There’s little more that the automotive internet loves arguing about than pointless definitions, but what I didn’t realize is that enthusiasts have been debating what a “GT car” is for the past 55 years. No, not the race cars, or the trim badges that get stuck on cars that sometimes don’t deserve them, but a grand tourer in the true sense of the term.
What is a grand tourer? That’s hard to say.
Back in the early 1960s, Europe was just clawing its way into financial prosperity after getting bombed into oblivion and the age of the GT car was just beginning to bloom. Throughout the decade, it seemed like a new GT car proposal sprung up about once every five minutes, either from some small garage in Italy, or from some major manufacturer trying to catch a bit of that charm.
General Motors was turning the Corvette and Corvair into genuine world-class contenders at this time, and it wouldn’t be long before Toyota, Nissan and even Mitsubishi, Mazda and Isuzu started making the first great round of sporty GTs from Japan.
And it was on this wave that Automobile Quarterly weighed in with two articles in its summer ‘63 issue, one detailing how GM let them have a test drive in the easily-forgotten Corvair Monza GT concept car, and the other sketching out an incomplete list of all the great GT cars through history dating back to the 1920s.
It’s in the first article that the publication gives its GT car definition, played against how much they wish GM would put the Monza into production:
Even while we yearn for a genuine American Grand Touring production automobile, we cannot help being concerned by the realization that very few people have any understanding of what the term means, thought it certainly has greater currency than ten years ago. Just what is a GT car? Is it just a mirage—a vague idea that sounds intriguing to the sporty type, the sports-car or imported-car enthusiast? Even the enthusiast cannot really define it specifically: the best he generally does is to delineate some of the features a GT should have, some of the things it should be able to do.
I’m fairly sure I read almost the exact same quote in the Jalopnik comments section circa 2007, only with more swearing. The author continues to say that a GT car should be a closed coupe, preferably a two-seater, with comfortable seats that also hold you firmly in place during hard corners, though even this was a challenge to define:
Having established the above criteria for seating, the enthusiast is trapped into admitting that the seats in an Abarth coupe, which certainly is a GT car, are nowhere near as comfortable as the first-class buckets in the Avanti, which is not, nor do they provide as much bracing against side loads, even though the Abarth can and does go around corners much harder and faster than an Avanti.
Again, I am fairly sure this same point can be transposed onto some tedious Camaro vs BMW debate from the past few years.
The 1963 article continues saying that a GT car should be fast, but counters itself saying that many American sedans are also fast and are not GT cars. So the article says a GT car should corner well, but then counters itself again by saying that there are many imported sedans that also corner well like the Lotus Ford Cortina.
So the article says that a GT car should be not only fast and not only good at cornering but also responsive and fun to drive, though it counters itself again again by saying that a sports car also fits that description. It is at this point that the author finally reaches at least something approaching a conclusion:
The GT is a spors car in the sense tht is it not a work car; it is built for adventure, glamour, romance and not for basic transportation. Its workmanship and finish are conceded to be of the quintessence luxury
These words are luxurious in and of themselves, and thankfully the author continued:
Why the hardtop or closed coupe body for the GT car? In the classic sense this is hardly to differentiate it from the sports roadster or sports car. The FIA no longer recognizes the term sports car, but foolish and arbitrary rules cannot change a concept that has been evolving for more than thirty-five years. The sports car and GT car have been developed along parallel lines, often sharing suspension and engine detail but differing considerably in body design and coachwork. It seems traditional that a car for only two people should be an open car. The well appointed closed car for two people, especially on a sporting chassis, is a true luxury.
The article goes on for another two paragraphs, detailing how GT cars are neither sports cars nor sedans nor are they entirely new, as they have been around since the 1920s. (Other sources peg sports cars as a genre back to the Prince Henry Vauxhalls and Austro-Daimlers of around 1910, if you’re curious.)
But the final point pegs a GT pretty neatly: a closed, personal coupe luxurious in design but sporty in construction is as good a definition as I think we’ll need.
Of course, that won’t stop people from arguing about it, as we have been for more than half a century now.