Jim Wangers, who made the Pontiac GTO famous, dies

Pontiac Preservation Association

Detroit public relations executive Jim Wangers, best known for his role as the godfather of the 1964 Pontiac GTO, passed away in his sleep on April 27, according to Hemmings.

Although Wangers was known as the marketing genius behind the GTO, he lent his expertise to a variety of Chevrolet and Pontiac models during his stint as an ad man, beginning in earnest in 1954 with the supercharged Kaiser flathead six-cylinder engine, which he proved was as potent as a V-8. From there he moved to General Motors, where he worked his magic with the 1955–57 Chevrolet milestone cars.

He also had a hand in the 1969 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am and GTO Judge. “We introduced the Trans Am and The Judge to the media simultaneously at Riverside. After the PR event, the cars went to local dealerships. The Judges disappeared, but we couldn’t give the Trans Ams away. The Trans Am didn’t really come into its own until the second-generation,” Wangers told Hemmings’ Jeff Koch in a 2018 profile. The second-generation Trans Am hit the market in 1970, and the rest was automotive history.

Wangers was responsible for one of the greatest automotive coups in history, when he helped talk Car and Driver magazine into doing a “comparison test” between the Pontiac GTO and the Ferrari GTO. The Pontiac did remarkably well, in no small part because Wangers stuck a 421-cubic-inch ringer engine in the Pontiac, which was considerably more powerful than stock. Those things happened back then, and it launched the GTO into the marketplace, accompanied by a helpful March ’64 Car and Driver cover line—“Tempest GTO: 0-to-100 mph in 11.8 sec.”

“The car really came alive when the March 1964 issue of Car and Driver appeared, with the controversial cover story featuring a performance comparison between the world’s two most famous GTOs, the new upstart from Pontiac against the legendary, world-class Ferrari,” Wangers wrote in his memoir Glory Days.

Wangers worked on a variety of other campaigns, including on the Monkees’ Monkeemobile, the AMC Rebel, and the Delorean, before he left the business and settled down as owner of a Chevrolet dealership. He auctioned off much of his collection with Mecum in 2019.

Jim Wangers was 96 years old.




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    Jim was a very unique individual. Part marketing man and well I will let history decide the rest.

    Jim could sell firewood on a 90 degree afternoon to a guy with heat stroke.

    Let’s just say he was a salesman’s salesman.

    Got to hear Mr. Wingers speak once. He was a very charismatic and entertaining individual. His book
    Glory Days: When Horsepower and Passion Ruled Detroit is a great read with lots of insight into GM performance cars of the 60s and 70s.

    I believe the correct size for the ringer engine was a 421 as Pontiac didn’t make a 412.

    I keep looking back at this article, anticipating it to resuscitate the old “GTO was/wasn’t the first Muscle Car” debate. Wonder where Mr. Wangers came down on the subject? 😉

    Thanks for giving the world the Pontiac GTO and TransAm. They and you will be remembered long after the last ICE car is gone, and we are all driving vacuum cleaner cars.

    I remember him saying when they came out with the 69 Judge….one of first cars with rubber front bumper….the add showed at man with a mall ..a big hammer…hitting it…and it not breaking…later Jim said people were saying they had used a rubber hamer…later he redid the commerical and when the man stopped hitting the rubber bumper….then he throwed it…and you could hear the medal ring….lol..Rip in Peace Jim…you were a great one.

    I had the privilege of spending the weekend with Jim and Mr. Norm when we flew them both out to be the grand Marshalls of our local “Peggy Sue’s Cruise” car show in Santa Rosa Ca in June of 2014. It was the first time the two ever met in person. Jim was one of the nicest men I have ever met. A life well lived, RIP my friend

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