The first Pontiac GTO was an option package for the Pontiac LeMans, available with the two-door coupe, hardtop coupe, and convertible body styles. For US$ 296, it included the 389 CID V8 (rated at 325 hp (242 kW) at 4800 rpm) with a single Carter AFB four-barrel carburetor and dual exhaust, chromed valve covers and air cleaner, 7 blade clutch fan, a floor-shifted three-speed manual transmission with Hurst shifter, stiffer springs, larger diameter front sway bar, wider wheels with 7.50 x 14 redline tires, hood scoops, and GTO badges.
Optional equipment included a four-speed manual transmission, two-speed automatic transmission, a more powerful "Tri-Power" carburetion rated at 348 hp (260 kW), metallic drum brake linings, limited slip differential, heavy-duty cooling, ride and handling package, and the usual array of power and convenience accessories. With every available option, the GTO cost about US$ 4,500 and weighed around 3,500 pounds (1,600 kg).
Most contemporary road tests used the more powerful Tri-Power engine and four-speed. Car Life clocked a GTO so equipped at 0-60 miles per hour (0-97 km/h) in 6.6 seconds, through the standing quarter mile in 14.8 seconds with a top speed of 99 miles per hour (158 km/h). Like most testers, they criticized the slow steering, particularly without power steering, and inadequate drum brakes, which were identical to those of the normal Tempest. Car and Driver incited controversy when it printed that a GTO that had supposedly been tuned with the "Bobcat" kit offered by Ace Wilson's Royal Pontiac of Royal Oak, Michigan, was clocked at a quarter mile time of 12.8 seconds and a top speed of 112 mph (179 km/h) on racing slicks. Later reports strongly suggest that the Car and Driver GTOs were equipped with a 421 CID (6.9 L) engine that was optional in full-sized Pontiacs. Since the two engines were difficult to distinguish externally, the subterfuge was not immediately obvious. Frank Bridge's sales forecast proved inaccurate: the GTO package had sold 10,000 units before the beginning of the 1964 calendar year, and total sales were 32,450.