If you know anything about cars, then you’ll be familiar with various badges that adorn cars and denote the particular “variant” of any given vehicle.
For example, the Honda Civic comes in an array of variants, with the most desirable being the “Type R”
Another common badge/variant that we see on vehicles is GTI (read our article here on what GTI means when it comes to cars).
One of the most legendary – and most common – “variant badges” is GT.
But what does GT stand for when it comes to cars?
In this edition of Car Facts we take a look at the meaning of GT in the automotive industry.
Table of Contents
What Does GT Mean?
GT stands for Grand Tourer.
Sometimes, it refers to Grand Touring as well.
These days, Grand Tourer/GT tends to refer to higher-performing, better-equipped and specified versions of existing vehicles OR as a way of denoting a brand’s premium vehicle.
However, Grand Tourer as a term has a specific origin, and there is a very particular type of car that truly fits the bill – let’s explore that further.
Where Does The Term Grand Tourer/GT Come From?
The first thing to understand is that Grand Tourer/GT comes from the Italian Gran Turismo (yes, that’s the same Gran Turismo that we all know from the Playstation game series).
Gran Turismo as a term came to refer to a generation of cars that were designed and built for long-distance, high-speed cruising in luxury and comfort but which could also step up to the plate and be credible sports cars when the road became twistier and more challenging.
The idea of a Grand Tourer was a vehicle that combined speed, handling, relative practicality and luxury into one desirable and exciting package.
Let’s say you wanted to head down to the French Riviera from Paris, as a well-heeled individual in the 1960s.
While you could do so in a conventional supercar or sportscar from the likes of Ferrari or Lamborghini, to do so would involve a number of compromises. Track/racing-focused supercars and lightweight sports cars can become tiring to drive in a short space of time (especially if you are driving at high speeds over long distances). Furthermore, many supercars and lightweight sports cars have little in the way of creature comforts and storage space.
With a Grand Tourer, you get to enjoy luxury and comfort as you cruise the motorways at high speed. There is room for you and a companion (possibly even more if you have a 2+2 seater) as well as your luggage.
When the roads become twisty and winding, your Grand Tourer still has the chops to handle well and provide a thrilling, driver-focused experience.
For doing this kind of grand tour, a Grand Touring/GT car makes perfect sense – hence the development of the term.
The “golden age” of Grand Tourers was in the mid 20th Century (particularly the 1950s and 1960s).
In this era, we saw a number of now legendary GT cars, such as the Aston Martin DB5, Ferrari 250 GTO and Maserati 3500GT.
How GT Cars Differ From Other Sports Cars
As we alluded to above, Grand Tourers differ from other types of sports cars, especially lightweight track-focused cars and supercars.
With a Grand Tourer/GT car, there is meant to be a focus on balance.
A supercar is designed for outright performance, with considerations like luxury and comfort taking the back seat so to speak.
On the other hand, a Grand Tourer/GT car is meant to be able to allow its driver and passenger(s) to cover long distances with ease, in comfort and luxury, and also have enough practicality to allow for longer trips and journeys. Furthermore, a Grand Tourer needs to be able to ‘dial in the thrills’ when the road becomes more accommodating to sport driving.
A great example of a “modern GT” car is the Mitsubishi GTO/3000GT (read our buyer’s guide for this car here).
The GTO/3000GT features 2 + 2 seating, with excellent comfort for the driver and front seat passenger. Compared to other vehicles of the era like Mazda’s RX7, there is far greater practicality on offer.
You also get a powerful engine, and excellent handling and grip thanks to the car’s all wheel drive system.
In our view, GT cars such as the 3000GT/GTO are often a bit misunderstood. The 3000GT/GTO has not fared as well as some other vehicles from Japan’s golden era of performance motoring in the 1990s and early 2000s. This is because the Mitsubishi is heavier, slower (at least around a track) and bulkier than competitors such as Nissan’s GTRs of the time or the Honda NSX.
However, the 3000GT was not designed to be a track monster or “everyday supercar”. It was built to be a Japanese take on the GT category, providing comfort, speed and excitement in equal measure. When considered on this basis, the Mitsubishi rates more favorably.
GT Cars That Aren’t Grand Tourers
One thing to note is that manufacturers often use the term GT/Grand Tourer to simply denote better performing and/or more luxurious variants of existing cars.
A good example of this is Subaru with their ever-popular “Legacy” (“Liberty” for you Australian readers).
The Legacy GT is definitely not a Grand Tourer in the same vein as what we described above.
However, it was the high-performance, more luxurious variant of the ever-dependable and oh-so-practical regular Legacy (especially the station wagon variant).
In some respects, you could argue that a Legacy GT does fulfil many of the same criteria as a conventional GT car; it is practical, comfortable and capable of excellent handling and straight line speed.
Other manufacturers use the GT badge or variations to achieve the same effect. On some cars, the GT term may simply refer to visual upgrades and not performance upgrades (e.g. leather seats, some faux carbon fibre and sportier interior trim).
Conclusion – What Does GT Stand For?
To recap, the GT Badge stands for “Grand Tourer” (or sometimes “Grand Touring”).
Originally, this was intended to refer to specific grand touring vehicles. These were high performance sports cars – generally coupes with 2 + 2 seating – that sought to balance luxury and comfort with long distance drivability and road-holding and handling.
Over time, GT has often come to refer to any high performance variant of a vehicle.
There are vehicles produced that don’t meet the conventional/historical definition of a Grand Tourer, but still proudly wear the GT badge for being the best performing (and often most luxurious) variants of any particular vehicle.