noun
|Over the years there have been many Pontiac photos, promotional pictures, and original photos from Pontiac's
"Musclecar Era" (1962-1974) that have errors. By errors, I am referring to items or options that were not officially
released by Pontiac. Some of these photos have been reprinted in magazines and books over the years, with no
mention of the fact that the picture contains a non-factory option, or is wrapped in a trim package that was never offered.
Follow along with me, and see how many of these Pontiac pictures you've seen in old magazines,
brochures, or books, and perhaps didn't realize these were in fact pre-production photos.
From a 1970 Pontiac Promotional brochure, we see the new 1970 Pontiac Bonneville station wagon, wearing a 1970 license plate tag.
Because of the extended 1969 Firebird model year, Pontiac attempted to market the 1969 Firebird line all the way up until January
1970. In this original 1970 promotional photo, we can see a 1969 Trans Am in the background, and upon closer inspection, the 1969
Trans Am is also wearing a 1970 license plate (while not visible here due to the scan quality, it's clear in the original photo).
This radical air cleaner was used on the prototype 1969 GTO with the RAIV engine. The
original plan was to use hood scoops AND two 4" hoses, routed up to the core support
around the radiator, to supply 4 sources of "Ram Air". The air cleaner was abandoned, but
Pontiac decided to dub the engine "Ram Air IV", as in "four ways to Ram Air". This photo
appeared in a couple of magazine road tests, and while a buyer may have thought they
would get this air cleaner setup if they ordered a RAIV GTO or Judge, no GTO's were ever
produced with this setup.
This is a factory diagram that was released to the media
showing the "Ram Air IV" style air cleaner (photo left).
way into the 1990's when writing a retrospective on
Pontiac Ram Air setups, oblivious to the fact that this
setup was never released to the public.
Here’s a beautiful, 2-page color spread featured in the September 1969 issue
of Motor Trend Magazine, featuring the gentlemen responsible for the styling
end of the 1970 GTO. On the right is William Mitchell, Vice President in
charge of styling, and next to him is James McDonald, the General Manager
of Pontiac Motor Division. The man standing just over the roof line (in the
gray suit) is Bill Porter, Chief Designer. The purpose of this article was
showcase the men behind the Pontiac Styling and Engineering Departments,
and the beauty of the 1970 GTO...
...then on the next two pages (the same Sept 1969 issue of Motor Trend),
we see what appears to be the same 70 GTO, but stripped of its’ shell.
Now these particular men are the ones responsible for the engineering
aspects of the 1970 GTO. On the far right we see Chief Engineer Steve
Malone, next to him is the legendary Malcolm McKellar. But look closely at
this photo, and you can see that this chassis is NOT the same red GTO as
in the previous photo. In fact, it's not a GTO! Notice the whitewall tires
(verses redlines in the previous picture), and the most telling of all, a
bright red single exhaust system, a setup not available on any GTO. This
appears to be a Lemans or Tempest model.
As 1969 Firebird production carried over into the 1970 model year, the all-new 1970
Firebird faced further delays. GM couldn't wait, and had to print up their annual
1970 brochure that covered all GM divisions. Here we see the new 1970 Lemans,
1970 GTO, and 1970 Lemans Wagon, along with a 1969 Firebird. Oddly enough, the
1970 Lemans front end, along with the Endura-clad nose of the 1970 GTO, bore a
striking similarity to the 1969 Firebird.
This is a factory Pontiac promotional photo of the proposed 1969 GTO. This picture
occasionally shows up in various "Musclecar history" publications, but unfortunately, this is
another case where an original publicity photo has some serious errors! While the license
plate clearly shows "1969" , fans of the 1968-1969 GTO's will quickly note that this is a 1968
GTO. The clean, blacked out 1968 style grills, wraparound parking lights in the valence panel,
and the Pontiac arrowhead rear quarter panel emblem. However, notice that this model does
NOT have the side vent windows, a styling change adopted for the 1969 GTO.
Comparing the previous photo of a 1968 GTO wearing 1969
license plates, we can see here in a production 1969 GTO
photo that side vent windows have been omitted, the grilles
are an "eggcrate" design with a chrome horizontal bar, and
the parking lights were crosshair style, with no wraparound
onto the side of the valence panel.
A original 4-page ad showing the 1968 GM Musclecars; the Camaro SS, Firebird 400, GTO, Chevelle SS396, Olds 4-4-2, and Buick GS. A visually striking
ad, especially considering how good looking all the redesigned 1968 A-body cars were. In the spec sheets for each of these cars, there is very strange
photo of the Chevrolet Chevelle SS396 wheel (right). For some unknown reason, they used a Pontiac Rally II wheel with a Chevrolet centercap. It's A
original 4-page ad showing the 1968 GM Musclecars; the Camaro SS, Firebird 400, GTO, Chevelle SS396, Olds 4-4-2, and Buick GS. A visually striking
possible the new Chevrolet Rally wheel was not yet available for this photo shoot, but very odd that GM chose to use a photo of the one part of the
Chevelle that was definitely NOT Chevrolet!
One of the more famous Pontiac promotional photo mistakes, a pre-production version of the 1969 GTO Judge was given to Hot Rod Magazine for a road
test, and then Pontiac printed up a nice performance brochure showcasing the 1969 GTO, Judge, Firebird 400, etc. The problem was, the final styling
cues for the 1969 Judge had not been finalized, and readers and potential buyers were a bit surprised when they discovered the new Judge they had been
reading about in magazines, and had appeared in several magazine ads, did not match the actual production version.
Items changed before going to production (compare the 2 photos above) included the addition of Ram Air stickers to the hood scoops, "The Judge" decal
added to the front fender, and the white sword stripe was replaced with a multi-colored stripe.
The pre-production Judge ads appeared in many magazines back then, including some inside cover fold-outs.
1968 GTO, with 1969 license plates
Pre-production 1969 Judge
Production 1969 Judge
1969 Firebird 400
1969 RAIV GTO
A couple more Pontiac press release photos containing some very strange styling cues. On the left we see a 1969 Firebird 400 with a "400" emblem on the
trunk lid mounted much too high, and exhaust splitters, an item not available on 1969 Firebirds. On the right is a 1969 RAIV GTO with a "Ram Air IV"
sticker on the trunk lid, something Pontiac never did on their production cars. Both of these photos appeared in the October 1968 issue of Super Stock
Magazine which covered the new 1969 cars. As you can see, both cars are both wearing manufacturer's license plates.
Original ad that appeared in magazine.
The original photo, before any retouching.
While this is not a Pontiac Promotional "error" photo, this is an example of how the marketing and advertising departments altered photos to suit their
needs. This is the famous 1968 GTO 2-page ad that appeared briefly in a magazine, before being pulled by General Motors. GM believed it conveyed street
racing by having a GTO making a U-turn on Woodward Ave, looking for street races. And yes, that's exactly what it conveyed.
The photo on the left is the original photograph from the photo shoot, before any retouching was performed. The photo on the right is actual 2-page ad.
Here are the items that were changed (via airbrush) for the final magazine ad:
1) The vinyl top was removed
2) The pole under the Highway 10 sign no longer touches the front bumper of the GTO.
3) A passenger was airbrushed in.
4) The GTO crest on the front fender has been recolored to show some red color.
This just goes to show that many times vehicles appearing in promotional photos and magazine ads are not what always appear to be!
(Left) - This ad for the 1966 GTO is one of the most memorable of the Musclecar Era, and
emphasizes the low-key, yet aggressive stying of the new 1966 body design. However, here see an
item that was never available on a production GTO; 8-lug wheels. Pontiac's innovative wheel
combined the wheel center with the brake drum, then used an outer ring attached with 8 lug
nuts. While very attractive, the 8-lug wheel only appeared on the full-sized Pontiacs, never on the
GTO. This wasn't the only GTO built this way. An original 1966 Pontiac promotional film shows a
blue 1966 GTO pulling up to the cameras, also wearing the gorgeous 8-lug wheels.
The Pontiac Ram Air V engine was featured in many 1969 magazines back in
the day, and there were even a couple road tests conducted of Ram Air V
cars. With all the hype surrounding the new "tunnel port" Pontiac engine,
publicity came to a frenzy as the engine was featured on the cover of the
May 1969 issue of Hot Rod Magazine. With references to scheduled
production and claiming "at least a few hundred" would be built, Pontiac
quietly pulled the plug on the Ram Air V program, without a single vehicle
ever being produced with this powerplant. The actual RAV engines that had
been built were either sold as crate engines, or their various parts sold
through Pontiac Parts Departments. A tremendous marketing gaff, but as we
shall see, there was another blunder that occurred in 1973...
|The 1968 GTO was a revolutionary design over the 1967 GTO. All the GM A-bodies (Buick Skylark, Oldsmobile Cutlass, Chevrolet Chevelle, Pontiac
LeMans) were totally redesigned, but Pontiac made the GTO a real standout with optional hideaway headlights, and a body colored front bumper made of a
steel reinforced, rubber-like material called Endura. The overall effect was nothing short of stunning.
Here are two early promotional photos showing a couple hardtop 1968 GTO's. On both of these cars, a "400" emblem appears on the lower rocker panel, a
styling cue that never saw production. However, there were dozens of pre-production cars handed out to the press and for photo shoots, and occasionally
one of these cars with the "400" rocker panel emblems appears. Just for the record, the 1968 GTO did not use any emblems on the rocker panel.
The factory 1969 Pontiac brochure featured a couple photos of a
Ram Air setup that was never used. This fresh air intake setup was
proposed for the 1969 Lemans and Firebird 350 H.O. cars, but was
never released to the public. The photo on the left is a little
misleading, as it appears there are two 4" hoses, one for each
nacelle, but in fact the driver's side is a hood tach.
Another photo from the 1969 Pontiac brochure shows a pair of 350 H.O
cars at speed. The Firebird in the foreground uses the "double hood tach"
look, with the driver's side being a real hood tach, the passenger side
being the Ram Air. The Lemans 350 H.O. shown in the background does
not have a hood tach, just the Ram Air nacelle on the passenger side.
More to come....
From the "what the ???" files comes an original magazine road test
photo, where we can plainly see that Joel Rosen, of Baldwin-Motion
Chevrolet fame, applied a Pontiac hood tach to the hood of one of
his famous 1969 Baldwin-Motion Phase III 427 Corvettes. If you look
closely, you can see that the redline has been moved to around
6500 rpm, over 1000 rpm higher than what was used on the Pontiac
models. This photo is from a vintage 1969 magazine.
|The Weird And Wacky - Pontiac Promotional Photo Errors
|1. Switchin' Plates - Sometimes a manufacturer would attach a license plate to one of their promotional models
displaying the model year of a particular vehicle. And occasionally, a manufacturer would hang NEXT year's plate on a vehicle,
believing that styling cues had been finalized, or perhaps to whet the appetites of automotive journalists that were always looking for
the latest scoop on next year's models. These publicity photos would be distributed to various media outlets, used in promotional
materials, etc., but many times the design, styling, or trim packages would change for the next model year. Not a big deal at the time,
but over the decades, some of these photos were used in books and magazines (and still are today), causing confusion.
Another photo that's been many Musclecar books and magazines, this Pontiac publicity photo is titled as a 1971 Trans Am thanks to the "PMD 1971"
Michigan license plate. But this is actually a 1970 Trans Am, as evidenced by the separate headrests on the low back front bucket seats. Pontiac changed
their buckets seats for 1971 a single piece high back design, which remained in production throughout the 2nd Generation era of Firebirds.
|2. The Case Of The Mystery Trim - Occasionally photos were taken of pre-production cars before the
styling cues were finalized, and those photos would be sent out to auto enthusiast magazines in order for the magazine to promote
an issue featuring "The New Cars Of 1969" (or some other model year). As the photos were used to sell magazines, and the
manufacturers wanted to whet the appetites of their customers, decades later some of these photos make us scratch our collective
heads, wondering how a certain option or trim piece ended up where it didn't belong.
|3. Smoke n' Mirrors - A little slight of hand, a little airbrushing, and manufacturers managed to get the photo shot
they wanted without having to resort to costly trim or body changes just for an ad or a promo photo.
Another promotional photo, this time for a beautiful 1966 GTO
convertible. The Pontiac Rally 1 wheel debuted in 1965. The
centers of these wheels used a polished dish, the wheel itself
was painted silver, and the outer rim used a stainless steel
trim ring. However, with all that silver and chrome on the
wheel, the beautiful Rally 1 wheel tended to lose some of its
detail in photographs. Pontiac needed a contrasting color, and
in 1966, they changed the center dish to black, a styling cue
which remained until the Rally 1 wheel was discontinued in
1968. However, this 1966 GTO didn't get the memo, and is still
wearing 1965 wheels. (Photo courtesy of Keith Seymore)
There's a whole array of non-production items shown in this ad for the 1969 Trans Am (see my other article titled "The Development Of The 1969
Trans Am" for more details). The overhead shot of this pre-production car was also used in the Pontiac Dealer Album insert that Pontiac sent to its
dealers detailing the specs on the new Trans Am. Unfortunately, by the time the car was put into production, a number of items were changed. Over
the years, dozens of 1969 Trans Am's have been restored incorrectly as resto shop referenced this magazine ad and the dealer album insert to restore
a 69 Trans Am. As the decades have passed, more information, most notably the actual 1969 Pontiac Firebird assembly manual used on the production
line, have verified that only pre-production models were decorated as the above photos shows.
|4. Nothing to see here, move along.... A collection of original factory diagrams and pictures from
vintage magazines and Pontiac brochures, where we see ideas that never took off, but the press and even Pontiac promotional
material weren't quick enough to retract these photos....
|5. Jumping The Gun - Here are a few examples where the automotive media printed articles about upcoming
Pontiac parts or cars, only to have Pontiac pull the rug out from their collective feet when Pontiac decided not to release the part(s)
In 1972, Pontiac designed a rear spoiler for their Lemans and GTO models,
a design copied from their popular Firebird Formula and Trans Am models.
Dubbed a "ducktail spoiler", Pontiac intended to offered this spoiler as an
option, but as luck would have it, the mold for the spoiler broke after only
a handful of spoilers were made, and the excessive cost of creating a new
mold was not deemed feasible, so Pontiac simply deleted the option. Only
a couple cars were rumored to have been built with the spoiler, and the
remaining spoilers Pontiac had produced were unceremoniously dumped
into the parts bins. Unfortunately, Super Stock Magazine printed an article
late in the model year (March 1972) of a Lemans GT using the ducktail
spoiler, an option which had already been deleted from Pontiac's 1972
In 1973, Pontiac announced a new high-performance
engine called the Super Duty 455. At a time when EPA
regulations, low compression, and rising gas prices had
effectively crushed the life out of the Musclecar market,
the announcement of an all-new high-performance engine
for 1973 was like a shot of adrenalin into the hearts of
those that missed the glory days of the Musclecar Era.
Automotive writers had already accepted the fact that
high-performance was gone by 1972, and American
buyers tastes and priorities had changed. Writers were
relegated to writing articles on Gremlins, Vegas, and
Pintos, and trying to get excited about cars with anything
over 200 hp.
And in this environment, when economy and practicality were the biggest catch
phrases in automotive advertising, Pontiac had the gall to release an all-new
high-performance engine, and engine whose power output would rival the best of
the 1969-1970 Musclecars.
The SD-455 was slated to be an optional engine for the new A-body 1973 GTO,
Lemans, and Grand Am. But production delays with the new SD-455 prevented
any A-bodies from receiving the engine. By mid-year, without a single Lemans,
GTO, or Grand Am being built with the SD-455 engine, Pontiac unexpectedly
announced to their dealers that the SD-455 option would only be available in the
Firebird Formula and Trans Am. The 1973 GTO, Lemans, and Grand Am wound up
with either a mild 400 or 455, essentially station wagon engines.
But before that decision was made, Pontiac produced a prototype 1973 SD-455 GTO, which CARS Magazine was eager to get their hands on. They were so
impressed with the GTO's performance, they immediately declared the SD-455 GTO their "Performance Car Of The Year".
|6. The "What The ???" Files - Some odd promotional photos used by GM and other manufacturers, true
head-scratchers for classic car fans!
This would perhaps be the only time an automotive magazine gave an award to a car that
would never be produced. And the irony is that the magazine loved the car. So the
magazine (and the public) were a bit bewildered how as to how CARS Magazine could give
an award to a car no one could buy. Not only did CARS Magazine place the SD-455 GTO
on their magazine cover, but they even engraved their CARS Magazine trophy with "1973
GTO - Performance Car Of The Year", and placed the photo of the trophy in the article.
And to add insult to injury, Pontiac also released a promotional photo (right) of their
stylish, European influenced 1973 Grand Am, complete with NASA hood scoops, and
SD-455 stickers on the front fenders. Unfortunately, this car was also doomed to the same
fate as the GTO. No SD-455 Grand Am's were ever sold to the public.
MusclecarFilms.com - Classic DVD's - Drag Racing, NASCAR, Vintage Road Tests, Promo Films!
This 1972 GTO promotional photo is odd for a couple of reasons. First, it was unlike
Pontiac to display their flagship Musclecar in such a bland paint color, coupled with
rather pedestrian looking blackwall tires, and station wagon-style hubcaps. Maybe the
marketing department was having a bad hair day, but more than likely the reason for
such a sedate look may have been because of the changing tastes of the American
public. By 1972, Americans steered more towards fuel economy and low insurance
rates, and Musclecars were not very popular at dealerships. This GTO promotional
photo definitely does NOT conjure up images of cruising the boulevard, getting
admiring glances, and burning rubber! Other publicity photos for 1972 usually showed
the GTO in a more head-turning bright red color, with Rally II wheels and white-lettered
tires. But the other oddity in this promotional photo is that this GTO is wearing die-cast
455 emblems on the front fender, something production 1972 GTO's did not use.
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Hot Rod Magazine tested the new 1969 GTO Judge in their December 1968
edition. Considering th lead time for the magazine was about 45 days, this car
was most likely tested in September or October 1968. The styling touches for
the 1969 Judge had not yet been finalized by Pontiac, and a pre-production
model was used for the test. A sharp eye can see that this version used
standard 1969 taillights instead of the GTO versions, and the rear spoiler was
taller than what would end up on the factory production version. This
pre-production model also had a white stripe instead of the multi-colored stripe
used on the production Judges, and the now familiar sticker proclaiming "The
Judge" had not been finalized for the rear spoiler or front fenders.
The cover of this February 1970 edition of Hot Rod Magazine shows an
all-new 1970 Firebird Formula. The introduction of the all-new 1970
Camaros and Firebirds had been delayed due to a strike, and instead of
premiering in September with all the other new cars for 1970, the sleek
new F-Body cars would not hit showrooms until February 1970. This Hot
Rod Magazine cover, and subsequent road test, shows a pre-production
Firebird Formula model. Note the 1969 style door handles.