OK, I’ll say it. I’ll come out and say it, and everyone will hate me, and boos will rain down, and entire zip codes in Detroit will echo with the clatter of a thousand dropping jaws.
The Pontiac GTO is a horrible, horrible car.
Even by 1960s standards, the GTO is an overnumb, undersuspended, funkified sled of an automobile. It doesn’t even do the funkified-sled bit that well, as the V-8 comes up a little too short in the low-end-thrust department. It rides like a broken couch, the steering has somewhere between fifty-five and fifty-seven turns lock-to-lock, and the interior quality would be put to shame by a cheap dollhouse.
These truths don’t change the fact that this Pontiac is awesome beyond all space and time.
The GTO hits you differently than the ‘Cuda or the Road Runner. Both of those cars are more of the drooling-fanboy-lust variety-they’re easy to like and even easier to love. Big torque, big lack of subtlety, and big immediate appeal.
Not so with the GTO. You fall into the vinyl bucket seats, fire up the engine, and you’re . . . underwhelmed. Around town, it’s disconnected and dull. After a few miles of banging down surface streets, you kind of want out. Most stoplight dashes aren’t long enough to give the Goat’s big-block the full boot, and short-shifted sprints don’t seem to serve the car’s better nature. Driven at anything other than a balls-out pace, the only thing the GTO seems to have going for it is its looks. It just doesn’t feel special.
The answer, then, is to drive it balls-out. Everywhere.
Wind the Goat out, and something changes. Find a deserted road, flat-foot the top half of the tach in third and fourth, and the GTO wakes up. Above 3500 rpm, the sound coming out of the twin rear pipes mutates into a startlingly non-Detroit howl. It’s a quick-roaring, higher-pitched, and infinitely more polished sound than most big-blocks, and it totally changes the character of the car. The 400-cubic-inch, four-barrel V-8 pulls harder up top than you’d expect, and suddenly, you really, really want to drive it like this all the time.
After you’ve sped things up, the GTO’s overboosted steering loses all weight and feel, and the near-useless brakes require years-in-advance planning. Normally, both of these things would be a little disconcerting, but somehow they don’t matter. The engine howls in the background, you grab fourth, and the car feels unhinged and airborne and nailed to the pavement all at the same time. For the GTO, love is one giant contradiction.
Therein lies the Pontiac’s charm. It speaks to your gut and seduces you in spite of your better judgment. Treat it lazily, and it becomes bored with you, just as you become bored with it. Flog the daylights out of it, and the Goat dances. It sings. In a very real fashion, the GTO is two totally separate, night-and-day cars. It’s a horrible, horrible piece of machinery-but it’s also one helluva good time.