By Bruce Nelson
In one of the most interesting and fast moves I can recall in the auto industry, Pontiac has gone forward with the production of the new GTO. Any of us that remember the days of the GTOs from 1964 till 1974, remember those cars affectionately. Even if you ask a young person today what a GTO is they seem to know. As everyone probably knows already, the new GTO is a Holden 2-door from an Australian subsidiary of General Motors. Just meet US regulations and switch the driver to the other side. Not an expensive re-tooling, I'm sure that is why this was released so fast. Everyone who is a car nut got excited when they heard about the return of the famous GTO.
The story of the new GTO is pretty old at this time. What I question is the target market for this car. Back in 1964 some real serious car people at Pontiac experimented with putting a Bonneville 389 into a Tempest. The story is that Jim Wangers built one and drove it to work for a while. These folks thought that the perfect car for the market they wanted to satisfy was a low priced, high powered, good-looking car that any young person with a job could afford. The equipment to make these cars even faster was readily available already, so any owner could customize his or her (yeah right) car to their personal taste. How many of us look back at our younger years when we either had on of these, or had a friend with one. The imagination runs wild. Now it's 2003 and the new GTO has been released. Who is the customer that will buy this car? Don't get me wrong; these will be flying off the showroom floors. The idea of the GTO was that virtually anyone could afford one. This is not the case with the new car. Instead of being affordable to the old target market, it now will compete with BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes and other cars only available to the well to do. Not to mention the added dealer mark-up added to anything this popular making it even less affordable.
It seems that one reason that this car was needed in this market was the lack of GMs rear wheel drive performance car availability. So Pontiac needed to offer a performance 2-door with rear wheel drive, a powerful V-8 engine, great styling and easily recognizable as a Pontiac. So what happened to the Firebird? Here was a car, already made in North America that delivered all these things. What was wrong with this car? They couldn't sell enough of them. You couldn't find one to save your life at a dealer with the performance packages, only the ones no one wanted, with a V-6. Why not make more with the equipment that people want? So why not stay with a great looking, great handling, great performing car like that? Why take that car off the market, along with the Camaro, with its 35 years of heritage, just to replace it with a car that doesn't have the easily recognizable styling of the Firebird? Although the Firebird in Trans-am or Formula trim wasn't cheap, it was a lot less than the new GTO.
I am a believer that bringing back a name without the continuing heritage is wrong. Look at the late 70s when the AMX, Cobra and Roadrunner returned. There is nothing wrong with the Holden car; I just question the use of the name GTO and the market it will target. Will the buyers just be buying the name GTO printed on another fast, new, expensive car? I guess we will find out.
By Bruce Nelson
Last Update: 07/24/03