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Instant collectible: 2009 Pontiac G8 GXP

2009_pontiac_g8_gxpGeneral Motors is closing in on two historically significant moments in its 100-year history – both of which should be recognized by potential customers.

March 31st is GM’s deadline for convincing the federal government that it deserves another multi-billion dollar loan to keep it out of bankruptcy.

And April 1 is the day that Bob Lutz, vice chairman for global product development, retires from active duty.

In the future, we may be referring to GM cars built after those dates as pre- and post-nationalization. Or Lutz cars – and all the others.

The Pontiac G8 GXP under review embodies all the qualities that we have come to associate with Lutz’S work, starting with his Dodge Viper 20 years ago: raw power, rough edges, good value.

The Pontiac concept is a simple one: Stuff a 6.2 liter, 402-horsepower Corvette V-8 engine into a made-in-Australia G8 sedan, stiffen up the suspension, add some identifying decals and badges, and shove it out the door with a base price of $39,995.

My test car carried just two options: a $900 sunroof and a $695 six-speed manual transmission. Good calls on both. Much as I hate riding the clutch while driving out of a subterranean Manhattan garage or chugging along in rush hour traffic, I love the way that a manual transmission connects the driver to the car and makes him feel like he’s in control. It is a feeling you simply can’t get with an automatic transmission, even with shift-it-yourself.

Pontiac adds to the tactile pleasures of the GXP with a wildly-contoured steering wheel that creates several comfortable places to rest your hands. In addition to the usual bumps at 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., there are concave places to rest your palms as well. It’s the biggest improvement in steering wheels since heat.

Pontiac promises you can get from zero to 60 miles per hour in under five seconds in the GXP, a calculation I have no reason to doubt, though I wouldn’t attempt it in my neighborhood.

You don’t see too many Pontiacs in my neck of the woods either; like Buick, it has become a regional brand, with few fans on either coast.

So there isn’t likely to be much cross-shopping between the GXP and, say, a BMW M5, even though functional abilities of the two cars are similar. Still, this a fitting memorial to the reign of Lutz. He frequently expressed a desire to turn Pontiac into GM’s BMW, and on the way out the door he has come the closest yet .

As to whether you should buy a car from a company flirting with bankruptcy, that is another question.