With extensive writing, marketing, and racing talents, Jim Wangers cast a tall shadow around Detroit stretching back to the 1950s. While Wangers is perhaps best remembered for his marketing efforts behind the legendary Pontiac GTO, his influence filled the halls of GM and expanded across the entire automotive industry.

close up of gto emblem, tow hook, headlights & custom air dam chin spoiler on a 1964 pontiac
(Image/Summit Racing – Todd Biss Productions)

First and foremost, Jim Wangers had a passion for racing—and his driving career contained several high water marks, including a 1960 NHRA Nationals title in Detroit.

As a result, many of the marketing ideas he pitched to GM focused on performance. That dovetailed into his advertising work with the then-new Pontiac GTO, where Wangers pushed to get the nascent Goat onto the cover of “Car and Driver” magazine—vaulting it to the forefront of the 1960s musclecar scene in the process.

1969 pontiac gto judge orange coupe
(Image/OnAllCylinders – Katie Rockman)

His continued involvement with the GTO helped give rise to the famous “Judge” package and the GTO-derived Monkeemobile for “The Monkees” TV series.

Dodge aspen RT at summit racing
(Image/OnAllCylinders – Jason Liss)

Wangers also worked with other marques, notably Dodge and Ford, primarily through his Motortown OE-subcontracted specialty car facility, which added the key styling elements to production cars like the Aspen R/T and Mustang Cobra II.

But Wangers never strayed too far from Pontiac—as GM sought his insight on a diverse range of projects, from involvement with the “Smokey & the Bandit” movie to the 1977 Can Am.

1977 Pontiac Can Am LeMans at SRE

Wangers continued to work in and around the automotive industry through the next several decades, authoring books and consulting with OEs, until declining health demanded he step back from the public eye later in the 2000s.

Jim Wangers passed away late last week, he was 96 years old.

vintage photo of jim wagners
(Image/From “Glory Days: When Horsepower and Passion Ruled Detroit” book by Jim Wangers, available at Firebird Central)
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