Nostalgia ain't what it used to be. Once upon a time, brand heritage kept customers loyal. "I'm a Chevy man" actually meant something. These days, Chevrolet sells a Korean compact with about as much Chevy DNA as a Manchurian ring-necked pheasant. Ford's offers a retro-Thunderbird whose driving dynamics, ergonomics and style would have found few takers in 1955. And the new Pontiac GTO is a distant cousin of the old GTO, adopted and twice removed.
The original GTO started life in 1964 as option 382 on a Pontiac Tempest LeMans. Two-hundred and ninety-five dollars bought a bigger engine (389 cubic inches) and air scoops (non-functional). The new GTO is an Australian coupe, slightly modified for the US market, with a 5.7-liter V8. In other words, if you're a heritage freak looking for a connection between the old "goat" and the new, don't bother. Unlike its illustrious predecessor, the new GTO has no kinship with any other Pontiac automobile made, ever.
Does that really matter? Shouldn't we cut the new GTO some slack, and simply thank God (a.k.a. Bob Lutz) that Pontiac sells a performance car that actually performs? Ask the guy who works down at my local deli counter. He used to own a black GTO. "Is that the new goat? It looks like a rental car."
Slack gone. At the very least, Pontiac should have made the Monaro a rental car on steroids. You know: fat rubber, 20" wheels, blistered arches, fake scoops, quad exhausts, Hovercraft rear wing, decals, racing stripe, something, anything to give the new car some of the old car's charisma. In fact, all that the antipodean GTO offers GM's coveted YAMs ("Young Affluent Males") is a few discreet badges and the distinctive rumble, burble, snarl, pop, thud and roar of a full-on V8.
Close your eyes, give the goat some gas and you can easily imagine you're pedal-to-the-metal in a '69 GTO Judge. [NB: Don't try this away from home.] Saying that, the Judge's ram-air V8 cranked-out 370hp, while the modern GTO's engine stumps-up "only" 350 horses. Saying that, the new GTO's aluminum LS1 powerplant weighs 110lbs dripping wet and boasts a torque curve flatter than Kansas.
Zero to 60mph occupies only 5.3 seconds of your time, while the quarter mile comes up in 13.8. That's just a few ticks behind a stock 'Vette, and more than fast enough to give the GTO's fully independent suspension and 17" tires something to do around corners. And a fine job they do too, providing adequate comfort at low speed and superb control at velocities that would frighten a 60's street racer to death.
If you think I'm going to continue singing the praises of this latter day muscle car and conclude that it's a victory of modern racing technology over sixties chic, if that's what you want to hear, stop reading now. For the rest of the GTO's package is rude, crude and kinda lame, Dude.
The GTO's climate control knobs set the standard; the cheap rotary dials look like they were designed the same year the first GTO bowed-out (1974). The Tremec T-56 six-speed gearbox is so notchy I began to suspect that the "skip shift" function– recommended by the flashing digital dash– is more about maintaining forward movement than saving fuel.
Once you eventually find a gear and spool-up the GTO's V8, slowing down can be something of a challenge. The vacuum-assisted stoppers lack bite and feel, and seem distinctly rubbery at full stomp. The steering is equally over-assisted and spongy. Thanks to its robust construction (i.e. weight), helming the GTO into a corner produces a fair amount of body roll. And the pushrod V8 feels rough from low revs to red line. You'd no sooner fully wring the GTO's neck than, um, a Manchurian ring-necked pheasant.
But hey, you would if you had to. I mean, if you were hungry enough. And that's the ultimate equation facing potential GTO buyers. Are you hungry enough for rear-wheel-drive horsepower that you'll give up any possibility of style points for sheer, unadulterated grunt and a user-friendly chassis? Thirty-two large also buys you a VW R32, or an awful lot of Japanese sport compact…
GM executives aren't worried. Thanks to US labor unions, the General is only importing 18,000 Aussie-built bruisers. That many people would fork out $32k for a Chevrolet Aveo (don't ask) if it sounded as horny as the new GTO. And there's no question: the GTO is a bit of a hoot. Still, where's the sizzle? Unlike the old GTO, the new version will have to rely on the aftermarket for the visual statement goat owners expect. And deserve.