Aussie-American Muscle: Why the '04-'06 Pontiac GTO a Bargain-Priced Future Classic
When it comes to iconic American performance cars, the Pontiac GTO is quite high on the list. It basically kicked off the original muscle car era when it went on sale back in 1964, and through the rest of the '60s and into the '70s the GTO continued to be fast, stylish and beloved performance machine that's still highly sought after today.
What isn't talked about as much is the brief revival of Pontiac GTO nameplate during mid 2000s. At one time being criticized for its bland styling, the 2004-2006 GTO is not only one of the best bargains in the modern muscle car world, it also has the potential to be a proper classic as it continues to age. Here's why.
Stepping back in time to the early 2000s, it wasn't a great time for GM performance cars in the US. The Camaro and Firebird were gone after 2002 and the only car which offered the LS-based V8 engine was the Corvette.
General Motors was however, making some cool stuff in Australia under its Holden subsidiary and it was outspoken GM CEO Bob Lutz who pushed heavily for a re-badged, imported version of the Holden Monaro coupe to be sold in the American market.
That car would become to the 2004 Pontiac GTO, which as-promised was a Monaro with left hand drive and Pontiac badges. It arrived powered by a 350-horsepower variant of the LS1 V8 and was available with either a six-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. MSRP came in at a little over $30,000.
While there were some gearheads who had long dreamt of the day GM would sell one its high performance Holden products in the US, when the 2004 GTO went actually went on sale it was met with a mixed reaction by both car buyers and the media.
On one hand, the GTO was built on excellent bones. It had fully independent suspension, a handsome interior that featured build quality that was a cut above the typical GM cabins of the time and it even had a usable back seat. At the time the GTO's interior trimmings were compared to BMW.
Performance-wise, the '04 GTO delivered as well. Off the showroom floor it was capable of low five second 0-60 runs and mid 13 second quarter miles, which made it a proper reincarnation of the original Pontiac muscle car.
On the other hand, when it came to exterior styling and "curb appeal" the GTO wasn't as well received. Sporting only minor changes from the Monaro, the GTO was criticized for its conservative looks and lack of burly muscle car attitude. If anything, it's exterior design simply looked more like a product of late 1990s or early 2000s, as the original Monaro Concept first appeared back in 1998.
Even so, the 2004 GTO proved to be a popular among those who wanted a fast, comfortable four-seat muscle coupe that flew under the radar. It was also given top ranks for its ability to drift and a modified GTO driven by Rhys Millen represented one of the first ground-up professional drift car builds in the US back in the early days of D1GP and Formula Drift.
For the 2005 model year, Pontiac tried to address some of the criticism of the GTO's conservative styling by adding a scooped hood and dual exhaust outlets in the rear. Neither fundamentally changed the exterior of the car, but they did add a bit more visual excitement.
The bigger story came under the hood where the 2005 GTO was now powered by a 6.0 liter LS2 V8 that made 400 horsepower and 400 pound feet of torque—the same as the Corvette of the time. 2005 GTOs also got larger brakes and optional 18 inch wheels to go along with the standard 17s.
With the added displacement and power of the LS2, the GTO could now hit 60 miles per hour in under five seconds and rip off low 13 second quarter miles straight out of the box, all while delivering handling and balance far better then your typical muscle car.
The GTO continued for the '06 model year with the only real noticeable change being black-trimmed taillights. Unfortunately with Monaro production coming to an end in Australia, the GTO experiment was also ended in 2006 after three model years and about 40,000 GTOs imported to the US.
Now, some 13 years after the last GTO was sold and a decade after the Pontiac brand itself was shut down, the '04-'06 GTO remains a cult favorite and also a fantastic bang for the bang modern muscle car project.
Because of the slow demand it was common to find new or lightly used GTOs offered at heavy discounts, but in the years since the values for used GTOs seem to have stabilized—although they can still represent a tremendous bargain overall.
Prices for used GTOs run the spectrum of beat up high mileage examples for well under $10,000 to pristine low mileage cars being sold in the low to mid 20s. Fortunately, aside from a few weak spots in the suspension that can be fixed with stronger replacements, the cars have proven to be quite reliable. It is LS-powered after all...
Perhaps the biggest obstacle when it comes to buying a used GTO is keeping an eye out for cars that have been modified and abused. This goes for any used car, but thanks to its status as one of the cheapest, fastest V8s you can get there are plenty of trashed GTOs out there you'll want to be weary of.
The sweet spot will likely be a car with average mileage and minor interior/exterior wear which can be had for pretty easily for between $10,000 and $15,000. From there you can either leave it stock and enjoy it, or take advantage of the massive LS engine aftermarket and have some fun.
As for the rest of the car, the GTO-specific aftermarket may not be as big as that of a Mustang or Corvette but there are plenty of upgrades available for the suspension, brakes and chassis if you'd like to go that route.
Interestingly, in a way the GTO's understated, older-appearing styling that actually makes the car even more appealing today. Some may have called it bland when it was new, but the style of the car has actually aged quite well and it stands out from the more in-your-face style of modern performance cars like the Camaro with its gun-slit windows and awkward seating position.
Throw in the rarity factor when compared to your more common Mustangs and Camaros, and the GTO makes for fun and very underrated project car that offers a ton of potential as a weekend car, track car or even a daily driver.
Want to know more about the original Pontiac GTO? Be sure to check out our detailed retrospective.