Preach your Pontiac: Classic GTO or modern GTO?
Only three letters are needed to signify the original muscle car—GTO. The iconic Pontiac is the godfather of the muscle car movement and has characterized the class since. When Pontiac resurrected the nameplate in 2004, most critics agreed that the new car was dynamically excellent, while a few were skeptical of its worthiness to carry the GTO name. Read our point-counterpoint below and decide for yourself.
Kyle: The first-generation GTO is the only true GTO
The original 1964–67 Pontiac GTO is the true GTO. Nothing represents the vision of a muscle car in a purer form. These are the inarguable reasons the first GTO got it right and other cars wearing the GTO badge are simply imposters.
Muscular haunches, a long deck, and the flashes of well-placed chrome make the GTO stand out in all the right ways. A wide grille and stacked headlights starting in 1965 create the iconic look that, although only slightly different than the exterior of the existing LeMans, just plain oozes cool.
Positive switch movements, shifters that engage with that delightful thunk, a thin-rimmed steering wheel, and full sweep gauges looking right back at you. Modern cars just don’t have the character that the GTO embodies. The steering and brakes do the same thing as a modern car, but they have a feel all their own.
Yes, other brands might have also used the multi-carb concept, but Pontiac did it best. From the air cleaners to the manifold, the look is something to behold. A modern plastic engine cover can never equal three Rochester two-barrels sitting proud on an aluminum intake manifold. Revving the engine and watching the progressive linkage at work is something to behold.
A street-smart mechanic with a minimal toolkit can repair most anything on a first-gen GTO. The simplicity of diagnosis and repair is significantly greater than a modern car, thanks to lack of sensors, electrical nannies, and emissions controls. If the car is not running well, basics checks can tell the mechanic what is wrong and repairs can be done with common hand tools. Try to limp a computer-controlled engine home after a connector fries or sensor wire gets damaged—good luck.
Brett: The fifth-gen GTO is the original formula, refined and perfected
GM did right in recruiting Australia’s superb Holden Monaro as the basis for the fifth-generation GTO. As Pontiac’s last V-8 rear-wheel-drive coupe, the final iteration was both the fastest and best handling Goat to date, and should be revered as a fitting send-off for the marque’s most legendary offering.
Retro was the predominant styling fad of the early 2000s, a trend the GTO knowingly bucked. This car is a powerful engine wrapped in a slick, unassuming package—a concept shared with the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing ’64 LeMans GTO. Yes, detractors will bark that the fifth-gen doesn’t harken back to the original car’s exterior, but you’ll be too busy carving corners and burning through the quarter mile to care about that.
There’s no getting around it, the new GTO is a driver’s car. With its fantastically-bolstered leather seats, fully independent rear suspension, six-speed Tremec gearbox, and powerful V-8, this car is just as at home on a winding canyon road as it is on Woodward Avenue. Best of all, it’s uncommon enough for those not in the know to discount it as “just another Pontiac.” Big mistake.
Who needs to tinker around with carbs when you have 400 SAE Net certified horsepower on tap? The all-aluminum 5.7-liter LS1 and 6.0-liter LS2 are not only compact and lightweight, but far more powerful than anything you’d find in a stock 1960s GTO. And if you want to go the modified route, you’ll have near-infinite customization options from 20+ years aftermarket development of GM’s highly-respected LS platform.
Sure, older Goats are roadside-fix friendly, but modern GTOs won’t put you in the dangerous position of needing to diagnose and repair a mechanical issue on the side of a busy highway in the first place. In four years of ownership, my 90,000-mile GTO has never left me stranded. Simply put, these newer cars are just plain reliable. And for those of us who value time behind the wheel over time spent wrenching under the car, this is a major win.