Home » Our Daydreaming Designer Attempts To Fix The Underappreciated 5th-Gen Pontiac GTO, Which Too Many People Think Looks Like A Malibu

Our Daydreaming Designer Attempts To Fix The Underappreciated 5th-Gen Pontiac GTO, Which Too Many People Think Looks Like A Malibu

Gilded Goat

We’re diving back into the list again, Autopians. Which list might that be, you ask? Why, the infamous clickbait catalog of so-called “world’s worst cars,” of course!

Well, Wikipedia democratically calls it “list of automobiles known for a negative reception,” which is a less antagonistic name but a presentation of the same often flawed information. One of the unofficial philanthropic missions of this website is to shed some light on these maligned machines and find the silver lining. Sometimes this can be a difficult task — a Trabant really isn’t a great car [Editor’s Note: I disagree! The Duroplast people’s car of East German has plenty of  appealing features! -DT] — but in other cases the vehicles on this list are actually good if not great. Scrolling down the long list to the 2000s, after entries like the Aztek and PT Cruiser I came across the 2004-2008 Pontiac GTO.

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The original Pontiac GTO might not be the greatest muscle car of all time (Mopar fans for one will hammer that point home) but in terms of concept and marketing, the impact of this early example of the genre cannot be understated. The infamous John Delorean broke the unwritten GM rule of putting an engine larger than 330 cubic inches of displacement in an intermediate sized car with a skunkworks creation named after the Ferrari 250GTO. A loophole in the rule that could allow the bigger 389 mill as an option meant that the engine could see production in the mid-sized LeMans coupe in 1964 — this was a tremendously successful machine.

64 Gto
sources: Bring A Trailer and Hemmings (cars for sale)

Strong marketing helped to build the hype about this new Pontiac with (sexist) ads like these:

S L1600
source: Pontiac via ebay

There was even a surfer-rock style song on the radio..


..which was referenced in a great commercial years later (in German!) when VW still had the best advertising in the industry:

The early models might be the most iconic, but from a design standpoint the high point to me was always the 1968-72 models — fastback coupes with menacing faces and optional hidden headlights.

68 Gto
source: Mecum (car for sale)

After the malaise era set in, Pontiac moved away from the mid-sized muscle car genre, and the “euro styled” soft-nosed Grand Am became the enthusiast version of the LeMans. The GTO name died out as a version of the Chevy Nova-based Ventura compact in 1974. The 350 V8 was the strongest powerplant available, and I have serious doubts that the 200 horsepower listed was a realistic figure.

Grand Am
sources: Barn Finds and Mecum (cars for sale)
Grand Am
sources: Net Car Show

While never forgotten, the GTO did not officially reappear until Pontiac dropped a show car onto the circuit decades later in 1999. There’s a lot to unpackage here on this concept, and honestly things like the strange Monster Energy Drink strakes, odd proportions, and blunt pointy-to-the-ground nose I’d very much prefer to have been left in the package, thank you.

If nothing else, the show car certainly sparked the public’s appetite for a new GTO, and one was on the way. Truth be told, knowing General Motors of the time, I was fully expecting a new GTO to be a front wheel drive torque steer machine — something similar to (if not identical to) what GM released as the Pontiac Grand Prix GXP, a crazy mid-sized sedan with a transverse mounted LS V8 and a wider track at the front than the rear which Thomas Hundal described in detail a little while back.

Used Pontiac Grand Prix Gxp 2008 48302873 1 L
sources: BestCarFinder (car for sale)

That was not to be the case: The upcoming GTO would be simultaneously more AND less than what the public likely had in mind. For once, General Motors did what it should have long before, and looked to a source that was right under its nose: the Australian Holden division. Holden built some of the most sophisticated domestic-style muscle cars ever, and the VZ Monaro was certainly one of them. GM spent 17 months converting this four seater coupe to US specs for the 2004 model year, adding the 350 horsepower LS1 V8 from the Corvette in the process.

The LS2 motor was added for the next model year; 50 more horses under the hood yielded a mind-numbing 4.7 second zero to sixty time. However, the performance was just the tip of the iceberg; this thing had a level of refinement that made a Firebird look like a joke. Car and Driver said that the all-independently sprung Monaro/GTO provided a decent ride and that the “handling is really more Deutschland than Detroit.” Did I mention that it was stick?

This was a GM car? Talk about the unexpected. “We’re really struggling to invent reasons not to put both hands together for this supremely comfortable…. highway-inhaling coupe” said Car and Driver. Well, there were a few reasons not to applaud, the primary one being the styling.

New Gto
sources: Wikipedia and Mecum (car for sale)

Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with the looks of the Monaro/GTO. However, it’s hard to believe that there would be a Pontiac released where you might actually WANT more crap stuck onto it. Indeed, Pontiac did add some hood snouts later in an attempt to jazz the thing up, but it looked a bit like the result someone with a Cavalier walking into a Pep Boys with a hundred bucks and a dream. Since it was a bit pricey (albeit a great deal for the performance on tap) the resemblance to lower level GM cars did it no favors. Also, it did not by any stretch of the imagination look like anything before bearing the GTO name, or even a Pontiac for that matter.

Let’s say The General gives us the opportunity to fix that — a chance to make people notice this wallflower. Ready to do a redesign?

Before you grab a sketch pad, draw two massive circles and start making car shapes over them; hold up a minute. A design manager takes you out back to show you the remains of a Monaro that a staffer got a bit overenthusiastic with. As you feared, you’re going to be stuck with the Monaro shell as-is. “The front fenders are off of this one but we’d like to keep them on the production car, and the hood as well, and the trunk lid, too, but you can change the license filler panel” says the manager with a smirk. You’ve gotta make an apple out of an orange.

Enthusiasts were lucky enough to have top brass approve the cost of finally shipping and modifying an Australian supercar to the U.S. in the first place, and there is no way that they will foot the bill for a new body. The parts you see on this wrecked Monaro will stay on your redesigned production GTO. Well…shit.

1 7889
source: Pacific Motors

Let’s look on the bright side. What can we do? Assuming we’re likely to fail, let’s make the best of it. A new nose, a new tail, some body cladding. What choice do we have?


Redesigning The Fifth-Gen GTO

The front end is simple enough. The nose demands the big full width split grille as on the 1968-69 car (or on Burt Reynold’s Trans Am); that’s a non-negotiable there. Headlamps are covered in electrically lowering doors, which sounds old school but even the new Volvo electric car sort of does that. The wraparound lights go away which visually increases the amount of ‘sheetmetal’ on the side of the car in front and back. Yes, you see the seams of the old nose and tail but some things must be tolerated. Then the job gets tough.

2006 Pontiac Gto 2a Notes

2006 Pontiac Gto Front
source: Classic Auto Mall (car for sale)

While the GTO/Monaro actually has fairly sculpted fenders (essential for GTOness), particularly in the back, the straight-line rocker panels and the sweep that runs from front to back on the flanks tends to hide this nice shape.

The entire side of the car seems like a thick bar-of-soap mass that is the antithesis of GTO. One solution is the rocker panel trim which will take on a shape that will accentuate (exaggerate, really) the ‘Coke bottle” shape of the car, which we’ll make stronger by using the even-chessier-but-it-works trick of graphically lowering the side windows with a black painted area. I’ve even painted a sliver of the sheet metal above the rear quarter windows as well. Look, we’re drawing at straws here, people.

2006 Pontiac Gto Side1 Notes

2006 Pontiac Gto (1)
source: Classic Auto Mall (car for sale)

It gets worse; note the different rear roof line, and the slight seam under the C-pillar of the modified car? We’ve had to resort to a trick used by GM in the past — the fiberglass or urethane trim panel. These panels cover up areas of the rear side glass and stick above the original roofline, connected by a full-width black “roof spoiler” thing (the whole roof is painted black so that helps to blend it in).

It’s a pretty awful idea conceptually but at the same time visually rather convincing. Yup, just like they did to turn a 1979 Buick Skyhawk into a “Road Hawk” to blend the rear spoiler into the side of the car. See how that panel that connects to the rear spoiler goes all the way up the trailing edge of the side door?  It’s horrible and brilliant at the same time.

Road Hawk
sources: Barn Finds (car for sale) and GM via Amazon

Can you imagine, say, the Germans doing these kind of shenanigans? I can’t, but they did. One of the facts that you might not know about the vaunted BMW e30 M3 (besides that fact that it isn’t really that fast) is that the roofline in back was altered with a steel cap welded right over the existing rear window opening, much like the roof cap on a Chrysler New Yorker.  A new trunk lid was then installed to complete the look, but there is indeed a big targa-bar-like seam going over the back of the roof. I mean, it doesn’t make it right, but if Munich can do it, are we not allowed to? Desperate times call for desperate measures, and we have to add some glitz to this deserving Pontiac sleeper supercar by any means necessary.

Bmw Roof
sources: Bring A Trailer, Bring A Trailer, and e30 Garage

In the rear, we’ve added a body colored tail and license plate filler panel covered in the eight-slot taillights from the ’67 model, and the lack of wraparound lights mean we’ll have to add a side marker in the form of a Pontiac logo which will warm Jason’s heart. The whole thing is finished off in modern interpretations of the honeycomb wheels used on some of the last real ‘Goats’ .

2006 Pontiac Gto (2)

2006 Pontiac Gto Rear
source: Classic Auto Mall (car for sale)

Inside, the revival GTO was praised for its uncharacteristically-good-for-a-GM-car seats, but the rest of it seemed as bland as the outside. The interior, like the rest of the car’s styling, is inoffensive, but seemingly came from a much further downmarket (i.e. cheap) car.

A few complaints besides aesthetics were the lack of an optional sunroof (I’ll add that — it can slide up and out into the pocket created by the roof spoiler on the top) and no navigation option. To better match the typically wide instrument area on GTOs of old, I’ve created a cap that goes over the top of the dash, extending to the center to form a space for a navi/entertainment screen, extra gauges, and even a heads-up display projector and center channel speaker for the Bose system.

sources: ClassicCars.com 

[Ed note: That little top cap for the gauges looks great atop that dash! -DT] 

How do I feel about all of this gingerbread decoration? You’re talking to someone who’s driven dull German sedans and wagons for the past 25 years, so I actually like the tasteful and even Teutonic look of the GTO/Monaro as is. Still, I know that the target market for this thing wanted the GTO the be more like the original muscle car, a car that in one variety came with pink stripes over the wheels and funky graphics proclaiming it as THE JUDGE. Subtle was not the word of the day. Pontiac owners often wanted flash to go with the dash, and there’s nothing wrong with that, even if we have to pop rivet and glue it on as I’m doing here. Would this semi-abomination have been enough to get more boomers to have parted with their cash back in the day, and pay the respect due to one of the fastest and best Pontiacs ever sold?

Source topshot: Autohunter




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1 year ago

I like the monaro for what it is. The monaro in Australia was always a 2 door version of the current 4 door commodore. Never had a big enough market to be anything else.

In this case it was based on the 1998 VT commodore.


Yet given the fighting to get it made did not even hit the streets in Australia until 2001. These there was apparently much wrangling with auto unions in the states to get it cleared for import in 2004 by which time the jelly bean had passed and alas by then the sales were never going to be big enough for it to get new sheet metal.

Even in Australia it was published as a single generation sheet metal and there would be no next model.

One of the comment here on low rent lancer dashboards in an Evo was bang on too.

Could have done more with it in some areas like sunroof and navigation but once you see the context and the timing to me it all kind of makes sense why it was what it was and in some ways lucky to get it at all.

Also interesting footnote is that the design came from Australian Michael Simcoe who went on the be current VP of design at GM and also involved in the Buick Avenir concept but probably responsible for Buick enclave or something else hideous.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x