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SEMA Tuner Special: Pontiac GTO Ram Air 6 Concept
All Rise: Recalling the Goat’s past
Published Date: 11/1/04


ON SALE: n/a
PRICE: n/a
POWERTRAIN: 6.4-liter, 575-hp, 500-lb-ft V8; rwd, six-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT: 3900 pounds (est.)
0 to 60 MPH: 4.5 seconds (est.)

>> For those over 40, the iridescent orange Pontiac GTO Ram Air 6 (for sixth-generation Ram Air car) first seen at the 2004 Woodward Dream Cruise and shown on these pages may trigger a nostalgic twinge: For Friday night cruises; for drag races up Woodward Avenue or some equally appropriate concrete strip of middle America; for George, Paul, John and Ringo. Most certainly, for The Judge, Pontiac’s high-performance version of its iconic late-’60s-era GTO. But if the car’s functional hood scoops and color scheme trigger déjà vu among the muscle car faithful, its carbon fiber trim and custom 20-inch wheel package indicates to Gen X and Yers something much more now than then: It’s SEMA time.

The Specialty Equipment Market Association’s Las Vegas show annually highlights modern hot rodders’ best offerings, though carmakers’ ever-expanding presence blurs the definition of aftermarket more and more every year. Indeed, it’s a shame that General Motors’ Performance Division’s reach does not extend further into the parent company’s product plans. This GTO project took just three months to go from concept to completion, yet it rectifies most of the criticism we’ve levied at the standard GTO, just about all of which centers on its appearance.

Penned and sculpted by a team led by Performance Division design director Kip Wasenko, this Goat began life as a 2004 production model. By replacing most of the stock car’s steel body panels with custom fiberglass, Wasenko’s crew transformed the GTO’s look from—how to say this politely—Ally McBeal to Pamela Anderson. The doors, greenhouse, decklid, headlights and taillights are the only production exterior parts that carry over to the concept car, which fuses road-racer chic to old-school cool without incorporating stale retro cues.

“Certainly, we wanted to tie in with the heritage of GTO,” Wasenko says. “The hood is an all-new design, but it’s still Ram Air. We chose a 389-cubic-inch engine because that was kind of the main engine for old GTOs (though The Judge commonly used a 400-cid engine), [but] as opposed to old GTOs, which were drag racers, this one was inspired more by road racing.”

The inspiration is appropriate, as GM revs up the GTO for its 2005 Grand-Am GT racing attack. Hood scoops aside, obvious road-racing nods include the front fascia’s gaping intake and functional brake ducts, as well as the prominent carbon fiber splitter that features what Wasenko calls the traditional Pontiac “beak-nose” look. Carbon fiber trim wraps its way around the car, with flat side sills flowing into a large, racing-inspired rear diffuser that Wasenko says improves underbody airflow and reduces lift, though engineers have not yet put the car through its wind-tunnel paces. In profile, the rear brake ducts incorporated into the fenders are well executed and nicely set off by the mid-body crease line.

The best modification is the not-too-sharp, not-too-round flared fenders that allow the concept to work so well visually. Inspired by the ’68 GTO’s Coke-bottle curves, the Ram Air 6 appears so muscular that at certain angles, and especially from a distance, the car bears little resemblance to its production counterpart.

Such wide haunches are not purely cosmetic. They envelop large 285/30 front and colossal 335/30 rear Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tires and Performance Division-designed deep-dish billet wheels. A modified suspension controls the unsprung weight, which is down about seven pounds per corner compared to the standard Goat. However, the development team did not want to “modify the suspension, but to try and showcase the quality and ability of the platform and use all bolt-in components,” says engineering program manager Rob Tanner.

To that end, Tanner’s team upgraded the front struts with Drummond Motor Sport two-way adjustable, coilover shocks. At the rear it installed similarly adjustable Drummond shocks and replaced the original variable-rate springs with linear-rate Eibach coils. The apparent ride-height reduction is an illusion caused by the new bodywork; the suspension modifications maintain a stance nearly identical to the regular GTO’s. Urethane suspension bushings replace the original factory pieces, as do larger front and rear antiroll bars and a billet aluminum front strut brace. The Performance Division also installed Cadillac CTS-V brake calipers and pads, and 14-inch Performance Friction rotors.

Theoretically, the suspension revisions and ultra-wide rubber should transform the already fun-to-drive GTO into a road-course prodigy. Unfortunately, despite our best attempts to plan an all-out test drive, we can neither confirm nor deny whether this is the reality. Oh, we tried. Two weeks before SEMA, we turned up at GM’s Milford Road Course with helmet in hand, only to be rebuffed by the fun police, aka the proving ground’s on-site monitors. They muttered something about our safety and non-GM-certified drivers, but more likely were concerned for the car’s well-being; we could almost see visions of shredded bodywork dancing in their heads.

The outing was not a complete loss, however, as the corporate nannies allowed us to fire up the engine and drive several laps at speeds similar to those achieved on our commute to the track. The offer sounded like a lame consolation prize, until we turned the key. “[email protected]*!,” we laughed as the non-catalyst-equipped V8 snapped awake with a Nextel Cup car-like roar. Cabin chatter between passengers is decidedly not on the agenda, especially as the tach climbs past 3000 rpm.

An amalgamation of GM powerplant parts, the 6.4-liter pushrod engine includes the LS7’s aluminum block set to debut on the next Corvette Z06, as well as the heads, crank and connecting rods from GM’s LS2 engine. The camshaft comes from the LS1, and the engine breathes through the aforementioned Ram Air intake and a custom stainless exhaust.

As another nod to past GTOs, the exhaust features three-inch, downward-facing dual tips. Put simply, the power gain is immense: 575 hp at 6800 rpm, 500 lb-ft of torque at 5200. Still, the development team has not conducted any serious running, and won’t speculate on 0-to-60-mph or quarter-mile times. Without the benefit of any sort of timing gear, we feel it’s safe to say the car will likely hit 60 mph in the low- to mid-four-second range, and dip into the high 12s over the quarter-mile.

Unfortunately, like so many of our favorite concept and SEMA cars, GM says it has no plans to produce Ram Air 6s, though a version of the Stainless Works-designed exhaust is intended for public consumption. If reaction warrants, Wasenko says a body kit may also be in the cards, and he’s pushing hard to introduce into production the Orange Crush paint job that sparkles with ground glass rather than metallic flake. But as we plodded around the track, such evident performance potential reminded us of a print advertising campaign for the ’69 GTO. The tagline said simply, “This Judge can be bought.”

While this one can’t, showgoers should certainly put it on their SEMA docket.

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My 1978 Formula Firebird had exaust like that and I lhad put headers on it with a cam and intake and it sounded great. Better that the Trans Am in the movie BLUE THUNDER when they are going thru the cones in the parking garage.

That car ROCKS!

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