Australia has shared many of its national treasures with the world; the boomerang, Paul “Crocodile Dundee” Hogan, Kylie Minogue and the Crocodile Hunter, to name a few. Trouble is, none of these ever had much staying power in the States. Boomerangs are now considered to be “dangerous” by paranoid parents trying to protect their children from being scratched, Hogan was last seen driving a Subaru wagon through the forest, Kylie Minogue’s career has faded away and the Crocodile Hunter died doing what he loved – teasing dangerous animals. Apparently, you can have too much of a good thing, and it seems like every Australian export to the USA has a limited shelf life.
Perhaps this is why the second incarnation of the Pontiac GTO didn’t last too long; only three short model years to be precise. General Motors, after finally realizing what sort of catastrophic error discontinuing the Camaro and Firebird truly was, scrambled to put together a replacement. Thing was though, they didn’t have a whole lot of time to go through the long and drawn-out process of designing a whole new car from scratch, which takes years to complete.
Searching through their wide portfolio of vehicles that they already produced from around the world, it was their Australian Holden division who was happy to answer the request for the 2+2 style musclecar that we “Yanks” crave. Arriving here in 2004 with a 350hp LS1, available 6 speed manual transmission and rear wheel drive, the GM brass assumed they had an instant hit on their hands and the dealers agreed; initially selling GTO’s for no less than sticker, while others sold them at a markup. This, as we now all know, failed.
The ‘traditional’ Pontiac loyalist greybeards boycotted the car and bemoaned how it lacked hood scoops, didn’t have “true Pontiac power,” and how it was based off of a “foreign” car. The younger generation, however, embraced its blank slate styling, its LS1 engine, and welcomed the higher build quality compared to other GM vehicles at the time. Unfortunately, most of the late-model GM crowd just wasn’t in the market at the time of the GTO’s release, your author included. As a result, GTO’s were eventually sold with rebates out the wazoo and were even offered with a lease special of $99/mo. in some areas.
Both baffled and disappointed by the way the inaugural model year went, GM tried to correct its mistakes by offering the second year model with the then-new-for-’05 LS2. Packing 50 more horsepower and 35 more foot-pounds of torque, both performance and sales improved. Hood scoops were added to the GTO, (and its Monaro twin) the rear bumper was reconfigured to feature dual outlets, the brakes were improved with high-quality PBR calipers, the 18-inch wheels from the 2004 show car were finally available and the color options were changed slightly.
This is where our friend, Heath Buchs, a flooring contractor from Sebring, Ohio comes in. Heath was in the market for a fast, sleek, stylish and unique performance car that wasn’t something you would see at every traffic light. Immediately struck by the styling, the low $30k price tag, the interior, the new LS2 engine and all the other improvements for 2005, he considered it a performance bargain. He knew he had to have one. Unfortunately, the combination of options and colors that he wanted were not available in his general area, so a red-on-red 6-speed GTO, riding on the optional 18-inch wheels and equipped with the complete Sport Appearance Package was shipped in and delivered to the now-defunct Henschen Pontiac of Alliance, Ohio, from the friendly neighboring state of Pennsylvania with a scant 26 miles on its odometer.
Another unique thing about Heath and his GTO was the fact that he never even drove one until he took delivery of his! At the time, most Pontiac dealers were asking for a $500 deposit before letting anyone drive these cars. I say “most” because this particular writer was handed the keys to a black-on-red ’04 GTO by a Pontiac salesman in the summer of 2004 after being instructed to “bring it back in one piece,” most likely as a desperate attempt to move an unsuccessful-selling ’04 off of the lot to make way for the ‘05 models. I returned it about an hour later, but that’s neither here nor there.
Heath, after scaring the bejesus out of his salesman by taking a sharp corner at 75 mph and getting it up to 125 on the highway on the ’05 GTO’s maiden outing, was signing his life away on the dotted line for his first new car. To this day, whenever he sees his salesman Joe, that test drive is always the first topic that comes up.
Once he got his newly acquired Goat to his house, he instantly started tweaking it with the usual bolt-ons; exhaust system, air intake, and the like. But after he got his GTO out on the street, he soon realized that his car resembled the many others that were in his area a little too much, so he had to get serious and decided to swap out the now rare and out-of-production SAP body pieces for those from a Monaro, excluding the rear spoiler and rocker panels, which remain on the car today.
The unique SAP pieces stay tucked away in his basement, in the event of him ever wanting to return the Aussie-turned-Yank-turned-Aussie GTO to its original condition. Further complimenting the Monaro front and rear fascias are a set of Australia-spec fender-mounted turn signals, a Holden horn cap/airbag, Holden door sills, and all of the appropriate Holden emblems. The original GTO taillights are hidden under a set of smoked taillight covers and rolling stock consists of a set of 18-inch ROH Drift-R wheels. You’ll never see another like it on the road anywhere.
After accomplishing his goal on the cosmetic end of things, Heath was determined to transform his Goat into a Tasmanian Devil. Taking things one step at a time and doing all of the work himself, he didn’t turn it up a notch; he turned it up to 11. Starting from the bottom end of the motor and working his way up, Heath left the factory crank in place and replaced the OEM connecting rods with a set of CompStar H-beams. Handling the piston duty is a set of forged 9.5:1 compression Diamonds, which are complimented by Mahle rings and ARP fasteners. King rod and main bearings were used to help further keep the bottom end reinforced. Heath also installed a Katech C5R timing chain, GMPP lifters, ETP ported 215 heads, and a custom grind camshaft with the specs of 231/239, .617/.621, and 115 LSA. Now for the best part; not being content with a typical heads/cam car, Heath went crazy and installed an F1 Procharger producing 18 psi, along with a Procharger 3-core intercooler, GZMS vacuum pump, and an Alkycontrol methanol injection kit.
The soundtrack of the immense blower whine is worth the price of admission in itself. Helping the Procharger inhale oxygen into the engine is a stock ported LS2 intake and throttle body, while a set of Kooks long-tube headers, high-flow cats, and a 3-inch exhaust help expel the used gases from the monstrous engine. Fueling needs come by way of a Lonnie’s double-pump fuel system, feeding the 60 lb/hr injectors through a set of Aeromotive fuel rails. SCSS polyurethane mounts help keep the engine and tranny in place. The battery was also relocated to the trunk, in an effort to reduce front end weight, have more engine room and to aid in traction for the rear wheels. The result of all this hardware and the boys at Medina, Ohio’s Backstreet Performance’s tuning efforts came in the form of 766 rwhp and 684 pound-feet to the dyno rollers. But the story doesn’t end there.
Getting all of this power to the ground without breaking the factory driveline components isn’t easy, or possible, really. That’s why starting from the engine and working back, a Monster 11-inch race clutch, a Quicktime steel bellhousing, a Tick Performance master clutch cylinder, an RPM Stage 5 transmission, and a 2.66 gear set with a mainshaft borrowed from a Dodge Viper complete the list of transmission mods. Backing up the solid gearbox and aiding the near-800 RWHP get to the ground is a Hendrix 2-piece driveshaft, Harrop differential mount and True-Trac carrier with 3.91 gears, along with BMR stubs, G-force half-shafts and ARP wheel studs help keep rear wheels attached to the car and help keep the IRS from breaking.
Heath, wanting his “Monaro” to be able to handle as well as accelerate, added a set of Hotchkis sway bars, a Pedders fast ratio steering rack, front coilovers, rear springs and shocks, a Whiteline strut tower brace, and Noltec poly bushings throughout. A set of BMR subframe connectors helps stiffen the chassis, while a BMR aluminum skid plate is used to protect the oil pan, dressing up the underside and helping save a few pounds over the factory unit.
Keeping a vigil over engine vitals is important, and Heath’s car is no exception. Along with the factory gauge cluster come air/fuel ratio and boost gauges set in a SCSS gauge pod mounted on top of the dash, similar to what you would see in a Holden HSV car. A JHP under-radio gauge pod holds vacuum and fuel pressure gauges in place, and an Aeroforce “Interceptor” gauge rests nicely in the cupholder. Keeping those smokies off his tail is a hardwired Valentine One radar detector, for when Heath is showing off for his passengers, which he likes to do every chance he gets!
Speaking of performance, how does a best of 10.68 at 135.09 in the quarter-mile grab you? Using an SLP line-lock and a set of 15-inch Holeshot rims mounted with M/T slicks and skinnies resulted in a best short time of 1.529. Since our inaugural interview and photo shoot, Heath has managed to pick up even more power from this thing with a little more fine tuning. His new numbers are now 807 rwhp and 688 pound-feet! We’re suspecting he will be hitting the track again for some new times soon! Future plans call for a set of HID headlights, tinted windows, a set of 3-piece Work wheels and of course, more boost.
Like most late-model GTO owners and enthusiasts, Heath is a perfectionist, and always keeps his car looking, running and sounding good. He’s very passionate about his first musclecar and he takes great pride in perfecting the details. You can sometimes catch Heath at a few of the local shows, Dragway 42, Quaker City Raceway or even hanging out with his friends from Buckeye Goats, an Ohio-based club for late-model GTO owners. www.buckeyegoats.com
The LS-powered GTO was always destined to be a rare car, loved intensely by a few but overlooked by most. With his Monaro conversion, Heath has taken this already-uncommon car to a different level, setting it apart from its Pontiac brethren and pumping it up into a true do-everything coupe that’s at home on the racetrack and on the street. Best of all, he’s not afraid to drive it, and we can’t blame him one bit. Would the GTO have sold better as a Monaro? We’ll never know, but we can tell you that Heath’s “Holden” is an authentic look at what might have been…