The Pontiac GTO makes a comeback — if only for a day — at El Segundo’s Automobile Driving Museum
By Michael Aushenker
You oughta see her on a road course or a quarter mile
This little modified Pon-Pon has got plenty of style
She beats the gassers and the rail jobs, really drives ‘em why-ee-eye-ild
C’mon and turn it on, wind it up, blow it out GTO
— “GTO,” as sang by Ronny & the Daytonas (1964)
The Pontiac GTO — introduced 51 years ago, the line was only produced for a decade (1964-74), a brief comeback from 2004 to 2006 notwithstanding. But this icon of affordable American horsepower lives on in the popular imagination, even long after General Motors phased out the Pontiac brand.
OK, so Steve McQueen drove a Mustang and the bad guy a Charger in “Bullitt,” and the Pontiac that Gene Hackman commandeered as Popeye Doyle in “The French Connection” was a LeMans.
But the GTO has also shined on the big and small screen. As James Taylor’s mysterious rival, the great Warren Oates not only drove a 1966 Pontiac GTO in 1971’s “Two-Lane Blacktop,” his character was even named “GTO.” A 1966 GTO raced prominently through the 1970s TV series “Hawaii Five-O” and appeared in the 1992 comedy blockbuster “Wayne’s World” and HBO’s “Entourage.”
On Saturday, four specimen GTOs — a ’64, ’66, ’67 and a ‘67 convertible — roll into the Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo as “Godfather of the GTO” Jim Wangers presents “Remember the Pontiac.”
Author of the memoir “Glory Days: When Horsepower and Passion Ruled Detroit,” Wangers was the founder of Royal Pontiac, the unofficial testing garage for Pontiac’s high-performance cars and equipment.
Wangers became instrumental in getting the 1960s pop band Paul Revere and the Raiders involved in the advertising launch of the model that Wangers is most associated with: the ‘69 GTO Judge.
This celebration of the Pontiac GTO is just the latest in an active array of programming that’s been going on since the Automobile Driving Museum opened in 2001.
The nonprofit museum dedicated to preserving the history of American cars boasts more than 130 vintage or antique automobiles and being the only museum of its kind where patrons can actually experience riding in a museum piece.
“We take three cars out of storage every Sunday and we give rides [to museum visitors],” said Earl Rubenstein, an architect who lives in Mar Vista and co-founded the museum with Stanley Zimmerman.
The Automobile Driving Museum’s collections include a 1902 Pierce (which later evolved into the Pierce Arrow), a 1942 Packard ambulance and what they call “the Joseph Stalin car”: a 1936 Packard that was featured in Pasadena’s Rose Parade three times and had traveled on loan to Hamburg, Germany, and to Russia in 1936, when the Soviet government paid for its restoration.
There’s also the oldest surviving Pontiac — from 1926, the year the model was introduced.
“In 89 years, the car has only 15,000 miles on it,” said Rubenstein. “It was bought by a Pontiac dealer in Minnesota. We bought it at auction about four years ago. It’s been repainted once.”
A clutch of cars once owned by Clark Gable, Errol Flynn and Elizabeth Taylor will begin showing at the museum in July and be among the museum’s annual September caravan to exhibit at the Palos Verdes Concourse.
A hands-on museum operator, Rubenstein moved his Rubenstein Architects office inside the museum long ago.
He and “Remember the Pontiac” organizer Tony Abbott believe that attendees are in for a treat this Saturday when Wangers returns to the Automobile Driving Museum after successful presentations each of the past two years.
The event is all about “really hearing someone who was very involved with the muscle car movement in the 1960s in a period in time that was so significant in automobile history,” Abbott said.
“He is an amazing speaker,” continued Abbott. “You get laughs. You get great stories and really interesting insight. His presentation alone is worth the trip.”
Jim Wangers’ presentation is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Automobile Driving Museum, 610 Lairport St., El Segundo. $10 donation requested.
Call (310) 909-0950 or visit automobiledrivingmuseum.org