Back to the Future - Searching for the Next GTA

Around Thanksgiving time, I once again had the opportunity to visit Wright Patterson Air Force base in Dayton, Ohio. Unlike my first trip in 1985, I did not arrive on a GM corporate jet in the company of veteran executives and whisked away by chauffeurs to the local Holidome, where we immediately indulged in some corporate bonding courtesy of the hotel’s very liberal Happy Hour policy. No, this time I drove myself along with a couple of Boy Scouts to an area at the north edge of the base where we pitched our own tents at midnight for a weekend campout. Though, I don’t do much winter camping any longer, I wanted to get back to WPAFB and see the SR-71 Blackbird that inspired the original GTA. Moreover, in the back of my mind, I secretly wanted to pretend that GM finally realized they made a mistake, and decided to resurrect the Pontiac brand with an all-new GTA, and it was my job to come up with some ideas.

If you followed the automotive press this past summer then you already know that the SR-71 has been cited as being the influence for at least two custom cars. Ironically, both were Ford products. I guess the Ford folks know a good idea when they see one; even if it was previously applied successfully by General Motors. In July, Carroll Shelby joined forces with Jack Roush to create a one-of-a-kind SR-71 Mustang Blackbird. After being on display at a few venues, the vehicle was auctioned off for the benefit of EAA Young Eagles, a youth aviation organization for $375,000.

SR 71 Mustang Image



Knowing they were onto something, Ford designers and engineers came back in November at the SEMA show with an SR-71 Taurus Police Interceptor. With this vehicle, Ford took the additional step of actually using ‘stealth’ design tricks to disguise the true identity of the vehicle so it could more easily sneak up on the bad guys. Well, maybe it didn’t have all the diversionary tricks of James Bond’s Aston Martin, but it certainly stays true to the covert nature of the SR-71 airplane.

SR 71 Police Interceptor Image



As most amateur auto historians know, aviation inspired automobile concepts are nothing new – Cadillac tailfins were said to have been based on the rear of the P38 Lightening; all three GM Motorama Firebirds looked like they were ready to take off from the nearest runway; and more recently, we learned that Saabs was born of jets.

You may recall from my previous article, I did not visit WPAFB in 1985 with the express intent of finding a concept theme for the GTA. It just … sort of … happened. This time, I was purposely trolling for ideas as I the meandered through the expansive exhibit halls at WPAFB.

As I took in the magnificent collections, I kept asking myself, “Which of these aircraft would best epitomize a new GTA ?

Would it be one of the more conventional fighters like the F-18 ? One could easily imagine a new GTA with this theme – styled with maximum aerodynamic efficiency in mind and built for ultimate performance and handling (and firepower !).

F-18 Hornet Image



Perhaps it would be one of the stealth fighters like the F-117A or the F-22A. The complex design surfaces on a GTA would certainly draw attention to the exterior styling. Instead of avoiding police attention, this type of car would probably end up attracting it in droves.

Stealths Image



Maybe the old NASA X-15A would hold a key? After all, this legendary rocket-engined winged aircraft was the considered the original Muscle Plane. On second thought, with its unmatched straight line acceleration, the X-15A would probably be more of a GTO concept.

X-15A Image



If one wanted to make a wild appearance statement, imagine a GTA resembling the XB-70 “Valkyrie” bomber: A long lean body with a V12 engine and SIX exhausts ports coming out the middle of the rear fascia. Neat idea, but the overall styling was too over-the-top.

XB-70 Valkyrie 2 Image



Alas, nothing on the floor of the museum was catching my eye. But wait a second ! What’s that raptor-like aircraft suspended from the ceiling above the F-22A ? A quick trip to a nearby information kiosk yielded the following description

 

The Boeing Bird of Prey is a technology demonstrator used to test "low-observable" stealth techniques and new methods of aircraft design and construction using single-piece composites, "virtual reality" computerized design and assembly, and disposable tooling. The secret project ran from 1992 to 1999, and the aircraft first flew in the fall of 1996.

 

The Boeing Bird of Prey demonstrates advanced stealth concepts, notably its "gapless" control surfaces that blend smoothly into the wings to reduce radar visibility, and an engine intake completely shielded from the front. The Bird of Prey, however, used some "off the shelf" technology to reduce costs and speed production.

Birds of Prey Image



That was it! Use a Boeing prototype concept to form the basis for the new GTA. In fact, I even gave it a nickname: The Pontiac Firebird of Prey. More irony here: Ford CEO, Alan Mulally is an ex-Boeing executive. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple of 2011 Ford concept cars claiming to have been inspired by the Boeing Bird of Prey.

In addition to the Boeing Bird of Prey’s smaller size and unique styling cues, a couple of its non-product features also caught my attention: it was used to validate new methods of design and construction and also used some ‘off the shelf’ technology to reduce costs and speed production. That’s exactly what a new GTA should be: an affordable package of innovative as well as existing goodies that push the envelope of vehicle styling, engineering, performance and roadability. Gee, it sounds a lot like the old Pontiac Mission Statement from the Division’s mini resurrection in 1981.

The major criticism I have of today’s popular muscle cars (Camaro, Mustang, Challenger) is that they’re too big and heavy. Yes, they look great, but with a 500-750 lb diet, they’d look and perform even better. From a styling standpoint, a new GTA should be about 4/5 the size of these cars, and it SHOULD NOT have a retro design theme. In my opinion, a new GTA should have bold never-seen-before exterior and interior styling. The Boeing Bird of Prey look almost suggests mid or rear engine !!!

The 1987 GTA was originally envisioned with a version of the Buick 3.8L V6 turbo. Unfortunately, cost and expediency reasons resulted in the 5.7L V8 being added to the program in its place. This time, I imagine a small displacement V6 with on-demand high output capability achieved through electric turbo or supercharging.

In other words, the goal with be to have two cars in one: Good performance and fuel economy with low emissions for city driving, and snap-your-neck-back after-burner capability for the open road. I’m thinking ahead to the new CAFÉ rules, and perhaps avoiding any penalty for Gas-Guzzlers since the GTA’s high performance capability would be totally discretionary. Possibly, a logical argument could be made NOT to have the boosted version of the GTA included as part of the MPG calculations.

On the inside, the new GTA should have all the latest driver comforts and connectivity capabilities that (will) exist. Rather than develop all these independently, perhaps a joint venture with Apple, Microsoft, Motorola or Research in Motion would be advised. In fact, make it easy to for all of them to integrate their devices with plug-and-play capability. Think about having applications to reconfigure and customize your gage clusters and comfort controls.

OK, those are some of my thoughts for a new GTA. What are your ideas ? Let’s hear from you either at the GTA Source Page Forum or on the Facebook Page. Don’t worry about disagreeing with some of the ideas I’ve thrown out there. The creative process depends on healthy and vigorous debate. The time to change and improve things is before the tooling is cut.