Story and photos by Bob Weber
It was 1962, and fresh from a stint as a copywriter for Corvette advertising, David E. Davis Jr. was entrusted with the reins of an auto enthusiast magazine yet to find its niche, or voice: Car and Driver. Improbable to consider now in 2009, but at the time, the magazines that regularly stole a march on the ‘buff’ books were titles like Esquire and Sports Illustrated. Davis, in his new role, set-out to change the order of things and firmly place Car and Driver on the map.
In 1964, Jim Wangers of Pontiac’s advertising agency in Detroit, offered to deliver a then-new Pontiac GTO to a race track of Davis’ choice and go head-to-head in a confrontation with Ferrari’s 250GTO, the car from which the Pontiac has pilfered its name. Davis elected to make it a cover story in the March 1964 issue. The story became part of automotive lore over the years, and it was, as Davis explains “the hook on which we hung a magazine”. The story was significant not only in its audacity to pit a revered, race-proven thoroughbred against a relatively pedestrian production special, but by performance figures, the Pontiac won. The opening to the 1964 feature read: ‘Ferrari never built enough GTOs to earn the name anyway—just to be on the safe side though, Pontiac built a faster one’. It was automotive heresy of the highest order, and shouts of ‘Foul!’ were heard as passionate enthusiasts railed at the notion of a Pontiac besting a Ferrari….there were rumors of the Pontiac not being quite ‘kosher’.
Davis, in his 2nd pass as Editor/Publisher of Car and Driver, reprised the story 20 years later in the April 1984 issue with yet another cover story appropriately entitled ‘GTO vs. GTO’. This time, David enlisted dear friend and Presidential candidate, Dan Gurney, to assist in the assessment and serve as referee. The time, the score seemed settled as the Ferrari handily won by all measures. Again, cries of ‘Foul!’ surfaced from Pontiac enthusiasts as they contended that the 80,000 mile Pontiac was tired and worn, and should easily have handled the GTO….not to mention that the prodigious torque could not be harnessed, resulting in 2nd gear standing starts.
With both sides brooding, and Car and Driver’s parting line of the 1984 feature reading: ‘We may bounce back in 2004 with Nelson Piquet and a NASA-grade laser tracking system to declare the Pontiac GTO the one true victor’, the score was never truly settled.
Five years late by Car and Driver’s forecast, the good folks at Virginia’s largest winery, The Williamsburg Winery, have stepped into the fray 45 years hence with an offer to ‘settle it once and for all’. To better understand the Winery’s reasoning for playing this role, you only need know that Patrick Duffeler, the Winery’s proprietor, played an instrumental role in Philip Morris/Marlboro’s position in Formula 1 dating to the early 1970’s and the formation of the Marlboro World Championship Team. A lifelong enthusiast and successful entrepreneur, Patrick offered the grounds and services in May 2009 for the inaugural Ferraris on the Vine event, congregating 25 Ferraris for a weekend of cars, food, wine, fun and camaraderie. Emboldened by the success of this first tentative probe, the Winery has set May 1st and 2nd, 2010 as the dates for Ferraris on the Vine 2010.
Serving as Grand Marshall for the 2010 Ferraris on the Vine is none other than the iconic David E. Davis, Jr.- Time magazine’s ‘Dean of automotive journalists’. With Davis’ agreement to be part of the event, the stage was set, and thus the theme for this year: ‘Let’s Settle It Once and For All: GTO vs. GTO’. All that was needed were the combatants.
It was quickly discovered (much like the Car and Driver staff discovered in 1964, btw) that 250 GTO owners are somewhat reluctant to participate in these events. Into the void steps Tefft Smith and his 250 GTO. Tefft is the owner of what is considered in American muscle car circles, a ‘tribute’ car. Apart from the VIN plate, the car is visually, mechanically, and functionally a 250 GTO and indistinguishable from a factory, serial numbered car. The significant difference is that Tefft enjoys driving his car. The Tefft Smith 250 GTO is poised in one corner of the ‘ring’ for Ferraris on the Vine 2010.
The event organizers now turned their attention to securing a 1964 Pontiac GTO. Not only was a 1964 GTO found, but they have uncovered the very Pontiac GTO that was prepared by Pontiac and its dealer, Royal Pontiac, for the 1964 Car and Driver feature! The car’s history is amazing and well documented over the years prior to Tenney Fairchild taking ownership and undertaking a painstaking restoration to the configuration it was delivered to Car and Driver for the test at Daytona in 1964. It is a time capsule and, arguably, one of the most significant ‘muscle cars’. Tenney and his Pontiac GTO stand anxiously in the opposing corner. May the best GTO win!
Ferraris on the Vine 2010 will be a weekend-long event, offering a driving tour for participants, a gala Saturday evening dinner with David E. Davis, Jr. commanding the podium and put on the spot to defend himself and the 1964 feature, a vehicle display in Colonial Williamsburg, a Friday evening Board Room welcoming dinner and wine tasting, Sunday vehicle judging, brunch, and awards presentation, and Saturday afternoon ‘demonstration’ runs…where the controversy might be ‘settled once and for all’.
Those interested in attending, participating, or simply being part of a remarkable automotive weekend should email the Winery ([email protected]) or simply call (757-229-0999 ext.170). It promises to be an unforgettable weekend.
For more information, visit ferrarisonthevine.com.
[Source: Ferrari on the Vine]