In this edition of the Muscle Car Showcase, we’ll go back in time a few years and look at the 2004-2006 Pontiac GTO. After a 30 year absence, Pontiac brought back the legendary nameplate that sparked the muscle car firestorm in the early 1960s. A car whose three letters were synonymous with performance, style, and attitude. But here’s the question. Would the new GTO stir the souls of a new generation like it did three decades ago? Let’s find out!
“The GTO exemplifies the renewed spirit of performance at Pontiac. Its bold character and detailed execution are the stuff dreams are made of. We expect there will be plenty of new GTO posters adorning the walls of enthusiasts of all ages.” Lynn Myers, Pontiac-GMC General Manager
GM Chairman Bob Lutz announced the return of the Pontiac GTO at the press opening of the 2002 New York International Auto Show. The car was later introduced to the automotive press in January 2003 at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Response from the crowd was enthusiastic as Bob presented the “new” GTO to the world. By December 2003, the GTO started appearing on showroom floors, ready to cruise the streets and hit the open road.
The 2004 Pontiac GTO is based on the Holden Monaro CV8 from Australia. Several modifications to the GTO were needed to conform to North American standards, including converting to left-hand drive, revising exterior lighting and moving the gas tank inside the trunk. Additional adjustments, such as sealing electrical connectors that could be affected by the North American climate and recalibrating the traction control for U.S. driving conditions, were also performed on the new Goat.
At first glance, the exterior looks somewhat like a Grand Am coupe with a bit of European flair mixed in. It’s somewhat tame but it’s no shrinking violet either. Think of it as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Sure, Pontiac’s signature twin-port grille is there but where are the GTO’s calling cards such as a hood scoop and curvaceous body lines? And what’s up with the exhaust ports out back? A true Pontiac would have pipes exiting from each rear corner, not just from the left side.
The good news is that the 2004 GTO comes with a long list of standard equipment. Amenities such as eight-way power adjustable driver and passenger leather seats, Blaupunkt 200-watt 10 speaker sound system with six-disc CD changer, and driver information system with three LCD display windows keep the driver comfortable and entertained while cruising down the boulevard. Performance equipment such as Bosch 3-channel traction control, direct-acting stabilizer bars, and McPherson strut front suspension with a fully independent rear suspension are also standard equipment on the GTO.
Underneath the hood of the 2004 Pontiac GTO is a 5.7-liter Gen III LS1 producing 350 horsepower and 365 foot-pounds of torque. Buyers have a choice between a Hydra-Matic 4L60-E four-speed automatic or a Tremec close-ratio six-speed manual transmission. With the six-speed manual transmission, Motor Trend was able to propel the GTO from 0 to 60 in 5.3 seconds and sprint the quarter mile in 13.62 seconds at 104.78 miles per hour.
For 2004, the only option available was a Tremec six-speed manual transmission. A sunroof, larger wheels, or any performance upgrades were not available from Pontiac. Sales were also much less than the 18,000 units Pontiac hoped it would sell in 2004.
What a difference a year makes! For 2005, the GTO got a host of cosmetic and mechanical changes. Yes, those are dual scoops on the hood and out back, the GTO got a true dual exhaust system with separated chrome tips exiting on each side of the rear. Buyers that wanted to add a little pizazz to their GTO could opt for the Sport Appearance Package. This package includes a front fascia with a lower valance and recessed grille inserts, rocker extensions, custom rear spoiler, and rear fascia extension.
Another noticeable change is the new “6.0 Litre” fender badge. For 2005, the GTO got a new, more powerful 6.0-liter LS2 V8 pirated from the Chevrolet Corvette. And man, does it pack quite a punch! The new LS2 comes out swinging with 400 horsepower and 395 foot-pounds of torque. And it puts the outgoing LS1’s numbers in the weeds. Back in March 2006, Motor Trend was able to run the GTO from 0 to 60 in 4.7 seconds and complete the quarter mile in 13.3 seconds at 105.9 miles per hour. Motor Trend also put the GTO in the ring with the 2006 Dodge Charger SRT8. The GTO beat the Charger from 0 to 60 by 0.3 seconds and outran the Charger in the quarter mile by 0.2 seconds.
Sales were still lower than expected for 2005. One reason could be due to sticker shock. The GTO cost around $5000 more than a Ford Mustang GT. Even though the GTO could slightly outperform the Mustang from 0 to 60 and in the quarter, buyers were simply not willing to pay the extra cost.
The 2006 GTO was basically a carryover from the previous model year. Minor changes included blacked-out taillamps and a couple of new exterior hues, Spice Red and Fusion Orange, found their way onto the color chart. This year, 18-inch wheels finally appeared on the options sheet as did the Sport Appearance Package from last year. Other than the Chevrolet Corvette, the GTO was General Motors’ sole muscle car offering since the demise of the Camaro and Firebird. 2006 was also the final year of production for the Monaro-based GTO.
The 2004-2006 Pontiac GTO was judged (no pun intended) pretty harshly for its looks. Automotive journalists and press over the years have largely panned the car due to its lackluster styling. “So what?” and “blandsville” have been used by the press to describe the GTO’s exterior. However, when it comes to performance, most would agree this car brings back the excitement that only a high performance coupe from Pontiac can deliver.
According to Bob Lutz, a new GTO was in the works but was scrapped when Pontiac was axed in 2009. A victim of General Motors’ restructuring, both Pontiac and the GTO were relegated to the history books. The automotive world truly lost a legendary icon with the death of Pontiac and the GTO.