An interview with Jim Wangers - A Driving Force Behind the GTO

Hot-shoe ad man, Jim Wangers, pilots the "Hot Chief #1" Pontiac Catalina during "Super Duty Monday," Labor Day 1960. (Image courtesy of

Story by Eric White - Society Staff
eprint with permission only.

Jim Wangers is known as "The God Father of the GTO". The past president of the AHPS, the late Eric White, was a Pontiac enthusiast and afficinido. He interviewed Jim Wangers around the time of Wanger's book "Glory Days - when horsepower and passion ruled Detroit" was published. Eric's interview covered Jim's career from his time at Chevrolet's agency through the return of the GTO in the 80's.

In 1951, Jim made a move to Detroit in order to work in the Weintraub agency's Kaiser-Frazer account office. He was employed by Weintraub until early 1954 when K-F closed its doors and the account was terminated. 

Greener grass was spotted at the Campbell-Ewald advertising agency, where GM's Chevrolet Division ad account was handled. His career in the auto industry was by now well established.

Digging in with Chevrolet: Let's go racing -

Eric White: What were your responsibilities at Campbell-Ewald?

Jim Wangers: I went to Campbell-Ewald, in Detroit, in late spring of '54 to work on the tail end of the announcement of the 1955 Chevy. I went to the experience down at Daytona in February of 1955-the speed week experience. I came back and got Chevrolet interested and involved in that racing program. That went all through the summer of '55.

Then in August of '55 I got involved in the Pikes Peak program. That whole program came off the ground during the '56 model year. In December of 1955, I left Campbell-Ewald and went to Chrysler, working in their racing department merchandising their racing victories and working with their creative people at the ad agencies.

EW: What was your title there?.

Wangers: I was marketing manager for racing and performance motorsports. Then I left in March of 1956 to become assistant sales promotion manager of Dodge. In July of 1956 I was promoted to sales promotion manager of Plymouth. I stayed there through '56, '57, then in March of '58 I was summoned by the McManus, John & Adams agency to join them on their Pontiac ad account. I came in as an assistant account executive on the Pontiac account

EW: How did you get involved in the drag racing end of the hobby?

Wangers: Well, I was always interested in drag racing. From the very beginning, as a racing enthusiast, even from my early days going to Daytona Speed Week as a spectator, the one thing that always intrigued me, more really than track racing or sports car racing, was really the growth of drag racing. It was only at the tail end of the 1950's and the early '60's that "stock car" activity in drag racing really came into its own.

I like to think that I was right at the leading edge of all of that, within the industry, to help promote building cars for that kind of performance activity. That really is what happened all during that marvelous period of the '60's. We [Pontiac], in fact, were building cars for their performance on the drag strips. It was important to us that these cars actually were good performers. That's really, in a sense, what lead up to that horsepower race, even though it was more dramatically personified, maybe, in terms of the "race cars.".

Wangers: It was early in the 1960's that some of the motorsports activity from the manufacturers, the racing activity, took off as a very special genre. They were building aluminum parts and fiberglass parts, and everybody got into a competitive motorsports and racing effort which General Motors finally stepped up to in the late '62 model year and made the decision that they were gonna not get caught in that trap. That, however, did not stop them from going right ahead and building more excitement and more performance into their production cars . . . .

To Read the Rest of Part One of the Interview - click HERE

To Pontiac's Early 60s Ads - click HERE

To Read About 1960 Pontiac Performance - click HERE



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