It was 1974 when the last Pontiac GTO rolled off the assembly line. And in the three decades that followed, its legend has grown to almost mythic proportions.
So, that means that the 2004 Pontiac GTO, which is based on GM’s Australian market Holden Monaro and is built Down Under, has a lot of legend to live up to.
Not the least of which is the GTO’s aggressive image. Which means that some will be disappointed by the new car’s clean, aerodynamic look. It features none of the bulging hoods, and pumped up fenders of the more over-the-top golden age muscle cars.
But fans forget that the first GTO also appeared mild-mannered, and the 2004 edition is a long way from wimpy. Still we have to agree that having only 17 months to develop the new GTO’s, left it with styling that is a little too generic for a Pontiac performance flagship.
Fortunately, the new GTO’s performance is not in question. While the original cars packed everything from a 389 cubic-inch small block to the big 455, today’s GTO features the 5.7-liter LS1 V8 from the Chevy Corvette. That 346 cubes kicks out 350 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque. Combined with lowered gearing, its more than enough for this bruiser to live up to GTO fan’s expectations.
To get that proper muscle car sound, the GTO gets a special low back pressure, dual exhaust system.
Power romps to a 3.46 rear end through either a standard 4-speed automatic, or a optional Tremec 6-speed manual with a grin getting 2.97 first gear.
Either way, the new GTO rocks! That torquey V8 punches it away from stop lights and out of tight corners like a rocket!
And, the GTO easily hits its pedal down targets. A 0-to-60 of 5.3 seconds for the manual, and 5.4 seconds for the automatic. But it does so with a far more refined character than its rough-edge predecessors.
And with something else its ancestors never had, impressive handling. Contrary to muscle car tradition, this combination of rear drive and big power produces minimal push and understeer. The ultra-solid chassis with its 109.8-inch wheelbase, and all independent suspension, is very well balanced and the 17-inch 45-Series B.F. Goodrich g-Force tires have impressive grip. Both standard traction control and a limited slip differential are included to keep the rear end firmly planted on the pavement.
The variable ratio rack-and-pinion steering is a little on the slow side, but exhibits good weight and decent feel.
But the standard ABS-equipped disc brakes have a soft pedal, and were not quite up to a serious workout for so heavy a car.
EPA fuel economy ratings for the 3,725 pound GTO automatic are 16 city/21 highway. That earns the GTO a $1,000 gas guzzler tax. Some things never change. But beat the tax, have more fun, and still save money by trading up to the 6-speed manual for only $695. Now that’s the way to go for this GTO.
We also bet vintage muscle car drivers never got to spend time in a cabin like this. The new GTO is both stylish and extremely well-equipped, with Pontiac’s boy-racer cockpit taken to new heights of comfort and convenience.
Seat leather and interior accents are coordinated to the exterior color, offering buyers a choice red, blue, purple and black. The seats themselves are both high bolstered and very comfortable.
The smart-looking analog gauges are also color coordinated, offering a choice of five different hues.
And, how about the drilled pedals? And, the tasteful aluminum trim throughout. We think GM U.S. can certainly learn things from GM. Australia about quality interior materials.
In addition to standard features that range from air conditioning to a manual tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, the GTO also boasts full power accessories, with window switches on the center console, and a 6-disc in-dash CD changer.
The rear seat is a typically coupe tight bench, and does not fold.
That’s because to meet crash standards GM had to move the Monaro’s gas tank from under the floor to behind the rear seat. That limits trunk space to 9.0 cubic feet. So you won’t be fitting one of those fat old BF Goodrich Dual Redline tires in there.
Another point of reality about this GTo compared to the original is that you can’t get one for only a $3,000 sticker price either. Today’s GTO goes for $32,495. The only option is the $695 6-speed manual gearbox and we think that’s a steal.
Hardly 60’s prices, but still a lot high performance and heritage for your 21st century dollars, and it’s so well done! We hope GM goes performance shopping down under more often!
So if some old timer says that the 2004 Pontiac GTO isn’t a real muscle car, tell him to stop yapping and get out his pink slip.
Engine: 5.7-Liter Pushrod V-8
Torque: 365 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 5.3 Seconds
EPA Mileage: 16 MPG City 21 MPG Highway