1964-70 GTO vs. 2004-2006 Continued
Icon or pretender? Which one was the best at what they did?
Which one would you own as a daily driver?
GTO: ’64 versus ’04 – Can they be Compared?
The muscle car era GTO is iconic, known throughout the world, and venerated by many, but the reissue from 2004 through 2006, not so much. Is the newer car a dud? Or maybe ill timed? Or maybe at the wrong time in the wrong place? Or maybe it just has a different following among different enthusiasts.
The Early GTO
We all know how the GTO hit the scene – with plenty of performance punch, and a reasonable price tag that allowed young people to grab onto one. Some of the GTO’s early performance was hyped – after all the two original cars loaned to Car and Driver had 421 HO engines in place of the 389 CID version, but regardless, a stock Tri-Power “Goat” could get it done on the street scene.
And Pontiac added more and more go-fast goodies as the competition came around. If you were sporting a ’67 Ram Air GTO, you weren’t afraid of much other than a Hemi GTX, and that ain’t bad, brutha. Pontiac was very smart about options on the GTO, in fact, by 1968 you could order a GTO with a “Regular Fuel”, two-barrel carburated, 265 HP V-8! From hefty Ram Air to lowly 2-barrel carbs – with all sorts of options, configurations and body styles, a young person could equip their GTO however they wanted. Pontiac set the stage for this approach early on, and never looked back.
The muscle car era car always had top level performance options. even when the The Judge was released, it may have been a flashy looker, but its standard engine was the base Ram Air offering. Heavy duty brakes, choices of transmissions, alternate wheels, even interior layout were all available. And the GTO was the first to offer a hood mounted tachometer, a Hurst “his/hers” auto trans shifter, and a sealed air box on the Ram Air cars before anyone else.
The 2004-2006 GTO
When Bob Lutz thought it appropriate to reissue the GTO back in 2002, times had changed. First, Pontiac was not a unique Division of General Motors. Pontiac was basically a brand sold and managed by a conglomerate organization of Buick, GM and Pontiac. Think how diverse those brands are and were and how adopting a “vision” among vehicles such as pickup truck and luxo-barges would fit in the culture. Worse, GM had determined that Pontiac should be a mid-market brand with little thought of performance, especially since the Trans Am had just been cancelled.
Lutz was old-school – he knew performance sold cars and created excitement even for the person who was drawn to the showroom by excitement, but instead bought a van. But GM was lost, thinking that if someone wanted performance they could either have a V-6 Grand Am or a Corvette.There was no way Pontiac was going to get engineering money for a project like that – and besides all R&D dollars and cents were being spent on the Solstice “sports roadster” project.
But “down under” in Australia, GM’s Holden subsidiary had no qualms about performance. They were locked in a battle for sales supremacy with Ford of Australia and both went for the knockout punch with horsepower – pure and simple. Holden made a 4-door rocket ship called the Commodore and a 2-door called the Monaro – both with Corvette power, IRS, an excellent handling chassis and great interior.A drive in one convinced Bob Lutz that this car could do the trick for Pontiac. It was an inexpensive way to inject some performance in the brand at a time when Mustang ran wild and Chrysler was going to release the Hemi-powered Chrysler 300 and the Dodge Charger.
Lutz convinced GM that the Monaro should be imported and badge-engineered as the GTO. It was an inexpensive approach, but it had some warts as the Monaro was designed and styled in the late 90s, and many of the parts and pieces unique to the Holden line would have to be imported and stocked in the Pontiac service bays. From the moment the car was conceived as a GTO, it was conceived as a stop-gap, with the idea of a 2008 Sigma-chassis (think Cadillac CTS-V with two doors) GTO to come.
Can We Compare Them?
We’ll go on a bit in our Fact Sheets and Road Tests to tell the true performance tale, but be sure of this the ’04-’06 GTO was a performer! No lie, this car had plenty of power, it was fast, it could handle, it had a wonderful interior. It sold only 40,808 cars in the three year span, so from a popularity standpoint, it didn’t come close. But 2006 was not 1966 when it came to sales at Pontiac.
Let’s Talk Configuration
One of the things about back in the day was that many people walked into a dealership, sat down with a salesperson and ordered car, from chrome fittings to wheels and tires – and everything in between. In today’s world – and even more so in the case of the 2004-20056 GTO things are different.
In the old days, you could equip your Pontiac GTO from a myriad of models and options. GM said that it was possible to order 5,000 cars and no two could be alike! In the case of the new GTO, the cars were built in Australia, and there was little chance to build a specific car. Not only that, but there were only a few options to select from. Color, interior, wheels and choice of transmission were about all you could get.
So when we vote for configuration, the win has to go to the muscle car era GTO.
The look of a car is mostly in the eye of the beholder. But let’s do this – let’s look at the cars from the perspective of the times. Without belaboring the point, there is little question that the 1964-1970 GTO was always ahead of the curve in the striking styling. The 1968 GTO’s Endura front fascia was earth-shattering when introduced, and the car has more of a futuristic appearance even today.
The 21st Century GTO takes another loss in this regard. One of the most panned things about the car was its dated, 1990s design – and worse, it had absolutely no performance cues. Back in 2004-2006 every single magazine said “dull”. Some said “salesperson’s car”. All said that even the addition of the scoops on the hood – while intending to give out a performance image – were too subdued. It was so bad that Pontiac offered a “Sport Appearance Package” for a car that was supposed to be sporty from the outset.
The votes are in – the muscle car era wins this segment hands down.
This is where it gets interesting. The new car is faster, easier to drive and sticks to the pavement like glue.The interior is modern and informative and comfortable. The engine is quiet but hugely powerful, making much more true horsepower. The brakes are superior and hugely competent. The steering is responsive, direct and precise.
The muscle car era GTOs were excellent performers for the day – and were capable of outclassing 80% of their competitors. Judging them in the time, they were very capable and fast. But the new car would kill the old car in every performance category and deliver almost 150% better fuel mileage.
In this category, the win goes to the Aussie.
Once again, comparing comfort is a no-brainer. The new car is quieter, its interior is well above the earlier car in accoutrements, the seats are leather, and supportive, there is much better audio, and the seating position can be adjusted to fit any size human. While the old car had good bucket seats, and air conditioning could be ordered on some models, the audio – even with the best option would usually be drowned out by squeaks, rattles, vibrations and muffler noise. Now you might like all those audio embellishments, but that’s trying to relive the olden days.
Let’s face it, the new car is a hands down winner in this category.
And the verdict is . . . ahhh, we’re not gonna say it, but the older GTO is a winner – because it challenges your senses, it grips you by its visceral jaws, and makes you love its crude and guttural approach. The new car is a better car, but is it a better fun car? In our opinion, no. But if you’re going on a 1,000 mile road trip, maybe that 21st Century piece might be what you want. If you’re going to a car show, the old Tiger is the better by far bet.