The European Touring Car Challenge, as it was originally known, was started in 1963 by Willy Stenger, who created the series at the behest of the FIA. Cars competed under FIA Group 2 Improved Touring Car regulations which allowed a variety of touring cars of different sizes and engine displacements to race together, from the small Fiat 600 and Mini to the large Jaguar Mark 2 and Mercedes-Benz 300SE
In 1968, the regulations were changed to allow Group 5 cars to participate, however these highly modified Special Touring Cars would only be eligible for two years. In 1970 the series name was changed from European Touring Car Challenge to European Touring Car Championship. Group 2 again became the principle category  although Group 2 regulations were now much more liberal in nature than the old Group 2.
Following the 1973 oil crisis the next two seasons had few entrants. It was only in 1977 that the situation was normalised with the return of factory teams. Rules allowed Group 2 and Group 1B "National" cars to compete together, with BMW 3.0 Coupé CSL and Capri RS remaining the most competitive entries.
The championship was cancelled after the end of the 1988 season, due to escalating costs (a one-off World Touring Car Championship in 1987 also exarcebated the problem). By then, the FIA had allowed "Evolution" models to be homologated, and it was special cars such as the BMW M3 Evo and Ford Sierra RS500 that dominated the grids.
The Macau Grand Prix's Guia Race, the Spa 24 Hours and the 24 Hours Nürburgring were the only international touring car races during those years. With the success and popularity of Supertouring in many national championships, the FIA organised the one-round Super Touring World Cup for these cars, between 1993 and 1995. In 1996, the FIA promoted the DTM, which already had races outside Germany in its calendar, to International Touringcar Championship (ITC), but once more escalating costs ended the series after two seasons.
In 2000, the Italian Superturismo Championship was promoted to the European Super Touring Cup. In 2001, this series became the FIA European Super Touring Championship, with an extra class for Super Production cars alongside the main Super Touring class. In 2002, this evolved into the brand new FIA European Touring Car Championship, using Super 2000 rules, dominated by Alfa Romeo and BMW, but popular with the public due to the intense competition and Eurosport live broadcasts. In 2005, the ETCC was promoted to World Touring Car Championship (WTCC).
The European Touring Car title was given from 2005 until 2009 to a once a year European Touring Car Cup, with the best representatives from national championships running to Super 2000, Super Production and Super 1600 regulations in the Baltic States, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Russia, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Starting in 2010 the ETCC will once again become a multi event racing series. Four events of two races each are set to be held in Portugal, Italy, Austria and Germany at respectively the Circuito Vasco Sameiro in Braga, the Autodromo Bonara in Franciacorta, the Salzburgring in Salzburg and the Motorsport Arena Oschersleben in Oschersleben. However, on 25 Mar 2010, fiawtcc.com reported that the event in Germany was cancelled to avoid clashes with the German touring car series.