Wangers Gets POCI Honor
Honorary Lifetime Member
John Gunnell - May 09, 2014 11:19 AM
Jim Wangers (nearest car) was instrumental in creating the GTO.John Gunnell
Hurst gave away Riverside 500 GTO in a contest Wangers dreamed up.John Gunnell
Wangers joins Pontiac drag racing legend Arnie Beswick in POCI honor.John Gunnell
Early in May, Dave Anderson, the former Western Director of the Pontiac Oakland Club International (www.poci.org), emailed club president Merle Green, Jr., suggesting that POCI make Jim Wangers an Honorary Lifetime Member of the world’s largest Pontiac enthusiasts club. Director Mike Darr then made a motion and by May 8, “The motion to make Jim Wangers an Honorary Lifetime member of POCI has passed unanimously.”
Green said, “I could not believe that Jim Wangers was not an Honorary Lifetime POCI Member.” He checked with POCI office manager Paul Bergstrom, who told him that POCI had only two Honorary Lifetime Members—Marge Sawruk (widow of Pontiac Motor Div. Official Historian Jon Sawruk) and Pontiac drag legend Arnie Beswick. That makes Wangers only the third honoree.
Wangers, who will be 88 years old this year, was an employee of Pontiac’s advertising agency in 1964, when he and other high-performance Pontiac fans came up with the concept of releasing the GTO as a LeMans option package in the middle of the year. The plan was to circumvent a General Motors ban on big engines in mid-sized cars by making the Pontiac 389-cid V-8 part of the GTO option package. The car was essentially the first mid-sized “factory” muscle car and sold strongly enough to inspire similar models from all major automakers.
Wangers played a big role in the promotion and marketing of the GTO and contributed to using a tiger theme to identify the car’s prowess as a street racer. He put together cooperative merchandising efforts such as Thom McAn shoe contest that resulted in specially designed shows and gave away 72 GTOs and a record called “GTO” record by singing group Ronnie & the Daytonas. In later years, a GTO paced the Motor Trend Riverside 500 race and Hurst performance gave away a specially trimmed GTO with gold Hurst spoke wheels.
Wangers was also a drag racer who won Top Eliminator honors at a Detroit area dragstrip driving a 1960 Pontiac Super Stock Catalina. Jack Stewart, his former boss at the advertising agency, said that he would have to remove Wanger’s phone from his office to make him stop talking to his racing buddies and get his press releases done. Wangers always did a great job writing promotional materials and then Stewart would turn his phone back on.
POCI is now discussing ways to deliver the Honorary Lifetime Membership to a man often called “the Father of the GTO.”