photos: Courtesy of General Motors and Various Sources
We reflect on the 2008-2009 Pontiac G8; How it was Designed, Engineered, Marketed
Hit hard by the global economic crisis of 2008-’09, General Motors was forced to look into the financial mirror and claim bankruptcy. In doing so, the General agreed to axe some of its less profitable divisions as part of an agreement with “Uncle Sam” to receive billions in federal bailout funds. With that said, the likes of Saturn, Hummer and GM’s ownership of Swedish carmaker, SAAB, would be no more.
Losses for sure, but it was the cancellation of 83 year-old Pontiac Motor Division that was a real punch in the gut. Yet even as the curtain was closing on the “Excitement Division”, she released one last impressive offering to ware the arrowhead and sit atop the totem pole as flagship.
Continuing with our guides to late-model GM performance cars, GM-EFI will chronicle the G8. We will document its different versions, proposed variants, production/performance stats and significance as Pontiac’s last great model.
As a part of our guide, GM-EFI will provide an interview with none other than “Maximum Bob Lutz”, a great champion of Pontiac in it’s final years and the man responsible for the G8 coming to American shores. You may remember what Mr. Lutz had to say about the GTO in an earlier story.
IT COMES FROM A LAND DOWN UNDER
Early in the new century, Pontiac sought to reinvent itself, mainly by replacing decades-old car names with alphanumeric titles (all starting with “G”), though it seems the last of these such-branded vehicles, was the best of the lot.
Produced for Pontiac’s swan song years of 2008-’09, the G8 was a full-size, front-engine, rear-drive, 4-door sedan built on GM’s Zeta platform – soon to be made famous by the new for 2010 5th-Gen Camaro.
Although never quite confirmed by any source the G8 was essentially the replacement or spiritual successor, to the much-loved Grand Prix, built in seven iterations from 1962-2008. Considering the G8’s release came on the eve of the GP’s 7th-Gen cancellation and it being the first rear-drive, full-size Pontiac offered since the ’86 Bonneville, further confirms the theory. We’ll find out more on this from Mr. Lutz.
Whatever the case, the G8 would quickly fill holes left by several defunct Ponchos including the GP, Bonneville, GTO and Firebird.
Another of “Maximum Bob’s” babies, the G8 was born in the land of Great White Sharks, Mad Max, Elle Macpherson and the muscular automotive offerings of GM’s Australian subsidiary, Holden.
First appearing Down Under in 2006, the Holden Commodore VE performance sedan would have multiple variants including a 2-door coupe utility, or “Ute” in Aussie-speak, and a 5-door station wagon version; all powered by GM corporate V-6 or LS V-8 engines.
While making it’s rounds during the 2007 International Auto Show season, then GM Vice Chairman of Global Product Development Bob Lutz announced that the G8 was expected to hit Pontiac showrooms early in 2008.
Like 5-years earlier, when the Holden Monaro was picked to wear the illustrious GTO badge, the Commodore was already in production and rolling off the assembly line in Elizabeth Australia. The lessons learned from the new age Goat and the Commodore’s global rear-drive architecture would allow for a smooth transition to the new G8.
THE RETURN OF WIDE TRACK: 2008 G8
Not much unlike the big block-powered full-size Pontiacs of a bygone era, the new G8 conveyed a totally modern, high-tech and high-performance theme, all starting for less than $30,000.
With the spring of ‘08, came the first production G8’s. Ironically enough, the base offering or “G8 Sedan”, was not powered by an eight cylinder engine as it’s name might suggest, but by the all-aluminum (LY7) 3.6L DOHC, sequential fuel injected V6 with VVT (variable valve timing), making 256hp/248lb-ft, shifted via a five-speed 5L40-E automatic transmission with highway-friendly 2.92 rear axle gearing.
The base car was loaded with performance-oriented features including:
- 4-wheel independent (FE2) performance-tuned suspension
- 18-inch split-spoke silver-painted aluminum wheels
- Stabilitrak electronic stability control with all speed traction control
- 4-wheel ventilated antilock disc brakes with Electronic Brake Assist (EBA) and Electronic Brakeforce distribution (EBD)
- Driver shift control with sport mode option
It was obvious from the get-go that this Aussie/American performance sedan meant business and was making the boys in Bavaria stand at “Achtung.”
Exterior lines were muscular yet refined, definitely bringing Germany’s finest to mind when viewed with a quick glance. The G8’s interior was widely noted as one of the most aesthetically pleasing and well appointed of any GM cockpit in the last umm, lets say ever, with European-like fit and finish, high-quality materials and a spacious back seat comfortable enough for most NBA players. However, with
its aggressive wide-track stance, twin hood scoops, ground-hugging front air dam, low profile rear deck lid spoiler and modernized arrowhead symbol sitting pretty between the dual-port grille openings, the G8 was unmistakably Pontiac.
The mission statement was no surprise either, as Pontiac’s 2008 G8 marketing details book stated unequivocally.
“G8’s powerful engines, rigid rear-wheel drive structure and performance-tuned suspension deliver outstanding driving dynamics-exactly what is expected from Pontiac’s flagship vehicle.”
Safety, comfort/convenience was also definitely part of the package, as every G8 came equipped with:
- Six air bags including front, side and head-curtain side impact-with active front-seat head restraints
- OnStar with available turn-by-turn Navigation
- Remote start and keyless entry system
- Tilt/telescoping steering wheel with audio/DIC controls
- DIC (Driver Info Center) with 16 functions/options
- IPod/MP3 audio input jack
All of this on top of the usual suspects of power accessories windows/doorlocks, 4-way power adjustable driver/passenger premium cloth seats (red seat inserts optional on GT), rear-seat pass-through with dual cup holders and Blaupunkt 7-speaker AM/FM stereo with CD player.
If one wanted to add to the G8 Sedan’s already ample standard fare, the Comfort and Sound Package (PDD) for an additional $795 would net you:
- Dual-zone automatic climate control
- 6-disc in-dash CD changer
- Larger 6.5” color LCD multi-function display
- 11-speaker audio system with MP3 playback capability, (all standard on GT model)
Still not enough, then checking the box designating Premium package (PCQ) and forking-over another $1375, adds,
- 6-way power front driver/passenger heated leather seats
- Rear center armrest
- Leather-wrapped shifter and steering wheel, (Leather-wrapped steering wheel standard on GT)
And if you can’t cruise without a power tilt-sliding Sunroof (CF5), that was available too for $900 bucks.
Even with the additional option packages and the hole in the roof, a loaded ’08 G8 Sedan would run you around 32K including a $750 destination fee. That’s a lot of car for the money and right-in-line with it’s competition of the day, the Dodge Charger, Nissan Maxima, Infiniti G35 and thousands less than the BMW 5-series.
UP-GUNNED: G8 GT
As great an offering as the ’08 G8 sedan was, it was the “GT” version that won hearts and minds, providing a level of driving excitement that was purely Pontiac.
The GT came with the sedan’s standard equipment plus these features and upgrades:
- All-aluminum 6.0L SFI V8 with Active Fuel Management (AFM)
- 6-speed 6L80-E automatic transmission with Sport mode and Driver Shift Control
- Limited –slip rear differential with 2.92 final drive rear axle ratio
- Large capacity oil pan
- Performance-oriented computer calibration
- Larger front/rear brake rotors
- High-flow exhaust with quad outlets and stainless tips (Dual outlets on G8 Sedan)
- 18” machine-faced (with silver-painted inserts) five-spoke aluminum wheels with 245/45/18 summer-only performance tires (all-season rubber available)
- Leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter
- Dual-zone auto climate controls
- Blaupunkt AM/FM stereo with in-dash 6-disc CD changer, upgraded display, and 230-watt 11-speaker sound system with amp and subwoofers.
- Clear tail light lenses (lenses are red on G8 Sedan)
- Chrome accents on door handles
The GT’s mantra was high-performance and with 361hp/385lb-ft, the message was clear.
The GT’s L76 364ci 6.0L mill was a re-tuned version of the LS2 that powered its Monaro/GTO predecessor. Although down-rated from the ‘05/’06 Goat’s numbers of 400hp/400lb-ft, the almost two ton GT could scoot to 60-mph in the low 5-second-range and hurl itself down the 1/4-mile in the high 13’s. These performance numbers definitely put the G8 GT ahead in it’s class, even nipping at the bumper of Bavaria’s 550i, and for about $30-grand less.
For an incredibly affordable $600, enthusiasts could apply the Sport Package (PDX) to their GT, adding:
- Sport metallic gas/brake pedals
- Smaller leather-wrapped sport steering wheel
- 19-inch machine-faced wide-five-spoke aluminum wheels wearing 245/40/19 summer-only performance tires.
Bringing the grand total for a loaded GT to around $34,500, Pontiac had finally come through on it’s promise to provide an all-world, full-size, rear-drive, V8-powered, high-tech flagship for a reasonable price. With all the strengths the new G8 presented to the car-buying public, its attainability was high on the list. Believe it or not, there was an even more incredible variant on its way.
TRIPLE 8’S: FIRST 888 ’08 G8’S PRODUCED
Each of these inaugural G8’s were donned with specific dash stenciling above the glove box stating this fact with a silhouette graphic of a G8.
Some sources say, the “888” may refer to Triple Eight Race Engineering, an Australian race team that was born in England in 1996, originally racing Vauxhall’s in the British Touring car Championship, eventually expanding and moving down under to race Holden-equivalent Commodore VE/VF’s in the Australian V8 supercar series.
Other than the build# and dash tag, no differences exist between these G8’s or those produced after, as for the question of the “888” becoming prized collectibles, only time will tell.
The 2008 G8/G8GT could be dipped in a choice of six flamboyantly named colors including:
- White Hot
- Magnetic Gray Metallic
- Panther Black Metallic
- Liquid Red
- Stealth Blue Metallic
- Ignition Orange Metallic
THE TIP OF THE ARROW: 2009 G8 GXP
In military terms, when speaking of the proverbial “tip of the spear,” one is referring to the most elite of forces, Navy Seals, Army Delta Force, Marine Force Recon – the best-trained, best-equipped and most experienced troops sent to accomplish impossible missions with the goal of absolute victory.
With that being so dramatically said, the ‘09 model year would unfortunately be Pontiac’s last. Yet in it’s waning days, the ultimate G8 would be presented as the “Tip of the Arrow” and bestowed upon to carry the torch for the excitement division, burning rubber into the sunset one last time.
The grandest G8 was awarded Pontiac’s highest performance badge of the day: GXP, and would wear the high-performance moniker proudly and deservedly. On top of all the G8 GT‘s standard accoutrements, it was its under-hood weaponry that really set the GXP apart from its brethren.
All G8 GXP’s come fitted with:
- All aluminum 376ci 16-valve 6.2L LS3 V8
- Available six-speed Tremec TR-6060 manual transmission with 3.70 rear axle ratio, or 6L80-E automatic with 3.27 rear axle ratio
- Upgraded Nurburgring-tuned (FE3) performance suspension with re-tuned shocks and thicker rear stabilizer bar
- Upgraded ventilated Brembo 4-wheel disc brakes with 4-piston front calipers
- GXP specific 19-inch ten-spoke polished aluminum wheels with summer-only performance tires
- Unique front fascia and rear fascia lower diffuser
- Specific GXP logos and seat embroidery
- Unique sport-style steering wheel
A power sunroof, all-season rubber and a dealer-installed Track Pack with transmission and engine oil coolers.
The GXP’s C6 Corvette-sourced LS3 made 415hp/415 lb-ft dropping track times by about half a second compared to the GT, with 0-60mph reached in 4.7-seconds and the 1/4-mile eclipsed in around 13-flat at 110mph, (manufacturers numbers). Car and Driver Magazine did accomplish these stats in their 2009 G8 GXP Short Take road test.
Those numbers are just about equal to the V-10 powered BMW M5 of the day, which sports 85 more horses and was double the price. For around $40k, the’09 GXP was definitely the ultimate sedan bang for your buck.
Other than the release of the GXP, changes to the ’09 G8 line were few and included:
- Standard XM Satellite radio with Bluetooth connectivity (mid-model year)
- Addition of four new ext colors, Maverick Silver Metallic, Sport Red Metallic, Stryker Blue Metallic, Pacific Slate Metallic
- Deletion of Stealth Blue and Ignition Orange Metallic
- Elimination of center-console digital oil pressure and voltage gauges (replaced by storage space)
Six-and-a-half years after the final G8 rolled off the assembly line in June 2009, accurate production numbers are hard to pin-down.
After exhaustive research by your author, which revealed several different production totals with multiple possible breakdowns for the two model years, I decided to call the GM Heritage Center in Sterling Heights Michigan for some hopefully accurate readings.
After speaking with the ever helpful and supremely knowledgeable lead archivist Christo Datini, these are the final tallies based on GM’s sales and data reporting- taking into consideration that even these numbers provided by GM’s own archives may be subject to a plus/minus for each year.
- G8 Sedan LY7 V6, model number 2ER69 – 8,080
- G8 GT L76 V8, model number 2EC69 – 16,464
- G8 GXP LS3 V8, model number 2EP69 – 1,824
- Two year total=38,404
Since all LY7 V6 G8 Sedans were equipped with the 5-speed 5L40-E automatic transmission code M82 and all L76 V8 G8 GT’s got the 6-speed 6L80-E automatic code MYC, only a breakdown of GXP transmission numbers are relevant.
- ’09 G8 GXP LS3 V8 with six-speed 6L80-E automatic code MYC=981
- ’09 G8 GXP LS3 V8 with Tremec TR-6060 manual transmission code M10=843
Again, these numbers may differ slightly from other sources, but this was acknowledged/explained by GM Heritage Center as a few cars escaping final tally late in production and not being part of the final GM sales/data reporting.
Many dedicated Online G8 sites provide breakdowns of color, and option packages, your VIN# can be helpful in the investigatory process-good luck.
WHAT MAY HAVE BEEN: PROPOSED G8 VARIANTS
Like its Aussie bloodline the Holden Commodore VE, multiple variations/special editions of Pontiac’s G8 were slated for production.
Like the G6, the G8 was set to receive a “street-styling” makeover as displayed at the 2008 SEMA (Specialty Equipment Marketing Association) show.
The shimmering silver G8 GXP “Street Edition” displayed at GM’s booth came ready for combat with a 638-horse LSX-454ci GM crate motor, mated to a 6L80 six-speed automatic, with massive Cadillac CTSV brakes, lowered/stiffened suspension and unique black-painted 20-inch wheels.
Completing the appearance package was a radically more aggressive wide-mouth front fascia with smaller twin grilles and vertically mounted dual fog lights at each lower corner. This G8 was built for war against Germany’s master race of performance sedans, and was set take no prisoners.
G8 ST (Sport Truck):
Based on the extremely popular Aussie Holden “Ute”, the G8 ST first appeared at the 2008 NY International Auto Show. Announced as a 2010 model, the ST (Sport Truck) was built on the same platform as the G8 Sedan/GT, powered by either the Sedans 256hp 3.6L V6 or the GT’s 361hp 6.0L V8, both shifted by the 6L80-E six-speed auto. Sporting a 73-inch cargo bed, the two-seat sport-utility-coupe was GM’s first such offering since the long-running Chevrolet El Camino was last seen in 1987.
With the gathering storm of bankruptcy and restructuring in 2009, the G8 ST was cancelled before it ever got rolling.
G8 Sport Wagon:
Never formerly announced by GM/Pontiac, a G8 version of Holden’s Commodore-based station wagon was mulled-over, but after considering Chrysler’s recent cancellation of it’s slow selling Dodge Magnum sport wagon, GM waved its plans.
Pity, since the Holden R8 Tourer version had LS3 power. “C’mon honey, get the kids, were going to get groceries and then to the track.”
First appearing at the ‘08 Melbourne International Auto Show, the Holden Coupe 60 was a glimpse of the near future. The sleek and muscular machine built on the Zeta global platform, was a two-door iteration of the Commodore/G8. It is widely believed this exercise was a hint to a possible G8 Coupe/Grand Prix or even a new GTO.
In a joint venture between National Safety Agency Ltd, an Australian company and the Los Angeles Police Dept (LAPD), a prototype cop car based on the G8 GT was displayed at the APCO conference in Sydney Australia in March 2009.
The new black and white featured a huge touch screen in the center console for quick and easy info checks. Another nod to the appeal of the G8’s omnipotent Zeta global platform, Commodore-based police cruisers became a mainstay down under.
LOOKING AND ACTING THE PART: AUSTRALIAN V8 SUPERCAR RACING
Much akin to SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) Trans-Am racing, where America’s pony cars first engaged in battle, the Australian V8 Supercar series (previously the Australian Touring car Championship), began in 1997, pitting Aussie four-door touring cars against each other in nail-biting road-racing action.
The Zeta platform Commodore VE began its stint in 2007, used by multiple race teams, clashing horns with mainly Aussie-built Ford Falcons.
Although the race-ready Commodores were heavily modified and custom-built by each race team, thus sharing little overall mechanics with the streetcars, this racing development/experience benefited production Pontiac G8’s and provided high-performance upgrades for the aftermarket. Like it’s Holden Monaro/GTO predecessor, the G8 was built on a race-tested/proven platform, which translated its prowess well to the street.
Since the 2007 Australian V8 Supercar racing season, the G8’s brethren, Commodore VE and updated VF versions (More closely related to the Chevy SS), have won five of the last 10 championships and four in a row, from 2011-’14, including the manufacturers Championship in 2013. Today’s Commodore VF’s dominate the International V8 Supercars Championship series against competition from Ford, Nissan, Volvo and Mercedes Benz.
THE MAN WITH THE PLAN: INTERVIEW WITH BOB LUTZ
When discussing Pontiac’s glory days and the iconic cars that were born from this time-period, legendary names like Elliot M. “Pete” Estes, John Z DeLorean and Jim Wangers rightfully come to mind.
That being said, the final years of GM’s excitement division conjure one name consistently, known to all within the car community as a man synonymous with being Pontiac’s last executive proponent, instrumental in bringing her final great machines to the road. The name and that man is Robert A. “Maximum Bob” Lutz, and one of those last great machines is the Pontiac G8.
GM-EFI: Hello Mr. Lutz, we all know how you fostered the idea of the Holden Monaro becoming the new GTO. What was the thinking that led the Commodore coming to the U.S. as the G8?
Bob Lutz: “When I came back to GM in 2001, I had a vision for Pontiac. I felt it should be the American equivalent of BMW; a little youthful, brash, outrageous [and] anti-establishment. I knew that Chevy was GM’s mainstay and would always be fed well, and I wanted to stop the overlap of Pontiac with other GM divisions. The G8 was the natural progression for the Commodore’s global architecture. [The G8] followed along the more sport-oriented former BMW-style and was also the lowest investment approach.”
GMEFI: Despite the ’04-’06 GTO finally getting it’s due, did it’s slow initial sales and resistance from purists play any role in bringing it’s Aussie cousin the G8 to fruition?
BL: “No, the G8 was part of global product development. Any problems the GTO had was not the car’s fault, but [it was] dumb distribution, negative writing and feelings from some, which led to the cars getting a bad reputation before most potential buyers ever saw or drove one.”
GMEFI: Was the G8 meant to be the de-facto successor to Pontiac’s discontinued full-size offerings; the Bonneville and Grand Prix?
BL: “Yes, in terms of price-point, but not product character. Size characteristics were similar, but those other cars, the early versions, were boats and the later models, all front-drive. The G8 was to be a unique car, part of the plan to make Pontiac a sharply focused brand; rear-drive, performance-oriented cars only. I wanted Pontiac to stop trying to be all things to all people.”
GMEFI: In your valued opinion, do you believe the G8 accomplished its perceived goal, taking the helm as Pontiac’s flagship car, with BMW in its crosshairs?
BL: “Yes, from a product standpoint the G8 was a great car, I should have bought one when I had the chance. It was attractive to many, especially enthusiast buyers. It did very well in its brief time on the market. The 7- Series BMW had by that time become a bit big and mushy, the G8 could and did compete well against the 5-Series.”
GMEFI: If Pontiac had survived, was the G8 slated to see a long production run, and was Holden pegged to continue supplying developed platforms for the General’s excitement division?
BL: “Yes, as long as the currency exchange rate and production costs made sense, the G8 would have progressed along. The Commodore was such a great car with terrific global rear-drive architecture (Zeta) this translated well to the G8. The G8 was set to be updated (VF) if Pontiac had gone-on. When Pontiac was cancelled, the G8 was to good a car to let go to waste, so Chevy eventually got the SS.”
The past six years have been a jagged pill to swallow for Pontiac fans. With our beloved excitement division gone, those weekend trips to the dealership to view and drool-over the latest high-performance offerings are fond but distant memories. The G8 was definitely one of the last of those drool-worthy Ponchos, in all its iterations.
Many say that Pontiac went out without a whimper, just blew-away into the wind of automotive history like many before it. Your author says no to that theory. With cars like the G8, Pontiac once again, proved it’s appeal and it’s worth, even on the eve of its demise, the brand went down swinging.
The G8 didn’t just languish among the competition; it took them on at every level, teaching them a lesson in many cases, and a lesson they’ll not soon forget. It was a car often mentioned in the same breath with BMW or Mercedes and deservedly so. The G8 was a statement by GM and Pontiac; look what we can do, what we offer, the message even at the end was clear.
Today, the G8 lives on, in a sense, in the awesome Chevrolet SS. After so many years of hearing how our favorite Poncho’s got this, or borrowed that from Chevy, now the tables have turned. The legacy left by the G8 is a proud one. For only a two-year production run, the G8 made itself known as a true performer, delivering on every level and showing what high-performance goodies were on the way from the Generals other divisions like Chevrolet and Cadillac.
In the opinion of this author, and I know I’m not alone, the G8 was certainly and without a doubt, the Last Great Pontiac.
Since obtaining his driver’s license way back in 1987, Andrew’s automotive interests have revolved around late-model, GM EFI iron. Predominantly a Pontiac guy, he had grown-up driving and experiencing many EFI cars from the ’80s to the present. Since 2008, he’s been a freelance writer/photographer for multiple niche auto enthusiast magazines and websites. Andrew claims to have a short yet definitve list of passions, in which late-model performance cars, hold a top spot.