Hey, There’s a Cool Car: 2005/2006 Pontiac GTO
By Charles Krome
How can a 400-hp rear-wheel-drive coupe that runs from 0-60 in under 5 seconds be anything less than cool? Yet, as we all know, the car here was an utter failure for Pontiac/GM, and for a lot of different reasons. It all starts with the car’s name, obviously—if it had been anything other than “GTO,” things might have turned out a lot differently.
Instead, GM’s attempt to cash in early on the burgeoning enthusiasm for modern-day muscle cars—which had already welcomed the revival of the Dodge Charger and the launch of the retro-styled fifth-gen Ford Mustang—didn’t extend beyond a half-hearted attempt at rebadging GM Australia’s hi-po coupe, the Holden Monaro. That’s what galled me the most about the situation. I couldn’t believe GM would make such a weak effort to differentiate the GTO from the Monaro and then make such a strong effort to pretend that it hadn’t, that the GTO was a new vehicle. What made it worse was that the target market for the “new” car was made up of exactly the kind of people most likely to realize this and be offended by it.
And believe me, the GTO fanboys were plenty offended, and not just because of the badge engineering per se; they were also upset about the vehicle’s esthetics without regard to where they came from. Unsurprisingly considering its origins, the new model had no traditional heritage cues from past GTOs, and it wasn’t exactly a prime example of the “American retro” style people expected/wanted after seeing the new Mustang. The powers that be at GM tried to put a brave face on things and claim they specifically wanted the new GTO to be a revolutionary, truly modern design, but it came out as a bald-faced lie because everyone knew it didn’t matter what they wanted—they had no say in the matter and were stuck with what Holden came up with.
(To be fair, “stuck with” is a little harsh. I think it’s a slick-looking car with a design that could have been an evolution of the sixth-generation Pontiac Grand Prix, which I particularly liked. Except for the odd way the leading edge of the hood fits, the design perhaps could be called restrained and sophisticated. Of course, those are two words rarely associated with the classic GTO, and I think, to at least some extent, that caused people to overreact and complain the car was blander than it “really” was.)
Another “problem” was the LS1 V8 in the 2004 GTOs. The 5.7-liter engine made 350 hp and 365 lb.-ft. of torque, but it was hauling around north of 3,700 lbs. at a time when the Mustang was carrying about 300 lbs. less. That curb weight also gave rise to the belief that the GTO was just too big in general, although its dimensions are 1.7 inches longer, 1.4 inches narrower and .9 inches shorter in height than the Ford. I’ll also point out that the Camaro is even (a little bit) longer, wider and fatter than the GTO. The tale of the tape has the GTO at 189.8 inches long, 72.5 inches wide and 54.9 inches tall, and sits on a wheelbase of 109.8 inches.
Also too heavy for many customers was the GTO’s MSRP of $31,795. As with the car’s styling, GM explained the high price as a reflection of the fact the new GTO was most definitely not an old-school muscle car, but was a modern-day sports coupe that could compete against the best in the world. But the press materials of the time do say the Mustang GT Premium was one of the GTO’s rivals, and the Ford’s starting price was $24,845. Even if you give some cred to the idea of the GTO as a world beater and compare it to a BMW 3 Series coupe—another car Pontiac explicitly claimed as competition for the GTO—it’s still hard to swallow the idea that the 2004 325 was the cheaper car by $1,295.
The GTO received the bigger, 6.0-liter LS2 V8 for 2005, along with semi-functional hood scoops, but the die was cast. By 2006, those same dealers who had been over-charging for the car were resorting to discounts. That led to a small resurgence of interest in the GTO, a $30,000 (or less) RWD coupe with 400 hp/400 lb.-ft. of torque being a much more attractive package than a 3,700 lb. jellybean being marked up to $40,000 (or more). Even so, it went out of production without ever coming close to reaching GM’s expected 18,000 units per year.
Luckily for GM, it only had a three-year deal with Holden for importing the GTO anyway, and the General could save face by saying it didn’t cancel the car, the contract for it just expired. And then try to redeem itself with the Pontiac G8—aka, the Holden Commodore.