CARS.COM — Short for “grand touring,” the GT’s roots stretch back at least to the middle of the last century, with the earliest examples coming from Europe. GT badges have been tacked onto a variety of vehicles over the years, making the designation one of the oldest and most thoroughly abused in the history of automobiledom.
What makes a grand touring car has always been loosely defined. But in its purest form, it has generally meant a fast, comfortable coupe or roadster large enough to accommodate a driver and passenger along with sufficient luggage room for a weekend jaunt. While early GT cars were meant to be an enjoyable drive, the emphasis was on refined high-speed cruising rather than all-out racetrack performance. To this day, automakers and car reviewers will characterize as a “touring car” anything that looks the part — be it in styling or specifications — but isn’t designed for top engine performance.
Cars like the 1951 Lancia Aurelia B20 GT embodied the definition of early Italian “gran turismo” cars, with smooth V-6 power, capable handling and a relatively quiet, well-appointed cabin for racking up the miles. Other Italian automakers, including Ferrari and Alfa Romeo, produced GT versions of an assortment of models, along with European and British marques from MG to Bentley.
But it was the American carmakers that took the ball and ran with it, often deep into the weeds — some so-called GT cars were barely suited for touring of any kind. Ford was one of the first domestic automakers to adopt the GT designation with the first-generation Mustang in 1965. Offered only with a high-performance V-8, the GT car also got an upgraded suspension, special wheels, dual exhausts and distinctive side stripes.
The runaway success of the Mustang helped lead the way for GT variants of virtually any type of vehicle from all major automakers, some distinguished from lesser models only by stripes, badging and precious little else. And in truly American fashion, even a GT version of the Ford Ranchero pickup truck found its way into showrooms, along with at least one minivan, the Dodge Grand Caravan GT.
As much as anything, the current definition all depends on what makes one’s touring grand. For some, that means rear-seat entertainment — even if that’s not exactly what Lancia had in mind.