|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
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
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
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
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.
|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) or cars.
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 options list.
In 1973, Pontiac announced a new 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.
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.
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.
Another bizarre photo from the
1969 Pontiac Performance
brochure, this picture was used
for both GTO and Firebird Ram
Air models. For some reason,
Pontiac stacked TWO of their
foam seals, one on top of the
other, creating a towering Ram
Air setup. You can the dividing
line quite clearly in the photo.
Stacking the foam this high
would have made closing the
hood nearly impossible, or at the
very least, the foam would have
deformed so severely when the
hood closed that it would have
blocked off air passages. The
stacked foam setup was never
put into production.
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Another very early ad for the 1966 GTO shows
a close-up of the Rally 1 wheel, but this one
has the 1965 polished center bowl (around the
centercap) instead of the blacked out
1966-1969 style. (courtesy of Keith Seymore).
Early 1968 GTO promotional photo shows a "400" die-cast emblem on the rocker panel
(see above for other examples), but on this one the GTO sticker on the quarter panel as
well. The rocker panel engine size callout was always a bit of a mystery. Back in the day a
few dealers added emblems like these to make their cars special compared to other
dealers, but Pontiac never used these emblems on 1968 GTO's. Original promotional
material, magazine road tests, and brochures are not a good reference source when
restoring your Pontiac.
A beautiful 1970 GTO, shown in Cardinal Red with a red interior, this car was used in dozens of promotional photos back in late
1969. We can see a few non-production items here. This GTO is wearing redlline tires, which were not available on 1970 GTO's
(1969 would be the final year for redlines). Even more noteworthy is the Endura front bumper, which isn't actually Endura at all,
it's a one-piece fiberglass unit. Notice the lack of separation between the Endura bumper and the valence panel, and also note
the parking lights do not have removable bezels. The photo on the right shows the production Endura front bumper with the
separate valence and parking light bezels.