Godfather Approved By: Dave Anderson/autoMedia.com Jim Wangers and a privileged group of GTO enthusiasts recently were hosted at the GM Proving Grounds at Milford, MI to drive the 2004 GTO and put it through it's paces. And guess what?—Jim broke the car—but more on that later. Over the last year, most of the "online" enthusiast community has been exposed to an unmitigated level of commentary surrounding the return of the GTO, much of it negative. There are many valid, well-informed points being made and many more highly charged emotional assertions. All parties involved in the banter are making valid comments, and much of the negative flack has received a high level of attention in the last few months. No wonder that Pontiac Motor Division has taken notice of the passionate opinions being leveled at the GTO as it is readied for delivery here in the States. Car lovers are passionate about their cars, which is obviously why they're car lovers. They don't view vehicles as transportation, but as an extension of their personality. For this reason, many owners of classic GTOs feel that the "rebirth of a legend" should include a few of the familiar characteristics that typified a GTO, as the GTO did initiate the musclecar craze. Well, it may not have hood scoops (fake or otherwise), big loud stripes, or tail pipes exiting at both sides of the car, but the underpinnings of this car are purely GTO. Pontiac allowed noteworthy enthusiasts highly identified with the hobby and the glory days of the GTO to let them ring out a pre-production GTO mule. No one is more qualified than Jim Wangers. Wangers didn't create the GTO, but he was responsible for creating the character and mystique that surrounds this musclecar legend. As such, he is often referred to as the "Godfather of the GTO." This "first drive" looks to be the beginning, or shall we say the progression of a legendary car known as the Pontiac GTO. Wangers anxiously awaited the day to wring out the new GTO. Today, he holds no official capacity at Pontiac and, though he founded the highly respected vehicle testing company AMCI, he had no financially related (read compensation) reasons linked to his evaluation. Having closely followed Pontiac's progress in bringing the GTO stateside, he was hopeful that GM's Pontiac and Holden teams had done their homework and would truly be delivering a car worthy of carrying on the legend—the legend of the GTO. The time had come and Jim graciously planted himself behind the wheel of the new GTO. The car is "mechanically" complete and is just void of final production appearance items and tweaks. Wangers' only negative comment as he surveyed the car prior to driving it was: "I sure wish they would put the word Pontiac anywhere on the car!" In addition to being the "ad man" at Pontiac, Wangers was also a respected drag racer in the early '60s for Royal Pontiac. He could sure grab a gear back then, and nothing has changed. Jim took the car out on a safe, long straightaway and ran it up to 100 mph several times, power-shifting at 5,700 rpm. The car redlines at 5,900 rpm with a 6,000-rpm limiter. "The car is drunk with torque. From down around 2,000-2,500 rpm, the car is just as responsive as the old GTOs." Wangers went on to say, "This is going to be a great cruiser because it's going to have a great 20-mph punch." In addition to his advertising duties for Pontiac, Wangers was a NHRA Stock Champion for Royal Pontiac in the early 1960s, as well. At 77 years of age, Jim's hand is still a blur as he grabs another gear. The LS1 powerplant produces 350 horsepower at 5,200 rpm with 365 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm. "Someone has spent a lot of time taking a proven engine known for it's high end and moved the torque down to a driveable level. And you can overpower the new "tiger paws" and burn rubber with the low-end torque." Backing up the LS1 is either a 4-speed automatic or a 6-speed manual. The manual is the same 6-speed used in the Chevrolet Corvette ZO6. This is the heavy duty, close ratio version with a 2.91 first gear and 5th and 6th being overdriven. Regardless of the transmission selected, the GTO comes with a 3.46 positraction rear axle. Acceleration and braking is done on 17x8-inch wheels wrapped in Goodyear Eagle RSA 225/50R17 tires. Jim had no problem bringing the car down to a safe stop from 100 mph several times repeatedly without any soft pedal. "I was half expecting to drive a "Car and Driver" prepped "Royal Bobcat" GTO like the days of old of the famed 1964 Ferrari comparison. This was no prepped car, but it sure drives like one." Based on his years of testing and being behind the wheel of many performance cars, Wangers said that with a practiced foot and a stickier tire, the car he drove could run a 0-60 mph in the low 5-second range, and is capable of dipping into the high 13s at maybe 107 mph in the 1/4 mile. "Directional stability and evasive reaction capabilities were really great... Though I am no road racer, I get dizzy doing a slalom, but give me a straightaway and the old drag racer came out. I ran it through the gears, power shifting, but missed a shift and banged the limiter. Later they found out that two valves were kissed and bent." (I told you he broke it!) Wangers says he can't wait to add the new GTO to his collection. And if you've ever seen his collection, you can bet it'll be red. "I think once you settle in behind the wheel and go through the gears, you won't care about it not having hood scoops and exhausts that exit at both sides. Bring on the Mustang Cobras, the Chrysler Hemis, the high priced BMWs and even the Motor Trend Car of the Year Infiniti G35! There ain't nothing within $20,000 of this car that's going to match its performance."