Drag racing was popular on the streets of America in the early 1960s, and bragging rights were tied to who beat whom the night before on Woodward Avenue in suburban Detroit or on Waukegan Road in north suburban Chicago.
The timing was perfect for Pontiac's 1964 Tempest LeMans GTO. Pontiac needed an image car because General Motors had banned its brands from racing. The GTO became America's first muscle car — and a legend.
Pontiac's engineers "got the bright idea to do at the factory what the hot rod community had been doing for years: Simply, stuff a big engine into a smaller" and lighter car, said Jim Wangers, a drag race champion and staff member of Pontiac's ad agency, MacManus, John & Adams, when the GTO was conceived.
There were performance cars in the 1950s, but they were full-sized, heavy and expensive. The Tempest was an economy car, based on an intermediate-sized platform.