Hot-rod G8 offered a glimpse into a future not to be

Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News.
Much of the talk about Pontiac's demise over the past weekend centered on the GTO and Firebird, hot performance models whose glory days were decades ago.

However, not a word was mentioned on TV or radio reports about a 2009 Pontiac that might be the most collectable of all the Pontiacs ever produced during the brand's 84-year history.

The car is the rear-drive G8 GXP sedan.

From this guy's corner, I believe the G8, the over-the-top G8 GXP, and a few future rwd models would have turned Pontiac's fortunes around if the brand had not been axed.

While running through various Web sites over the weekend, I noticed a headline: “10 orphaned cars to drive before you die.” The story appears at www.caranddriver.com.

Among the vehicles featured are the DeTomaso Pantera, Plymouth Superbird, Sunbeam Tiger, Tucker sedan and others. At the top of the list is the G8 GXP. The story focuses on orphaned vehicles produced after 1944 that suffered the indignity of being abandoned.

The Web site called the demise of the G8 GXP “the biggest tragedy of the past decade.” The GXP arrived on dealer lots just months before the brand was axed.

“All G8s were a delight to pilot, with sharp, BMW-esque handling, rear-wheel drive and powerful engines,” according to www.caranddriver.com.

But only the GXP came with a 6.2-liter V-8 derived from the Chevy Corvette, and it offered a six-speed manual transmission. “With 415 hp, the handsome sedan ripped off 0-to-60 runs in 4.7 seconds and sounded like a pissed-off African lion,” the story continued.

Fewer than 2,000 GXPs were imported “virtually guaranteeing collectible status,” the story said.

50 Cent introduced the 2009 Pontiac G8 GXP at the New York Auto Show in 2008. The G8 GXP had a 6.2L V-8 engine that produced in excess of 400 horsepower. Photo credit: REUTERS
Other buff books offered similar praise for the G8 and the GXP. I drove a 2008 G8 back in the day and was similarly impressed. The G8 was produced by General Motors' Australian subsidiary and adapted from the Holden Commodore.

Months before Pontiac's death sentence was announced, I had a conversation with then-Vice Chairman Bob Lutz. At that point, the future Pontiac line was being debated. To distinguish Pontiac from Chevrolet, GM was weighing a plan that would make all of Pontiac's future models rear-drive (except perhaps for an entry-level Pontiac). In fact, a proposed Pontiac model and the upcoming compact Cadillac ATS had been selected to share GM's new Alpha rear-drive vehicle platform.

Additionally, beginning with the G8, Pontiac's car line offered powertrains and suspension systems that catered to enthusiasts. Essentially, each Pontiac would be sort of a poor man's BMW. It was no coincidence that the G8's styling cues were borrowed from BMW.

Lutz made a good business case for the reinvention of Pontiac. I believe the rwd strategy would have turned Pontiac's fortunes around.

Unfortunately, we'll never know.