What makes a muscle car? Ask 10 car people to define a muscle car and you’re likely to get ten different answers. However, there are a few muscle car requirements that most people would probably be able to agree on:
You know what car checks all of these boxes but is widely made fun of for not being a "real" muscle car? The fourth-generation Pontiac GTO. This misfit was sold in the U.S. for just three model years, from 2004 to 2006. It was a captive import of the Australian Holden Monaro, which was a big hit down under. GM got the idea to import the car when reviewers started noticing that one of the best cars GM made, the Holden Commodore SS — a big, V8-powered, rear-wheel-drive muscle sedan — wasn’t available on the home front.
This is a car that should have been embraced by the U.S. market, right? A bona fide muscle car with a historic nameplate coming in the absence of the Pontiac Firebird/Trans Am and Chevy Camaro should have had GM fanboys cheering, right?! Wrong. America didn’t like this car. It was bashed for its high price tag and dull styling. Purists were upset that the new GTO had little in common aesthetically with the original GTO.
This was right around the time the retro styling craze was starting to creep into modern muscle cars. The retro S-197 Mustang showed up in 2005, and the new Dodge Charger came on the scene in 2006. Those were two big blows to the GTO in its short lifespan because of their affordable pricing and thrilling styling.
This is a shame, because the GTO was an outstanding car. Some call it a Corvette with a back seat — and they weren’t far off. The ’04 "Goat" had the 5.7-liter LS1 V8, and in ’05-’06 it was upgraded to the 6.0-liter LS2 V8. These mighty, muscular engines made 350 and 400 horsepower, respectively, which was more than enough to give the fourth-gen GTO some muscle-car street cred.
But nobody bought it because it looked like a throat lozenge. And I’ll admit, the styling of the GTO leaves something to be desired. While Pontiac made halfhearted attempts to make it look more like the unabashed performance car that it was with each model year, it wasn’t enough. The damage was done.
If this thing looked like a bloated Hot Wheels version of a ’65 or ’69 GTO, it would have been a hit. It might have even been popular enough to get Pontiac on track and save it from the doom it faced a few years later. The good news is, these cars present an excellent used-car value now. If you can get past the lethargic styling, the GTO gives you some of the most bang for the buck in the world of modern muscle cars. Find a Pontiac GTO for sale