Friday, April 3, 2009

Muscle Cars.

Born in 1951, I have great memories of "muscle cars" of the 60's to the 70's. Detroit turned out these awesome machines. Simple vehicles, engines that moved that steel down the two-lane blacktop roads of the upper midwest in a hurry, and lines that made the hearts of most young menman beat a little faster.

There was that line of Pontiac models that were awesome. The GTO made us stop and look as it went rumbling by. Chrysler had the Roadrunner and the Charger and the Fury and the Barracuda...those and others were powered by Hemi engines. Chevy had the Chevelle Mailbu SS 396 and the earlier Chevy Nova and the Camaro. Ford had the Mustang. Pontiac made sure the basic lines, from model to model, were present. Designers at Chrysler talked about their "Pepsi bottle" styling. Narrow lines near the front of the car, and then things suddenly widening out over the rear wheels.

For some of us cars are a part of the storyline of our lives. I can tell you where I was when I saw my first Camaro. It was a Sunday morning, in Walkerton, and I had just walked out of church. Can't remember for the life of me what the preacher said that morning, but I remember walking around the Camaro. Comparing its lines to the look of already-released Ford Mustang.

Pretty girls made my heart beat a little faster, but my jaw dropped when I saw my first Ford Mustang 2+2 Fastback. It was a sort of pearl blue. With interior lighting, white bucket seats (or where they blue?), and a state-of-the-art 4 (or was it 8?) track tape player stereo system. The car was sitting in the gravel parking lot behind the old John Glenn High School. I stood there studying that car, which was owned by a kid from Argos, and I knew immediately what the Bible is talking about when it says "thou shalt not covet...your neighbor's Mustang."

My first kiss was in a car. I first heard Linda Ronstadt sing "Different Drum" over the car stereo.

Detroit has been in the news, lately, and it has been pretty painful to hear about. Rolling Stone had a recent article that described Detroit as a city that needs rebirth...or it will continue to decline into an urban relic. GM and Chrysler have been in the news as the government tries to figure out what the next step should be...if either of these great companies is to survive. Ford seems to be doing okay...but they have come perilously close to financial ruin over the last several years.

I don't know what the answer is, but I believe our country needs a healthy auto industry. Where state of the art vehicles are built in our factories by our people. That doesn't mean there isn't a place for great companies like Nissan and Toyota and Honda and Mercedes and Hyndai. I know what some economists say about America moving beyond a manufacturing-based economy, but I still am convinced we need good people, working hard, making a good wage, building cars (and refrigerators and furnaces and air conditioners and orthopedic equipment and steel and aircraft) in America.

Detroit has made some terrible decisions over the years. As the ads from GM, Ford and Chrysler kept encouraging folks to buy trucks and SUV's these last few years, and as foreign manufacturers offered more and more in the way of well-designed, well-built sedans, I shook my head in dismay. Some executives have been overpaid for their ineffective leadership, and some folks on the line haven't been willing to adapt quickly enough.

And yet I some segments of our country sort of enjoy kicking Detroit. People sneer about people being paid $70,000 a year to tighten bolts, but I hear the truth is otherwise. For example, much of the cost of an American car goes to health care costs -while the health care costs for employees in Japan are covered by the government. The actual pay for a line worker at GM is, I read, just slightly below the compensation paid a similar worker at Toyota.

My paternal grandparents worked for GM in Anderson, Indiana. The UAW and GM helped that part of our family join the American middle class. Working people could own their own homes, take vacations, send their kids to college, and retire in dignity: not a bad goal for a nation that aspires to greatness and justice and opportunity, I'd say.

I don't understand all of this. I know I worry about a country without GM or without Chrysler. I worry about communities without those kinds of jobs. I worry about families dealing with the loss of jobs, and I worry about -pray for- cities like Flint, Detroit, Kokomo, Anderson, Toledo, and others. And I feel a twinge of guilt about the fact that my wife and I drive a Nissan product, a Mazda product, and use an old Dodge van as a "winter beater." Next time I buy a car I am going to look long and hard at some of those great new products beng turned out by Chrysler, GM and Ford.

I love cars. I've always loved cars. They still make my heart beat a little faster. There is a kind of magic that happens when you sit in the driver's seat, put the key in the ignition, turn the key to the right and feel the engine come alive. And, like favorite songs from long ago, the beauty of cars like the Chevelle SS-396 and the Mustang and the Pontiac GTO and the top-of-the-line Olds Cutlass haunt my dreams.


revcat said...
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revcat said...
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revcat said...

You sound like my Steve. We do need strong car companies in America. France is struggling too in that sector and others. For the life of me I can't understand why we would build things like the Hummer. What I hope we learn from this recession is that smaller is not bad and I hope we really realize how blessed we are and enjoy what we have instead of always wanting more and more and more. Greed and this constant dissatisfaction with what we have, heavily fueled by marketing media got us to where we are.