Tom DeMauro
May 24, 2004

Choose your weapon: Ford's Mach 1 or Pontiac's GTO. Both are bonafide muscle machines with a strong pedigree. Each has a lively past filled with big-block engines, striking stripes, functional scoops and a street fighter's caliber. Ford fans waited 25 years for the mighty Mach to return and in 2003 it did with a vengeance. In only one year the modern Mach 1 proved its worth, scoring impressive numbers in MM&FF testing. In fact, it proved itself to be the quickest stock Mach ever.

The question is whether the new GTO is an honest contender.

It's been 30 long years since Pontiac Motor Division sold a vehicle with the Gran Turismo Omologato nameplate and this rendition of "The Great One" promised to pick up where the legend left off. It features a 350hp LS1 that can be backed by an automatic or a six-gear manual tranny, it has a performance axle ratio and a few other tricks up its sleeve.

Currently there are three hot Mustangs in Ford's lineup and you may be wondering why we picked the Mach 1 and not the Cobra or GT to face off with this Torrid Red Poncho. While the GT is a great car for the $23,000 asking price, it's not exactly in the price or performance range of the more expensive GTO. At just over $30,000, the Pontiac is priced right between the Mach 1 and the SVT Cobra. And based on performance reports on the GTO seen in brand-X magazines, we were quite confident that a Mach 1 vs. GTO shootout would be a tight head-to-head matchup. Besides, if the Mach 1 could trailer the Goat, if I dare call it that, the Cobra would most certainly mop it up. Lastly, we wouldn't want the GM faithful to cry foul about the higher price tag of the SVT, or about its factory supercharger for that matter.

Astute readers of MM&FF will note that we've tested both the '03 and the '04 Mach 1 in past issues where we recorded quarter-mile elapsed times of 13.13 and 13.15, respectively, both at 105 mph. In fact, we have hours of seat time in these cars and most of you know the story behind them.

Nevertheless, we'll give you a little background. Like the original, the '04 Mach 1 offers up style and performance at a reasonable price, in this case about $29,000. It has loads of content, including a throwback appearance package. Interior improvements include cozy, supportive bucket seats with the "comfort weave" pattern and retro gauges. The Interior Upgrade Package ($345) consists of aluminum finish door lock posts, gray metallic centerpanel and shifter bezel, aluminum finish shift trim ring, stainless steel foot rests and pedals, aluminum shift knob and four-way head restraints. A five-speed manual is standard, or you can opt for the four-speed automatic. The Mach 1 also has big disc brakes with ABS and some hot colors, which are not offered on the GT.

Best of all, the Mach gets a functional Shaker hood scoop that feeds the 4.6 fresh air. It also feeds your ego and serves as a constant reminder that you're not in just any Mustang. One look at the Mach and you'll know this is no cookie-cutter auto. It has charisma, and with colors like Azure Blue, Torch Red and Competition Orange even the most comatose motorists will take notice. Though, ultimately, the proof is in driving it.

The stripes, scoops, wing and wheels give it flare and the DOHC 4.6 engine has the power to back it up. The Mach also has a good sound, nice handling and braking, and it's quicker than virtually anything from the '60s or '70s. You'll find this to be a pleasurable car to drive, whether in day-to-day traffic or wide open at the track. The suspension is sportier than the GT and it gives the car a light feel. When pushed hard the Mach understeers a bit, but with 335 lb-ft of torque you can apply throttle and counter with controlled throttle oversteer. And those who may grace the twists and turns will love the 13-inch Brembo discs that are grabbed by twin-piston calipers.

Smartly, Ford released the Mach 1 near the end of a model run, which should make it an instant classic. Who knows if the tradition will continue with the '05? Simply stated, Ford's modern Mach 1 hits the mark.

Little GTO
Quite frankly, the GTO has some big shoes to fill. The original '64 model was named after a Ferrari and in some circles the GTO gets credit for starting the whole musclecar era, we give it kudos for that. To make it work, Pontiac engineers stuffed a 389-inch engine (from its larger car line) with optional Tri-Power induction into the intermediate-sized Tempest. It was an instant winner. The GTO lasted until 1974 when the gas crunch and insurance hikes all but squashed the American musclecar from existence. Ironically, like Mach 1s past and present, the '74 GTO employed a functional Shaker hood scoop, albeit one that faced rearward.

But Pontiac fans can rejoice as the GTO rides again in 2004. In case you didn't know, this "new" GTO is actually built by our friends in the land "down under" and only 18,000 will come over to North America the first year. The chassis, which is marketed under the Holden brand (GM's division in Australia) as a Monaro, has been around for about five years and it even has a version of the LS1 engine in it. "Basically, Bob Lutz of GM went to Australia and drove the Holden Monaro. He was impressed with the performance and decided that it would make a great GTO for the U.S.," stated Thomas A. DeMauro, editor of High Performance Pontiac, a sister mag to MM&FF. So, PMD moved the controls to the left side, they reskinned the nose and dropped in one heaping serving of LS1 and whamo--instant GTO.

The 350-horse all aluminum V-8 is backed by a 4L60-E four-speed automatic, but a Tremec six-speed manual is optional. All GTOs get an independent rear suspension and a 3.46:1 rear gear ratio with limited-slip. Now let's climb in and go for a ride.

Grab the door handle, pop the door open and the first thing you'll say is, "Where did my GM car go?" Surprisingly, you'll be greeted by a modern interior with fit and finish we're not accustomed to in similarly (or even much higher) priced GM cars.

The GTO has true 2+2 seating with bucket seats (four of them) that are comfortable and supportive, not to mention good looking. Once in the driver's seat your hands reach out to the sporty leather-wrapped steering wheel. The six-speed shifter is within close reach, although it sits a little too far back in the console for my liking. Down below, your feet manipulate three machined pedals and your eyes fixate on a dash that's color coordinated to the body. Speaking of the body, there's a lineup of bold color choices, including Torrid Red, Impulse Blue, Phantom Black, Cosmos Purple Metallic, just to name a few. The gauge layout is pretty neat, the only thing missing is an oil-pressure gauge.

The center console flows smoothly into the center stack, which is packed with the usual items, plus a dot-matrix backlit display for functions such as the trip computer and the annoying "overspeed alarm" that sounded off with a bling, bling, bling, at 100 mph.

The GTO is certainly no F-body. First off, it's no pony car. It's bigger dimensionally and it feels bigger, but that's not all bad. With a MacPherson strut suspension up front and an IRS arrangement in the back, the GTO offered a nice balance between impressive cornering and a smooth, luxury-like ride. The steering felt accurate, but it leaned more in the turns than the most recent F-bodies or the Mustang. There wasn't a squeak or rattle to speak of; the only noise we heard was the throaty rumble emitting from the dual exhaust. Word has it that Pontiac engineers listened to a '64 GTO in order to replicate the sound.

It seemed like everyone we encountered liked the sound and power of the Gen III LS1, and they liked the interior as well, but most felt the exterior falls short. Some say the nose looks too much like other Pontiacs, but I like it. Any Poncho puritan worth his feathers must agree that almost all Pontiacs of past were similar by design and that's what made the brand special. So why, all of the sudden, is this car different? Okay, so the lines are passe, perhaps bland, even, but I can deal with it and Pontiac followers should be happy the car exists. The only thing I can't deal with is the absence of a hood scoop, fake or otherwise. Come on Pontiac, in the late '60s you guys bragged about your cool hoods. Anyway, enough chatter about the GTO; let's get to the track.

At The Strip
The morning of our test was pretty typical for late winter in Southern California. The sky was clear, the air was cool and there was a light breeze blowing. MM&FF Associate Editor Steve Baur, HPP Editor Tom DeMauro, along with "family member" KJ Jones and I rolled through the gate at Carlsbad Raceway, located about 20 miles north of San Diego. Carlsbad is a throwback to simpler times, as you can clearly see in the photos. There are no scoreboards, the Tree hangs from a cable that's hung across the track, and there are but three or four staging lanes. But despite all that, the line hooks pretty good, at least as good as some other SoCal tracks, and there is no correction factor to worry about thanks to the close proximity to the Pacific Ocean.

Our crew was armed with a few bags of ice and two of the hottest modern musclecars one can lay a hand on. We were anxious to get to some gear banging, but first we got the machines shined up and we let the mills cool down.

One bag of ice went on the LS1 intake, but the Shaker scoop prevented us from chilling the Mach's intake. No problem, the Shaker would provide the 4.6 with fresh air--even Steven. If anything, Baur and I had some experience with the fab Ford so we knew how to get it down track. The GTO, on the other hand, was a newcomer, but one I'd get to know quickly.

I got to work by testing the waters in the Mach 1. The plan was to get down the track with a smooth launch and smooth shifts, but without powershifting--for now. On the first pass all went well and I clocked a 13.87 at 103 mph. For starters, this place is not Englishtown, or Atco, or Norwalk for that matter. The track was not bad, but it wasn't ripping anyone's shoes off, either. Nevertheless, I was able to get a 2.26 60-foot time, which is about a two-tenths off the time we ran when we tested a similar Competition Orange Mach 1 back home in October 2003. At that test we ran 13.15 at 105 mph, so we had our work cut out for us. A back up run netted a quicker 13.62 at 104.31, the 60-foot time was 2.29 and a baseline was set.

Next, I slipped into the unfamiliar GTO. With 350 hp, it sported a 40-pony advantage (not to mention a 30 lb-ft torque edge), but it was about 250 pounds heavier, which most thought would even the score. No doubt, it's a real hot rod; after all, it's the most powerful GTO ever. I found the Goat to be comfortable and much more refined than the Ford. The materials used in the interior were BMW-nice and the controls just felt more modern.

Fire up the LS1 and like the Mach 1, it sounds good. Clutch action is also smooth--not too heavy and it has a good feel to it. Like GTOs of the past, this one growls like a tiger making a great noise, even if the pipes both exit on one side. It doesn't sound at all like an F-body and that's good.

With my helmet and belt fastened I slipped the six-speed into low and headed for the water box (though we didn't need any water with the street rubber). I disarmed the traction control, revved the engine and dumped the clutch. There was a significant clunk from the rear when I dropped the clutch, but it disappeared as fast as it came. I quickly snapped my left leg onto the brake and powerbraked the GTO to get the tires cleaned off. Next stop, the staged beam. In order to set a baseline for the Pontiac I tried a low-rpm launch and didn't powershift. Amazingly, the GTO turned in an identical 13.87 at 103 mph and then a back up of 13.65, but at an impressive 105.12 mph.

Now we had a dogfight on our hands, though judging by the higher trap speed of about 1 mph, the GTO seemed to have the power-to-weight advantage. Nevertheless, from my first impression, the GTO seemed like the more difficult car to drive and getting it to run quicker would be a challenge.

With a couple of laps under my belt, I figured I could squeak a little more performance from the dynamic duo. Plus, a little powershifting was in order. For round two we boarded the GTO first and ripped off a much-improved 13.52 at 105.50 and then a 13.57 at 104.89 mph. This put the GTO in the lead, but not by much. Powershifting the Pontiac was easy, but the shifter did feel a bit vague.

Because of my position at MM&FF I felt the pressure to uphold the honor of the Mustang, however, in the name of fair and honest journalism, I'd be giving my all in both cars. Forget the way the story would turn out, I wanted to know which one was quicker and faster. Our readers deserve the truth. On my third pass in the Mustang I launched smoothly, nailed the gear changes and clicked off another 13.62 at 103, then backed it up with a 13.65 at 103.04. Close, but not close enough. The GTO was still in charge.

For the next 45 minutes our crew photographed the cars and bench raced quite a bit. This was a serious chess match and the winner was going to be determined by driver skill, not by sheer horsepower. After making four runs in each car, I can honestly say that should a match-up ensue somewhere on the street or at the track, the better driver would prevail. The cars were that equal.

When the bell rang for round three I jump to the call. This time I gave the Mustang the honor and after a short burnout, I staged, revved the 4.6 and eased the clutch out. The Mach clicked off a 2.22 60-foot and after two powershifts (we went through in third) the timeslip read 13.54 at 103.76. This pass put the Ford within a license plate bracket of the Poncho. Determined, I then slipped the clutch just right, got a 2.21 60-foot and recorded a 13.51 at 103.67 to nip the GTO. Advantage, Mustang.

Part of me was glad the Stang was quicker, but I knew the GTO had another chance to settle the score. I walked over, got comfortable and rolled up to make my runs. The track was noticeably better than it was during the morning hours, but the GTO was still hard to launch smoothly and quickly. Blame it on the IRS. And on this run it spun a bit too much and I rowed the six-speed to a 13.57 at 104.89 and then a 13.58 at 104.63. A final try in the GTO netted a 13.54 at 104.58, but it wasn't to be and this dragstrip shootout went to the Mach 1. The Ford proved to be the e.t. winner, but the top mph went to the GTO. The two best speeds were 104.31 for the Ford and 105.50 for the Pontiac. Perhaps on another track, at another time, the GTO would be the winner, but not today.

After three rounds of action, Associate Editor Steve Baur jumped in and ripped off some shifts in both cars. Baur scored a best of 13.60 in the GTO and he put the final nail in the coffin with a blistering 13.47 at 104.25 in the Mach 1. Two drivers, same result. We even let DeMauro give it his all, but to no avail.

In conclusion, I think you'll find that both cars hit the target audience. The Mach 1 puts an exclamation point on a strong model run, while the GTO breathes new life into a division of GM that really needed a hot rod. Better yet is the fact that both cars are fast and the competition will only breed better cars for us in the future. We hear there's a hood scoop coming for the GTO next year and rumor has it that '05 Mustangs are making 290-295 rwhp from their three-valve 4.6s in clandestine testing.

Good luck to Pontiac, but on this day the Ford was the top dog.

0407mm_mach_01_z

0407mm_mach_06_z
Gen III LS1 V-8 measures 5.7L or 346 cid and produces a strong 350 SAE net horsepower and 365 lb-ft of torque. It is the most powerful GTO ever.

0407mm_mach_03_z
The '04 Pontiac GTO sports a 350-horse V-8. It's well balanced and capable of mid-to-low 13s at 105 mph.

0407mm_mach_05_z
The '04 Mach 1 is powered by a 310 hp (308 with an automatic) 4.6-liter DOHC V-8 that likes to be revved. The 3.55 rear gear is nice, but the Mach would benefit greatly from a change to 4.10 or 4.30s. The swap could be worth two or three tenths in the quarter.

0407mm_mach_04_z
Due to a lighter curb weight, the Mach 1 keeps up with the GTO with 40 less horsepower. Competition Orange is way cool.

0407mm_mach_07_z
Our staff loved the interior in the GTO. It is modern, with superb fit and finish.

0407mm_mach_09_z
GTO sports a nifty color-coordinated gauge package with a big tach and speedo. Redline is 6,200 rpm.

0407mm_mach_15_z
Buckets in the GTO were stylish and comfortable, yet supportive at the same time. They seemed to be a good fit for everyone on our staff.

0407mm_mach_08_z
The cockpit in the Mustang does the job, but is a little bland compared to the Poncho. Still, we found the dash layout to be easy to read and love the comfort weave styling on the seats.

0407mm_mach_16_z
Retro comfort weave seats in the Mach 1 are stylish and quite practical. They fit all size drivers and provide good bolstering, too.

0407mm_mach_10_z
Mach gauges have retro fonts that add to the Mach's image. Redline on the Ford is 6,800 rpm.

0407mm_mach_11_z
Associate Editor Steve Baur got away clean and nailed the best time of the day in the Ford at 13.47 seconds. Author's best e.t. was a 13.51.

0407mm_mach_12_z
Finding the best technique was a little harder in the GTO. Launch too hard and the LS1 would come on and spin the tires, launch too soft and the near 2-ton weight would cause a bog. My best run came with the engine revved to 3,000 and just the right amount of clutch slip. A 13.52 at 105.50 mph showed that the GTO is a strong runner.

0407mm_mach_20_z
Carlsbad Dragway was a hot bed for magazine testing in the '60s and '70s. While the track hasn't changed much, the cars sure have.

0407mm_mach_17_z
Adding to the retro theme are 17x8-inch Heritage five-spoke wheels wrapped in 245/45ZR17-inch Goodyear Eagles.

0407mm_mach_18_z
GTO rides on modern 17x8-inch five-spoke wheels with 245/45ZR17 BFGoodrich G-force KDWS tires.

0407mm_mach_19_z

TALE OF THE TAPE
2004 Ford Mach 1
Base Price:$28,820
Options
Interior Upgrade
Package:$345
Destination and Delivery:$625
Price as tested:$29,790
Powertrain
Engine:All aluminum V-8 with dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder
Displacement:4.6L/281 cid
Horsepower:310 at 6,000 rpm (308 w/automatic)
Torque:335 lb-ft at 4,200 rpm
Compression ratio:10.1:1
Transmission type:Five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic
Est. EPA
fuel economy:17 mpg city/ 26 mpg hwy (w/ manual transmission)
Final drive ratio:3.55:1
Steering and Suspension
Front suspension:Independent, modified MacPherson strut type with separate spring on lower arm and Tokico strut w/unique valving
Stabilizer bar:26.5mm (1.04 inch) solid
Rear suspension:Four-bar link with coil springs on lower arms, unique horizontal axle damper and Tokico shocks with unique valving
Stabilizer bar:23mm (.905-inch) solid
Steering type:Power-assisted rack and pinion
Brakes
Front:13-inch vented Brembo discs with aluminum twin-piston calipers
Rear:11.7-inch vented Brembo discs with single-piston aluminum calipers
ABS:standard
Wheels And Tires
Wheels:17x8-inch Heritage
Tires:245/45ZR17-inch Goodyear Eagle
Other
Curb weight:3,465 lbs (manual)
3,475 lbs (Automatic)

{{{2004 Pontiac GTO}}}
Base Price:$31,795
Options
Six-speed manual:$695
Destination
and Delivery:
$700
Price as tested:$33,190
Powertrain
Engine:All aluminum LS1 {{{OHV}}} V-8
Displacement:5.7L/346 cid
Horsepower:350 at 5,200 rpm
Torque:365 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm
Compression ratio:10.5:1
Transmission type:Four-speed automatic or optional six-speed manual
Est. EPA
fuel economy:17 mpg city/ 29 mpg hwy (w/ manual transmission)
Final drive ratio:3.46:1
Steering And Suspension
Front suspension:Independent, MacPherson strut w/progressive-rate springs
Stabilizer bar:1.1 inch
Rear suspension:IRS, semi-trailing arm w/control link and gas-pressurized dampers
Stabilizer bar:.63 inch
Steering type:Power-assisted variable-rate rack and pinion
Brakes
Front:11.7-inch vented disc w/angled cooling fins
Rear:11.3-inch solid disc
ABS:standard
Wheels And Tires
Wheels:17x8-inch five-spoke aluminum
Tires:245/45ZR17-inch BFGoodrich G-force KDWS
Other
Curb weight:3,774 lbs (w/automatic)