Pontiac's GTO, the car that gave birth to the American muscle car phenomenon, will be celebrated through a special 50th anniversary exhibit during Charlotte Motor Speedway's Sept. 18-21 AutoFair.

The display, housed in the Nationwide Insurance Pavilion, will feature a dozen of the rarest, most desirable examples available, including the earliest known 1964 GTO, a '66 Tri-Power model, a '69 Judge Ram Air IV and a '71 Judge convertible.

The earliest Baby Boomers were ready to buy new cars in the early 1960s, and they were willing to pay extra for speed and style. Pontiac electrified the youth market when it took a 389-cid V-8 from its big family car model, squeezed it into a mid-size Tempest, and sold it as a performance package. Pontiac "borrowed" the name GTO from Italian automaker Ferrari, whose own GTO race cars had dominated European road courses only a few years earlier.

The '64 GTO came standard with a four-barrel carburetor and 325 horsepower; paying extra for a three-carburetor "Tri-Power" layout raised the bar to 348 horses, giving the car a power-to-weight ratio like nothing else on the road. Its immediate sales success (32,000 sold in the first year) caused Ronnie and the Daytonas to immortalize the new Pontiac in the song "Little GTO."

The next 10 years set a blistering pace of style evolution and increasing power for the GTO, since Pontiac knew the competition was always trying to catch up. A styling change to the '65 Tempest gave the second-year GTO an aggressive look to match its power output, and three-carb option boosted horsepower to 360. The Tempest and GTO received a complete redesign for 1966, gaining a longer body with a "Coke bottle" profile, so called because Pontiac incorporated muscular haunches over the car's rear wheels that, coincidentally, mimic a bottle of the famous soft drink lying on its side. This iconic combination of looks and power sold 100,000 GTO coupes and convertibles that year. For '67, the GTO's V-8 engine increased its displacement to 400 cubic inches and gained a hot new performance option—a Ram Air package that fed more atmosphere to the hungry "Goat" through hood scoops.

A redesign for 1968 gave the GTO hidden headlights, an innovative "Endura" rubber nosepiece, a stockier body and twin hood scoops. The same body carried over into '69, when the GTO was given an optional performance package known as "The Judge," a rare factory supercar that could be ordered with a special Ram Air III or Ram Air IV intake system.

A mild facelift for 1970 gave the GTO more of a family resemblance to Pontiac's Firebird, and it carried over into '71 with only minor changes. America's enthusiasm for big-block muscle cars was starting to cool, however. Sales of the gas-guzzling street machines were down throughout the industry due to increased insurance costs and strict new tailpipe emissions standards that were hurting power output.

GTO ceased being its own model in 1972; it reverted to option package status on the LeMans. In 1973, the GTO had its lowest annual sales ever—4,800 units. For 1974, the initials were attached to a lukewarm Ventura (Pontiac's version of the Chevy Nova) and dropped from the lineup entirely for 1975.

During model years 2004 to 2006, Pontiac spectacularly revived the GTO as a two-door coupe built by General Motors' Holden factory in Australia. With a 350-horsepower V-8 and rear-wheel drive, it was seen as formidable competition for Ford's Mustang, but a retail price of $34,000-plus limited its appeal to hardcore Pontiac enthusiasts. Only 40,757 of the imported GTOs found homes in the U.S.

See one of these powerhouses from each year the GTO was made in its first decade of production, plus a model from one of the three years they went back into production in the mid-2000s, in the 50th anniversary display in the Nationwide Insurance Pavilion at the speedway.

The AutoFair features more than 50 car club displays and more than 10,000 vendor spaces offering an array of automotive parts and memorabilia. More than 1,500 collectible vehicles of all makes and models will be available for sale in the car corral that rings the 1.5-mile superspeedway. In addition, up to 200 cars will be auctioned by Dealer Auctions Inc., and kids can enjoy face-painting, bounce houses, and other games and entertainment in the Play Zone.

Hours for the Sept. 18-21 AutoFair are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday. Ticket prices are $10 per day for adults, and children 13 and under are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Fans who buy three tickets get the fourth day free. Parking for the event is $5. For more information on the four-day event, contact the speedway events department at (704) 455-3205 or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.

To purchase tickets, call the Charlotte Motor Speedway ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS (3267), or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.

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