The Pontiac Solstice wowed 'em at the 2002 Detroit auto show. Of course, a sexy set of twins will do that. As you may recall, the Solstice was shown as both a coupe and a convertible. But while the roadster was fast-tracked for production, its hardtop sibling was left behind.
"We were all about the roadster, then all the things that came after," says chief engineer Bruce Kosbab, who heads development of GM's small, rear-wheel-drive Kappa platform. He claims that when the Solstice was being engineered, no thought was given to eventually adding a hardtop variant. But about a year and a half ago that changed, and work began on the car you see here, the Pontiac Solstice targa, which should reach dealers next spring.
"We originally wanted to do it as a coupe," says Jim Fleming, who oversaw the car's design. "But there are a lot of legal ramifications to taking a convertible and making it into a fixed hardtop. It would be much more involved, because you'd have to change all your front header structure, windshield, and all those pieces. We'd have to look at roof-rail air bags, pieces like that, and that gets into a big technical challenge. So as we started working on the program and what it would take to do it, a targa became the natural choice."
Therefore, all Solstice hardtops will be targas, with a lift-off center section. That panel weighs approximately thirty pounds, thanks to a relatively lightweight materials mix of SMC (sheet-molding compound) over a magnesium frame. The entire rear roof section also is made of SMC, and it neatly replaces the rear-hinged deck lid of the roadster. Otherwise, the hardtop and the convertible share all exterior body sheetmetal-including rear quarter panels-and fascias.
Despite those constraints, the designers were able to fashion a treatment that stays true to the original coupe concept created by designer Franz von Holzhausen (now at Mazda).
"We started with the 2002 concept vehicle," says exterior designer Jose Gonzalez, who is well-versed in the Solstice, having done three SEMA-show concepts of the car: the single-seat SD-290, the GXP-R, and the Club Sport Z0K. "But we wanted a more contemporary DLO [side-window opening]. So we got rid of the [external] B-pillar and stretched it all the way back."
The designers were able to retain the concept's beautifully shaped hatchback window glass, which is emphasized by a crease that starts above the A-pillar and runs back, down around the bottom of the rear glass, and then back up the other side. "That spline gives the car a more aggressive feel," says Gonzalez. Fleming ads: "The original concept was very British-roadster inspired, and when we were working on this, we wanted to be a little bit more racy, a little bit more aggressive."
The coupe may look aggressive, but the addition of a hard top won't significantly alter the Solstice's on-road demeanor. Kosbab estimates that the two cars' structural rigidity is pretty much the same and that the weight difference between the two is only about twenty pounds. Thus, the suspension is essentially unchanged, as are the powertrains: a 173-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder in the base car and a turbocharged, 260-hp, 2.0-liter engine in the GXP.
Although it's mechanically identical to the roadster, the coupe is a bit more practical. Peek under the deck lid of a Solstice roadster, and you'll find the folded fabric top and a large mound under which lives the fuel tank and its evaporative canister. What you don't find is much actual storage space. There was no folding top to worry about for the coupe, so the evaporative canister could move, meaning the cargo floor could be flattened and lowered to the point where it might actually accept a piece of luggage. Not a big piece, but something, and there are a few cubbyholes built into the floor as well. (In all, there is about 5.6 cubic feet of space in the trunk.) Unfortunately, one item that can't be stashed back there is the targa top. To make amends, Pontiac will offer an optional Lotus Elise-style canvas top that can be collapsed and stored onboard.
We hope the success of the minimally invasive surgery that created this shapely coupe from the Solstice roadster entices GM to further experiment with the Kappa platform. Kosbab is mum about future Kappa variants-except to say that there will not be a Saturn Sky version of this car. That's OK; but how about something along the lines of the sleek Chevrolet Nomad concept? That would be pretty cool, too.
Click the link below for high-resolution Solstice coupe images, as well as Pontiac's other New York arrivals.