He’s known as the “Godfather of Pro-Touring,” and is responsible for building some of the most memorable Pro-Touring cars ever to grace the road, but Mark Stielow says he didn’t intend to start an industry movement back in the early 1990s; he was simply tinkering around his garage with his friends and “scheming and dreaming” about cool things to do to Camaros.
“I was just trying to build cars that I could drive on the road and run on the racetrack,” Stielow says. “I never really thought it would turn into anything. We were building these cars for a while before we gave them the name ‘Pro-Touring.’ I think it’s incredible where the Pro-Touring movement has gone in the years since then.”
Today, Stielow is still working as an engineer and group manager at General Motors. (“I think it’s the dream job of any car guy!” Stielow says of his gig.) In his spare time, he continues to build cars out of his garage.
We sat down with Stielow to talk about his role in kick-starting the Pro-Touring movement, his love for the Camaro, and all the cool stuff he gets to see and do at his job with GM.
GG: How did you settle on the name “Pro-Touring” for the type of cars you, and your friends were creating back in the 1990s?
Mark Stielow: Back when it was still a ‘yet unnamed phenomena,’ Chevy High Performance Editor Jeff Smith told me that we needed to name [the movement]. I looked through different names, and at the time the Power Tour had become really popular, and you had the whole Pro-Street movement going on. So I put the “Pro” from the Pro-Street movement, and the “Tour” from the Power Tour together and you got Pro-Touring!
GG: Do you regret not copyrighting that phrase?
Mark Stielow: No. I never trademarked it, and so many people use it now, but I think that’s cool. I’m OK with that. It’s helped define a genre of cars.
GG: You and Kyle Tucker built some really crazy stuff back in the early 1990s. Looking back, how important was that time period to you?
Mark Stielow: I learned a ton during that time period, and I think it formed the way I manage projects today, and how I build and design cars now. Kyle and I were both involved in FSAE [Formula Society of Automotive Engineers], and at the school we went to there were five guys for every one girl on campus, so there was no reason to try to go out. We just spent our free time building car parts. Instead of being in a college frat, our social life was going to the lab and building and designing car parts.
GG: What’s something that people would be surprised to learn about you?
Mark Stielow: People probably wouldn’t guess that I only own one car at a time. I think people are under the impression that I have this big collection of cars, but if you come to my house, you’d see that I only have one car and one hot rod at a time. I like to focus on one thing and get it done correctly. I’m building a ’69 Camaro right now, and I currently drive a Suburban. I’m a GM manager, so I get assigned a new vehicle every six months.
GG: Speaking of your job at GM, what’s your favorite thing about what you do there?
Mark Stielow: I love everything about working at GM! I always know what’s coming in the future, and I love that I’m involved in the next generation of cars and trucks. If I’m having a bad day at work, I’ll wander through the garage and look at the 2020 Corvette. I like to be on the cutting edge of technology, and I enjoy working in a space where I’m able to influence future cars. You can get bogged down by boring work details, but at the end of the day, I have a really cool job.
GG: You were in charge of the 2014 Camaro Z/28 relaunch. Were you surprised at how well that car sold when it was released?
Mark Stielow: Sometimes you bring out the right product at the right time, and that was one of those cars. It got a lot more magazine exposure than I thought it would, and I think it was a unique car that will become a collector car in the future. It was a great opportunity for me, [as the manager for that car], because we didn’t have a lot of limits. We could push things with the tires and suspension and stuff. It was a fun team to be involved with, and I feel good that I helped write a small chapter in the history of the Camaro.
GG: What draws you to vintage Camaros?
Mark Stielow: It’s the right size of car. Chevelles are a bit too big, in my opinion, and Novas and Corvettes are a little small. Camaros are just the right size, and they are approachable for everyone. It’s an “every man” car, and I grew up around them—many people say dad had one, my brother had one, so I was drawn to them.
GG: If you could chat with anyone from history, who would you choose?
Mark Stielow: I’d like to talk to Thomas Edison. I think he’d be a fascinating guy to meet, and I’d love to try to understand his creative process. I’d like to know how he managed to do all of the things that he did during a time where so many amazing things were happening.
GG: What’s your opinion of today’s Pro-Touring cars compared to the ones from the early years?
Mark Stielow: I see a lot of cars being built now that I’d call “faux-touring.” They have the wheels and other stuff but they don’t really have all the hardware behind it. You have other people who are a bit over the top, and the Pro-Touring cars are starting to lean more toward being full-on race cars, rather than cars you would want to drive cross-country. I’ve always tried to strike a balance [when building cars]. I want to be able to take my wife out in it for a date, but also take it to a race track and go hard in it. I have always like cars with that bi-motive personality.
GG: How often do you get out to the track these days?
Mark Stielow: Right now I run the GM Driver Training Program, so anyone who ends up needing to do limit track driving for GM at an official capacity, I’m the guy who does their final training. A friend once told me that to teach is to learn again, and it’s so true. I’m training people but I’m learning myself, and continuing to evolve. Some of these young guys are really fast, and it keeps me on my game!
GG: If you’re not working, building cars or on the track, where would we find you?
Mark Stielow: If I’m not working on my cars, I’m probably out organizing my shop and doing house maintenance. I’m kind of boring! I like to go out to my garage and putter around, and do things like organizing my bolts! I know it sounds weird, but I have a stressful job and it’s nice to go out sometimes and do something mindless to relax.
GG: What’s your ultimate dream car?
Mark Stielow: It’s constantly changing! I usually build my dream car, and then something happens and I want to build something else, so I sell that ‘dream car’ to build my next one. That’s usually my pattern.