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Review of Glory Days: When Horsepower and Passion Ruled Detroit in Jalopnik.com - June 14, 2009

We've seen a worshipful GTO history book in this series, and now we're going to look at a book by the brilliant adman who helped create the GTO legend in the first place: Jim Wangers.

Mr. Wangers is best known for his work with GTO, of course, and the bulk of Glory Days is focused on his role in the creation and marketing of Pontiac's runaway hit version of the GM A-body. No great GTO bombshells get dropped, but the reader gets the inside story on such GTO-centric matters as Wangers' early work with Royal Pontiac to create special-edition drag cars and his role in the creation of hit song "Little GTO," a marketing coup so spectacular that Volkswagen ripped it off two decades later.

We also learn that Wangers, though he is indeed a gearhead, is first and foremost an advertising man, with all the adman's traditional disdain for hair-splitting ethical dilemmas. One of his very first promotions took place while he worked for the student newspaper at the Illinois Institute of Technology; the winner of a contest was to receive a new 1949 Ford? which turned out to be a toy car ("We were accused of being cheaters, but from my point of view we had done nothing wrong. Nobody lost any money"). Of greater interest to musclecar fanatics is his confirmation of the oft-rumored "ringer" engine in the press car given to Car And Driver for their review of the new '64 GTO; sure enough, C&D really did get suckered into believing that the balls-to-the-wall 428 that moved their Goat down the quarter-mile in 13.1 seconds was a dead-stock 389 (it also helped that C&D used an old-fashioned hand-held stopwatch to determine times).

Then there's the long decline and fall of the GTO, as well as the beginning of the larger, slower decline of General Motors. We learn quite a bit about the organizational dysfunctions within GM that ultimately helped bring the company to its knees; GM lived in fear of being broken up by antitrust regulations as recently as the late 1960s, and the idea that its vast resources couldn't buy its way out of any trouble died hard on the 14th Floor.

By the mid-1970s, Wagners had his own company, Motortown, and that's the point at which Glory Days became most interesting for me. Motortown was behind such Malaise Era tape-stripe-and-spoiler hits as the Mustang Cobra II and Pontiac Can Am, but the Motortown concepts that failed to get any takers in Detroit are even better. The Boss Pinto! The SPacer AMC Pacer-based custom van!

All in all, a good read even for those who don't have any particular love for the GTO. Wangers is a pro writer, so you won't end up clutching your head in incomprehension or groaning at yet another passage in generic ghost-writerese, and you'll come away from the book with a much improved understanding of the way marketers create our cars. Four-rod rating; Murilee says check it out!

jalopnik.com - June 14, 2009 review
Review of Glory Days: When Horsepower and Passion Ruled Detroit in Jalopnik.com - June 14, 2009