Pontiac revives muscle car with return of the GTO
Pontiac revives muscle car with return of the GTO
Base price: $31,795
Price as tested: $33,190
This week, we test Pontiac’s all new GTO, a full-bore, 350-horsepower LS1-V8 powered car that delivers on all promises. This car is so special, some background is necessary.
It was 40 yeas ago when the first GTO appeared on the city boulevards. Pontiac management, led by John DeLorean, basically took the powerful 389-inch V8 that powered the full-size Catalina, Bonneville and Grand Prix models and installed it between the frame rails of the mid-size LeMans/Tempest. The result was awe-inspiring. It was fast, featured either a 325-horsepower, single four-barrel or 348-horse Tri-Power V8s, and carried the now famous GTO badge. Best of all, the GTO option cost just $295 more for the single four-barrel to get you into mid-size muscle car land. In essence, the GTO launched a whole new market segment.
As for noteworthy accomplishments, not since the Beach Boys cut the single “409” did a car song go so high in the charts as “Ronny and the Daytonas” did with “Little GTO.” The song went to number four during a 17-week chart appearance. Pontiac continued to improve the GTO through the years, including the “The Judge,” which appeared in 1969. The “Judge” was introduced to combat the Plymouth “Roadrunner” popularity, and DeLorean receives credit for the name thanks to the hit TV show “Laugh-In,” which had a recurring segment with the tag line, “Here come de Judge.” It was an era where car companies named models after cartoon characters, came up with names like Boss, Eliminator, Grabber, Rebel, Demon, Super Bee, Duster and Swinger, and painted them outrageous colors such as Plum Crazy, Panther Pink, Go Mango, Sublime, and Banana Yellow.
The Judge was designed to help boost 1969 GTO sales and its popularity carried the new model into the 1970 model year. Unfortunately, sales of all GTOs started to slide. The end of the era came for real GTO fans in 1972, when a 455-inch HO engine was still available. The GTO lasted until 1974, but, by then, low-compression engines and a Ventura body style ushered in its death knell. The GTO ceased production after the 1974 model year, but its legend remained strong. After the muscle car was cast aside during the 1970s’ energy crisis, those same cars soon became desirable collector cars and today command top dollar. More than a half-million GTOs were produced during its initial 11-model-year run. Totals ranged from a high of 96,946 in 1966 to a low of 4,806 in 1973.
Fast forward to 2004 and the new GTO. With lots of horsepower, fully independent front and rear suspensions, and an exhaust note reminiscent of Pontiac’s classic performance vehicles, the GTO is truly back. In keeping with Pontiac’s contemporary, yet not over-intrusive or gaudy style, the GTO’s exterior is still aggressive. Sporting a standard rear spoiler, the vehicle is accented by large, five-spoke wheels and 17-inch W-rated performance tires. The projector-beam headlamps, flanking a dual-port grille and large outboard fog lamps, place the GTO firmly in the Pontiac family.
Inside, you’ll enjoy a premium interior with 2+2 configuration (room for four) and color-coordinated leather seating, aluminum style pedals and lots of GTO afterthoughts like the “GTO” name embroidered on the front seats. Sound? How about a Blaupunkt 200-watt audio system with six-disc in-dash CD changer and 10 speakers!
It’s under the hood, however, where all the excitement is. GTO boasts an LS1 V-8, 346-inch engine that produces 350 horsepower at 5200 rpm and 365 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. Our tester came with an optional ($695) M12 close-ratio six-speed manual transmission (same as Corvette Z06) that shifted beautifully, even under extreme, quarter-mile testing. It’s hands down the best transmission we’ve shifted in a while.
Getting the power to the ground comes thanks to a fully independent suspension featuring MacPherson struts in front and a semi-trailing arm design in the rear, with specially tuned strut valving and spring rates. Direct-acting stabilizer bars and a variable ratio power steering system also are tuned to provide a sporty feel and increased driver feedback. Stopping is also excellent, thanks to four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel ABS. There’s also a Bosch designed three-channel traction control system.
The engine provides the driver with plenty of low-rpm torque. The exhaust is tuned to give GTO a distinctive sound and the available transmissions and 3:46 limited-slip rear are geared to enhance the car’s initial launch. (Yes, you can order an automatic, but why mess with the real fun?) We hand-timed the GTO from zero to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds and did a quarter-mile run in about 13.7 seconds at 105 mph at Maple Grove Raceway, home of the Lucas Oil Nationals in Mohnton, near Reading.
All of the expected standard features come with every rear-drive GTO, from air conditioning to air bags to all the powers.
Important numbers include a wheelbase of 109.8 inches, EPA numbers of 17 city and 29 highway (great), and a 3,761-pound curb weight.
We loved the GTO. It receives a nine on a scale of one to 10. If you love mid-size muscle cars, they’re back at Pontiac dealers nationwide. Wonder when Chevy will release the Chevelle SS?
Likes: True American car muscle, great 6-speed transmission, lots of power
Dislikes: Styling may be a bit too unassuming
Zyla is a syndicated motorsports columnist.