The GTO Is Back, And It Sizzles

The reborn GM muscle car comes with a Corvette V-8 under the hood

Through a combination of bad cars and boneheaded marketing, General Motors frittered away some of the best names in automotive history. In GM's better days, the Cadillac Eldorado was a car with class, the Oldsmobile Cutlass was everyman's choice, and the Pontiac GTO was the king of muscle cars. As rising gasoline prices and clean air regulation in the 1970s ended the era of the power hogs, the GTO was the first to be killed.

Now, it's back. GM took the Monaro coupe from its Australian Holden Cars subsidiary and packed a 350-horsepower Corvette V-8 under the hood. The result is a $33,000 sports car worthy of the GTO badge.

When I threw the car into first and popped the clutch on the six-speed manual transmission, the GTO lurched ahead, leaving behind a cloud of dust. This car is built for speed. The engine has enough torque to lay down rubber even though the GTO weighs in at a hefty 3,700 pounds. I blew by an 18-wheeler on the highway with no trouble at all.

PRECISION STEERING

The GTO rides nicely, too. On the open road, it's silky smooth. I also tested the car on hilly roads outside Santa Barbara, Calif., and found it quite comfortable, even when the pavement got rough. Yet the suspension is tight enough to dive into turns and steer out with notable precision.

The interior of the GTO is a reminder that when it feels so inclined, GM can turn out a well-appointed car. Many of its American vehicles are decked out in cheap plastics -- mind-boggling when you sit in a cushy European Opel or an Australian-designed car like the GTO. The center of the dashboard is neatly done, with all of the buttons and knobs fitting together tightly. My test car had snazzy-looking red gauges. They are also available in purple, yellow, and two shades of blue.

The GTO has its flaws. Since the Monaro has been on the road for a few years, it has jelly-bean styling right out of the late 1990s. Worse, GM moved the gas tank from near the rear bumper, where it was in the Monaro, to the trunk in order to conform with American safety standards. Encased within a fabric-covered steel cage, it takes up almost half the storage space.

If you can get past those shortcomings, this is a lot of sports car for the money. It's almost impossible to find 350 horsepower for less than $40,000. GM plans to keep this GTO around for at least three years and then will design a new one. That promises a lot of fun in the passing lane for years to come.

By David Welch

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