Sneaky 1968 GTO ad shouted “street racing” without actually saying it
In a September 1967 feature story in Car and Driver, legendary columnist Brock Yates wrote, “Organized street racing was supposed to have turned hot-rodding into something as respectable as apple pie and as legal as little league baseball, but the truth is drag racing on public highways—street racing—is bigger than ever, and Detroit’s Woodward Avenue is the street-racing capital of the world.”
Yates knew it. Woodward regulars knew it. Automakers knew it. The cops knew it. So did General Motors’ advertising team, which had been prohibited from promoting racing or reckless driving of any kind.
So how do you produce a catchy ad for the 1968 Pontiac GTO—which in its most powerful form packed a 366-horsepower, 400-cubic-inch Ram Air II V-8—and not talk about its performance on the street? You get creative.
Pontiac’s advertising agency—McManus, John, & Adams, represented by Jim Wangers—came up with the perfect solution to the dilemma, or so it thought. On an early Sunday morning, the team took a new GTO out to a northern section of Woodward Avenue for a photoshoot. Aiming to create an image that looked like the car’s owner was waiting for his next challenger, a GTO was positioned in a turnaround lane under signs that left no doubt to its location. The signs there prominently displayed Woodward and US-10, and another marker was created and attached which pointed the way to nearby I-75.
Art Morat, who led the photoshoot, later explained that the crew never asked permission to post the additional sign, they just did it—much like the subtle message that made its way into the ad: “The Great One by Pontiac,” the left side of the two-page ad read. Then … “You know the rest of the story.”
Boy, did we ever. And so did GM. The ad ran just once, in December 1967, in Car Life and other enthusiast magazines—never to be seen again. That’s because, as retired GM designer and Pontiac enthusiast Jeff Denison explained in the May 2000 issue of Pontiac Enthusiast magazine, the brilliant advertisement immediately drew opposition from towns along Woodward Avenue for suggesting that Pontiac endorsed street racing. “GM wanted no part of that,” Dennison wrote of the controversy, and Pontiac immediately pulled it before it could run again.
The ad has not been forgotten, however. In fact, it’s still popular among Pontiac enthusiasts—you can find actual magazine copies for sale on eBay and digital prints elsewhere online. When it comes to automotive advertising, it’s arguably the greatest ad that most people never saw. And now “You know the rest of the story.”