Weekly Craigslist Hidden Treasure: 2004 Pontiac GTO

Car Culture

V8 power. RWD. Six-speed manual. Why didn't this sell well over a decade ago?

There’s no way the Pontiac GTO would exist today for two reasons: 1) Pontiac is dead, and 2) the coupe market is dying. Never mind the fact the fifth generation Pontiac GTO, a rebadged Holden Monaro, came powered by a thirsty V8; the overall package doesn’t really work anymore for new vehicles. So why did Pontiac even bother with a new GTO towards the very end of its life?

Well, at the time GM had yet to file for bankruptcy so there was still hope Pontiac would somehow make it. Good product is everything and GM VP of product at the time, Bob Lutz, figured the excitement brand needed to bring back a famous nameplate without spending a lot of money. Australia was the answer.

Down Under is the other V8, rear-wheel-drive muscle car-loving country that had a mighty fine platform and coupe nearly ready to go. The Monaro, a coupe version of the Commodore sedan, only needed some basic Pontiac badging inside and out. Lutz managed to convince his GM superiors to import the car but, sadly, the GTO was kind of doomed from the start. We’ll get back to that shortly.

So why are we highlighting this 2004 Pontiac GTO as this week’s Craigslist selection? Because, as we noted, it’s a type of car that’s no longer needed by a mainstream brand. It only lasted for three production years, but GM claims a three-year run was planned from the beginning. Still, it was a special car then and remains so today.

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For the 2004 model year, it came powered by the LS1 5.7-liter V8 with 350 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque. For 2005, GM swapped the LS1 for the LS2, a 6.0-liter V8 with 400 hp and 400 lb-ft. Why the engine change? Probably because GM failed to sell the 18,000 units it hoped for in the GTO’s first year. Upping power is one way to attract more potential buyers. Unfortunately, that plan didn’t work as expected as sales remained fairly low.

On paper, the GTO has everything: RWD, six-speed manual, V8 power. Isn’t that what makes a proper muscle car? Yes, but the GTO also had another issue that didn’t work in its favor: bland styling. To be clear, it wasn’t a bad looking car and we think it’s aged rather nicely. However, the design was by no means a standout and other V8-powered competitors, including the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger, and latest Ford Mustang, had more dynamic designs.

Another problem, though not the GTO’s fault, was its price tag. Lutz initially intended for it to base at around $25,000, but this ballooned to $35,000 by the time it launched. What happened? The Australian dollar’s growth against the US dollar caused the GTO’s price to increase. That’s one of the things that can happen when a vehicle is imported. Combined with the uninspiring styling, the reborn Pontiac GTO never really hit its stride. It’s kind of a sad story, considering its performance specs were quite respectable: 0-60 mph in 4.6 seconds and a top speed of 178 mph, sans limiter. So if you’re looking for an all-American nameplate, though one attached to Australian-made muscle, and at a decent price, the Pontiac GTO could be for you.

We found this 2004 GTO for sale on Craigslist Los Angeles for a price of $7,900. This black exterior, red leather interior GTO has never been in an accident and comes with a clean title. Total mileage: 132,000. It does feature the six-speed manual, a much-preferred choice over the optional four-speed automatic, as well as an aftermarket radio with a CD player, Pandora, USB, and Bluetooth. Even the red leather upholstery is said to be flawless. Could the fifth-generation Pontiac GTO become a classic? Is it already? Then again, who cares? This is a V8-powered coupe with a six-speed manual and RWD for well under $10. Enough said.

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