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What Does GT Stand For in Cars?

By Melissa Spicer | November 27, 2021

The letters “GT” stand for “Grand Touring,” or as the Italians say “Gran Tourismo,” which is a car trim level. GT cars mix sportiness and luxury, letting you glide through lengthy road trips, or grand tours, in comfort and style. GT cars are typically capable of high speeds and consistently high performance over long distances.

GT lovers appreciate touring cars with big engines that handle like a luxury car most of the time but can be called on for sportier handling when the occasion calls for it. Elegant body styles and luxurious (sometimes, posh) interiors are hallmarks of GT trim packages.

The Origins of Grand Touring

Grand Touring comes from the Italian phrase "Gran Turismo," a car concept born in Italy in the early 20th century. The Lancia Aurelia B20 GT is considered the first official example of a GT car, although previous Italian cars bore the same GT distinction. Italian GT cars were linked directly to certain legends of the Italian automotive industry, including Enzo Ferrari, which gave the GT ideal greater cultural momentum and commercial appeal.

What Are the Ideal Capabilities of a GT Car?

Comfort and handling, that's what GTs are all about. A GT car's engine should be able to cruise at high speed over diverse roads and terrain on different continents. The seating should accommodate at least two people comfortably, have ample leg, arm and headroom as well as sufficient space for luggage, sometimes with room to spare. The suspension and chassis must deliver respectable road holding and handling on different types of routes during travel.

Early Examples of GT Cars

GT cars are the love children of race cars and luxury cars. Early GT cars possess characteristics similar to both types of vehicles and date back to the 1930s. The 1929 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 GT was the first to be named Gran Turismo. Thanks to a dual-sport/race chassis, the 1929 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 GT offered driver-friendly handling and performance at high speeds.

In 1935, the Fiat 508 Balilla S Berlinetta appeared. The Berlinetta was an aerodynamic version of the Fiat 508 Balilla touring chassis. It was an artisanal, small gran Turismo, with a small displacement engine, bespoke coachwork and a streamlined silhouette. Later examples, all Italian:

  • 1947 Cisitalia 202 SC
  • 1947 Maserati A6 1500
  • 1949 Ferrari 166 Inter
  • 1951 Ferrari 212 Export
  • 1951 Lancia Aurelia B20 GT

The Evolution of GT in Italy

All GT cars are race cars at heart, and specialized GT racing remains popular to this day. In Italy, the evolution of GT car design concepts reflected influences from historic car races and events, especially the Mille Miglia. The Mille Miglia was a thousand-mile race and the most important on the calendar of Italian racing events. The Mille Miglia took place on open roads, the same roads that tourists used when touring Italy. This long-distance, open-road race forced manufacturers to tweak and strengthen the design of nearly every auto component.

Subsequent design tweaks in lighting, electrical, transmission , clutch and brakes found their way into GT car designs. Elsewhere in Europe, GT-style cars, such as sports coupes by Alfa Romeo and BMW, excelled at endurance races, performing exquisitely at speeds over 100 mph. Each subsequent win by a GT car spurred design innovations that eventually became central to GT car design concepts.

Other GT Classifications

GT+ is a blanket phrase that encompasses Gran Turismo Omologato (GTO), Italian for Grand TouringHomologation; and GTS*, which stands for either:

  • GT Sport
  • GT Spider
  • GT Special

GTO is a GT racing car certified to meet specifications for an automobile class qualified to compete in certain races. GTS models are not quite as standardized. They are unique trim levels that differ between automakers, with each trim denoting a different collection of performance, comfort, and safety features. GTX and GTI are similar, non-standard trim levels. You may also see "Touring," a trim level that shares many characteristics with GT.

Modern Examples of GT Cars

Modern examples of GT cars fall into two main categories: Road cars and race cars. Understandably, some of the automakers on the list manufacture both road and race cars, often blurring the boundaries between them. Maserati Gran Turismo S, Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano, BMW M635 CSI, and the Lamborghini Espada are all textbook examples of more modern GT road cars.

Lamborghini, Ferrari, and BMW manufacture GT race cars as well, frequently entering them in the races like the Pirelli World Challenge, an annual GT3 racing championship in North America.

  • Dodge Stealth
  • Jaguar XJS
  • Lexus LC
  • Toyota 2000GT
  • Saab SVX
  • Mazda Cosmo
  • Nissan 300 ZX

The above list demonstrates that although GT implies luxury, not all GT cars are luxury vehicles.

One popular modern car available with a GT trim package is the 2022 Dodge Charger. The Charger for 2022 is available in a host of different trim packages, including a basic GT and a GT AWD. Rear-wheel-drive versions of the Charger GT are available with a Pentastar V6 beneath the hood to deliver 264-lb-ft. of torque and 300 horses. The Charger GT is comfortable enough for a trip across the country but sporty enough to quench drivers' need for speed.

For the more refined driver, there's also the new Bentley Continental GT, a "redefined Grand Tourer," according to its maker. Boasting a powerful V8 beneath the hood, this 2022 Continental comes in both a coupe and a convertible edition.

Ford Mustang GT

When discussing the Mustang GT, the abbreviation “GT” can tell you a lot about the car in question. GT references a popular trim package and car model as well as tells you in no uncertain terms the engine with which the Stang is equipped.

So, if you see a GT badge on the rear of a Mustang, you don’t have to guess what motor lies under the hood—it’s a V8. If you see the iconic wild galloping horse logo (or the cobra) on the rear-end badge and not the letters “GT,” then the motor is not a V8 engine (but is a V6 or a 4-cylinder turbocharged Ecoboost setup). GT is a denotation of Ford Mustang’s most powerful engine configuration, and GT models tend to be the priciest of all Mustangs, save the Shelby.

GT in Pop Culture

"The Grand Tour" is a popular Amazon Original British television series that showcases the features of flashy, fast GT cars and race cars. The show's title and its British hosts call the historical Grand Tour to mind. In the 17th and 18th centuries, rich, young Britons toured Europe as a rite of passage, calling it the Grand Tour.

In the age before flashy sports cars, young men and women of means completed this tour via a series of coaches and carriages. In the 20th century, cars became the dominant form of personal transportation, essentially a horseless carriage. There is no definitive proof that Italians borrowed the phrase from the British tradition, but it stands to reason.

The common GT car format, a coupe, also references its horse-and-coach past. Coupe is a French word referring to a type of horse-drawn carriage without rear-facing seats. Early coupe car designs adhered to similar concepts of the horse-drawn coupe.

Similarly, the old emphasis on luxury, comfort, and superior handling so prized in elegant carriages, horses and drivers survived as well. Today's GT cars, like 18th-century carriages and their horsepower, adhere to standards that make for a smooth ride, pleasant accommodations, and maximum control on the part of the driver and passenger.