spot_img
HomeCar CultureWe paid tribute to Jim Wangers so Car and Driver wouldn’t have...

We paid tribute to Jim Wangers so Car and Driver wouldn’t have to

Of history, time, and who we are as enthusiasts

-

History isn’t what it used to be!

Mr. Lucker had that emblazoned on the board in 11th grade History class. I don’t recall if the quote was attributed, but it was brought to our attention to suggest the view of history changes over time. I was reminded of this quote with the July 2023 passing of Reeves Callaway, he of Callaway Corvette fame and much more. I read about it in Car and Driver, a magazine that has been on my reading list since the 1980s. The obituary appeared three days after Mr. Callaway’s passing.

Yet I find it confounding that the same publication has yet to mention the passing of Jim Wangers. The gentleman who became known as the Godfather of the Pontiac GTO passed away one year ago today, April 29th. We paid tribute to Jim Wangers a few days later, but it comes off as curious that an enthusiast-centered publication like Car and Driver, whose reputation was built on Wangers’ marketing ingenuity, has yet to make mention of his passing.

Back when the Pontiac GTO debuted for 1964, David E. Davis, Jr. was editor of Car and Driver, at the time a sportscar-inflected periodical that sought to combine Euro-inspired enthusiasm with New Journalism. Wangers was an account manager at MacManus, John & Adams, Pontiac’s ad agency, but he also was an accomplished street racer who happened to win Stock Eliminator at the 1960 NHRA Nationals. He was the one who suggested to Davis the absurd idea of comparing a Pontiac to its Ferrari namesake. Davis embraced the idea and scheduled a test at Daytona International Speedway late in December 1963. Pontiac brought two GTOs to the track: a red car for acceleration runs and a dark blue one for everything else. Unbeknownst to everyone but Wangers, he special-ordered the red car to be built without sealer or sound deadener, then had Pontiac engineers slip in a Tri-Power 421 High Output engine from a full-size model, which was practically identical visually. The ringer’s ruse wasn’t given up until the 1990s in Wangers’ autobiography, though the performance stats — 0-60 in 4.6 seconds and 13.1 seconds at 115 mph — were a huge hint. Extra credit went to the Royal Pontiac, the suburban Detroit dealership that installed its Royal Bobcat kit to give the Goat even more suds at the strip.

David E. Davis, Jr. and Jim Wangers with the original GTO from the 1964 road test. (courtesy of Tenney Fairchild)

Here is Davis talking about the impact Jim Wangers had on his magazine: “We can trace everything that happened to Car and Driver going on to become the most profitable and the largest car magazine in the world right back to the day that story hit the stands. That story changed everything for Car and Driver magazine.”

Adds Wangers in another interview, “The car didn’t really get any serious exposure until after the Car and Driver story.”

Brock Yates, a man whose cantankerous musings suggest he’d proudly wear the epithet “sumbitch” like a badge, said this: “When I went to work for Car and Driver in 1964, months after probably the most seminal automotive story which was ever written, the one story that triggered more outrage, more memory, more craziness, more insanity than any other story that I can remember in automobile journalism. That was David E. Davis’ comparison of the Ferrari GTO and a Pontiac GTO. Incredible story … Everybody went crazy. We were getting letters from that story a year afterwards.”

Bill McGuire, former senior editor of Hot Rod, had this to say: “It is said that with his infamous road-test comparison of the Pontiac versus Ferrari GTOs, David E. Davis, Jr., invented modern automotive journalism. If so, then modern automotive journalism is mainly baloney, for the GTO that Pontiac PR guy Jim Wangers supplied to Car and Driver was a total fraud, sporting a 421 engine among other subtle mods. Really, it’s about stirring the reader’s passion for cars, and the cheated-up little GTO certainly accomplished that.”

Wangers’ Motortown converted the Pontiac LeMans into the Can Am.

Above you have heavy hitters in the annals of American automotive journalism expressing recognition and appreciation for Jim Wangers and how his input changed the trajectory of the periodical (if not the performance market in Detroit), yet Car and Driver never devoted a page or blurb giving props to the man who worked for MacManus, John & Adams, and founded Motortown and Automotive Marketing Consultants Inc. (AMCI). (Interestingly, the latter was his biggest success.)

In the world of sociology, there is a concept called historical fading that describes the decline of perceived importance of events over time. This concept involves the diminished collective memory and emotional impact of an event when those who experienced it pass away, with subsequent generations becoming even more removed from the event itself. Influential factors include changes in education, cultural shifts, and new historical events that capture the collective attention and reframe historical narratives.

pontiac

Perhaps the most familiar event today that has been affected by historical fading is the sacrifice men and women made during the Japanese invasion off the coast of Hawaii. The significance of December 7, 1941, is still strong in America’s heart, but the low level of survivors who have yet to pass away is such that perhaps the anniversary may bear less importance in the country’s current consciousness — that despite the day being one that will live in infamy.

I ponder whether the same thing has happened with Car and Driver, as much of the old guard has left the masthead over the past 10-15 years. Most of those writing for the periodical are GenXers and younger folks who may have seen GTOs in the high school parking lot at best, not those who have waxed poetic countless times such as Patrick Bedard.

Yet, if we don’t remember from where we came, how can we navigate the future?

Rest in peace, Mr. Callaway.

spot_img
Diego Rosenberg
Diego Rosenberg
Lead Writer Diego Rosenberg is a native of Wilmington, Delaware and Princeton, New Jersey, giving him plenty of exposure to the charms of Carlisle and Englishtown. Though his first love is Citroen, he fell for muscle cars after being seduced by 1950s finned flyers—in fact, he’s written two books on American muscle. But please don’t think there is a strong American bias because foreign weirdness is never far from his heart. With a penchant for underground music from the 1960-70s, Diego and his family reside in metropolitan Phoenix.

21 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks Diego for this remembrance of Uncle Jim. The story of him and David E is always amusing… David E refused to speak to Jim for decades after putting two and two together and concluding that indeed he’d been had. Back in 2000 I was at the Chicago Auto Show press day when running AMCI, and I happened to be on a call with Uncle Jim when I ran into David E… and before he could figure it out, I thrust the phone into his hand and said it’s time you and Jim Wangers have some words. It was awkward but they chatted for a bit and then a few years later the Ferrari Club of Virginia or some such held a special event at VIR and they actually invited David E and Uncle Jim — and Tenney Fairchild, who is the longtime owner of the 1964 GTO 421.

    Tenney brought it out to restage the race against a Ferrari GTO. Peter Sachs as in Goldman Sachs brought the Ferrari GTO and I don’t remember exactly what happened but the race really never came off. That said, Jim and David E did finally bury the hatchet and have a laugh over it. I was pleased that these two titans of the automotive marketing world could finally be at peace with Uncle Jim’s little bit of as he would call it “monkey business.” After all, it’s not war and peace — just another legendary episode in the wild and wonderful world of fast cars.

    Gordon Wangers

  2. A significant historical automotive “event” worth retelling, remembering and sharing. Jim was a “hustler”; a true character who made a difference. Thanks Diego

  3. Thank you, Diego and to this publication, for honoring a brilliant man and wonderful human being–a true mensch! One year at SEMA with one of my brothers, we happened upon Mr. Wangers who was chatting with legendary cam-gather Ed Iskenderian and Ken Crocie of H.O. Specialties. Jim looked up, saw our name tags, and introduced us (!) to the industry giants as his friends. I am a Pontiac enthusiast because of Jim. He is a hero who was always a gem everytime I saw him. After reading Glory Days, I think of Jim with joy tinged with sadness because of the anti-semitism of mid-twentieth century America and the Detroit auto industry in particular which caused him to feel compelled not to use his given sutname of Wangerscheim. G-dspeed, Jim Wangers!

  4. Thank you, Jim Wangers! I owned a 1967 Pontiac GTO for 20 years; from the Fall of my Junior year of high school in 1975, until the Fall of 1995, when I no longer had the time to complete the restoration I’d started or the room to store it. I still kick myself every day over selling it. I’ve never owned a more powerful or exciting car and probably never will.

    Like my older cousin before me, with his 1969 Camaro SS, I carried the torch on forward with that ’67 GTO. I often drag raced it at our town’s “secret” drag strip on the highway south of town, plus numerous times on city streets during high school and college. Together, we never lost!!!

    There was nothing like those American Muscle Cars from the ’60s or the memories we made!

  5. Car magazines are no longer about cars, they only care about $$
    Thank you Jim Wangers for all you did for our passion of Automobiles.

  6. Thanks for a nice tribute to Jim Wangers.
    He was one in a million.
    Over the years I got to know him.
    He was fun to talk GTOs with you, any time, any where.
    And he gave me great advice on my GTO.
    Jim truly was the Godfather of the GTO.
    Good times, great cars, and great people, Thanks Jim!!

  7. What a shame that Car and Driver did not write an article on Jim Wangers. Without Jim promoting the GTO the way he did I don’t believe it would’ve had the following it did and still has. I had the privilege of knowing Jim and traveling with him to numerous shows and races. A wealth of knowledge on the GTO, Pontiac and other vehicles. He is greatly missed.

  8. I met Jim later in his life when he was running AMCI. I did a lot of work detailing their test cars, and the cars in his, and his nephew Gordon’s collection of wonderful Pontiacs and muscle cars. Jim was just a gem of a man who always had time to talk and tell me his great stories. He made sure I had an autographed copy of Glory Days as soon as he had them in his hands too. He dedicated his life to all things automotive.
    He was a dear friend, and I miss him.

  9. I was 13 years old when I received the Ferrari versus Pontiac GTO issue in the mail. My parents had given me a subscription to Car and Driver along with Road and Track, Hot Rod, Motor Trend and MAD Magazine! Too bad a Ferrari didn’t show up for the comparison test. Not that cheating would have helped Pontiac. I was given a 1966 Mustang GT coupe for my 16th birthday but I really wanted a 275 GTB-4 or Lamborghini Miura.

  10. Nicely done Diego. Besides having Pontiac blood in his veins, JW was a good man. I had the good fortune of being around him for a while, which I consider a great privilege.

  11. I think the Peter Sachs GTO was the Series 2 used in the 01/96 Pontiac Enthusiast article, Gordon, when the Car and Driver car was with Joe Conte. It was still set up w/4.56 spool diff, so not well-equipped for Watkins Glen hi-jinks, and so the event didn’t go off as planned, but they still had some fun runnin’ around, per the text.

    Quick anecdote from Virginia, though, had Jim doing his presentation on the history of the muscle car, with some emphasis on Car and Driver using stop watches to provide the timed test results, and that the Pontiac wouldn’t accelerate that quickly falling off the top of the Empire State Building. After which, Dave (as he introduced himself) had something to say about Jim’s hairdo, and asked him how then did he explain the mph achieved in the test, for which Jim had just the laugh, of course! And the Ferrari guys all loved him; buying up every copy he had of Glory Days, even though he awarded a Lamborghini as Best of Show.

    Great read! As Car and Driver themselves might not have said – “Car and Driver didn’t have enough writers to tell this story anyway – just to be on the save side though, the ClassicCars.com Journal had Diego.”

  12. Thanks for the article. My first real job was working as a sculptor and fabricator for Jim Wangers at Motortown. I took some of the Motortown photos that appeared in his book ‘Glory Days’. I learned a lot about automotive marketing from him and I have my copy of that book which he signed for me.

  13. Is this due to GM launching their own publication “Pontiac Weekly?” I bought the “Junk Yard” 67 GTO from Dave Anderson that was intended to be the third Geeto Tiger. He told me PW was the only factory publication so I wonder if C&D was left out.

  14. Maybe the reason for the none article on Jim Wangers is some people may really know him. Why would a man like Jim, withhold pay from two 18 year old boys who worked the 1966 GeeTo TIGER show team? Then claim it was because the race/show cars broke down to much.
    It’s called racing and that’s $$$. Sounds like old Jim didn’t do his homework. He just wanted his fame and fortune of the backs of two 18 year old boys. This comment is from one of those 18 year old boys, at the time.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent Posts

spot_img