The cars we loved.
In our on going theme of parallel universes, our Pontiac G8 was Australia’s Holden Commodore. Built in only one factory in Elizabeth, South Australia, the Commodore was sold in three variations: sport ute (a El Camino like small truck), sedan and station wagon. The sedan was the only version to be exported to the States. Although Pontiac considered bringing the sport ute here and even ran a national campaign to find a name for it. Europe got a version sold by Vauxhall called the VXR8, it was perhaps the most aggressive looking with all the lairs and fins usually associated with Japanese cars. The G8 was probably the most balanced looking of the trio with looks somewhere between the restraint of the Holden and the boy racer look of the Vauxhall.
When the G8 arrived in late 2007 as a 2008 model, it replaced two big front wheel drive Pontiac’s that had long been associated with rear wheel drive in their heyday, the Bonneville and Gran-Prix. In fact, there had not been a large rear wheel Pontiac since the 1986 Bonneville. The slow creep towards front wheel drive had all but taken the excitement out of the Pontiac Division – a division that was supposed to be all about excitement. The arrival of the G8 was part of a continuing movement for Pontiac back to rear wheel drive, already evident in its new halo sports car the Solstice.
In many ways the G8 was an update to the Chevrolet Impalla SS concept of the 90’s with big bad V8 tire smoking power coming from the rear wheels with family car practically. In reality the G8 was much more and made the 94-96 Impalla look quite crude in comparison. The attention to detail was much higher in the Pontiac. Instead of the living room like front bench setup in the Impalla, the G8 featured modern leather seats with an instrument cluster and dash design that was much more refined than most of what GM was offering in the States (Save for Cadillac). The trend established with the departed GTO found its way to other Pontiac cars in varying degrees, bring Pontiac quality and detail up to some Japanese and European competitors.
Where the G8 really shined was under the hood. There were three trim levels available, base, with its 3.6 L V6 good for 256 hp and only available with a 5-speed automatic. Next up was the bread and butter GT, with a 6.0 L V8 making 361 hp with a 6-speed automatic transmission. The first two models were the most common, but offered much of the style of the top model depending on the wheel options chosen. The top and possibly best car ever to wear the Pontiac badge was the GPX. It’s Corvette sourced 6.2 L engine offered 402 hp in its first year. The second year and final run of GPX models all had the new LS3 6.2 L from the Corvette that made an impressive 415 hp.
The GPX, like much of its high end competition was tuned at Nurburgring. A special version of GM’s FE3 suspension along with modifications to the brakes endowed the G8 with world-class performance. Other distinguishing features (besides the deep hum of its engine) of the GPX included 19 in wheels, a special rear diffuser and quad chrome exhaust pipes.The motoring press was impressed, comparing the G8 with a previous generation BMW M5. In fact, many journalist made direct comparisons with BMW, saying that the G8 offered the driving feel and responses that newer BMWs were missing. In a comparison tests between Dodge’s Charger in Road and Track magazine, the G8 held its own against the Hemi powered Charger, besting it 0-60, braking and road holding. A similar outcome befell Nissan’s front wheel drive Maxima, a car considered to be one of the best handling front-wheel drive cars in production. It was universally acknowledged that the GXP was one of the fastest cars on the road and presented anyone with $30+k one of the true performance bargains of the decade.
Sales of the G8 were steady, actually increasing in 2009 over 08 due to held over inventory and the winding down of remaining models. The base and GT models were heavily discounted as the GPX models disappeared early as the word got out about the performance bargain they represented. There were plans to bring the UTE, a pick up El Cameno like version to the States if demand was there. After a big ordeal with a namng contest, the ideal seemed to fizz out with G8 sales. Meanwhile in Australia, the Commodore continued and a special edition of it was offered with the left over Pontiac front end in 2009. The version became so popular, that now its a regular model in the Commodore range.
Oddly enough, there is at least one company in Australia that sells a kit to make your G8 look like a Holden, by using the original Holden front and rear end clips. It’s a little insulting if you ask me, to pretend that the G8 never existed by dressing it up like its parent. That fuels the good olde boys to claim that the Impalla SS was the last true GM American muscle car in this segment. That kind of pre-digital provincial thinking ignores the fact that American designers, technicians and engineers are working all over the world in GM and Ford (and to some extent Chrysler) subsidies that don’t call Detroit home. The Aussie connection was just what Pontiac needed to get back to its roots. It’s too bad it was not enough or soon enough to save the G8 or Pontiac itself. Where is John DeLorean when you need him?
Either way the modifications were minimal and even more subtle inside.The G8/Commodore/VXR8 or just G8 for the sake of this entry, was a strange combination of good olde boy rear wheel drive, big engined American muscle with the attention to detail that comes with Japanese cars. Australia is really the only place where the two cultures could exist simultaneously, with its wide open spaces and close proximity to Japan and it’s influences.