On June 26, 2011—the actual day of Jim Wangers’ birthday—Pontiac hobbyists gathered to honor a man who has dedicated his life to promoting Pontiac and supporting the Pontiac community. Jim Wangers’ Poncours d’Elegance celebrated not only Jim Wangers’ 85th birthday, but also 85 years of Pontiac with a concours display of 85 Pontiacs.
Jim’s nephew, Gordon Wangers, and his wife, Jennifer, hosted the event at the family’s residence, Road Runner Ranch—named for the bird, not the car. In concours style, the grand lawn was transformed into a marvelous show field.
With more than 400 Pontiakers in attendance, the line of well-wishers seemed to be endless. Many presented gifts based upon some personal moment or activity they had shared with Jim. Others provided their own personal recollections of the many encounters they had with him.
“I never expected that so many would attend.” Jim said. “All of these folks offering me their best wishes and thanks made today one the happiest days of my 85 years. I would have never thought I would outlive Pontiac.”
Adding to the event was a special presentation of the Wangers Collection, owned by Jim and Gordon. Cars included Jim’s ’65 Royal Bobcat GTO, his ’69 Judge, the GeeTO Tiger, and his Holden Special Vehicles GTSR Monaro.
Also prominently placed was Jim’s first GTO, the Car and Driver ’64 GTO test car now owned by Tenney Fairchild. Other GTOs included the NHRA Super Stocker of Jan and Art Petersen and the one-owner car of Jim “Old Man” Taylor.
Big Pontiacs were well represented with a first-year four-speed, Tri-Power Grand Prix and a ’63 Super-Duty (both owned by Tom Schlauch), as well as the show-winning restored ’69 Grand Prix of De and the late Mike Baumgardner. The oldest car on display was the prized ’28 Pontiac coupe of Gary Harris.
In celebration of Jim reaching his 85th birthday, a special commemorative die-cast Jim Wangers Signature GTO Emblem was introduced at the party and is now available for purchase. In Jim’s generous fashion, each of the 85 car owners who brought out their car as part of the celebration was presented with an emblem as a personal thank you.
The guests were treated to the sounds of the Surf City All-Stars, who played many of the great beach tunes of the musclecar era. Famous Dave’s Barbeque was on hand making certain all were well fed—and of course, it was all finished off with a birthday cake. Fire marshals were on hand in case the 85 candles burned too hotly! The crowd gathered to sing “Happy Birthday” to Jim. Flushed with appreciation, he thanked everyone for making his birthday one of the greatest days of his life.
After having evaluated the cars earlier in the day, it was now Jim’s time to bestow his thanks on three special car owners. There were so many wonderful cars on the show field, it was quite a challenge for him.
Best Pontiac was presented to Larry and Marsha Allen’s beautiful ’58 Parisienne convertible that came all the way from Missouri. Then the Godfather named Heinrich Gerhardt’s ’66 GTO the Best GTO of the show. It is a former Car Craft cover car that was nearly destroyed in an accident a number of years back. This was its first showing since being reconstructed, and worthy of the selection.
After a short drum roll, Jim Wangers’ Best of Show pick went to a spectacular ’61 Bristol Blue Ventura with Tri-Power, four-speed, and Tri-Tone bucket seats owned by Kevin and Kathy DeWitte of Fountain Hills, Arizona.
The day concluded with a very special moment. We had purposefully held the band back from playing “GTO,” or as most call it, “Lil’ GTO,” throughout the day. During Jim’s final remarks, I arranged for the Surf City All-Stars to play “GTO” when Jim was finished. As he wrapped up, he turned to the band and said, “I sure hope you guys are going to play ‘GTO.’” The bandleader smiled and asked Jim to lead them in the GTO national anthem as the band launched into the song.
It is a moment I will always cherish. Singing is not Jim’s greatest talent, but this “Senior Idol” was flush with joy. Standing just off stage, I witnessed Jim’s happiness and the glow of joy that surrounded him. The hills of Fallbrook were alive with the sound of music and Jim was on cloud nine. The day could not have ended on a higher note!