This year, AMG will celebrate its 45th birthday. And 45 years is also what separates these two cars, which have more in common than just their color. The Pontiac GTO is considered the founder of the car segment that furiously wrote history under the name “Muscle Car”. The AMG has got all the credentials to be called a German Muscle Car, and the Black Series version even tops it off with a little more of all the good stuff!
No way red is the color of standstill!
This will make you see red! And it will make you see double as well! Driving a fast car can bump up your testosterone, especially with these two candidates. One may not look so mean, but the other makes no secret of its brutal power. And the color looks good on both of them. While he persistent nonsense that red is not the right color for a real man’s car still lingers in some social circles, these theorists better take note that both the GTO and the AMG were also available in Purple or Vanilla Cream. In both cases there would be no doubt about the “cool-factor”. And trust me, color is just one of the smallest commonalities in these two cannonballs that could tear off the blacktop if you would let them and if the tires would survive that challenge. No, the family ties are deeper and have nothing to do with their respective brands. Let’s just call them soul mates.
Distant relatives: C63 AMG Black Series and its grandfather from the USA
The muscle car owes its existence to the fact that Pontiac, the GM brand that’s named after the old Indian chief, had almost gone to the happy hunting grounds in the sixties. If not for a handful of engineers that had constructed an automobile sensation below the radar of the Supervisory Board. A car that would not have seen the light of day under General Motors house rules. That alone could have accelerated the legend.
The recipe was as simple as it was successful. Mate the body of a regular middle-class model to the biggest available V8 engine, adjust suspension, brakes and appearance accordingly and top the entire composition off with the coolest name you can think of: GTO !
The fact that these three letters were shamelessly stolen from Ferrari, did not stand in the way of its success. Quite the contrary. The success of the GTO exceeded all expectations, it was a Big Bang of a vehicle segment that flourished in the United States in the mid-sixties to early seventies, it fueled pop culture, kept insurance agents awake and was the wet dream of gas station attendants. Only to become extinct as suddenly as the dinosaurs when the oil crisis emerged.
The best muscle cars may come from Germany today
Today, muscle cars are not an American privilege anymore. One could argue that some of the best muscle cars now come from Germany. But the modern representatives of this species are still made of the same ol’ recipe of a “big engine in a middle-class coupe”. And notice the many small details of the C63 AMG Coupé Black Series, which also identified the GTO as the very first muscle car. Take a small thing like the mesh grille, for example. Coincidence? Or a throwback? And what about those voracious air scoops? The AMG actually really needs them, just like the GTO in the high-output version with the Ram Air option.
And look at the name: “Black Series” just sounds utterly cool! Or is there a deeper meaning to it? Affalterbach, home of AMG, remains silent. What it is that makes this series black, remains in the dark (for now). Pontiac has never informed its customers of the deeper meaning of GTO either, usually the letters would stand for “Gran Turismo Omologato”, the Italian expression for a model on which racing cars can be based. And so the Americans would senselessly and disrespectfully call the GTO “goat” instead. Later, it would earn the nickname “The Great One”. Who are you to make a point of the incorrect order of the three capitals?
Sensational in the sixties: tachometer on the hood
AMG meets GTO: grandson meets grandfather. What does a German high-end Limited Edition have in common with a Detroit mass market product? For one thing, let’s establish that it is not a mass product in the first place. As with the C63 AMG, the Pontiac GTO was crafted from a middle-class body, which was then upgraded using all the tricks of the trade. And the Americans initially were more conservative than the men (M/F) in Affalterbach today. One of the visual highlights, in addition to the Rally 1 or Rally 2 Sports steel wheels, was the tachometer, which was placed on the hood. No manufacturer had dared to do this before. Another outrageous option on the GTO was introduced two model years later. The driver was able to switch a mechanical valve to make the exhaust note of his GTO sound a bit more powerful. This was an equally sensible as safe way to acoustically warn other road users and pedestrians on the approach of a GTO, particularly in overcrowded Drive Ins and near high schools. This would be utterly unthinkable today, or wouldn’t it?
The AMG-driver uses the rotary switch on the console to select any of the five driving modes C, S, S+, M and RACE START. In position S+, the AMG’s acoustic act seems somehow more powerful and the downshifts are accompanied by the hoarse roar of intermediate throttle bursts. The same “dirty ol’ tricks”!
This is fantastic! And look at this attitude! The front of the Black Series is adorned with a carbon fiber splitter and air deflectors, while the rear is dominated by a monstrous spoiler. It inevitably leaves you wondering: “Wow, how do those Affalterbacher actually get this tail-end bar top legally approved?”
It gives a true DTM feeling on public roads. And believe me, the promises made by the extravagant appearance are fulfilled by the technology. This coupe does not slouch. True to this AMG-principle, which has been honored for 45 years running.
Soulmates: Midsized cars with 300 and 500 horsepower
Let’s go back to 1964. The two factions of the German massmotorization are called Beetle and Kadett. One offers 30 hp (Beetle), the other already pumps out 40 hp. That’s about as much as the deviation between two similar Big Blocks of American origin.
To turn a lame Tempest into a wild GTO, the Pontiac engineers balanced the largest available V8 between the wheels. Now there’s 335 hp rumbling under the hood, and only insiders are aware of their presence. But that will change soon.
To GTO fans, the models of vintages 1966 and’67 in particular are considered the first real GTO’s because they were the first to be visually independent from the Tempest. This model still was the point of departure, but the GTO body was given more autonomy with each model year. Those who are acquainted with the Mercedes C63 AMG, should be familiar with this strategy. Each generation C63 was one more step away from its original, both in terms of appearance and performance!
Grandson beats grandfather
And in every respect. A sporty comparison between grandson and grandfather would end for the classic with a bitter defeat. “No Surprise!” cries a chorus of performance freaks. And of course they’re right. 335 hp from the 60’s feel significantly different than 517 hp of modern days. 517 horsepower? Yes, the Black Series engines technicians have given the block an infusion of SLS in the form of forged pistons, connecting rods and crankshaft, which resulted in another 60 hp upgraded.
Both feature the true V8 roar! And even if a composite crafted Affalterbacher V8 sounds different than a cast iron from the Big D, they both strike the right chords. And a GTO is no shame at all at any downtown traffic light, even today.
But you just can’t ignore 45 years of progress. A GTO in good shape comes in at 7 seconds from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) and takes 14 seconds on the quarter mile. Fantastic numbers for a car that is almost half a century old. If only the original owner had ordered a sportier torque converter, it would have gone even a little faster.
These figures only prompt a tired grin from the AMG. He pulverizes the 100 km/h mark after 4.2 seconds, and the quarter mile is dealt with in 12 seconds. These are galaxies in drag racing!
But the true knockout would be handed on the racetrack. Although the GTO makes a pretty solid case for itself in comparison to many other American cars thanks to a handling that you could almost call sporty, the comparison to the lacework artist C63 AMG makes it look like nothing more than a farmer’s cart. For the AMG, optimization up to the fifth decimal is the top priority. Reduction of the unsprung mass was a goal for its specification, just like precise steering, up to the point where it becomes nervous. 4 and 6 piston caliper brakes make sure the 300 km/h (187 mph) powerhouse can be captured. For the GTO, drum brakes make the grade and it has a somewhat leisurely central position of the steering wheel. As long as the rear sports a trampling live axle, already with coil springs nonetheless, that’s forgivable.
Although there have been sporadic attempts to use the GTO on track, its athletic territory remained the dragstrip. Some would even call Pontiac the American BMW in those days.
Transmission: 7 vs. 3
One may marvel, but even in this section these cars have a small commonality: the AMG provides its operator with an automatic 7-speed gear box. There’s no need at any time to take your hands off the steering wheel, and on top of that the dual-clutch transmission shifts faster and more efficiently than a manual sports transmission.
If you take a look into the GTO, you won’t be surprised to quickly find an automatic transmission as well. What is perhaps more surprising, is that the shift gate is comprised of two adjacent gates. One is predictably for the full automatic mode, and the second actually allows for sequential gear changes. However, it offers not seven, but just three speeds. The Americans had a nice designation for this tranny: His-and-Hers. The right gate (His) can be closed and secured by a slide to keep it in automatic mode.
On top of that, the transmission even includes a freewheel option, which idles the revs in sequential mode at speeds up to 80 km/h (50 mph) to save fuel! But that’s not all, Pontiac equipped the GTO’s as standard with a so-called econometer, which then encouraged a fuel-saving driving style. This was probably last on the priority list for a GTO owner, but it wasn’t exactly a redundant feature either.
In the AMG, the driver can fine-tune the transmission calibration with a rotary switch. Default is Mode C (for comfort), while the modes S (for Sport) and S + make the tranny much greedier, delay the upshifts and advance the downshifts, while the throttle response becomes much more sensitive. Experienced drivers can choose in the AMG from ESP ON, ESP SPORT Handling Mode and ESP OFF. In the GTO, it’s always ESP OFF!
Instead a vacuum econometer, the AMG drivers have the AMG Performance Center available upon request, which can not only provide them with information on oil- and cooling conditions, but also how much horsepower are being called upon for example, or how many G were pulled through the last curve.
Bragging is allowed
The word Muscle Car implies that it’s okay to flex some muscle now and then. Yet another point of agreement between grandpa and grandson. The wings of the AMG are decorated with the letters 6.3, but the true displacement is 6.208 cc. Okay okay, we really don’t want to be more Catholic than the Pope. Especially since this is also in the tradition of the Big Bang. The GTO’s wings tricked you into believing it had a “6.5 Litre” under the hood. Using liters instead of cubic inches was a bit unusual to U.S. standards, and with 6.374 cc Pontiac was actually entitled to a rounded figure of at most 6.4 liters. But “6.5 Litre” must have sounded much better to John DeLorean! Not until a 400 cubic inches V8 was used in the ’67 as shown here, did the Muscle Car mathematics add up again, thanks to its 6.555 cc.
The price of individualism
As paradoxical as it may sound at first glance, many of our generation probably could make friends with both worlds and then also like to have both in the garage. A good GTO in the U.S. has cracked the $ 50.000 threshold long ago, our C63 AMG Black Series is set at a base price of € 112.000. But this face off is not decided on price either.
The AMG Black Series is performance at the highest level, while largely suitable for everyday use, which is compromised only by the bucket seats and the omission of the rear bench. The GTO combines spectacular performance with more comfortable accommodation. One might also argue Pontiac just didn’t have an unequivocal purpose for the car. The GTO hides its raw power under an elegant and comparatively restrained dress, the AMG is pure DTM for the road. A cracker, an eye catcher, a provocateur. Its pretension of sportiness reaches a perfection of which the inventor of the muscle cars once could only dream of. And yet they are united by the philosophy of true muscle cars that was once aptly formulated by fans of the GTO’s competitors: “Mostly Overpowered and respected!”
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