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A ROLLING THUNDER FROM DOWN UNDER

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Thu, Jan 19, 2006

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

A ROLLING THUNDER FROM DOWN UNDER

By Contributing Editor TOMMY GRAFMAN

When the Editor inquired if I'm interested in writing a review of the Pontiac GTO, I jumped at the chance. With the return of the muscle cars (GTO, Charger, SSR, Mustang, etc.) I'm excited to get my hands on the Aussie-built GTO. With 400 horsepower and 395 pound-feet of torque, I'm drooling to test this car.

Seeing the car pull up is ultra cool. Even with the GTO parked, this modern muscle car looks like its ready to take off like a wild beast waiting to be unleashed. Right from the start, I like this car. From the sleek lines, 17-inch 245/45ZR tires, the beefy hood scoops - everything about the GTO scream's power.

Getting behind the wheel, I notice everything is designed for action. Simplistic yes, but like its forefathers, its simplicity is for drive-by-touch ease of use. I can work the controls without having to take my eyes off the road. The last thing I want to do when blurring down the highway is looking down to change the radio. The tilt and telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel not only feels good in my hands, it has mounted audio controls (oh yes, game on!). The interior is accented with rugged leather 2+2 bucket seats and brushed nickel appointments.

I'm elated as I turn the key and hear the deep roar of the beast's engine. Keeping the GTO under control going down my street is easier than keeping myself under control. I want to open her up, but I'm keeping it cool. Heads are turning as I past them, not only from the hot look of the car, but the guttural of the engine.

This car is purposefully loud! With a 6.0-liter LS2 V8, the GTO says, "I'm back - deal with me now!" I like this car's attitude!

The moment of truth arrives. From a standing start, I lay the hammer down and I'm immediately pushed into the back of the seat from the G-forces. As the car speeds down, I stomp the clutch and hit second gear. I'm whooping and hollering with excitement as if I'm zooming on a rollercoaster! Going even faster, the GTO is begging for more as I hit third and fourth gear. My blood pumping as my heart is beating faster, "I love this car!" I hit fifth gear, and the car hits its stride. I'm just feeling the road when I realized I have a sixth gear left. I hit the clutch a pop the stick into sixth gear as the tachometer drops under 2,000 rpm (one of the reason's Pontiac GTO boasts a 25 highway miles per gallon rating).

The insulated cabin and structure keeps the GTO surprisingly smooth and quiet. The inside of the car is comfortable as the rest of the world is a blur. It's one of those moments where everything is perfect, including the freeway - with no traffic. But on the other hand, no traffic equals no shifting - and I want to play with this beast. I soon get my wish, I start to test the GTO's ability to maneuver at high speed. I start weave thru the lanes, with little effort as the car hugs the road.

Deciding to feel the wind, I hit the power windows and in a blink they are down. Just like the car, incredibly fast. With the breeze in my face, I approach the incline and curve of the west 118 overpass with amazing agility. Even at higher speeds, the GTO has power in reserve, waiting for your summoned command.

Driving back is a different experience. This time, it's too much traffic. I'm in agony. Being in L.A. on the freeway at 4:00 pm is a test of one's patience, and I constantly fail the test. In sheer frustration, I call the publisher and exclaim, "I have 400 horse power, and I'm doing 20 miles per hour!" All he does is laugh at me.

So, there you have it - one of the most exciting cars I've driven in some time. This car is for those who want to feel the power from a genuine muscle car. And for about 33,000, it's a steal.

-SIDEBAR-

Some things are worth waiting for longer than others. Pontiac offered the return of the GTO badge just a couple years ago. After the initial hoopla and surge that most new vehicles have in sales, the sales figures just sort of chilled. Pontiac is now cranking up the heat on this baby in a big way.

In 2004, I drove the GTO with 350 horsepower and an automatic transmission - and thought that was a fun machine for the muscle car set. This time around, the power jumps to 400, and a six-speed manual is the transmission of choice. Given the actual transaction price of the GTO, this is the deal of the decade. No, this isn't perfection in the way a Porsche or Ferrari is, but who cares at this price? I left my acid tongue off at the bottom line of the window sticker.

I can sense every pony in the engine, even while we're just puttering around. The vibrations spawned by this motor echo down to one's core. I am not just emotionally moved, but physically as well. The deep, low bass tone that rumbles from the exhaust is all I need to get excited. Fortunately, most parts of the GTO hold up under scrutiny. The seats and interior are good in material and design - both are keeping in the flavor this car evokes. Similar to the interior, the exterior is not sharing many of the most current design themes - and has been the source of some comments. I for one have no issue with the shape of the vehicle. I may not be bowled over, but I can easily live with this. The hood of this year's model (featuring a couple of air intakes) complements the aggressive nature of the car.

Like the namesake of the GTO, this car is not about the extraneous details. Although this is a competent player, this car is about power. By-and-large, the new six-liter motor is on par with the Corvette. The Pontiac does have to deal with a fair amount of additional bulk, a higher center of gravity, and two additional seats - and this keeps it from being a threat to the Vette's domain. On the other hand, it's nice to see that this car is not redundant in the GM stable of cars (no badge engineering here). This is a special four-passenger car - one that can kick butt on almost anything straight out of the box, no added tuning and tweaking required. For what is not a whole lot more than the cost of many other automobiles, this is a car overflowing with character.

Those concerned about anything other than power need not apply. I am more than satisfied with the basics. A modern muscle car needs to handle decently, have good steering feel, and ability to come to a stop without any panic setting in - and this car does all of that and more. The rack-and-pinion with variable ratio steering, four-wheel independent suspension, limited slip differential, disc brakes all around with four-channel ABS, and sticky 17-inch 245/45ZR tires are good reasons why this car feels so right.

Sure, the manual transmission shifter can be more refined, and perhaps some other little issues can be addressed (e.g., the tilting steering wheel can come down a bit more). However, getting too caught up in these things somehow misses the point. This is not a car that is refined to death, and maybe for good reason. This is, after all, a muscle car!

If gas prices keep working their way upward, we might not see the domestics offering a car like this again for some time to come. For those who missed their chance to be a part of the last century's muscle car epidemic, now is the time. It doesn't get much better than this!

- John Grafman

For more information please go to www.pontiac.com

SPECIFICATIONS

Vehicle: 2005 Pontiac GTO

Price: $32,990, as tested $33,690

Engine type: 6 Liter V-8 LS2, aluminum block and heads, OHV, 2 valves per cylinder, sequential-port fuel injection

Horsepower: 400 @ 5,200 rpm

Drive configuration: Front engine/rear drive

Gas mileage: EPA 17 city, 25 highway

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