The late model Pontiac GTO never earned much respect outside of its cult following. Despite its amazing LS-series engines, contemporary styling, excellent build quality, and sheer fun factor, the car just never caught on with masses in America.
In hindsight, we suppose it no longer matters since Pontiac has gone to that automotive resting place in the sky, but we think the neo-GTO deserved more. Many enthusiasts gave it flack for not having a proper Pontiac engine, being wrapped in bland styling, and carrying a high price tag. Plus it was built in Australia, and not America.
They have a point, since instead of it being a high-performance car based on an existing model like the past Goats of yore, it was essentially a rebadged and slightly reengineered Holden Monaro.
On the surface of things this may sound like a recipe for disaster, but to only those not up on their Holden history.
See, in Australia the Monaro is a highly respected musclecar that enthusiasts covet. When it originally debuted way back in 1968, it was solely a sport coupe sized roughly between a Chevrolet Camaro and a Chevelle. It even carried the Chevy 327 as the top engine option in the GTS trim level until the following year, when it was replaced with the GTS 350.
Nineteen-seventy was essentially a carryover year, but for 1971, the Monaro would receive a complete makeover sporting a new style body including the availability of a sedan version. Down Under, musclecars are allowed to have more than two doors without being ridiculed, unlike here in America.
However, like America the Aussies went through a performance crisis during the mid-seventies, and by 1977 the last Monaro would roll off the assembly line. It wouldn’t be until 2001 that we would see it again.
The 2001 Monaro was based off of the 4-door Holden Commodore, itself a high performance car with two available engines: the supercharged 3800 Series II V6 (found in cars like the Grand Prix GTP and Regal GS) or the world renown LS1. Both engines were available in the Monaro as well, but obviously, it was the V8 that grabbed all of the attention.
It would even grab the attention of one Bob Lutz, who basically breathed new life in all of GM North America’s products during the mid-noughties. Looking to revitalize Pontiac after the then recent death of the Firebird/Trans Am, it was in his opinion that the Monaro would make a natural replacement as a GTO.
He may or may have not realized that the Commodore in which the Monaro was based on dated back to 1997, making the basic body of the 2004 GTO essentially seven years old by the time it was released in America. Obviously, this would explain the “dated” styling.
Looking back, some might say that Lutz and GM failed, but we would have to disagree. The opportunity gave us a future high performance collectible, while opening the doors for cars like the Pontiac G8, Caprice PPV, and the upcoming Chevy SS.