One of the things I do is take photos for a car dealership’s website, Paradise Chevrolet Cadillac in Temecula. It’s pretty fun, I get to sample a wide variety of cars. Some of them are pretty mundane, like the Chevy delivery van I shot a couple of months ago, but some of them are pretty hot, like the bright metallic orange ‘Vette from last week.
But one of them really stuck out in my mind a couple of weeks ago, partly because it’s a huge example of what might have been. What might have been, if the American economy hadn’t bottomed out a couple of years ago, what might have been if the American auto companies hadn’t so thoroughly lost sight of what made them great, and, most tearingly, what might have been if the American public hadn’t equally lost faith, justifiably, in those American auto companies, particularly General Motors. That car is pictured below, the late, lamented Pontiac G8. It came in three iterations, the base G8, with a certainly adequate 256hp V6, the GT, in the photos, with a 361hp small block V8 and a late introduction, the 415hp V8 GXP. The latter was compared, favorably, to the previous generation BMW M5 by several frontline auto publications.
It was a funny synchronicity that I was working with both the G8 and a Dodge Charger R/T on the same day, since the two cars were aimed at similar customers. They were even the same color, inside and out, white over black!
Now the Charger has been a huge sales success for Mopar, from the day of its introduction to the present day, selling nearly 100,000 copies each year, until the recession year of 2009, when it still managed to sell 60,000. It’s big, it’s fast, and it looks very much the part of the Great American Muscle Car.
The Pontiac, though, was an entirely different matter. Introduced just as the economic meltdown commenced, coupled with skyrocketing fuel costs, in 2008, it sold just 13,000 units its first year, barely a good month for the Charger, and only 30,000 units total for the two years it was in production. It was a victim not only of a downward spiraling economy matched by upward spiraling gas prices, but also GM’s loss of interest in maintaining the Pontiac brand and the public’s absolute loss of interest in any of GM’s products, other than Cadillac and Corvette. The car also seems to be aimed at a different customer than the Dodge. Built in Australia, it exudes a distinct European vibe, rather than being purely and unmistakably American, like the Dodge. As can be seen in the photos, it’s slightly smaller, looks a little more, ahem, delicate and not nearly as muscular. Its seats are more firm, the seating position is lower and the instrument panel is very evocative of the German brands.
The Pontiac, while very attractive, doesn’t have the muscularity of the Dodge. The flared fenders and side vent/repeater lights are very European in style, as is the front splitter. The only nod to its American brand are the fake hood scoops, harking back to the GTO of the ‘60s. It even has a slight kink in the rear side window, a la BMW.
The steering wheel is distinctly American, but the seats could come from any mid level German car. They are not particularly supportive, however, but very adjustable.
The engine cover styling could come directly from an Audi S5. As motors go, the 361hp engine is very stout, moving the nearly 4000lb car quite briskly. The engine note, however, isn't that classic V8 rumble, sounding somewhere between a V6 bark and a flat crank Ferrari V8 wail. Not bad, just not what is expected.
The Charger, in contrast, looks much bigger, although it’s only 4 inches longer than the G8, overall.
Far more menacing, from this angle, than the slightly effete Pontiac. Seeing this looming in your rearview would encourage an immediate move to the right…