October 11, 2005
It Really Does Exist!
Solstice: Astronomy. Either of two times of the year when the sun is at its greatest distance from the celestial equator. The Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere occurs about June 21, when the sun is in the zenith at the tropic of Cancer; the winter Solstice occurs Dec. 21st when the sun is over the Tropic of Capricorn. 2. The highest point or culmination.
Thanks to James Braden a really nice salesman at Henry Brown Pontiac in Mesa I received an invitation to drive a new Solstice at Bondurant Racing next to the Firebird Raceway Thursday night October 6th. The invitation allowed one other person so I asked Dave Salerno. He seemed to be the most anxious person in the club to see a new Solstice having thoughts of buying one. Fortunately, he could meet at the track at 5:30. Upon arriving we found out that Pontiac had four Solsti or Soltices? for about 50 people to take turns driving a short blacktop lot course with cones. They had another 4 or 5 Solstices for the crowd to get in and out of, look over the engine, try the manual top and check out anything else that came to mind. Everyone there seemed impressed with how beautiful the cars looked. Not one person was disappointed with the styling, it lives up to all the press about it and looks as good in person as it does in pictures or on TV. They are truly COOL cars to look at. The fit and finish of the cars seemed to be all anyone could expect especially from GM.
There are a few minor things about the Solstice that is a little out of the ordinary. It comes with no spare tire. They provide a can of compressed air and a tire sealant in case you have a flat. When I asked what do you do if you shred a tire. James Braden at the dealership told me you call Pontiac Road Service for a tow. OOOOKay! Just don't hit any sharp objects. The manual top can be put up with one hand, a very easy operation. If you want to go grocery shopping you better have the top up if you plan to bring many bags home, otherwise there is hardly any room in the trunk. It does look like a small golf bag might fit behind the top when it is down. One of those big golf bags with the wheels etc. looked like it probably would be a very tight fit.
The body panels are made of a new special extruded metal molding process instead of the normal stamped metal procedure. Whichever way GM made them they look great. The car has plenty of headroom even for tall people with the top up with a good six inches over my head. However, the big mistake for me is not enough knee room to be able to drive the car and shift it. Shifting the five-speed became a problem with my shin pressed against the lower half of the dash. If they had designed the dash to slope away at an angle I might have been able to fit. The metal panels separating the trunk from the front seat are directly behind the seats leaving no room for the seat to recline or be angled.
Pontiac had several new GTOs, Grand Prixs, a Torrent, a Vive maybe a Bonneville on display around the Bondurant buildings. It was very nicely done. They also had a sandwich bar for those that did not get dinner before arriving. The open bar served only soft drinks, water and juices. It was probably a good idea that there was no alcohol served considering they don't have many Solstices they can afford to mess up. After Dave and I had a bite to eat we went out to watch a little drifting. (Not the kind they have in Minnesota in January.)
Before we got to drive the cars they had promised to do a GTO drifting demonstration on the same skid pad where we would be driving the Solstice. Bob Bondurant himself drove one of the GTOs and one of the young instructors from his driving school drove the other one. They drew names of people in the crowd to ride in each of the cars. Bob took the first shot at turning rubber into smoke doing several doughnuts on the blacktop creating clouds of rubberized smoke. It reminded me of how we learned to drive on ice and snow in the mid-west by finding a large empty parking lot right after a big snowstorm. We just kicked up lots of snow not chunks of rubber. The younger instructor did a screaming wide circle curve at 60 mph as the rear of the GTO started to go sideways. It looked very impressive. As he came around the turn one of the ladies in the crowd to let out a small scream thinking he was out of control and the he would run into the crowd. (It wasn't even close.)
The course instructors showed us several times how to run through the cones on the course. Dave was the closest to the first car so he jumped in to show everyone how to do it. Dave made it through the first curve but then go lost on the course missing the second hairpin curve. At that time it was still daylight too! The instructors said uh oh we have someone lost on the course. Fortunately, the next car onto the track was spaced far enough away so we did not have a head on Solstice crash. Everyone there had their chance to drive at least once. I suggested to Dave that I ride as navigator for him on the next run. On the straight away leaving the starting block I think Dave got rubber in second! That's not easy to do with a 4 cylinder. I tried my best to get him to stay on course for the hairpin turn. But Dave doesn't do hairpins well. We still missed two cones but then got back on course making it safely back to the starting block. By 8:00 PM everyone had their chance with the cars. It was scheduled to run until 9:00. Thanks to Pontiac it was a fun and memorable night. I had a chance to meet a couple of the factory zone managers from Pontiac and talked to one of the managers with Bondurant about doing the Western Regional GTO show there in 2007. There seems to be an interest on both parties part to work together on such an event.
Driving the Solstice was fun even though the tight fit did remind me of trying to drive one of those ill-fitting Ferrari's we have (get) to drive at the Kruse Auctions. The transmission seemed to work smoothly without any difficulty even though we couldn't shift any higher than from first to second gears because of the shortness of the track setup. The car handled tightly going into the curves with no noticeable body lean. The steering was smooth and easy but seemed to still give the driver a good feel for the road.
It's a fun car to drive but is still just a 4 cylinder 5 speed. Pontiac is promising a coupe for 06 or 07 and a turbo version should have about 230 hp. Motor Trend says they have made room for a V8 to fit into the Solstice. Now you are talking! If they did that I might have to have my legs surgically shorted so I could fit into one. We may have to wait until there is more power before it will live up to the second definition of Solstice: The highest point or culmination.
After the event I was able to get permission to take my 99 Trans Am around the cones for a couple laps. Now that was a BLAST! 330 hp is a little more fun than 177.
Here is a short comparison of my TA just for fun to the new Solstice. Notice that the gas mileage is very similar. GM should be offering a high mileage version of the Solstice that gets at least 38 mpg on the highway. Just another missed opportunity.
9 9 Trans Am: 19-mpg city 28-mpg hwy. (Right off the window sticker)
06 Solstice: 22-mpg city 28-mpg hwy.
Both require premium fuel (hard to believe this little 4 has to run on premium, so much for saving at the gas pump)
Solstice: 2860 lbs.
Trans Am: 3500 lbs.
Solstice: 2.4 liter, Ecotec 177 Hp torque: 166 lb.ft.
Trans Am: 5.7 liter LS-1 330 Hp torque: 410 lb.ft.
Solstice: 18" Wheels
Trans Am: 17" wheels
Solstice: 5 spd. manual
Trans Am: 6 spd. manual
Okay my Trans Am may not go around a tight slalom course as fast but there is nothing like lots of horsepower and torque to have a fun ride. I'll keep my TA it's still more fun to drive than a little 4 banger and I can fit into it and still don't give up much for gas mileage.
Until next time...
The "Real" Bill McCoy