"Go Go GTO . . . .
If You're Lookin' for speed you can get your kicks.
Wind her up to 60 Now in 4.6"
Jan & Dean's hit record "My Mighty GTO" in 1964
The story actually begins in late 1963 when Hot
Rod Magazine tested a basic 4 barrel, powerglide automatic 1964
GTO and proclaimed the car a slug. Enraged, Pontiac's head of
Public Relations, Jim Wangers, stormed into Chief Engineer John
Delorean's office and demanded he pick the cars that would go to
the press for road tests.
Wangers ordered a car with all the
goodies, including tri-power carburetion, close ratio 4-speed,
3:90 Saf-T-Track rear gears, transistorized ignition and
"insulation delete" options.
Here's where the story gets a little fuzzy. Jim Wangers claims
the car was shipped directly to dealer # 679 - Royal Pontiac in
Royal Oak, Michigan. Others involved with the car at that time
claim a 421 Super-Duty motor was covertly installed by Pontiac
Engineering prior to shipment to Royal.
At any rate, Royal performed their famous "Royal Bobcat"
treatment on the GTO, the very first GTO so equipped. The car
was, in Jim Wangers' own words, "well set up." The GTO was then
loaned to David E. Davis, Car & Driver Magazine's Editor-
in-Chief. Wangers and Davis came up with the idea of testing the
Pontiac GTO against a real Ferrari GTO (from which Pontiac had
stolen the GTO name). In the resulting road test, which was
published in Car & Driver's March 1964 issue, the Pontiac GTO
turned the unbelievable times of 4.6 seconds 0 to 60 MPH and
13.1 seconds through the 1/4 mile. Jim Wangers was happy. John
Delorean was happy. Pontiac sold tons of GTOs. The "Muscle Car"
revolution was born and the rest is history!
In his book "Glory Days," Jim Wangers finally admits on pages
106 & 107 that the "Car & Driver" GTO was a ringer! Wangers
did have a 421 Super-duty installed prior to the roadtest!
The story of
Royal Pontiac reaches back to the late 1950s, when Ace Wilson,Jr.,
purchased a Pontiac franchise in Royal Oak, Michigan, a suburb
on Woodward Avenue halfway between Detroit and Pontiac. Wilson's
new Pontiac store was located on North Main Street, not far from
Jim Wangers' home in Royal Oak.
Wangers, already established as an advocate of high performance, had been pushing for a network of Pontiac dealers across the country who would become performance dealers, specializing in sales and service of Pontiac Hot Chiefs. Wangers was turned down several times, but his persistence finally paid off. Frank Bridge, Pontiac's general sales manager, eventually agreed to allow Wangers to find one dealer who was willing to be a guinea pig. If the dealer would agree to stock special cars and special parts and get involved in special activities (read drag racing) Bridge promised to find a way of supporting it. The catch was, the connection had to be covert. "I don't want anyone to know it," Bridge told Wangers.
hooked up with Wilson and things began to happen. "Wilson liked
racing," Wangers recalled. "He liked performance, he was a
relatively new Pontiac dealer and he thought this was a swinging
months. Royal established a reputation as the dealer that
stocked the fastest cars, had the service technicians that knew
how to work on them and a parts department stocked with an
assortment of aftermarket and factory performance parts. Wangers
took the Royal name before the national press in 1960 when he
piloted Hot Chief Number 7 to the Stock Eliminator title at the
NHRA Nationals in Detroit.
realized the vast potential in the sales and service of
high-performance Pontiacs. "In this day and age of professional
drag strip racers," stated Royal's 1963 brochure, "car dealers
who sponsor Super Stocks are a dime a dozen. At Royal Pontiac,
there's a difference. Most dealers who sponsor these hot jobs at
the drag strip are content to sit back and wait. They figure a
winner or even reasonable success at the strip will mean that
all the local enthusiasts will "knock down the doors" to do
business at their dealership. This just doesn't happen. At
Royal, we go a step further. A successful Super Stocker at the
strip is only the beginning. We want to pass our experience on
to you. We want to satisfy your performance needs and problems.
We are prepared to offer all the Pontiac factory options plus a
custom performance tune-up that is guaranteed to outperform any
equivalent Pontiac in showroom stock condition. This treatment
is called the 'Royal Bobcat' tune-up package."
It was this philosophy that set Royal Pontiac apart from the mainstream of dealers who weren't versed in the performance market or were apprehensive about the profitability of racing, building and selling special high-performance cars. But racing was just part of the Royal story.
"One of the first things I convinced Ace Wilson to do was to package a car that incorporated some of the special services and the special parts that he was putting into these cars and that's how the Royal Bobcat was born," Wangers recalled. "The Bobcat was created in 1961 from a Catalina, and it's funny how we arrived at the name Bobcat. Back in those days Pontiac was putting their nameplates on their cars in big, separate letters with little holes drilled in the sheet metal. They had model names like Catalina, Ventura and BonneviIIe. Out of the words BonneviIIe and Catalina, we came up with the name Bobcat and the letters fit into the same number of holes that Catalina did." :-) [they must have reworked the second capital B]
was a packaged performance car, utilizing many of the
performance options offered by Pontiac. Starting with the 389
Tri-Power, Royal used the factory's free-flowing exhaust
manifolds and dual exhausts, aluminum wheels with the integral
drums, four-speed manual gearbox and limited-slip rear. Royal
then made special modifications to the car to make it a Bobcat.
The distributor curve was reworked, as were the carburetor jets.
The vacuum carburetor linkage was scrapped for a mechanical
setup, and less restrictive mufflers were installed.
set the Bobcat apart, all Catalina nameplates were removed,
special paint was applied and the Bobcat nameplate was
installed. "It was the first, really packaged supercar,"
taking cues from both Pontiac and the aftermarket, and by 1963
they were reworking camshaft timing, changing compression ratios
and making adjustments to the valvetrain to increase rpm.
It was the
emergence of the GTO that ended the short reign of the Bobcat.
Much that Wangers had learned in building the Bobcat package he
related to the GTO. "When Pontiac finally created the one symbol
of what Pontiac was all about in a total package called the GTO,
there wasn't any room for a Royal Bobcat. So the Royal Bobcat
became a tuning package or a performance package for the GTO,
the 2+2 and later the Firebird.
When the GTO
arrived on the scene, Royal began experimenting with the GTO,
using the tricks they had learned over the years to juice the
big Pontiac engine. The distributors were recurved, thin head
gaskets were installed to boost compression, the carburetors
were rejetted and the lifters were restricted by installing
special fiber lock nuts that reduced lifter pump-up and allowed
another 500 rpm. This became the Royal Bobcat package, and it
could be installed in a GTO by Royal, or shipped as a kit with
all necessary parts and instructions for installation by the
Bobcat package on a GTO was identified by a decal that was
applied to the C-pillar. Pontiac fans were also urged to send $3
and join the Royal Racing Team. Membership included a special
window decal, price sheets for parts and services and a
newsletter. To own a GTO with the Bobcat package, a Royal Racing
Team decal on the windshield and a Royal license plate frame was
to be one of the "swingingest" dudes on the street.
With the urging of Wangers, who was a "consultant" to Royal, the
top car magazines like Hot Rod, Car Craft and Super Stock
beat a path to Royal to road test Bobcat GTOs and write articles
on how Milt Schornack could supertune the GTO engine for more
power and faster acceleration. It was not unusual to see
pictures of Schornack bent over a Sun distributor, carefully
setting the advance curve, or Royal mechanic Dave Warren
cracking gears on the drag strip.
the success of Royal Pontiac, there was considerable
communication between Schornack and Pontiac Engineering. Parts
would travel back and forth, and Schornack would experiment with
setups and report back to Engineering on the results. One of the
earliest experiments conducted by Royal that eventually appeared
in production GTOs was cold-air induction, which Pontiac named
Ram Air. Ram Air was introduced as an accessory package in 1965
after Royal had perfected the setup on the 1964 and 1965 GTOs.
sold the performance arm of the dealership in 1969 to George
(brother of John Z.) DeLorean's Leader Automotive. Royal Pontiac
was eventually sold by Wilson, and a special era in Pontiac
performance was over.