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The San Diego Union - Tribune
"Glory Days" stirs the passion of gear head
Mark Maynard
17-Oct-1998 Saturday

Glory Days: When Horsepower and Passion Ruled Detroit

Apparently I have Jim Wangers to thank for my not so subconscious urge to own a 1968 Pontiac Firebird with the 400 cubic inch V-8 and Hurst 4-speed.

It's an irrational craving, but one I haven't been able to shake since high school when a buddy had a white coupe with red interior. I can still hear the pipes and feel the relentless pull of the engine as he banged it up through the gears.

Those were the days of irresponsibility and cheap gas, which author Jim Wangers reawakens in his book titled ?Glory Days: When Horsepower and Passion Ruled Detroit? (Robert Bentley publishers; 310 pages; $39.95 hardcover).

Wangers has worked in many roles on the consumer side of the car biz, but advertising and marketing are his specialty. It is a different angle for a car book.

He also was part of the Pontiac marketing crew that put together the Wide Track promotion that infected so many of us with a weakness for muscle cars. It was a campaign of car performance that unearthed a lode of enthusiasts and helped define the image of this division of General Motors.

?Glory Days? is Wangers' life, sort of a collection of memoirs linked with a Rolodex of names, places and experiences, many of which will be recognizable for even casual acquaintances of old Detroit: ?Bunkie? Knudsen, Woodward Avenue, Royal Pontiac Bobcats.

His book covers a period of the industry that many of us baby boomers remember well, but Wangers gives an inside view from the advertising and marketing perspective.

He recalls many TV ads that are still fresh in memory and explains just how and why they succeeded or failed. This is history that has real meaning to a gear head. ?Glory Days? is also just a good read with lots of pictures for enthusiasts, especially Pontiac collectors.

He wrote ad copy for Kaiser-Frazer, Chevrolet and Chrysler, but his glory days clearly were his time with Pontiac, where he worked closely with General Manager John DeLorean to bring out such projects as the GTO, Catalina 2+2, Firebird and others.

When the author got his start in the early ?50s the baby boom generation was barely a twinkle in the eye of the industry, but he caught a ride at the beginning and rode it through the muscle car years (where he made quite a playground around Detroit) and through the lean and discouraging years of the ?70s fuel crisis (when he bought a Chevy dealership in Wisconsin) to the contemporary agency he started in the early ?80s, Automotive Marketing Consultants Inc.

Based in San Diego, AMCI does consumer marketing and statistical/comparative testing for auto manufacturers.

He's also a hopeless car nut, which actually makes for a better story.

From a work-place perspective, Wangers' book is a positive approach on how to channel this automotive energy into a real job. In high school, he wanted to be an automotive engineer but got steering into sales by a school counselor. That may not be the path of choice today, but it worked then.

Today, he is still active in Pontiac owners clubs and closes his book with a chapter on ?Preserving the Legend.?

In it he writes:

?Today the hobby is much bigger than just the appreciation of sheet metal. It is now a cultural experience, where every member enjoys the fantasy of reliving the ?Good Ol' Days.'

?Everyone has a story to tell about the same time they got into it with a Road Runner or an SS 396 down on Main Street, or the first time they were out alone with a girlfriend in lover's lane. All of the neat things that were part of Americana during the sixties come to life at these gatherings.?

Today, car executives are more numbers crunchers than gear grinders. ?Glory Days? pushes aside those spread sheets of incentives and lease deals and reminds readers that this industry was shaped by leaders who were passionate about cars. People don't change. The elements that moved the iron back then will still sell cars today, but much of that enthusiasm has been forgotten.

?Glory Days? is about remembering and preserving ? and just maybe helping history repeat itself.