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3 GTOs Illustrate Differences in Automotive Markets

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Topics:  Ferrari 250GTO, Mitsubishi GTO, Pontiac GTO
Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

3 GTOs Illustrate Differences in Automotive Markets

Bill Crittenden
May 7, 2014

There are three major automobile cultures worldwide represented interestingly enough by the same three letters: GTO.  Each GTO is one of the best representatives of their home country's car cultures, each produced in a golden age for each country's automobile industry, and has aged over the passing years in ways befitting each car's impact on its car culture.

Italy was the originator.  GTO specifically refers to Gran Turismo Omologato (Grand Touring Homologation, a racing class) and was first applied to an automobile as a model name in 1962.  Entire books worth of material have been written on this wonderful car, which helped launch Ferrari from the racetrack to the daydreams of billions.  To summarize for my purposes, it was beautiful, expensive, exclusive, and had racing pedigree, everything a quintessential Italian sports car should be.  Today they are untouchably expensive, revered, and have remained beautiful through the passage of time.

Pontiac, borrowing many of its names from racing in the era (Grand Prix, Bonneville), paid homage to the Ferrari GTO with a GTO of their own.  Thoroughly American, the 1964 GTO version of the Pontiac Le Mans would break General Motors' rule about big block engines in intermediate size car bodies and usher in the muscle car era for Detroit's automakers.  The purpose was to put big block power in the hands of people who otherwise could't afford it, and it remains to this day a symbol of "American Muscle," the glory years of the American auto industry and in a way of pre-1970's America itself.

The final GTO may not be recognized by many Americans as a GTO.  In fact, the Japanese executives at Mitsubishi were concerned with offending the die-hard fans of the Italian and American GTOs with a Japanese car by that name, so it was only known as GTO in its home market.  What we know as the 3000GT was one of the great cars of the 1990's, an era that saw Japanese automobile engineering take the world by surprise.  The GTO was thoroughly a technical wonder in its time, with all wheel drive, twin turbochargers, six-speed manual transmission, electronically controlled suspension, multiple exhaust modes, and front & rear spoilers that adjusted with the speed of the car.  Unlike the Italian and American GTOs, the impressively technical but not beautiful Mitsubishi GTO has fittingly aged like a VCR from the 1990's, replaced in the hearts and driveways of technology-minded consumers by newer, more advanced machines.

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