Car of the Week – Pontiac GTO & Holden Monaro

Car of the Week – Pontiac GTO & Holden Monaro

Here is another a quite special car that won the car of the week award, the Pontiac GTO, which is an American rebadge of Holden Monaro. It has actually beaten other nominations like the Mercedes-Benz CLK DTM and AMC Rebel Machine, which caught us by quite a surprise. In this article, we will not only discuss the American rebadge GTO but also the Australian HSV GTO & GTS, British Monaro VXR and Middle Eastern Lumina SS as well.

An Imported Brute: 2004 GTO & Facelift Upgrades

The actual production of the Commodore VT based Monaro models began in 2001, designated as the third generation of Holden Monaro lineup. The base models were fitted with rather petty 3.8L supercharged V6 engines whereas the updated and facelifted CV8Z models would receive the greatest treatment a car can get: LS engines. Years later, in 2004, Pontiac imported the facelifted Monaro models in the US and began selling them as GTO, which was a name that was killed off way back in 1974. The General Motors executives saw potential in importing a highly successful GM model, as Monaro was one of the best selling cars in Australia and a big hit among the petrolhead. The executives drove a Holden Monaro while on a business trip and decided that it made great sense to have these Monaros in the good ol’ US with a name that stood dead for way too long. The launch, however, was nothing short of a bumpy road as the Australian Dollar quickly got stronger against U.S dollar, inflating the sale price of the GTO’s from $25,000 to $34,000, which is… yeah, quite a lot. This one unfortunate aspect is one of the reasons why the GTO still remains as an underdog in the segment.

Despite the bumpy road, the 2004 GTO brought some more muscle to the US market as it had the 5.7L LS1 V8 engine that powered the C5 generation Corvette and fourth generation Camaro SS. The engine could produce 350 hp @5200 rpm and 495 nm @4000 rpm. Customers could choose a 6-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic transmission, and we already know what they went with, pretty much a no brainer. More changes include a different front fascia and modern Pontiac grille, the appearance of which managed to polarize the Monaro enthusiasts. The steering wheel was put to the left side and GTO logos were scattered all over the interior. Its main rivals were the Dodge Charger, Chevy Monte Carlo and Ford Mustang, but it was overshadowed by all of them as a result of the underwhelming reception. Pontiac then tinkered with the GTO more, and the major revision was unveiled in 2005.

The revised, facelifted 2005-2006 GTO. Note the addition of hood scoops as standard.

The 2005 GTO greatly refreshed the model with the introduction of a new engine, a 6.0L LS2 V8, shared with C6 Corvette, the Australian counterpart HSV GTO and Cadillac CTS-V. This new heart could now produce 400 HP and 542 nm, dropping the 0 to 60 time to 4.8 seconds and giving it a quite impressive top speed of 289 km/h (180 mph). It retained the same 6-speed manual or 4-speed auto gearbox choices, albeit with lighter flywheel and better gear ratios. A strengthened and tweaked chassis and suspension greatly improved grip and a better interior gave the customers better reasons to prefer it over a Mustang. This facelift also offered a spoiler and hood scoops as standard, which certainly made it look better and more muscular compared to the corporate, tame look of the 2004 GTO.

Pontiac offered two more colors for the 2006 model year, Spice Red Metallic and Brazen Orange Metallic, replacing Midnight Blue Metallic and Yellow Jacket colors. The Brazen Orange Metallic is akin to the Fusion Orange Metallic color used on Holden’s Monaro CV8-Z model. Other changes include faster steering, blacked-out taillights and minor upgrades in the interior section and the LS2 V8 engine retained the same output of 400 HP. Despite all their efforts, GTO could never taste the success that General Motors executives has hoped but it still managed to sell 40,808 units in three years. The last GTO came off the production line in Australia in June 14, 2006 before the car was discontinued. General Motors had preplanned the GTO as a three-year limited production model, so it makes sense that the car was killed off. Shortly after, Holden also discontinued the production of Monaro in 2006, replacing it with HSV’s Clubsport R8 performance version of the Commodore model in 2007.

The Originals: HSV performance models and Vauxhall rebadge

While General Motors was doing their best selling the GTO in US, the original Monaros were being converted into monsters by Holden’s HSV performance division (Holden Special Vehicles). These did not carry the Monaro name and instead were called HSV Coupé, having secondary names designating their trim level. The first, 2002 entry level model shared its name with its American brother, called HSV Coupé GTO, powered by the same 5.7L V8 as the 2004 Pontiac GTO, producing 342 HP. It could still reach 60 mph in 5.5 seconds, however. It featured an aggressive bodykit that was lifted to the Vauxhall Monaro VXR model for the UK market. It received the same LS2 treatment in 2004 as the US rebadge so it could now produce 400 HP and be on par with the rest of the lineup.

The Coupé GTS, on the other hand, was a completely different beast that stood out from all Monaro models, including the American Pontiac GTO. That is because the GTS was powered by a Callaway C4B V8, which was a heavily tuned version of the 5.7L LS1 engine producing 402 HP, and it stood out from the GTO with its yellow-silver color scheme. It Unlike the GTO, however, GTS was a limited special order only model, and it was phased out of production before receiving a better LS2 V8 engine in 2004. Despite this, the Callaway-tuned V8 could reach 60 mph in 5.2 seconds and had a top speed of 265 km/h (165 mph).

A third variant, named Coupé4, was essentially a luxury oriented all-wheel drive version of the GTO, featuring a different front fascia and extended fenders for better grip. It was powered by the same LS1 V8 producing 360 HP, and it is claimed that only 134 units were made, 20 of which were exported to New Zealand, making it the rarest Monaro on sale.

The Vauxhall Monaro VXR, using the same body as the Coupé GTO.

Across the Pond: Vauxhall Monaro VXR

As part of General Motors, Vauxhall’s VXR division stood around, tinkering with Opel’s models, producing great cars like the VXR220. In 2004, ordinary Monaro models were sold with Vauxhall badges, and performance VXR editions were offered as limited production. The 2004 Monaro VXR was a big fresh arrival to the dreary UK market filled with corporate cars. Wearing a badge that had infamous reputation for selling the dullest cars to middle class, the Monaro VXR was quite a shock, winning the 2004 Top Gear muscle car of the year award. Richard Hammond described it as ”a Vauxhall you’d actually want to buy.” The Monaro VXR was essentially a HSV Coupé GTO, sharing the exact body kit, rims and the 6.0L LS2 V8 producing 400 HP. In 2006, even more limited VXR 500 models were offered to Monaro enthusiasts, and they were fitted with Harrop superchargers, increasing the power output to 500 HP and 677 nm. This resulted in a 0 to 60 time of 4.6 seconds and a top speed of 295 km/h (183 mph). The production ceased in late 2006 and like in Australia, it was replaced by Vauxhall VXR8, the rebadged version of HSV Clubsport R8 model.

While the Australian Monaro had a rather short life in the market, it definitely managed to win over many muscle enthusiasts by selling all over the world with different rebadges, and established itself as one of the most underrated two-door, rear-wheel drive V8 muscle cars that money can buy and maintain, and this is exactly why it deserves a place on the Car of the Week. See you next week for the next winner!