Just two little letters: GT. You’ve seen them on the rumps of everything from Hyundais to Ferraris. At several points in time, they’ve formed the entire name of the only car Maserati builds. And Pontiac got more mileage out of those letters than the entire Italian auto industry combined. But what do the two letters actually mean, and why do we use them?
What Does “GT” Mean on Cars?
Today, it can mean just about anything. In the past, GT had a specific definition that directly related to what those two letters stand for. By the 1980s, though, it had become so poorly applied and overused it mostly lost its original definition. These days, it depends on the automaker. For some, it became synonymous with the term sports car. For others, it’s a mildly sporty trim level. Sometimes, it delineates the most extreme supercars the company makes. Boil it down, though, and GT generally means some level of sportiness ranging from slightly above average to street-legal race car. Even some racing series use the term to denote a class of race car, and it’s also on one of the most popular racing video games in history.
OK, What Did “GT” Used to Mean, Then?
GT stands for gran turismo, or “grand touring.” Although the Italian who originally thought up the term gran turismo, or GT, has been lost to history along with their reasoning, the definition was clear: A GT car fit between a sports car and a luxury car. It should have a big engine, a comfortable ride, a luxurious interior, and elegant bodywork. Not just fast, it needed to be able to handle like a sports car when the proper situation arose but coddle like a luxury car the rest of the time. Between its introduction in the late 1920s and its heyday in the 1950s and ’60s, the definition was honed to mean a reasonably practical luxury sport coupe that could cross a continent at high speed just as easily as it could tackle a mountain pass.
What Was the First GT Car?
The 1930 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Gran Turismo. In 1929, Alfa Romeo introduced its updated 6C 1750 model with two different 1.75-liter engines. The less powerful, single-overhead-cam model was called Turismo, or Touring, and the more powerful, dual-overhead-cam models were named Sport: Super Sport, Super Sport Compressore (supercharged), and Super Sport Testa Fissa. For 1930, the Sport and Super Sport Compressore models were renamed Gran Turismo (or Grand Touring) and Gran Turismo Compressore, while the other models were dropped. A Gran Sport model was also introduced, leading to the less common but still used GS name.
An improvement over the two-year-old 6C 1500, the more powerful 1750 featured a frame designed to twist and bend on rough roads to improve both ride quality and traction. The year it was introduced, the 6C won every major racing event it entered. Each car wore custom bodywork from Europe’s finest coachbuilders, establishing the GT formula for decades to come.
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