2008 Pontiac G8 GT

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Robert Kerian

Was the revived GTO a goat or a dog?
By Don Sherman

Bob Lutz's previous visit to GM Holden in Australia spawned the Pontiac GTO, which was sold for three model years commencing in 2004. To gauge the wisdom of reprising Pontiac's golden oldie, we checked the stats and polled two people who know a thing or two about GTOs.

Holden tooled up to ship a maximum of 18,000 cars per year. The final tally was just over 40,000 GTOs in three years, less than half the sales the original GTO achieved in its peak sales year of 1966, when Pontiac was the third-best-selling nameplate and Toyota imported barely 20,000 vehicles. That said, the original was available in three body styles versus the remake's stand-alone coupe.

Don't blame performance for this car's mediocre showing. The new GTO landed on our shores with a hearty 350-hp V-8 and was boosted to 400 hp in its second model year, enough to fight the 390-hp Ford Mustang Cobra SVT and the 340-hp Chrysler 300C. But as Bill Collins, the head of advanced engineering at Pontiac during the original's heyday, points out, "In the mid-1960s, the GTO was the hottest thing on the road." Four years ago, though, speed was simply a commodity.

Nor was the GTO's price the showstopper. The initial $32,495 sticker was nearly 40 percent higher than the last (2002) Chevy Camaro Z28, but it was about the same as Chrysler's new-for-2005 300C and 10 percent less than the aforementioned Cobra. Unfortunately, greedy dealers undermined the GTO's value by gouging its early customers.

What about technology, you ask? Even though the GTO's chassis was originally engineered for the '94 Opel Omega, the fully independent suspension and four-wheel disc brakes inflicted no hitch in the goat's gait.

That leaves design as the smoking gun. Visually, the GTO was a Cadillac Catera - another model sharing GM's V platform - minus two doors. Collins opines, "The new GTO's appearance was not unique. Worse, it revived no past styling cues, except for the hood scoops that arrived late to the party in 2005."

Jim Wangers, the marketing whiz who lifted these three code letters to iconic status, concurs: "The new GTO fell short primarily because it did not evoke any of its heritage." But he believes the real failure to thrive is attributable to marketing errors. Wangers's litany of modern GTO mistakes includes: no cash incentive for the Pontiac faithful to rejoin the fold, poor product distribution, faulty sales training, the difficulty prospective buyers had in obtaining test drives, no high-visibility racing program, and minimal advertising in enthusiast publications.

Given all the miscues, it's a wonder Pontiac's foster child survived to the age of three.

Q&A
DOUG HOULIHAN
Global Vehicle Chief Engineer, RWD Vehicles

You're an American, but you've been working in Australia for several years. How has the GM/Holden connection changed since the 2004-06 Pontiac GTO?
With the recent push toward globalization, Holden became a fully integrated part of the company. Previously, they had been pretty autonomous. Communication went through the roof.

What's the single biggest advantage of that integration?
The worldwide connection that we have now keeps us from making the same mistakes twice. We no longer have to solve the same problem multiple times around the world. The key is that we're talking to Detroit - and they're talking to everyone else around the world - on a regular basis. The engineers on the ground floor have a lot more initial complexity to deal with, but in the end, it's worth it.

What's the one feature on the G8 that you're proudest of?
Its suspension. The G8's heart and soul is its chassis. It's more of a driver's car than anything we've built to date; we fought hard to keep the [Australian SS V] suspension tuning, because we really wanted to emphasize that. At the end of the day, if our cars aren't great handlers, then we've missed the boat.

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