Tour De Wangers Honors Pontiac GTO Ad Agent
Hotchkiss, Frank, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Jim Wangers smiles as he surveys a parking lot full of restored Pontiac GTOs. He was around when the whole thing started back in the early 1960s. Mr. Wangers was working for Pontiac's ad agency when Pontiac Division's then-chief engineer John Z. DeLorean and some colleagues decided to build the GTO.
For you trivia buffs, the trio was Mr. DeLorean; the staff engineers were Bill Collins and Russ Gee.
Recently, Mr. Wangers attended the fourth annual Tour de Wangers in Vista, Calif., just north of San Diego. It is an event that celebrates the Pontiac GTO with a show-and-shine display of high-performance Pontiac vehicles, a family barbecue and an afternoon at the Carlsbad Raceway, where the old Pontiacs show their stuff on the quarter-mile drag-race track.
"The great thing is that many of these cars - while they are valuable as collector cars - are still driven, and even raced, by their owners," he said. "There are no `trailer queens' here."
"Trailer queens" is a derogatory reference to cars that arrive at an event on a trailer and are rarely driven. The exception is a race-only, high-performance car that must be trailered to an event because it would not be legal on the street.
Mr. Wangers himself has a collection of some very rare, very fast Pontiacs, and they were on display, as well. He was also signing copies of his book "Glory Days," which recounts the rise and fall of the Pontiac GTO from 1964 to 1974.
Just how did the GTO project get started? "We had based all of Pontiac's marketing on racing-related activities when the `corporation' unexpectedly pulled the rug out from under us with a no-racing rule," Mr. Wangers said. "DeLorean and his staff decided to take the 389-cubic-inch V-8 engine and stuff it into the smaller LeMans. It was a standard hot-rod trick - put the biggest, most powerful engine into the smallest, lightest car into which it will fit.
"There was only one problem," he added. "General Motors had an engine size-versus-weight rule - no more than 10 pounds per cubic inch of engine displacement. Clearly, the 389 V-8 engine in a 3,500-pound car was a violation of that rule.
"The way we got around it was to make the GTO package an option; that way, we wouldn't have to get it approved by GM corporate. The buyer would purchase a LeMans and just check the option box. Hidden in there, in the small print, was a 389-cubic-inch V-8 engine with a four-barrel carburetor rated at 325 horsepower. There was an additional option - the kind that stops the hearts of automobile company executives - three two-barrel carburetors that brought the rating up to 348 horsepower."
By the time GM found out about the GTO, Mr. Wangers said, there were 5,000 dealer orders for the car. "They didn't dare disappoint the dealers, but they made us promise to limit the run to 5,000 cars. …