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by Jay Traugott
When Pontiac still knew how to build proper cars.
Oh Pontiac, how we miss you - before circa 1980. Beginning in the eighties, General Motors was having a difficult time trying to define their so-called "Excitement" brand. Unfortunately they never did and Pontiac was shut down in 2010. However, the sixties and seventies were a glorious time for Pontiac, but when the eighties rolled up, downsizing cars both in physical size and their engines was common and the brand soon had a lineup of mainly rebadged Chevrolets.
This strategy only became worse into the nineties when Pontiac simply added tons of plastic body-cladding to their models in order to try to somehow differentiate them from Chevrolets and even Buicks. But there was a time, however, when Pontiac actually was exciting and we can thank John Z. DeLorean for that. Besides from the beloved GTO, another respectable model was the Le Mans. Originally a trim package for the Tempest, the Le Mans nameplate was officially given in 1971 when Pontiac ditched the Tempest name altogether. While the GTO became far more popular, the Le Mans started coming into its own in 1970.
Before then, buyers could opt for a V8 (the 326 and 350 cu in units were the most popular) as well as a variety of body styles including a coupe, sedan and a wagon. Still, the GTO was way cooler and it outsold both the Tempest and Le Mans. In 1971, the Tempest simply became the T-37 while the Le Mans name was applied to all of Pontiac's mid-size models. In order to give this newly rechristened model an added dose of adrenaline without infringing on the GTO's territory, the GT-37 was born. Available as an option package for both the standard and pillared coupe, the idea was to appeal to younger buyers who couldn't afford a GTO but still wanted a proper muscle car.
In addition to the standard 350 and 400 cu in V8s, buyers could opt for the GTO's 455 cu in V8 as well. However, GM didn't want the GT-37 infringing upon the GTO's territory so they simply had its engines detuned with lower compression ratios and to run on lower octane and low-lead gasoline. Starting in 1973, the mid-size Le Mans and its GM stable mates (Chevy Chevelle, Buick Special, and Oldsmobile Cutlass) grew in size in order to keep up with U.S. government crash regulations. While a wonderful lineup of V8s were still offered, the concept of making the cars bigger and heavier continued on until 1978 when GM ultimately began to downsize things.
The GT-37 package was long gone by this point and the Le Mans became a shadow of its former self. The GTO disappeared in 1974 and the days of which Pontiac actually built excitement were clearly fading away. If you take a few moments to look back at Pontiac's history, it doesn't take an Ivy League historian to realize that GM simply didn't know how to build a proper Pontiac after the glory days of the mid-sixties to mid-seventies. For those who still long for a truly great Pontiac but think a classic GTO still costs too much, look no further than this 1971 Le Mans GT-37, now up for sale on eBay.
Powered by a rebuilt 400 cu in V8 mated to a factory manual, the exterior was given an all-new high quality paint job followed by the reassembly of the chrome, glass, trim, and gaskets as well as a new factory white stripe kit. The seller also claims the black interior is free of cracks. It can also be confirmed that this is a "real" GT-37 because the car comes with the original factory work sheet. As of this writing, the current bid was just under $14k but the reserve hadn't been met yet. For any Pontiac fan still wanting to get their hands on something special from the brand's best days, this GT-37 certainly fits the bill.