How many of us would have gladly given our left arm to be at the press introduction of the 1964 GTO? I know that I would have. Since I can't turn back time, I made sure not to miss the press introduction of the 2004 GTO. So off I went camera bag in hand to sunny So Cal in January to attend what could easily be described as the most important Pontiac new vehicle introduction in more than 30 years.
Once at the L.A. Convention Center, HPP's advertising manager Troy Avent and I weaved through the throngs of breathless press people en route to the back corner of the GM display to grab a slice of history at 10:45 am January 3, 2003. The usual makeshift grandstands were erected for those who had to sit and the crowd steadily thickened as we got closer to "go" time.
I took a position right on the floor in front of a cloaked 2004 Grand Prix that was to be unveiled by Pontiac/GMC general manager Lynn Myers. Yes, the 2004 GP was supposed to be a major intro too but we had already seen photos of this one so it was little surprise to the jaded scribes who lined up mostly to steal a first close look at Gas Tires and Oil 21st century style.
The crowd hushed as the lights went down and Lynn Myers appeared right on cue to briefly espouse Pontiac's mission statement and present the GP. After a few short words the cover was lifted, oohs and ahs could discerned amongst the din of chattering onlookers and flash batteries worked overtime as shutterbugs burned film in the name of Pontiac progress. Finally after what seemed like an eternity (actually about 10 minutes), Myers introduced GM vice chairman of product development Bob Lutz, the man whom we have come to respect and admire mainly for cutting through webs of red tape to get good things done quickly. Who better to introduce the 2004 GTO than the executive who has been bestowed nearly sole credit for its existence? Mr. Lutz was succinct in his comments: "The public's interest in the GTO has been everything we hoped it would be, and more," he said. "This car is a strong statement from both Pontiac and GM that we are determined to re-energize the car market with vehicles that command attention and excite the customer's senses."
And before we knew it, the music came up, the back wall of the building opened and vintage GTOs paraded across the doorway. Moments later the 2004 GTO appeared from behind the Grand Prix display more than 20 yards away from the frothing motorpress.
Of course like any good rock concert, the press people rushed the stage (well...floor, in this case.) The momentary chaos included some pushing and shoving but the silence fell once again as Lutz continued his remarks amid a flurry of camera flash explosions, your editor's included. Among other things Lutz said. "This latest GTO will carry on the proud tradition of a legendary line." A bold statement, if you're a purist.
After Bob completed his statements the press people came forward to fondle the new GTO and sit in its seats and row the shifter and steer the wheel like an eight-year-old in the driveway trying out dad's new car. I took the opportunity to get some crowd shots and, as you can see, the GTO drew more oglers than did the GP.
Troy and I worked the room trying to get the best vantage points in preparation for the moment when the Goat would be left alone. Though the news conference was only about a half-hour long, we would not get a quiet second with the object of our newfound automotive desires until nearly three hours later. We watched coolly as CBS television dominated the vehicle's time from interviews in front to TV show promos from behind the wheel at two different locations. ESPN was forced outside for its interview because the convention center wanted the doors closed. We went along to watch the spectacle and to steal good shots when we could.
Finally, the GTO was placed on its show podium, the TV cameras were gone and the Teamsters had changed the jells on the lighting to the red ones that Pontiac had asked for. Patience paid off as we actually got about 20 minutes alone with the GTO for photos, most of, which are presented in this story and on the cover. Here are our views.
About 2004 GTO
The GTO's body styling is decidedly non-retro but is certainly mainstream contemporary, still closely resembling the Holden from which it came. Its grille is Pontiac in design with the familiar split and honeycomb inserts but the lack of a hood scoop is a gross oversight in my opinion.
Body sides are little changed from the Australian counterpart but they are clean. The rear quarter panels are a little clumsy around the rear wheelwells and look small in scale with the rest of the body. Its tail is Holden but the spoiler adds some bolted-on style. A play on the five-spoke design that Pontiac debuted in 1967, the wheels are a refreshing update on a classic theme. GTO on the brake calipers is an in vogue styling cue and fitting on this Pontiac. Under the hood is a work of art, an LS1 engine pumping out 340 horses thanks to cam, air intake and exhaust revisions over that of the base Corvette engine, which should help offset the rumored heft as compared to the F-body. The engine itself is decked out with GTO specific valve covers and shiny steel tubing headers for a purposeful appearance. A six-speed gearbox or a 4L60E 4-speed automatic comprise the transmission choices and a 3.46 rear gear resides in the limited slip differential. A three-channel traction control system is also employed.
Pre-production performance claims are 0 to 60 in less than 6 seconds and quarter mile ETs in 14 seconds with a top speed estimate of 160 mph.
Inside, the GTO really shines with striking orange leather interior with GTO embroidered into the seats. Its dash and gauge layout is gorgeous and very classy though we are told that the Kilometer speedo will be changed by release time.
Under the rockers we will find power-assisted four-wheel ventilated disc brakes with a standard four-channel anti-lock braking system. The price of entry is $35K. While the information provided by Pontiac shed some light on the new model, I felt that there were a lot more details to cover. To that end I posed several more pointed questions to Pontiac to make this story more informative. But the division is not ready to disclose this information. Below is a composite of some of the questions that I asked of Jim Hopson, assistant director, Communications and Bob Kraut, the director of Marketing for GTO/Bonneville/Grand Prix, and the answer that I received.
*Which aspects of the show cars will or won't make production i.e., GTO valve covers, bright steel tube headers, 18-inch wheels and tires, calipers with GTO stenciling?
*Are any additions planned for the production GTO that were not seen on the show cars?
*Will the suspension tuning mirror that of the Holden or will Pontiac engineers develop a program?
*What are the spring rates, stabilizer bar and brake rotor sizes used for the production GTO?
*Will the show car's 18-inch wheels and tires be used on the production GTO? *What are the engine specs for the production GTO, especially the cam specs for the new hi-po stick?
*Are there differences in the heads and/or intake from those of the 2002 Firebirds?
*What will the GTO weigh? *Will there be any optional suspension or engine performance packages available for 2004?
*How many model years will the GTO remain based on the Monaro?
*Is there a US-engineered and designed replacement in the works?
Public Relations man Jim Hopson responded, "While I certainly appreciate your interest in many of the specifics of the new 2004 GTO, we are not yet prepared to provide a great number of details until the vehicle is finalized for production. The vehicles that were shown at both L.A. and Detroit were show cars and, as such, were not exactly production intent. Since we cannot discuss many of the details of the production vehicle at this time, it would be premature to speculate on many of the questions you pose. At the proper time, I'll be happy to make members of our engineering and marketing staff available to answer these types of questions."
As soon as more information on the production GTOs becomes available, it will be printed in HPP. For now, enjoy the pretty pictures of the red GTO that debuted in L.A. at the North American International Auto Show and the yellow one that posed for photos at the Detroit edition. And check out Jeff Koch's sidebar Be Careful What You Wish For.
GTOs representing each year of production except 1971 were on hand for the 2004's grand en
Be Careful What You Wish For...
Holden builds it, and Bob Lutz brought it over, but the new GTO may, in part, be my fault. Back when I was a Hot Rod grunt filling news pages, I wrote half a page on "GM's Hot V8 Rear Drive Coupe You Can't Have" (May 1999, HRM), including a photo. It was only a concept then: slick, black, and immediately dismissed as an Oz-only treat. Soon, Hot Rod asked aloud if it was the basis for a replacement F-body. I stirred the pot, and enthusiasts at least knew what a Holden was. The Monaro was a reality just two years later.
On the 2001 Power Tour, I drove a Holden Utility SS--essentially an El Camino version of Monaro ("13 Reasons Why America Needs This Car Now," September 2001, HRM). It was a delight to drive, and I said so. The chassis didn't re-align your spine, everything inside was nice to touch, the correct wheels received power, grunt was more than suitable, and the price tag, thanks to the exchange rate, was a friendly $19,000 US. Crash-testing was the only federalization obstruction, but like the story said, "Compare the cost of getting Holdens to pass U.S. crash regs to the cost of the emergency last-minute facelift on the '02 Aztek."
Eight months after the "13 Reasons" story appeared, Mr. Lutz, the General's new VP of Getting Our Act Together, announced that the Monaro is coming to the USA as the 2004 Pontiac GTO. I'd like to think Mr. Lutz is a Hot Rod reader.
Then the griping began. "Not a real Pontiac." "An insult to the GTO legacy." "Doesn't have a Pontiac engine in it." "Not built in America!" "Doesn't even have a hood scoop!" And so forth.
At the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, far from the L.A. launch hype, a yellow prototype GTO pirouetted on its stand. I spent half an hour with it, examining it from all angles, contemplating my role in its presence here.
Lordy, what had I done?
Not having driven it yet in US-spec form, I can only venture opinion on styling matters along with everyone else. And as lovely as the GTO may be mechanically, it doesn't look outstanding. It's pretty, but not terribly butch. Whack the wing and install steelies, paint it beige, and you could see it in rental fleets; it could easily be mistaken for an '02 Grand Prix coupe, especially at the front. In 1999, this would have shattered jaws rolling by. Four years later, it's just ordinary looking. The only two items that truly offended the misshapen trunk-mounted wing that follows no other body lines and the yellow seat inserts and door panels.
Good thing it'll be a sweetheart to drive, then. The next-generation Monaro/GTO, rumored to be based on the same chassis architecture as the Cadillac CTS sometime '05 or so, could receive some bespoke styling, rather than just the new fascias that the '04 model got due to time and production constraints. Maybe by then GTO could be successful enough that it shares a factory with the slow-selling CTS, and you can have your US-built GTO again.
In the meantime ... surely this is better than a turbocharged Grand Am wearing the GTO name? --