“Hi Mr. Baruth. First, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to assist you and please feel free to email or call me at the number provided if you have any other questions you need answered. I have a vehicle with a MSRP of $29,995. I can sell you that for $29,482.” Interesting. In the middle of the American automotive market’s worst implosion in living memory, what car could possibly be so valuable, so desired, so smoking hot that the maximum negotiating room possible would amount to an ungenerous five hundred and thirteen dollars off sticker? Give up? It’s a Pontiac G8. A 2008-model Pontiac G8.
My first exposure to Pontiac’s Holden-by-any-other-name came at the San Diego press launch last summer, and I was so smitten that I permitted myself to be videotaped by the General’s PR flacks gushing incoherently about how the G8 “challenges the BMW 5er on home ground and carries away a win on value” or something equally inane. I also made a call from the hotel that evening to my younger brother, a multiple-Mazda owner and SCCA National Solo trophy recipient, suggesting that he investigate the possibility of buying one himself. I knew he’d been interested in the G8 from the moment the first photos appeared but had been waiting to hear the full scoop on the faux-Pontiac’s over-the-road capabilities.
“Go ahead and buy one,” was my advice, “and the V6, if you’re so inclined, is almost as good as the V8.” That’s true, by the way: it would be perfectly possible for a so-called “performance buyer” to enjoy driving the plain-Jane G8. During my evaluation of the V6 model in the curvy canyons south of San Diego, I utterly humiliated a group of hardcore Ducati-mounted sportbikers in such egregious fashion that I received a written reprimand after the event from a GM corporate toad for “dangerous vehicle operation”. A good car, solidly executed.
I flew home from San Diego full of hope that Pontiac finally had a car for which very few excuses need be made. Yes, the G8 had a few weak spots – flimsy interior pieces, unfortunate color choices, a visual distinction between the “standard” and GT models so miniscule that GM’s own flunkies repeatedly mis-identified the two during the press event – but it also had solid pretensions of automotive greatness. It was worth buying.
Ay, there’s the rub: buying the thing. In the six months that followed, my brother learned firsthand about the misery of dealing with Pontiac dealers. This is the same group of people, remember, who effectively held the first batches of 2004 GTOs hostage, demanding ten-grand markups and no-questions-asked deposits before finally panicking and selling the backlog of unwanted Goats for invoice minus holdback in enormous, humiliating newspaper ads which inadvertently slaughtered the car’s residual value. The attitudes of these domestic dealer ding-dongs, seemingly formed during the brief halcyon days where the Grand Am was GM’s best-selling automobile and served as the exclusive transport option of every stripper, Wal-Mart cashier, and three-hundred-pound, trailer-park-bound, human hippopotamus in the Midwest, could best be described as “aggressively unfriendly”.
My brother’s experience started with an attempt to “pre-order” the car. He was assured time and time again that the cars would be “impossible to get” and that only a sizable deposit would guarantee a spot in line. When the G8 began to pile up in dealer lots despite the predicted shortage, he was repeatedly denied a test drive despite being a respectable-looking thirty-year-old who wore Canali suits and appeared with his wife and young son in tow. After multiple incidents where dealership personnel made it plainly obvious to him that it would be doing him a favor to let him so much as sniff a G8, he gave up and bought another Mazda. I can’t blame him.
Still, hope springs eternal in the human breast, particularly when the human breast involved spent hours watching “Knight Rider” as a child and longingly watching the third-generation Trans Am “GTA” roll thunderously through the neighborhood. With nearly half the G8s ever produced still silently flat-spotting their tires in dealer lots, my brother thought he’d try one more. Again, he visited, called, emailed tirelessly, serenading his office with the sound of the various dealers’ on-hold music via his desk speakerphone, waiting for a low-options G8 GT at a reasonable price. The e-mail which opened this article represents the best offer he’s yet seen. Mark my words: when the last Pontiac dealership in this country is either razed to the ground or ignominiously remodeled to sell Chinese crapwagons, it won’t take a Heinrich Schliemann to discover the story of why GM’s Excitement brand found itself stripped of its flaming chicken wings and buried in the cold, dead ground.