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The Car that Killed Pontiac: The 2004-2006 GTO

When it comes to muscle cars, I have always been a GM guy. I spent the better part of my teens and early twenties driving a 1973 El Camino, a wreck with a distracted soccer mom in a minivan destroyed my 1991 Camaro RS, and I own a TPI 5-speed 1988 Firebird Formula that could use a valve job much sooner than later.

It should thus come as no surprise that I grew up with a manly crush on the 1969 Pontiac GTO Judge. With a standard Ram Air III 400-cid engine that pumped out 366 horsepower, and performance parts options like a close-ratio four-speed Hurst T-Handle shifter, posi-traction, power steering, and front disc brakes, together with a rear-deck spoiler, hood-mounted tach, and a blackout grille, the Judge embodied Pontiac’s muscle car era.

Hence, I, like many muscle car enthusiasts, could not have been more disappointed in the fourth generation GTOs, which (in case you forgot, and you probably did) were sold from 2004 to 2006. Everything I loved about the ’69—a stripped-down Roadrunner that looked American and badass without taking itself too seriously—was gone. In its place was something quasi-European that looked like a throat lozenge with “GTO” stamped on it. None of the car’s aesthetics recalled anything vaguely resembling a muscle car, let alone the iconic Goats. I did not realize it at the time, but this was, in fact the result of the neo-GTO not being a GTO at all.

That is, the fourth generation Pontiac GTO was merely a rebadged Holden Monaro, an Australian coupe that was based on the European Opel Omega B, which had actually been sold in the U.S. as the Cadillac Catera from 1997 to 2001. Assembled in a plant in Elizabeth, South Australia, all it took to transform a Monaro into a GTO were some bracing body modifications to meet American crash criteria, adding the familiar Pontiac front fascia and new badging, then simply stitching “GTO” on the front seats. Unbelievably, this ostensible GTO was sold in the Middle East as a Chevrolet Lumina SS.

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