Is this the GTO for the 21st century? Classic Pontiac style, a pure-Pontiac engine, and mo
How many times have you looked at the '04-'06 GTO and said, "They're certainly good performers, but I wish they shared more visual heritage with the vintage GTOs?" If so, your thoughts are mirrored by many in the Pontiac hobby.
Not to discount the sophistication, performance, ride, or popularity of the modern GTO, but what if history had been written differently? What if Pontiac had remained true to its mission to provide a timeless, classic, no-holds-barred muscle car powered by the Pontiac engine-a muscle car that set the standard for generations, past, present, and future-regardless of what General Motors thought, said, or dictated?
What would this new GTO look like? How would it perform?
Luckily for Pontiac aficionados, Big 3 Performance of Green Bay, Wisconsin-with custom chassis and prototype work by The Roadster Shop/RS Performance Concepts of Mundelein, Illinois-has answered these questions for us with its Jim Wangers Signature Edition GTO (JWSE GTO), No. 1 of the series. This prototype was built with a '69 LeMans body.
Wangers, of course, is the Pontiac adman who popularized the phrase "Wide-Track" and worked intimately with Pontiac General Manager John DeLorean on turning the GTO into the best-selling muscle car in America. When DeLorean wanted a special GTO to introduce to the muscle car wars in '69, Wangers was part of the development team. Together they came up with the Judge, by many standards the most iconic and popular GTO of all time.
Fast-forward nearly 40 years to 2008. Prior to the demise of Pontiac, Wangers was approached by Big 3 Performance to add his input and signature to a GTO that would symbolically return Pontiac to its roots. Jim's instructions to the car builder were to be the keys to the car's success: Make the GTO look like a GTO; power it with a state-of-the-art traditional Pontiac engine; and engineer it to outperform every muscle car of today and yesteryear in acceleration, ride, handling, and comfort.
The '69 Judge came with front-fender decal call-outs, but the JWSE GTO has triple-chrome-
"The Jim Wangers Signature Edition GTO is living sheetmetal of what a Pontiac is all about," Wangers tells HPP in an exclusive interview, "and (the reason) we are still gathering every year at Pontiac conventions-where thousands of collectors and happy owners are out there with Pontiacs from the great Wide-Track era-the incredible period in the '60s and early '70s, when Pontiac was in the midst of its real glory, celebrating and living the image. I am extremely pleased that the execution, basic design, and powertrain of this GTO-which I am so fortunate to have my name on-is truly representative of exactly what we have always wanted to have the name Pontiac mean. In the purist sense of the phrase, the Jim Wangers Signature Edition GTO is everything that the Wide-Track Pontiac was destined to be-a seriously put-together, good-looking, exciting, and satisfying performance machine."
In January 2010, High Performance Pontiac tested the new GTO. The location was the world-famous Gainesville Raceway in Gainesville, Florida, where the GTO was king four decades ago. Our testing consisted of road course, skid pad, braking, and dragstrip. In Part I of our special two-part feature, we review the performance results of this exciting new GTO. Next month, we'll take you behind the scenes and show you how the JWSE GTO was developed and built.
We set up Gainesville Raceway's road course for one of its most-difficult configurations: an approximately 1.1-mile course that includes eight turns (one of them a treacherous 260-degree turn), a 1,000-foot high-speed straightaway, and a tricky and hard-to-conquer S-curve. Testing was done with the standard wheel/tire package, consisting of HRE three-piece Jim Wangers Signature Edition Rally II wheels (19-inch front, 20-inch rear) wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sports (275/30ZR19 and 335/30ZR20 rubber). Jim Campisano, HPP's editorial director, was the test driver and Associate Editor Kevin DiOssi took some laps, as well. Jim made seven laps, of which we've listed the best five.