He was known as the “Godfather of the GTO”…
A man ahead of his time, automotive marketing virtuoso Jim Wangers died in his sleep on April 27, 2023 at age 97. The man will forever be known as the “Godfather of the GTO” as he employed genius methods to whip up plenty of interest in what is still an enthusiast favorite ride.
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Wangers made a larger impact on the automotive industry than you likely realize, even though you’ve no doubt felt the effects of his work.
The first big thing Wangers did was when he came onboard with Chevrolet back in 1955. He convinced management that taking part in NASCAR Speed Week would help with the brand’s image, but only after working on highlighting factory customer racers. Success with Chevrolets at Daytona spread through the enthusiast community and Wanger’s managers admitted he had a point as Chevy was branded “The Hot One.”
After success with Chevrolet, Wangers moved on to working with Pontiac starting in 1958. Not just a marketing guy, he piloted a Catalina in the Top Stock Eliminator class, capturing a NHRA National title in 1960 at the Nationals held in Detroit.
With that feather in his cap, people started really paying attention to what Wangers thought. He used that influence to push for performance vehicles like the GTO, hence his nickname. In fact, he was the one who got the GTO on the cover of Car and Driver, something many credit as the true beginning of the American muscle car era. The man also influenced the creation of the GTO Judge and the Trans Am.
Wangers accomplished much more during his obviously illustrious career, including participating in the foundation of the Detroit Dragway, getting Pontiac to offer Hurst shifters, and he opened his own Chevy dealership in Milwaukee.