Tag Archives: Lemans

Illustrated GTO Buyer’s Guide

Illustrated GTO Buyer’s Guide by Paul Zazarine
Published 1994, by Motorbooks International Publications
128pp., softcover

ISBN: 0-87938-839-0

Purchased used from a collector ad on kijiji.ca

I try to vary my blog offerings, as much as I can based on the books in my collection. I mean, I acquire what I like from what I see offered, so there’s often some overlap and repetition. That is the case with a recent acquisition, the Illustrated GTO Buyer’s Guide.

The second book I reviewed for this blog was the Illustrated Camaro Buyer’s Guide, also published by Motorbooks International. And it wasn’t very long ago that I had reviewed both GTO: A Source Book and GTO Volume II: A Source Book. You see how this review might seem like rehashing stuff I’ve read already. But, there actually is some value here, because this book isn’t just a copy of either of those previous books.

Let’s take the Illustrated Camaro Buyer’s Guide first. These books are pretty identical in physical dimensions, save that the Camaro book is 32 pages longer. Both are written by known experts on the car in question – in this case, the late Paul Zazarine who specialized in Pontiacs and was a leading authority on the GTO. The general layout is the same in these books – chapters cover a few years of the model, with cars rated in terms of desirability at the chapter start. Both books have many pictures, all in black and white. But, there are certainly differences between the 2 books.

The Camaro book features a single production number for the complete year (all Camaro production), describes significant points for each model year such as engines and options, and includes a box detailing options and colours, and another that gives overall specs for the year, including base engine specs and dimensions. However, the GTO book breaks each year’s production numbers out by body style, engine and transmission. Compared to the Camaro book, there’s significantly more detailed info on the various GTO offerings.

While there are no option code charts, Zazarine provided charts denoting engine and transmission codes, as well as paint, convertible and vinyl roof colours, and interior codes. The GTO book is quite a bit more detailed in terms of how to spot real (versus cloned) GTOs as well as drilling down into the more rare engine and transmission combinations. Also, where the Camaro book had appendices with some valuations, the GTO book avoids this, which makes sense as those valuations can quickly become irrelevant as time passes.

Similar to the Camaro guide, there is a significant amount of detail on each year of GTO. Each model year section goes over things such as engine revisions, tape stripe differences, body design updates, changes to interior panels, upholstery, and other year-to-year revisions. Details such as the fact that 1971 GTOs have plain round front turn signals, while 1972 has the same signals but with added crosshairs design, help the potential buyer figure out what they’re looking at. Also important, Zazarine provided examples of cars that can’t be figured out by looking at the car alone. For example, some The Judge models have no identifier in their VIN, and while the presence of some items may suggest a true Judge, the only way to determine authenticity is through order forms and other paperwork.

Unfortunately this little book is not without a few minor flaws. These are mostly minor, generally confined to production charts in terms of inconsistent line spacing and in the instance of 1973, a duplicate production number chart. I did not find any numbers that seemed out of whack, it really came down to formatting issues.

In some respects, the Illustrated GTO Buyer’s Guide is very much of its era. Compared to the Camaro guide, it seems much more geared towards the person looking at an old car as part investment. The Camaro guide does this too, but my copy was published in 1985. The GTO book is from 1994, when the muscle car investment craze was a little more heated up, and cloning of rare models from more common cars presented itself as an issue. As such the GTO book shows itself as a decent resource when it comes to explaining how to go about identifying true GTOs, and the difficulties involved for years when GTO was merely an option on the Lemans.

Really, this GTO Buyer’s Guide is a great companion book. Certainly it’s a good stand-alone that can introduce one to the GTO. This Buyer’s Guide fills a niche within a collection of books. I reviewed The Standard Catalog of Pontiac 1926-2002, which gives an overview of each year’s offerings from Pontiac. It features specifics, but is not detailed enough in terms of the GTO itself. The GTO Source Books that were reviewed provide some great period-correct literature in terms of ads and brochures, though they do not provide any analysis or explanation in context of the later collector car market. But, when adding the Buyer’s Guide to the Standard Catalog and the GTO Source Books, one starts to build a library that can lead to being a learned individual where it comes to GTOs (of course this method works with whatever cars you fancy).

It should be noted that this edition of this GTO book is complete for the 1964-74 run of production. It does not include any reference to the reborn GTO which debuted some 8 years after this book was published.

So, was adding the Illustrated GTO Buyer’s Guide worthwhile? I think so. It’s a great fact-filled reference about one of the most revered muscle cars. It’s the book you grab when that guy at cruise night says your ‘71 Goat never came with those Honeycomb wheels or that no GTO ever came with a 2 barrel carb. If Pontiacs are your thing, it’s a great one to pick up.

Pros: a significant resource on a key muscle car; extensive and detailed information one each model year
Cons: as always, coloured pictures would have been nice
Where to find it: Amazon, used bookstores, private sales

You might also enjoy…
Standard Catalog of Pontiac 1926-2002
GTO: A Source Book/GTO Volume II: A Source Book
The Illustrated Directory of Muscle Cars

Standard Catalog of Pontiac 1926-2002

Front cover of Standard Catalog of Pontiac 1926-2002

Standard Catalog of Pontiac 1926-2002 by John Gunnell
published 2012, Krause Publications
368 pages, softcover

ISBN-10: 1-4402-3234-2
ISBN-13: 978-1-4402-3234-3

There are some books that are not a ‘good read’ by any means, but if you’re really into a subject then these books prove to be valuable parts of your collection. Among those are what we’ll call reference books, and the Standard Catalog of Pontiac 1926-2002 is most certainly such a book.

Krause Publications was quite well known for its Standard Catalog series, which began as a coin collectors publication but touched on other collectibles such as baseball cards and in the case of today’s review, automobiles. The company was absorbed by F+W which has in turn succumbed to bankruptcy. I mention this because in my recent searches, I’ve not found an updated version of this book (ie. one that includes the final years until Pontiac’s demise in 2009). In light of the company’s business issues, I suspect that it’s unlikely any update will arrive.

So, what to say about the Standard Catalog of Pontiac… Well, it’s a thick book, completely in black and white, and the paper is newsprint-like. The layout is in some ways like Sixty Years of Chevrolet, though it reads even less like a narrative. That’s not to say there isn’t anything in the way of story – there is. After the foreword and the ‘how to use this guide’ stuff, there’s a decent overview of the history of Oakland and Pontiac, and brief profiles on Pontiac-Oakland Club International and Pontiac Historic Services, both great resources for Pontiac fanatics.

It should be noted for those who are not aware… Oakland Motor Car Company, based in Pontiac, Michigan, was a division of General Motors. In the 1920s, GM instituted a ‘companion make’ system, sort of a ‘junior brand’ to other GM brands. Oakland’s junior was Pontiac (the others were Viking for Oldsmobile, Marquette for Buick, and LaSalle for Cadillac). The goal was to cover as much of the potential market as possible. Ultimately, the program did not last long. Interestingly Pontiac displaced its senior make, and Oakland was no more.

1918-19 Oakland page spread. This is typical for early year synopses.

The book proceeds with what is essentially each model year as a chapter. Beginning with the 1908 Oakland, pages are filled with sections organized by year. Each section contains (where applicable): a description of each model line offered that year; breakdown of the I.D. data; a production total grid; a listing of engines offered (standard and optional) for each model; chassis specifications; technical information (ie. transmissions, final drive ratios, suspension type, fuel capacity); drivetrain options; major convenience/appearance options; option packages; and finally historical notes, including total Pontiac production, ranking amongst US automakers, road test results and other trivia. Later years actually break out the engine, chassis, technical and options sections by model.

You can see that for the early years, where there were maybe 2 car lines offered and with few options, a ‘years-worth’ of info may take up a page, including photos. The year 1976, with 8 model lines on offer, occupies 4-1/2 pages. For 1997, it’s 7-1/2 pages. I’d imagine that only those who thrive on knowing every last bit of trivial information would be enticed to slog through these sections.

1969 section. Note the top left image on page 121 is captioned as a GTO convertible, but the image is really just a repeat of the GTO ‘The Judge’ hardtop from bottom right on page 120.

There is a 25-page section of larger size Pontiac photos, and the end of the book has more charts with a year-by-year style number chart, some interesting Pontiac facts, and build data through 1972.

Now, as I’ve mentioned, I happen to have a 1976 Grand Prix as my summertime cruiser. I actually bought this book prior to getting the car, but as a reference this book has been great. I used the 1976 I.D. data section to decode my VIN number:
2- Pontiac Division
J- Grand Prix (not including SJ)
57- 2-door hardtop
M- Pontiac 350 cubic inch V8 with 2-bbl
P- Pontiac MI plant
(the last 6 digits being the sequential number)
The M code 350 is the base on the Grand Prix and Firebird Formula, rated at 160 horsepower (oh, those smog-year engines), and 280lbs-ft torque.

2001 section start. As you can see, the later year entries contain a great deal more information than the early years.

Of course, there are some things to quibble with this book.

Firstly, it’s a real shame that every picture is in black and white, especially since so many of them are from Pontiac sales material. With a collection of stats and little in the way of narrative, colour picture would have gone a long way to increasing visual appeal.

Secondly, there are a number of errors. I can’t necessarily pick out any in terms of the statistical info, as I have nothing to check this text against. However, there are a number of pictures that are either repeated for multiple models, or are obviously labeled incorrectly.

Thirdly, I’m a little puzzled that there’s essentially no information on Canadian Pontiacs. Now, some may question why I bring this up. The thing is, like many automakers in the days before the Auto Pact, the Big Three had some ‘Canada-only’ products. For GM, these included what some call ‘Cheviacs’. These were cars styled like full-sized Pontiacs, but with slightly altered sheet-metal, that was put on what were essentially full-sized Chevrolet frames, complete with Chevrolet engines. Instead of names like Star Chief, Catalina and Bonneville, they were named Strato Chief, Laurentian and Parisienne. So why do I question why these cars are not included?

Well for one, a number of Pontiac models were built in Canada, some exclusively. The final generations of the Firebird for example were built at Ste. Therese Quebec. Secondly, the Parisienne was a Canada exclusive from 1958-1983. However, GM had discontinued Pontiac’s full-size cars in the early 1980s. Catalina was gone, and the Bonneville name moved to what had been the Grand Lemans. But buyers looking for full-sized cars simply bypassed Pontiac rather than settle for the mid-size Bonnie. GM’s solution was to import the Canadian-market full-size Parisienne until 1987. This story is missing from the 1983 model descriptions – Parisienne just appears as the top-line model with no explanation of the name which hadn’t appeared until then. It just seems odd, given the history.

With all that said, I’ll echo what I’d said earlier. This is a great resource as a reference. It doesn’t necessarily stand alone as a reference, but it’s got a wealth of information for those who need to know more about Pontiac.

Pros: a wealth of data and information, an important resource
Cons: all in black and white, some very noticeable errors, the final 7 years of Pontiac production are missing
Where to find it: Amazon, ebay, private collections (most likely out of print)

You may also enjoy…
GTO: A Source Book/GTO Volume II: A Source Book
Fifties Flashback: The American Car