|1975 PONTIAC LeMans Sport GT- Gary|
Written by Double Dragon
Monday, 24 September 2012 09:57
1975 PONTIAC LeMans Sport GT- Gary
Writing and photography copyright D. S. Brown, except 1971 GT-37 article copyright CARS Magazine and the 1972 LeMans GT image copyright Pontiac Motor Division.
Pontiac created the 1960s muscle car movement with the 1964 GTO. The GTO was built on the 1964 Pontiac Tempest square shaped intermediate sized 'A body' platform. A sleek redesign of the 'A body' in 1968 lasted until 1972. Despite the classic lines of the 'A body', GTO sales had fallen due to the widespread collapse of the muscle car market.
The GTO prevailed into 1973 amidst the death throes of muscle cars all around it. The GTO formula was intact: it had a 400-4 barrel, heavy duty suspension, NASA inspired hood scoops and GTO identification. The GTO barely survived as sales declined further partly due to the controversial new colonnade style LeMans 'A body'. The larger less racy body style was paired with the 5 MPH huge log style bumpers replacing formerly stylishly integrated Endura bumpers.
During development it looked like the cutting edge GTO integrated front end philosophy would be continued on the 1973 GTO. Designers made the giant bumpers more palatable using a flexible body colored cover that merged the mass of bumper into a flowing beak nose. The flexible front end was taken away from the GTO and given to the Grand Am. This really boosted the launch of the Grand Am while hurting the 1973 GTO.
Another problem plaguing the GTO was the limited availability of the Super Duty 455 engine. An eagerly anticipated 1973 GTO equipped with a new emissions compliant killer fast optional Super Duty 455 engine never made it into production. Parts suppliers who were unable to meet quotas forced GM to scale down the availability of the Super Duty. GM had already placed their bets on the Firebird as the successor of the GTO and reserved all the available Super Duty engines for Firebird installations. By taking away the top engine and the nicer body design Pontiac was turning its back on the GTO.
When 1974 rolled up, GM looked at the low sales numbers for a LeMans platform based GTO and canned it. The Grand Am was once again partly responsible for the death of the GTO. Part of the decision to kill the LeMans based GTO stemmed from concerns about internal competition taking away Grand Am sales. Pontiac was promoting the LeMans platform based Grand Am as a BMW fighter. The GTO option was moved off the 'A body' and applied to the Ventura body for one year in 1974 then put to rest for several decades before experiencing a short lived revival using the Australian Holden platform.
Pontiac had shifted 'A body' performance imagery away from the brutal GTO muscle attack to a sophisticated touring sedan concept embodied in the beautiful looking Grand Am. In 1975 the GTO was dead. Pontiac placed all muscle car duties onto the Trans Am which became the performance image leader at Pontiac through the late 1970s.
What about Pontiac faithful who wanted performance in an intermediate platform? Plenty of muscle car fans couldn't live with the Trans Ams marginal rear seat room and miniscule trunk space. There was no factory GTO in 1975. When there is scarcity, savvy businessmen step into the vacuum to answer the need. A legend is circulating about an Eastern Pontiac dealership that built "GTOs". This dealership ordered LeMans Sport Coupes with 400 or 455 engines, HD suspension and Rally or Honeycomb wheels. Replacing the LeMans badges with GTO badges created an instant dealer special GTO.
Whether or not this dealership legend is true, the GM factory itself wasn't building a GTO in 1975. However, it was possible to build an 'almost GTO' yourself right off the order form. Since 1970, Pontiac offered an 'A body' option package that was a "do it yourself budget GTO". The midyear introduction of the "do it yourself GTO" in 1970 was called the GT-37. When the T-37 model name was retired the name was shortened in later years to just plain "GT" and applied to the LeMans..
The GT-37 was based on the economy Tempest platform. In 1970 Pontiac offered a "T-37" which combined a "T" for Tempest with the "37" reference to the Pontiac VIN code for a two door hardtop. Thus the name literally means Tempest version of a two door hardtop. The performance image version was named the "GT-37" which is self explanatory. Pontiac carried the T-37 and GT-37 over for the 1971 model years. Below is the CARS review of a 1971 GT-37 equipped as an econo musclecar. No Endura front nose, no buckets, but they did choose the 400 engine option.
In the stats below someone accidently entered 350 for the engine size into the spec sheet, but the article states that it was running a 400. The spec sheet lists the 400 statistics further down (300 gross HP/ 255 net HP), confirming that the '350' entry is a typo.
In 1972 Pontiac dropped the T-37 and Tempest names and relegated the LeMans name to bottom rung position of the 'A body' lineup. Pontiac's later version of the GT-37 thus shaved the "37" off the end of the name but preserved the formula. The 1972 LeMans GT was actually released side by side with the GTO as a sub series. The GTO was no longer a separate series and hence the GT and GTO were both option packages on the LeMans.
Below you can read a little blurb from the 1972 Pontiac brochure. First, the brochure informs you that you can order the Endura front end with scoops that used to be a GTO exclusive on any LeMans. Then they set to introducing readers to the LeMans GT.
The GT survived the death of the musclecars as one of the many 1970s pseudo muscle cars known as a 'tape package'. Other manufacturers in this tiny market segment of semi- muscle cars offered smaller engines in wild packages such as The Heavy Chevy, Plymouth Duster Twister, Dodge Demon Sizzler, Dodge Challenger Rallye, Ford Maverick Grabber and Mercury Comet GT. None of the 'tape package cars' sold as well at first as 'real musclecars' but they did survive into the 1970s when the real musclecars had been decimated.
Pontiac's first entry to this market with the GT-37 squarely filled the role of 'Junior GTO'. Unlike the 1960s 'Junior GTO' Tempest H.O. which packed a high horsepower 350- 4 barrel H.O. engine, the GT-37 started life with a tame 350- 2 barrel. The tape package cars gave you the appearance of a 'tough car' but you had to order the potent power plants to make it move. Pontiac had the engines available all the way up to the 455 HO. Drag racers saw the opportunity and a few GT-37 cars were thus equipped as Spartan rocketships. With less weight than a comparably equipped GTO a 455 HO GT-37 could finish the quarter mile a smidge faster.
As the musclecars died off, the tape package cars survived by offering sporty looks coupled with regular engines that were affordable to insure and fill with gas. Mopar replaced the big block R/T option with the small block handling package named the Rallye option. They also offered the Twister which provided the muscle appearance of a Duster 340 with wild graphics and rally wheels but available engines were either a slant six or the 318. Dodge did the same thing with the Demon Sizzler. The 340 wasn't available in these hot looking cars. AMC fielded a racy looking six cylinder AMX. The Ford Maverick Grabber and Mercury Comet GT had a 2 barrel 302. The Heavy Chevy had a small 307- 2 barrel standard and couldn't be ordered with the top dog 454 engines, hence the 'almost' reputation of the cars.
Pontiac was equally guilty of putting a pedestrian engine into their tape package car. Unlike the GTO which had nothing less than a 400-4 barrel, the base LeMans GT engine was a 350- 2 barrel. Pontiac differed from other manufacturers by not restricting engine availability in the 'almost' fashion of other tape package cars. Pontiac made it easy to load up on the biggest most powerful engines they made.
The GT option re appeared in 1973 on the new larger colonnade style 'A body'. The LeMans GT placed the basics on the car: chrome tipped dual exhaust, 3 speed heavy duty floor shifter, dual sport mirrors, chrome wheel well accents, wild stripes and rally mags shod with G70x14 white letter tires. Many buyers were satisfied to couple the performance image with an inexpensive base engine that delivered semi reasonable MPG. Anyone desiring a musclecar only had to substitute the 350-2 barrel with a 400-4 barrel to end up with an equivalent to the GTO.
The LeMans GT carried over for 1974 while the GTO rode into the sunset on the Ventura model. The 1974 LeMans GT option included a few new features. It now added a blacked out grille, 3.23 axle (except in emissions restricted California) and RTS (radial tuned suspension with the variable ratio steering thrown in). The RTS was based on the 14 inch wheels, so you had to go optional to get 15s. Someone who wanted a GTO type car with a 400 or 455 could get one if they ordered the top engines in a LeMans GT. The real GTO this year was restricted to a 350 cubic inch ceiling in the Ventura platform.
In 1975, the GT option was pretty much the same as before but now threw in some more goodies to placate buyers lamenting the death of the GTO. The 1973 GTO NASA style hood which was previously an option came standard on the GT. You also got the 15 inch wheels standard. Like before, all you needed to do was add in a big engine and you had yourself the closest thing to a GTO the factory could give you in 1975.
With the gas crunch many buyers stood pat with the base 350 and enjoyed the nice handling and looks. Ironically if a buyer jumped up from the 170 HP 350-2 barrel to the 200 HP 350-4 barrel fuel economy actually improved. The Oct 1974 issue of POPULAR SCIENCE predicted that a 1975 Pontiac LeMans with 350-2 and automatic running through a 2.56:1 axle was good for 13.7 MPG overall. The 4 barrel version of the 350 with same axle was expected to pull 14.7 MPG.
The PS figures are likely closer to reality than EPA which operates under ideal conditions. The EPA figure back then was derived from a 31 minute stop start 'city cycle' on dynamometer averaging 20 MPH and a 'highway' run of 12 minutes at an average of 49 MPH. Actual EPA for the 1975 LeMans 350- 2 barrel with catalytic converter was 12 City MPG/ 18 Hwy MPG. EPA interestingly rated the 1975 LeMans 400 as more efficient with a City rating of 13 MPG / 18 Hwy MPG.
The April 1975 issue of POPULAR SCIENCE evaluated the performance of the 1975 Chrysler Cordoba in comparison to Grand Prix 455-4 and Thunderbird 460-4. The Grand Prix is essentially a 'clone' of the LeMans with a lengthened hood. PS found the 1975 Pontiac Grand Prix with 455- 4 barrel could still move out despite a very low axle of 2.50:1, GP ran 0 to 60 MPH in 12 flat with GR78-15 tires and curb weight of 4,355 pounds.
The Oct 1975 issue of POPULAR SCIENCE noted that the projected EPA rating for the 350-2 barrel jumped from 18 MPG to 21 MPG for 1976. The 400-4 barrel and 455- 4 barrel provided 20 MPG Highway for 1976 model year so once more the rationale for the 2 barrel 350 wasn't really justified. Pontiac made the MPG improvements from dropping rear axle ratios (which was a trick they pioneered way back in the 1960s), going to a lower viscosity axle lubricant, lower engine oil pressure, larger transmission torque converter, electronic ignition and cats.
The OOCC 1975 LeMans Sport GT is one of the factory duplicate GTOs. The OOCC GT was dealer ordered packing a 400, the final ingredient necessary to take the GT from appearance package to the real deal. In 1975 this nice LeMans Sport GT was sitting on a dealer lot in Kamloops, British Columbia waiting for the right person to recognize its GTO bloodline. The original owner, Pargan wasn't that person. Pargan's son, Gary was the one who was grabbed by the GTO genetics brimming through the LeMans GT.
Pargan may be the original owner of this 1975 LeMans Sport GT but back in 1975 he had no intention of buying a racy looking car. Pargan was a family man looking for a family car when he walked into McCall Pontiac Buick in 1975. See a story about McCall Pontiac Buick filed in the DEALERSHIPS section of this website under 'BC/Kamloops'. Pargan visited McCall Pontiac Buick with his sights set on buying a new 1975 Pontiac Grand LeMans. The 1975 Grand LeMans is a continuation of the formula established by the 1972 Luxury LeMans. See an in-depth history of the Luxury LeMans and Grand LeMans in the GAS LOGS section of the TRAVEL STORIES in this website filed under 1972 Luxury LeMans.
The Grand LeMans carried on the tradition of offering a heavily embellished comfortable car derived from and attempting to compete against the Cutlass Supreme. Nothing could touch the Supreme, which was ascending to number one selling domestic car at this time. Pontiac's answer to the wildly popular Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme was looking pretty good to Pargan, but to a young kid like Gary it was just an old man's car. Gary only had eyes for the LeMans GT.
The Grand LeMans is a far cry from the old Pontiac GTO or the current 1975 LeMans Sport GT which evoked the old musclecar image. The body shell of the two cars is the same, but the intentions and appearance of the Grand LeMans and LeMans GT are worlds apart. Pargan's Grand LeMans plan was swept away by his son Gary's insistence that the LeMans GT was the only car on the lot worth buying. In the end, young Gary won. The family drove home in the 1975 LeMans GT.
Think back to how ineffectual most kids are at influencing their parents to buy a cool car. Every kid I knew when I was young tried pounding away at the adults just as strenuously as Gary did, but everytime we looked up, yet another four door something- mobile or station wagon appeared in the driveways when trade-in time came round.
This typical story repeated itself all across North America. When the gas crisis hit North America, suddenly compact imports sprouted up in a tidal wave that buried the neighborhoods. My mother wanted to get rid of her really cool but large gas guzzling Mercury and buy an import Datsun. I tried to save her from econo box hell by immediately launching a determined campaign to get her into the 240Z. I didn't try to fight the tide by getting her out of a Datsun, I just tried to nudge the current a bit. She could still go Datsun and own a cheap to buy, economical to run car but at least the 240Z was sporty like a toy Jag XKR. No dice. Just like the other kids, my input fell into a black hole. The Merc was gone and the Datsun that occupied its former spot wasn't the cool 240Z.
Looking around us, all the kids noticed that the only cool cars were owned by the single adults or teens. It's a rare moment of celebration when kids manage to convince parents to buy the sporty or cool car instead of the moderate car they have their sights set on. Gary's accomplishment with the LeMans GT was a major victory for kids everywhere!
McCall Pontiac Buick put together a nice car. They didn't just order a GT package on a base LeMans column shift bench seat car with sparse instrumentation. Most importantly, they didn't go with a small engine. Things got pretty desperate in 1975: you could order a LeMans GT with a six cylinder engine that could barely move the car out in grocery getter situations! Those mid 1970s catalytic converter choked six cylinder intermediates had real world top speeds around 75 MPH and wheezed their way up to city traffic speeds with the greatest difficulty.
Have a look at what Pargan got when he bought his LeMans GT right off the lot.
The first section of the VIN number 2F37S51 decodes as follows:
The driver's door manufacturer's sticker reads "11/74", telling us that the GT was built November, 1974 which was early in the model run. Pargan's GT was built with a red interior, three spoke steering wheel, high back bucket seats and a console shifted automatic.
The speedometer reads to 100 MPH with a 160 KPH inner scale. Pargan's car received a clock in the left pod where a blank backing plate resides in base form. It was also possible to order a tachometer with a mini clock for this pod. On base instrument cars there is a center fuel gauge supplemented by warning lights. Pargan's gauge package shrinks the size of the fuel gauge in the middle pod to add room for real gauges for temperature and oil.
The dash panel proudly proclaims "Radial Tuned Suspension". The door panels announce that this is a "Sport Coupe".
The tachometer you see above the console is actually an aftermarket unit but it fits in so nicely it looks like a factory application. Sharp eyed readers will spot the equalizer under the dash and the small speakers added to the door panels. These are typical 1980s era additions when it was mandatory to put a stereo in your car.
The hood scoops and dual exhaust look great despite the fact that the scoops are dummy scoops, and all dual exhaust in 1975 is also fake. All 1975 GMs ran their dual collectors down into one single pipe to feed into a restrictive catalytic converter. Once free of the cat, the single pipe was split back out into dual pipes for the proper look out back.
If Pontiac had kept building the GTO on the LeMans platform for 1975, Pargan's car is what the 1975 GTO would have looked and performed like. The choked back 400 doesn't pump out horsepower like the old days, but it has sufficient torque to still provide great off the line response. With cat converters, heavy 5 MPH bumpers, EGR, PCV, leaned out carburetors and conservative timing; no one expected these cars to duplicate old GTO stats.
Where the redesigned 'A body' colonnade body style surprises people is with handling. Despite looking so much bigger and clumsier, the colonnade bodies feature revised steering geometry which improves drastically over the prior 'A body' platform. Even with the handicap of extra weight coupled with the poor weight distribution due to massive heavy 5 MPH bumpers on each end of the car the colonnades handle corners confidently. The GT package added 15 inch wheels shod with radials to bring this GT up to the old handling high-water mark set by the 1972 WW5 GTO package.
The GT was discontinued in 1976, but perhaps the coming of the 1977 Can Am which was based off the LeMans platform inspired a return of the GT in 1977. The 1977 LeMans GT used the Grand Am dashboard which was clearly an idea lifted from the Can Am cars. It was still possible to get a 400-4 barrel engine in the GT if you requested the top engine option (California got the 403 Olds engine instead). The NASA hood was no longer produced. In 1978 the LeMans was downsized and the GT was dropped for the last time.
Pargan's LeMans GT served family duty over the next decade which included driving in winter salt. The LeMans GT was always garaged. With weather protection and only 87,315 original miles the car held up pretty well. The GT sat for some time after a new family car was pressed into service. Years later Pargan presented Gary with a really special gift for his marriage day: the LeMans GT! The car couldn't have gone to a more appropriate and appreciative person.
In the late 1990s when the LeMans was repainted it needed a new right rear quarter panel, but the car didn't suffer from major rust out despite winter use. The interior still looks pretty good.
Gary has installed a new headliner, but most of the unique trim parts are not reproduced which forces him to leave the interior the way it is. Fortunately the interior looks decent. The edge of the driver's seat eventually developed a tear where the seat belt rubbed against the edge of the seat. Some red tape is holding that problem at bay for now.
The door panels thankfully still look good, because they are unique items and not interchangeable with regular LeMans items nor are they likely to be reproduced anytime soon. Gary is enjoying his car and repairing issues in stages.
|Last Updated ( Sunday, 22 May 2016 09:44 )|