To get his personal views on the Can Am, HPP contacted Jim Wangers for the following interview.
HPP: Why did you propose a Can Am limited edition based on the LeMans?
Jim Wangers: Pontiac had a bunch of really good designers, but the '73 LeMans was just wrong in my opinion. In 1974, John Schinella created a car called the All American Grand Am. It introduced a new rear deck spoiler and a little bit of styling modification on the front end, and was received very well. Pontiac's timid management decided not to take it any further than just a show/concept car, and that was a shame, as it was pretty good looking.
At the marketing end, we got very excited about the All American Grand Am, and we put together several good presentations to Pontiac as to why we felt this was a perfect car to help the struggling LeMans. All that fell on deaf ears.
By 1976, there was no question that the LeMans needed help. We decided that there ought to be a version of the All American Grand Am, not a red, white, and blue configuration, but maybe something special to the imaging of the LeMans, and also to the GTO.
HPP: Why did you source a Detroit firm to convert the LeMans into the Can Am?JW: Pontiac wanted nothing more to do with pumping a little joy into the LeMans line beyond Schinella's very nice effort. So I began to communicate with a group of outside companies in and around Detroit who had built limited production specialty vehicles for the manufacturers. One of these was Motortown Corporation; it produced the original Cobra II for Ford. I was still with the ad agency, and, with Motortown, we put together a proposal on the LeMans for '77 using some exciting GTO styling cues.
HPP: What was the result of your brainstorming sessions with Motortown?
JW: We decided to recreate the Judge, which was most remembered for its outrageous colors: Carousel Red in '69 and Orbit Orange in '70. They had become a symbol of what the Judge was all about.
HPP: Please tell us about your prototype Judge.
JW: Motortown acquired a '76 LeMans and prepared it as a Judge, painted it Carousel Red, and put some very attractive matching decal striping on it. They picked up the rear deck spoiler right off the All American Grand Am that had been so well received; that was a delightful ducktail spoiler that fit right on the rear deck, sort of a matching spoiler to the Trans Am.
HPP: Do you remember the proposal to Pontiac to approve the Judge?
JW: Yes. Motortown was able to get an audience with the Pontiac Marketing Group thanks to the support of Ben Harrison in Product Planning and General Manager Alex Mair, who were intrigued by the idea of bringing in a special package on the LeMans. The Marketing Group was very offended by the concept of the Judge, however. There were several newcomers to the group who didn't know of or remember the Judge, and their responses-almost in unison-were that they couldn't believe Pontiac would put out an orange car as outrageous as the Judge. The outcome of the meeting was, "We are intrigued with your idea, but we are not going to be able to use our internal talent to build it. If there's a package that you come up with that does please us, we will give it some serious attention on the basis that it be built just as your Cobra II."
HPP: Was the Can Am project an official assignment for you?
JW: No. We went to work on what Motortown might do to make the Judge an acceptable package in the minds of Pontiac on our own time. Ben Harrison was genuinely supportive of this activity. In fact, he even came up with the name Can Am and was by far the most significant Pontiac contributor to the creation of this car.