When we first strapped ourselves into one of these cars, our respect for The General grew to epic proportions. The 2004-2006 GTO proved to us, and the world, that Pontiac was still building excitement and was able to produce a world-beating coupe costing half as much as equally capable cars. We were lucky to have enjoyed their presence for those three short years, but now, a couple flips of the calendar later, many GM fans and LS nutjobs like ourselves better understand what it takes to make these great cars even greater. And with the used values more in line with what we're willing to spend on a weekend toy, picking up a GTO and turning it into exactly what you want is now financially attainable.
The LS engine market has matured well and the GTO has proven to be an incredible platform to showcase our favorite engine's attributes-torque and horsepower. But if there's one area that many GTO enthusiasts are not too keen on, it's the suspension that makes the pleasantry happen. Sure, we'll throw some drag bags in back and chuck the front swaybar to squeeze out a lower e.t., but the GTO's suspension design is unique in that it has the ability to work on the dragstrip and in the turns with equal alacrity-and little sacrifice to ride quality. So, when it was time to upgrade the suspension on our own Head Poncho, we knew that anything we did wouldn't take away from our 12.20 e.t.'s and 1.65 short times (because of course, we are still drag racers deep down inside and our priorities still lay on the 1320).
Unlike the F-bodies that roam our highways and byways, the GTO has not had the benefit of a large suspension aftermarket. Only a few U.S.-based companies chose to invest their resources into the GTO (because of the relatively low production numbers) so parts to bring a GTO to the next level can be tough to find. In addition, those of us who wanted to remedy our rather excessive tire wear issues and somewhat unpredictable handling at the limit were, as they say, SOL (more on that in a minute). While we sit here with envy, those Australians have been enjoying a huge aftermarket for the home-market, third-generation Commodore, which the GTO is based on.
Sold in Australia from 1997 until 2006, the Commodore is as popular as a Camaro is here, and can be found roaming the roads in great numbers, often heavily modified. A little Internet research revealed a massive aftermarket and that a company called Pedders was the leader in suspensions over there. As it turns out, Pedders still produces a full line of high-performance suspension components for these cars. We quickly made contact with their U.S. operations, Pedders USA, and ordered ourselves one of its Track II suspension kits. This kit transforms the GTO greatly and includes a hand-selected combination of their best suspension parts for serious street duty (for those looking to hit the roadcourse, Pedders also offers a line of race-ready components called the eXtreme series). We then upped the ante with a set of eXtreme series front and rear sway bars for a little more aggressive handling.
Like the Holden that it is based on, the American GTO has a few issues with its suspension from the factory. For one, excessive tire wear runs rampant. Because of the car's porky curb weight, the tires are already under a lot of pressure (pun intended) and even with a good wheel alignment at the neighborhood tire shop, the tires seem to cup and feather quite fast. In many cases, we hear of GTO owners getting just 15,000 miles out of a set of tires, even with a regular rotation. As we found out from GTO expert Frank Beck, the proprietor of Rocksand Racing, the primary cause of the excessive tire wear is due to the excessive play in most of the suspension points as alignment specs can vary from all the slop. And more often than not, the front and rear suspension crossmembers are not in alignment with the chassis, which causes subsequent suspension wheel alignment adjustments to toe and camber to be less accurate, as they can't make up for everything else being off alignment. It's kind of like a self-fulfilling prophecy as the more you align your car, the more it can be off.
The other issue we find with bone-stock GTOs is that the car seems to get a little nervous at the limit when you're tackling the turns. We feel that the handling ability is limited primarily because of the mushy suspension pivots and light spring rates. Suspension travel is quite adequate on these cars, so to take full advantage of the competent MacPherson front and semi-trailing arm/multi-link rear suspension design: we're confident that our Pedders upgrade will give our Head Poncho a serious performance boost for the curves.
Since the GTO platform is new territory to us, we decided to let the experts at Rocksand Racing handle the installation. This is because the GTO, like many high-end European cars, requires special finesse when it comes to suspension work-and attention to detail goes a very long way. So we made the short trip over to Frank Beck's installation facility and within a day, our GTO was transformed from a good-handling coupe to a world-class performance GT. The Pedders suspension made our GTO feel about $30,000 more expensive with the oh-so-difficult-to-achieve combination of ride quality and handling prowess. Coupled with the incredible steering feedback and composed stance, the GTO felt like it had shed 1,000 pounds on our favorite backroad in upstate New York. Who'da thunk that a 3,800-pound gorilla could dance like a ballerina? And even better, our car did not lose one bit of dragstrip ability as we were able to slam off a 12.28 on a recent track outing, which is consistent with the 12.26 we ran before we upgraded the suspension to the Pedders components. Sweet.
It may be easy to dismiss a suspension upgrade on your GTO because it's already a good-handling car, but after having driven plenty of these fantastic coupes in both stock and modified forms, we consider a Pedders suspension upgrade mandatory. Aside from better appearances, handling, and improved tire wear, having a car that can handle anything you throw in front of it can also prevent a collision, which makes this modification a potential safety asset. And if the autocross or drag-racing bug bites you, you're now prepared to do battle. Now go out there and turn and burn!