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This is from a magazine that, almost without fail, hates any car American and loves all cars British. I have never read a more positive review about an American car from this source. And I've heard they do not like the C5 Corvette at all so overall I have very little respect for them but at least this is a nice review.

About the time a certain GM engineer named John Z DeLorean launched the original 325bhp V8 Pontiac GTO in 1964, my mother was driving me around Buckinghamshire in a decrepit Austin A30. At the age of seven I couldn't have begun to grasp what it was like to have several hundred horsepower at one's disposal. For me it was a good day if that wheezing 30bhp Austin managed to heave itself over the Chilterns without having to stop to cool off.

Across the ocean, lads my age were riding around in brand new GTOs, probably thinking things could scarcely get much better. And for Pontiac they couldn't. GM's 'performance' division sold 32,000 GTOs in the car's first year, six times what was expected, and went on to shift more than half a million. For 10 years the GTO was the classic American muscle car - a hulking two-door coupe rippling with ever-increasing V8 grunt. Then, as the GTO neared its demise in 1974, the muscle shrivelled dramatically as insurance considerations, petrol crises and emissions rules took their toll.

Meanwhile, back at the McCormick homestead, there was progress of sorts, when the sad Austin was dumped in favour of a Mini. It was better, but still light years from 325 horsepower.

Fast-forward 30 years and I'm finally driving a GTO - not an original, but an entirely new edition that has come to life through an odd set of circumstances and the determined prodding of GM top executive, Bob Lutz. One person not involved this time is DeLorean, who spectacularly botched his career after GM and was last believed to be selling watches.

The born-again GTO started life as the decent but unremarkable rear-drive Opel Omega, travelled to Australia where Holden toughened it up, dropped in the US-made Corvette engine and created a two-door coupe called the Monaro. Not long into his tenure at GM, Lutz went to Holden, drove the Monaro and decided it would be a perfect vehicle to pump some new life into Pontiac, whose performance image had lost its shine.

It took 18 months to re-fettle the Monaro for the US market and also prepare a version for UK consumption. The outcome of this unusual blend of German, Australian and American input is a muscle car with a twist. The muscle is there for sure: 350bhp from that torquey 5.7-litre Corvette motor is actually equivalent to over 400bhp, rated by the optimistic standards of the 1960s.

What's different is that, unlike the old GTO (or the Goat, as Americans nicknamed it, as no-one could pronounce DeLorean's Gran Turismo Omologato reference), this one actually does more than go bloody fast in a straight line. Its handling is great too. Not in a sports car sense, but impressive considering it is a weighty coupe measuring the same end-to-end as a Bentley Continental GT.

From a standing start, you will find the 2004 GTO rips past 60mph in the low fives (in the six-speed manual version; add a couple of tenths for the four-speed automatic). The gearshift of the manual 'box is a bit ponderous compared to some rival coupes, but few of them are dealing with such high torque output.

Full acceleration turns the engine note from a relaxed burble to a hammering beat, reminiscent of, but not as intense as the Corvette. Pontiac's engineers listened to tapes of the original GTO when tuning the exhaust. And the new version does sound great, plus if you turn off the traction control you can spin the rear tyres and go into full Dukes of Hazzard mode.

Aside from traction control, there's a distinct absence of electronic gizmos on the GTO. That's probably a reflection of Aussie disdain for computer nannies, but the GTO is none the worse for it. The sturdy chassis (beefed up for Australian backroads) and fully independent suspension are perfectly set up for fast, flat cornering.

The Goodrich tyres are wide and sticky, and enhance the car's planted feel. Speed-sensitive, variable-assist rack-and-pinion steering is a touch slow to respond, but works with an accuracy owners of old Goats could only dream of. Mild understeer is the order of the day. Flinging the tail out at will is not on, unless you floor it mid bend. Given the stable cornering attitude, the ride quality is surprisingly compliant. You have to hit a pretty serious bump or pothole to upset the chassis.

In short, this Pontiac is the polar opposite of its ragged-handling ancestor. Modern tyres, brakes, steering and decent suspension have caught up with the powertrain in a manner that wasn't possible back in the Sixties. That's not to say you can't have fun in the GTO. With 365lb ft of torque up for grabs, it will burn rubber all day and leave similarly priced coupes like the Mazda RX-8 or BMW 330Ci standing at the lights.

The GTO's new-found civilised air is evident inside its cabin, which, while lacking possibly expected features like satnav, sunroof or heated seats, is designed for serious driving. The elegant leather-trimmed front seats are comfy and give good side support. The thick-rimmed 'wheel frames a no-nonsense analogue instrument pod, with cool red or blue colour-coded dials, and the centre of the dash is taken up with just the essentials: a decent CD player and aircon controls. There are few fripperies inside the GTO, partly because there wasn't enough time for the Pontiac people to add them. Which is fine by me, although I will say that a foot rest would be a nice addition in the driver's footwell.

The GTO has four seats, and adults in the rear will be quite comfy, but getting there is a problem. The front seatbacks tip forward as expected, but then the seats power forward electrically at an agonizingly slow pace. Those asked to sit in the back will not be impressed. In one other area, boot space, the practicality of the Pontiac is challenged compared to the Monaro, because US crash regulations necessitated moving the petrol tank up behind the rear seats, which effectively halved the luggage room.

This, however, will not be debated nearly as much as the more fundamental question over the car's styling. Few expected Pontiac to do a J Mays-style recreation of the original GTO, but the extremely clean - some would say plain - design of the newcomer is meeting resistance in some quarters. Pontiac execs admit that a good deal of advance website chatter has focused on the pros and cons of the shape. Certainly by the standards of 1990s Pontiacs, which were slathered in ribbed, plastic body cladding, the new GTO is positively understated. But the fact is, GM didn't have enough time (or the desire to spend the money) to change sheet metal, if it was to get the car to the US as fast as Lutz wanted.

Personally, I don't think the sober styling is that big a deal. The lively aftermarket business in the US will go into a frenzy over this car. Body kits and engine performance tweaks can be expected in short order. In any case, Pontiac only expects to sell 18,000 GTOs annually. Sedate design or not, for about $32,000, I can see this car flying out of showrooms. And if it proves a big enough hit for GM, we could see more resources thrown at a successor a few years on. A future GTO/Monaro with 400bhp and bolder styling? I wouldn't doubt it.

John McCormick

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It's coming to Britain: a big, bad Australian Vauxhall with a big, bad V8 - and Clarkson loves it...

Road test - Vauxhall Monaro
[December 18 2003]

You have to feel a little sorry for Vauxhall as it thrashes around in the General Motors catalogue, trying to find something we might actually want to buy. First of all, they decided to import a selection of cars like the Cadillac Seville and Corvette from America, but this ended badly. Even Vauxhall says "We know everyone who bought one by name". So now they're trying their luck with a car made in Australia.

On the face of it, this sounds even more hare-brained because Australia is not exactly ground zero when it comes to engineering innovation or excellence. Indeed, in the country's entire 200 year history, their only contribution has been the rotary washing line.

There are no Aussie planes, no Aussie food blenders or cameras or microwave ovens. Even my barbecue set was made in Canada. And, so far as cars are concerned, it's even worse. There was a bloke called James Holden who started out making saddles for horses and then after just 10 years of making motorcycle side cars was bought out by General Motors. And then presumably went to join the rest of the continent in the pub.

Nonetheless, today, there are still cars that bear his name and one of them has been singled out by Vauxhall as The Next Big Thing to hit Britain. God knows why. Choosing to buy an Australian car is a bit like choosing to drink a German wine. Why do you think all Australian motoring journalists end up over here? Because there's bugger all to do at home. Cars. It's just not what they do well.

However, I decided to have a look at the thing which, in the flesh, is like a two-door Vauxhall Omega, only much much bigger. Its proportions may work well in the Northern Territory but in Surrey, at our test track, it felt like a whale shark in a goldfish bowl.

I shalln't bore you with the styling details because there weren't any. And anyway, you can judge for yourselves. But for what it's worth, I thought it was quite handsome in an inoffensive, didn't-really-notice-it, sort of way.

You can probably tell from my tone here that I wasn't expecting the Monaro to be much cop. I felt it was a bit like going round for dinner with people who only know you because your kids are in the same class. You know you're in for an evening of mind-bending tedium.

But when I went through the door of the Monaro, it had a bit of a surprise up its sleeve. Tons of recreational drugs, and why don't you help yourself to my daughter while you're at it. This car is enormous, rounded, proper, wide-eyed, teeth-bared, stomach-flittering fun with a big, loud F.

Up front, you get the Corvette's 5.7-litre V8 which sends its 339bhp down a prop shaft and to the rear wheels via a limited slip differential. For those of you used to active yaw control from your Evo VIII or two-stage turbocharging from your Porsche, the Monaro will seem like switching to shepherd's pie after a week at the Peach and Peacock. But trust me on this, it works.

So far as speed's concerned, it goes from 0-60mph in 5.8 seconds and doesn't run out of crocodile rock until it hits 168. That makes it 1mph faster than the Lotus Carlton and, thus, the fastest Vauxhall ever. I know that's like winning the title of 'Bedford's most interesting accountant', but I raced it against a Jaguar XKR and it was extraordinary. The Jag leaped off the line like... well, like a Jaguar actually, while the Monaro was bogged down by an absurdly tall first gear.

But as the cars ate up the runway, the Aussie kept on gaining and gaining until at the braking point one mile down the road, they were dead level. That, then, is what you'd expect. American style straight line oomph from what, after all, is an American engine. There's an American style burble too, but there's nothing even remotely American about the way the Monaro corners. Which is remarkable when you remember it comes from a land with fewer bends than an Etch a Sketch drawing.

Turn in, add a splash of power and within moments, it will serve up the most delicious smoked power slide in the history of Top Gear's test track. The BMW Z4 was easy to handle down there. The Mazda RX-8 was better still (in the dry at least), but the Monaro was a whole new ball game. Sticking with ball games, the gulf between this and the aforementioned Jag is as big as the gulf between our rugby team and theirs. Only this time, they win. The Monaro is effortless hooliganism.

But when you settle down, the car does too. The seats that held you in place so marvellously on the track turn into armchairs, the ride is weirdly compliant, the steering is light and, because the engine has enough torque to uproot James May in an argument (probably, it's never actually been achieved), you can stick it in sixth and potter home at three, doing hundreds of miles to the gallon.

Inside, you get space for four and electric everything. The only thing that's missing is satellite navigation. But then it's only going to cost £28,500 when it goes on sale next May. To sum up then, damn. Damn, damn, damn and double damn.

I was rather hoping to hate the Holden. I was hoping to conclude by saying the Aussies should stick to waving at flies. And I was dying to poke some more fun at Vauxhall for making yet another half-arsed and useless decision.

But the Monaro is a wonderful car. Too big, too brash and too loud, for some, perhaps. I can't see too many outside Chipping Norton church on a Sunday, for instance. But if you have an electric blue Subaru now, or a banana yellow 911, and fancy something a bit different next time round, you shouldn't give a XXXX for anything else.

Jeremy Clarkson
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