Cars Cum Laude: Five Famous “Graduation Cars”

by: Timothy Weadock

June 11, 2012

Graduation season is the annual rite of passage experienced by millions of young adults every spring. It signifies the completion of one chapter in life and beginning of the next. Here are five cars that the Historic Vehicle Association recognizes as having passed through a similar type of graduation from sub-model/option package to its own unique model. You may now move your tassels to the left.

Pontiac GTO (1964-1974, 2004-2006)

The GTO debuted on October 1, 1963, as an option package on the 1964 Pontiac LeMans. Pontiac General Manager, Elliot “Pete” Estes, used the option package designation to sneak the GTO past GM executives, who had issued an edict restricting engine displacement of mid-size cars to 330-ci. 

A variety of body style, transmission and engine choices allowed customers to personalize their GTO and helped to make it an immediate success. In 1966, the GTO graduated from an optional package to its own place in Pontiac’s model line. Three years later, the GTO spawned an option/package of its own—the GTO Judge.  

Finally, in 1972, the GTO returned from which it came: a sub-model of the Pontiac LeMans. It remained available until 1974 when it was discontinued from the Ventura line. The GTO resurfaced in 2004, based on the Australian Holden Monaro. Production ended for good after the 2006 model year.

Chevrolet Impala (1958-1985, 1994-2012)

Chevrolet first used the Impala name in conjunction with Motorama concepts for the 1955 Biscayne and 1956 Corvette. The Impala made its official debut as the top level option for the 1958 Bel Air coupes and convertibles.

In 1959, the Impala celebrated its promotion to model status by showing off a dramatic restyling. It grew by 2-inches in length and shared bodyshells with full size Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac models. The ever popular Super Sport option followed in 1961.

The Impala left the Chevrolet model lineup after 1985. After a 9-year absence, the Impala returned in 1994 and has been running strong ever since.  

 

Oldsmobile Cutlass (1961-1991, 1997-1999)

In the late 1950s, General Motors began to develop a series of compact cars. The Chevrolet Corvair was first to be released for the 1960 model year, and a year later Oldsmobile introduced the F-85. Most significant among Oldsmobile’s new offerings was the F-85 Cutlass Sports Coupe.    

Oldsmobile was the first to respond to the cross-brand rival Pontiac GTO. For 1964, 3 inches were added to the F-85’s wheelbase and the Cutlass was designated as a mid-size model. Like Pontiac before them, Oldsmobile snuck the “4-4-2 option” past GM brass by classifying it as the “BO-9 Police Package”.

Up until its initial end of production in 1991, the Cutlass survived in a variety of body styles and trim levels. The Cutlass name last appeared in the late 1990s as an upscale Oldsmobile version of the Chevrolet Malibu.    

Ford Galaxie 500 (1959-1974)

The Ford Galaxie originated as the upscale sub-series of the 1959 Fairlane 500. A Thunderbird style “C” Pillar roof distinguished the Galaxie from its Fairlane 500 brethren.  

In 1960, the Galaxie stepped out on its own, leaving the Fairlane 500 trim behind. It continued to be the top trim level for full-size Fords through 1961. The Fairlane was introduced as a mid-size model in 1962, leaving the Galaxie name to the entire full-size series. Two new trim levels were introduced, the 500 and 500 XL.

The Galaxie 500 became the standard model in 1964 and remained until production ceased in 1974. In addition to the XL, the Galaxie 500 launched the LTD trim package in 1968, which would become a model in 1970.  

Toyota Supra (1979-2002)

Toyota demonstrated their performance prowess with the 2000GT in the late 60s; little more than a decade later the automaker attempted to recapture that heritage with the Celica Supra. It featured a 2563cc, inline-6 engine with electronic fuel injection fitted to a modified version of Celica Liftback chassis.  

The second generation Celica Supra was completely restyled with an aerodynamic coupe design and pop-up headlights. Two sub-model packages were introduced in 1982, the Luxury Type (L-Type) and Performance Type (P-Type).

Mid-year 1986 the Celica name was dropped, leaving the Supra name to stand alone. A new 3.0 liter, 200-hp engine was added; a year later a turbo charged option became available.  

For 1992, the Supra received a major redesign, now entering into the realm of entry-level supercar. The model continued to build on its high performance heritage throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s. Exports to America ended in 1999, and overall production halted in 2002.

What is your favorite “model graduate” and why?  Comment below or head over to the HVA’s Facebook page, clue us in, and see what other HVA members are saying. 

 

Comments

  1. Bill Indiana

    The GTO was made from 1964 to 1974 although after 72 they were not really GTO's. That Australian piece that gm put the name on was NOT only a GTO but an abomination of the name and legend. The so called gm or general misfortune as i call it now, can't build a car to save their lives. That's why the government bailed those LOSERS out. I still haven't found any logical reason as to why and never will.

  2. Keith E. Deaton Kennewick, WA.

    My graduation present from college was a 1965 GTO. I almost got a Mustang, but couldn't find one.

  3. gregg schnelker bakersfield california

    Enjoy reading your articles and updates, keep them coming

  4. wayne diamond Utah

    69 GTO judge

  5. Nate Minneapolis

    Cool article, the theme of sub-model-turned-model could apply to a whole host of cars & trucks, especially during the time periods this article highlights. The other GM intermediates not mentioned also had option packages (G.S, Chevelle) which eventually became their own models as well. Maybe they weren't as popular for Graduates... ;) Long live the Buick G.S. line, still going strong. The plymouth valiant line also comes to mind, with the barracuda option-model ultimately becoming the most valuble collectable muscle car. And that model name will stir the blood again in about a year or two once the challenger is phased out. This article focused on cars that evolved options into production models, but when I think of trucks and jeeps such as the Cherokee variations, Ram/Ramcharger/power wagon the convoluted option vs. model name-game really gets into full swing.

  6. Nate Minneapolis

    Cool article, the theme of sub-model-turned-model could apply to a whole host of cars & trucks, especially during the time periods this article highlights. The other GM intermediates not mentioned also had option packages (G.S, Chevelle) which eventually became their own models as well. Maybe they weren't as popular for Graduates... ;) Long live the Buick G.S. line, still going strong. The plymouth valiant line also comes to mind, with the barracuda option-model ultimately becoming the most valuble collectable muscle car. And that model name will stir the blood again in about a year or two once the challenger is phased out. This article focused on cars that evolved options into production models, but when I think of trucks and jeeps such as the Cherokee variations, Ram/Ramcharger/power wagon the convoluted option vs. model name-game really gets into full swing.

  7. Steve Golas CT

    Had to wait till kids were grown and now with the aid of the greatest wife ever i have a 79corvette and 72 mustang coupe, let the memories build!

  8. Bob Stavish Pennsylvania

    The Galaxie 500 LTD was an option introduced in 1965 not 1968 as stated in the article. I know because I had one ( A four door hardtop purchased it as it was being unloaded off the car carrier) This was one fine vehicle loaded with every option available except air conditioning. A real cruiser that swallowed fuel but who cared, gas was relative cheap then.

  9. Mike Eberhardt Oregon

    I grew up in a SoCal beach community.In 64 there was a family that came to vacation at a beach house.The oldest son had a brand new 64 red GTO.There was a lot of sand that would blow over the street. I was 12 at the time and went for a ride.Every time we crossed a sand bar he would gun it and we would slide sideways. It was all at a slow speed and you could of done it with a VW ,but it was in a GTO and thats burned into my memory.

  10. PAUL CULBERTSON SPRING, TX.

    Of all the neat cars and pickups I have owned, the 1968 GTO coupe I purchased new while working for the Dept. of the Army in Joliet, Illinois was and still is my favorite. It was all a steel blue metallic. The only chrome on it was the rear bumper. It had the high compression 400 engine with a 4spd. trans and the Hurst shifter. I soon located a nearly new tri-power setup off a 67 goat and a set of Horsepower Engineering tuned headers which a friend of mine at the dealer installed. The car turned low 13's at the Oswego, Illinois strip.

  11. Vic Breithaupt Eastpointe,MI

    Didn't have the money for GTO, or a Grand National, which was the car to have in 1987. I settled for the family hand me down 64 Ponitac Tempest 4 door. I enjoyed working on it with my father and speeding around town with my friends. Years later I have been able get to get back behind the wheel of a Pontiac again. This time a convertible with a tripower under the hood.

  12. Vic Breithaupt Eastpointe,MI

    Didn't have the money for GTO, or a Grand National, which was the car to have in 1987. I settled for the family hand me down 64 Ponitac Tempest 4 door. I enjoyed working on it with my father and speeding around town with my friends. Years later I have been able get to get back behind the wheel of a Pontiac again. This time a convertible with a tripower under the hood.

  13. Scott NorthCarolina

    I'm not sure why you're saying the Oldsmobile Cutlass "ended initial production in 1991". What are you talking about? They Cutlass name was not used alone on a car after 1981. Then in 1982 they used the names Cutlass Supreme and Cutlass Ciera on two different car lines. 1988 was the end of the rear wheel drive Cutlass Supreme. 1991 was the end of the smaller Cutlass Calais. But the Cutlass Ciera and front wheel drive Cutlass Supreme continued until 1996. Only in 1997 were the names Supreme and Ciera dropped. In 1997 there was only one car called the Cutlass, which, as you mentioned, was a slightly different version of the Chevy Malibu.