Since I was a boy I have had a fascination with cars. I made them with my Legos. We’d set four folding chairs in the yard and imagine we were on road trips. My neighborhood buddy and I sketched countless pictures of them. Always set in action, with smoking rear wheels, quarter panels repleat with flames and pipes and vents and the requisite jack job on the back with over sized rear wheels.
…and always decidedly American.
When I was a kid, imports were “Jap Crap.”
It didn’t matter that my Dad’s brand new company car, a then downsized 1981 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme was a gutless piece of crap with a V6 that was as smooth and as powerful as a coffee grinder and paint that came from the factory looking like it had already baked in the sun for a few years.
No one considered the Japanese playas yet.
My first car was a used 1973 Ford Pinto Squire Wagon, with yes, you guessed it, the woody decals and plastic “wood” trim down the flanks. $1,100; borrowed from the bank. What a piece of shit that car was…but it was mine all mine.
Lucky for me, girls didn’t seem to care if your car was cool. It was enough that you had one.
It blew a timing belt one day and fortune found me again. Ford engines of the time had so much clearance that the pistons didn’t smash the valves. A few hundred dollars later and I was put-putting down the road in four-cylinder bliss.
Next, I had a 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, a 305 V8 with a two-barrel carburetor that I inherited from my grandmother when she died. Deep Maroon, a matching crushed velour interior and a white vinyl “Landau” roof.
One day someone busted one of the opera windows to open the door and steal a radar detector I forgot to conceal when I parked it one night. I couldn’t afford to replace the glass, and my girlfriend, now my wife, thought it was cute how I always had a little pile of snow on my back seat.
It actually was a pretty cool car…until the transmission gave out at 70,000 miles. My brother took it off my hands, fixed it, and ran it in the Olmsted County enduro races. I think he might have even won something with it.
In the mean time my dad lent me his 1981 Chevrolet Caprice Diesel Wagon. I don’t know which was worse – that it was a wagon, or that it was a GM diesel. Oh, and did I forget to mention, it also had the cheesy “woody” decals.
As it turns out, after yet another GM tranny rebuild, it was the fact that it was a GM diesel that led to our sad parting. One winter morning it blew a head gasket, as they often did. I couldn’t afford to fix that either and my fiance, now my wife, didn’t think it was so cute to drive a car with no heat. G’bye (to the car of course).
Next in line was a 1985 Buick regal with what must have been the same V6 that was in my Father’s Oldsmobile. That was as pretty cool car until it also blew it’s tranny at about 70,000 clicks. I sold it to my brother (the same) he fixed it and drove it for a few more years.
At that point, I was done with American cars. Every car hence was sometimes German, mostly Japanese, and I had nary a problem. I put 66,000 miles on a new 1992 Honda Accord in three years and it wanted only for regular oil changes and a new set of tires.
But I always rooted for the Americans to vie for my attention, to return to glory, even if those heady days were well before I had the means or the license to drive. It was and is a matter of pride.
My first venture back was a brand new 1997 Ford Explorer XLT with the 5.0L V8 and All-Wheel-Drive; Metallic Cherry Red with a Tan Leather Interior. That truck rocked until we could no longer jam three baby sets abreast in the diminutive rear bench seat. Oh and until the left rear suspension started to sag around 55,000 miles. CarSoup. G’bye.
We didn’t give up – and were rewarded.
We’ve had two Chevy Suburbans, and both were (and are) great examples of what the Big Three can do when they put their best minds to it. A 2006 Chrysler 300C still remains my all-time favorite car and I was disappointed a month ago when they wouldn’t lease me another as the crisis hit home at lease end.
So it is with no great pleasure that I dispense my vitriol of late for the predicament that Big Three executives and the UAW have brought upon themselves, just as there seemed to be hope.
The Chevy Malibu, Cadillac CTS, Saturn Aura, Chrysler 300, Ford Taurus, Buick Lucerne, and even the Chevy Cobalt are but a few examples that the Americans can make pretty good cars.
I hope that Congress can find a way to preserve at least one or two of The Big Three without taking us all down with them.
And I don’t think unions are intrinsically bad either; they have served their purpose in history, but now, they have become too big and too powerful; undeniably existing for only their own sake. The Big Three talking heads have been equally culpable and complicent in the union’s gutting of the industry. Now, both will have to pay dearly for their sins.
Both must go.
It’s a matter of survival; and pride.
I can’t imagine an America without Chevy pickups and Corvettes; big resonating Cadillacs, Mustang GT convertibles and the indomitable Hemi.