Collector Car Corner – Pontiac’s forgotten T37 muscle car from 1970-1971

Collector Car Corner - Pontiac’s forgotten T37 muscle car from 1970-1971This 1971 Pontiac Lemans is being cloned into a GT37 model, although Pontiac did not offer a convertible T37 or GT37 during its two year run.  (Greg Zyla photo)
Collector Car Corner - Pontiac’s forgotten T37 muscle car from 1970-1971

This advertisement for the 1971 Pontiac GT37 muscle car explains everything from lower insurance rates for young drivers to high output (H.O.) Pontiac performance engines. Customers could order any Pontiac V8, or even a six cylinder if desired in the Pontiac T37 series. (Advertisement compliments General Motors)

Q: Greg I would like to add a car to your list of the top 10 muscle cars from the 1970 decade.

Two years after getting out of the service in 1969 I traded my 69 GTO for a 1971 Pontiac T37.  It had a 455 H.O., 4-speed M22 Muncie “rock crusher” and 3:73 gears.  

As you may know the T37 was a stripped Lemans including a cloth bench seat with rubber floor mats.  It was a pretty plain car except for the Rally wheels.  It had two white decals near the running lights on the fenders that showed “455 H.O.”  I don’t know how many were produced but I never saw another one in the Rochester, New York area.

Maybe you have some additional information on this car, production numbers etc.  The GTO was quick but not nearly as fast as the 455 HO and as others have said in your columns, “BOY DO I WISH I HAD KEPT THAT CAR.” I read your column weekly in the Times of Wayne County.

Thank you, Bill Brasser, Penfield, N.Y., now 70 years young and a retired Controls Engineer, General Motors, Rochester Operations (formerly Rochester Products Div.)

Collector Car Corner - Pontiac’s forgotten T37 muscle car from 1970-1971

A Ram Air III high performance engine powers this 1971 GT37 Lemans clone. In 1971, you could also order the 455 H.O., of which only 54 were ever built. (Greg Zyla photo)

A: Bill thanks for your letter and mention of perhaps the most forgotten muscle car of all-time. And yes, I forgot about the T37 as it is indeed worthy of a Top-10 callout!

Your T37 was based on the lightweight Lemans style chassis and believe it or not, I came across one at a car show in Waverly, N.Y. two weeks ago (July of 2018).

Well, sort of.

The vehicle I saw at the car show is not a 100-percent original GT37. Although powered by a correct 400 Ram Air engine, it is a convertible. The owner is putting together this clone utilizing front fenders from a GT37 he had secured at a “U-Pull It” service center, known to us baby boomers as junkyards. Even though no GT37 convertibles were ever built, it will be a sweet car when finished.

Interesting about the rare T37 is, as you mention, how stripped down they came from the factory. As regular readers of my column know, the GTO Judge was also promoted as a stripped down version of the “regular” GTO, although nowhere near the T37.

You mention your car had the M22 Muncie 4-speed, a sure giveaway that your T37 had some serious muscle under the hood. The M22’s were the best of the GM four-speeds at the time and stood up to speed shifting better than any other resulting in its “rock crusher” slang. 

Collector Car Corner - Pontiac’s forgotten T37 muscle car from 1970-1971

Advertisement for the 1970 T37 included both two-door hardtop and two-door post models. (Advertisement compliments General Motors)

The T37 arrived mid-year 1970 just as the muscle car revolution was slowing down, mostly due to very high muscle car insurance premiums. If you wanted a GTO, the insurance was sky high for youngsters, so Pontiac used the Tempest model with T37 identification to fall under Pontiac Tempest insurance rates, which were much lower than a GTO.  As for nomenclature, T stood for Tempest and 37 was the Pontiac internal code for any and all hardtop coupes across the line. 

The initial ‘70 Pontiac GT37 was indeed the fastest Pontiac muscle car produced when equipped with the Ram Air III 400-inch engine that put out a conservative 345 horses.  Other V8s were available, but the 400 Ram Air was the hot ticket.

Notable is the even though the GT-37 had the Ram Air III engine, no ram air hood was available and just 1,419 GT-37 coupes were built in 1970. A note here is that the GT option was a $236.97 addition and included Judge style accent stripes, Rally II wheels minus the trim rings, white letter tires, dual exhaust, 3-speed manual floor-mounted shifter, remote mirrors, hood pins, and the GT-37 nameplate. It was for sprucing up only, and did not include any performance engines. 

Then in 1971, things changed. The Tempest was no longer available, so Pontiac used its identical 112-inch Lemans chassis for the T37 models and its lower insurance premiums. Further, anything that added weight to the 1971 models was eliminated, saving over 100 pounds in the two-door performance models. A four-door T37 was also available, but its wheelbase was four inches longer and not suited for muscle car enthusiast. The GT option for ’71 included a Hurst shifter and again any GTO style engine could be ordered. 

As for marketing, Pontiac even utilized the saying “There’s a little GTO in every GT-37, and you don’t have to be over 30 to afford it,” again in regards to the high under 30 year-old insurance rates for the GTO. 

The most powerful engine option was the $358 more H.O. 455, rated at just 335 horses but putting out way more. Overall T37 production came in at near 36,000, of which 5,802 were V8s. But of the V8s, only 54 had the 455 H.O. engine making your car the rarest of all.  (Yes. Not a typo – just 54 of them).

In summary, few high performance T37s remain so if you see one at a car show, you are viewing a very rare muscle car.   

Hope this all helps Bill and thanks much for reading my columns.

(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist. He welcomes reader questions or comments on collector cars, auto nostalgia and old-time motorsports at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, Pa. 18840 or email at greg@gregzyla.com).

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