Kinda looks like the great-granddaddy...
Kinda looks like the great-granddaddy of the Caterham 7 next to it, doesn't it?
We once saw a post on a message board that asked what was the first true pro-touring car. The responses ranged across the board from relatively recent builds to ones that had been built decades prior, and of course quickly devolved into argument. The problem is the slippery slope of how to define what a pro-touring, g-machine (or whatever you want to call them), car is.
We'll liken it to that fuzzy distinction that divides hot rods and street rods; it's damn near impossible to create a requisite modification or parts list, but we know it when we see it. Of course some would say that leaves nearly everything to aesthetics and parts choice, and in part that's absolutely true since that can divulge a great deal, but it does go a little beyond that. The only way to really nail it down is by intent and use. What we mean is, 'What does the builder or owner intend to do with the car?' Perhaps more importantly, 'What does the builder or owner actually do with the car?
Much like tech stories you'll...
Much like tech stories you'll find in PHR, Mechanix Illustrated showed what went into creating the cars and how you could make your own. Remember, this was still in the early days of the budding performance aftermarket when little to nothing was commercially available for building a car that could handle.
To really qualify as a pro-touring car, the car needs to be driven, and preferably often and hard. Of course that leaves quite a bit to interpretation as cross-country touring, racing, open track, or autocross don't necessarily appeal to everyone- and of course there's the old saying, 'Don't race it if you can't afford to replace it.' So maybe the whole idea needs to be broken down a little further. In general, we actually favor the sub-categories proposed a few years back by Ralph LoGrasso, Administrator over at Pro-Touring.com;
Pro-Touring: A classic or late-model car with upgraded and updated suspension components, brake system, drivetrain, aesthetics, and new car creature comforts built to function as well or better than some of today's best performance cars. Pro-Touring cars are built to be driven; driven on the street, on the race track, on the drag strip, through cones at an auto-cross, no matter the setting, pro-touring cars are meant to be driven.
g-Machine: A classic muscle car with upgraded and updated suspension, brakes, drive train and aesthetics, generally lacking some of the creature comforts one would find in a pro-touring car, such as cup-holders, leather seats, etc., otherwise identical to a pro-touring car.
Simple and purposeful, the...
Simple and purposeful, the interior wasn't luxury by any standards.
A classic muscle car with heavily modified and upgraded suspension and brake system components, powerful yet functional drivetrain, and little to no creature comforts. Most Street Fighters lack A/C, big billet wheels, chromed-out engine bays, and navigation systems, like might be found in a Pro-Touring car, but often sport forged wheels, a roll cage and fabricated parts. Anything not necessary to make the car accelerate, decelerate, or handle better is stripped from the vehicle. Street Fighters are Pro-Touring counter-culture at its most agressive; drivability is sacrificed for performance and function. In the simplest of fashions, Street Fighters can be equated to street legal race cars.
That still leaves the lines blurry enough to allow for individuality, but solid enough to make it easier to identify. Just think of it this way; what was the owner shooting for- a plush new Caddy, BMW M3, or a Boss 302R?
Though the heads were still...
Though the heads were still stock, the flattie Ford did have an unnamed aluminum intake with twin Ford carbs. The wiring, fuel system, and charging system have obviously been upgraded to more modern specs over the original plans.
As for the term 'Pro-Touring' itself, we'll assign credit to Mark Stielow and current Car Craft Tech Editor Jeff Smith who was heading up Chevy High Performance at the time for coining the term to define the emerging genre. Mark can also take credit for helping grow the new concept through his own projects such as the white '69 Camaro known as Tri-Tip that competed in the '93 One Lap of America. The Camaro was widely covered and really created a surge in interest, and of course once Jeff put the term in print, it stuck.
As for the earliest cars, a few people point to the relatively recent 200mph capable 'Big Red' '69 Camaro built by Dan and R.J. Gottlieb's and dubbed the "The Baddest Camaro Ever Built" by Car Craft back in 1988. Of course Big Red is little more than a full tube frame NASCAR style chassis that happens to have some '69 Camaro sheetmetal bolted to it, so perhaps it's more of a Street Fighter? But guys have been turning sub-par mass-produced factory cars into racers that looked stock-ish since the first competition between two cars. Are 60's Trans-Am muscle cars Street Fighters? We think not, but then again that's just our judgment.
So who really built the first pro-touring car? Something crafted to bring high-dollar sports car performance to old steel cobbled together by a hot rodder? We're not sure, and we doubt the argument will ever be settled, but we happened to run across one of the forefathers of the whole genre at a car show in Culver City, CA a while back.
Unfortunately, didn't catch the old gent's name who actually built the car, but the poster board tells the tale. A tech story in a 1952 issue of Mechanix Illustrated (we always though the 'x' thing was a modern invention) showed how to build a $500 sports car that could do over 100mph. Was it just a poor-man's hot rod or early kit car? It could have been since it was on '32-'40 Ford chassis, but stated the goal of all the cars in the BW Sports Car Club (named for its founder Bob Whitehead) was to create a vintage style hot rod that could hang with modern, much more expensive European fare both in acceleration, top speed, and handling. Sounds familiar doesn't it?