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What Does GT Stand For in Cars?

By Autolist Staff | October 30, 2018

GT stands for Grand Touring, a style of comfortable sports car and in some cases a type of trim level. GT cars mix sportiness and luxury, letting you glide through lengthy road trips in comfort and style. GT cars are typically capable of high speeds and consistently high performance over long distances. A front engine two-door coupe with rear wheel drive and a two-seat or a 2+2 arrangement is the most common format.

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?

GT cars are usually powerful coupes that can hold two or sometimes four people and carry their luggage at the same time. They're often built by luxury automakers and promise high performance. The car's engine should be able to cruise at high speed over a variety of road types and terrain and in a variety of climates and settings. The cabin should have ample leg, arm and head room as well as sufficient space for luggage. The suspension and chassis must deliver respectable roadholding and handling on different types of routes during travel.

The entire car's emphasis should be geared toward the driver's comfort and handling at high speeds over long distances.

Early Examples of GT Cars

GT cars are the love child of hard-core track or race cars and luxury coupes. Early GT cars possessed 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 a small gran turismo, with a small-displacement engine, bespoke coachwork and a streamlined silhouette. Later examples, all Italian, included:

  • 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 performance 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 in the early part of the 20th century and it was considered by some to be the most important on the calendar of Italian racing events. The Mille Miglia took place on open roads and the race format forced manufacturers to tweak and strengthen the design of nearly every component.

Subsequent design tweaks in the powertrain, electronics, chassis 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 Touring Homologation; 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 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.

What GT road cars are you likely to actually see on the streets in your neighborhood? Here are some examples:

  • Jaguar XJS
  • Lexus LC
  • Toyota 2000GT
  • Mazda Cosmo
  • Bentley Continental GT
  • BMW 650i
  • Audi A5
  • Maserati GranTurismo
  • Dodge Challenger

The above list demonstrates that although GT implies luxury, not all GT cars are luxury vehicles and there is often a wide variety in how automakers perceive GT model.