Jul 12 2017

Two Tons of Fun OR Old Iron

By: Phil LaMancusa

Okay eco-Nazis, before you start the funeral, before you lower that emission standard, before you nail that coffin of my Camaro, Comet, Cutlass, Corvette, and Cavalier, allow me to deliver a eulogy to the nobility of the corpse that you condemn to cancellation: the American car.

You’ve probably gotten word about “The Big Three” automakers, and, because their problems are of their own making, I have no sympathy for them and their own plight. And I feel rightly so.

In the spirit of historic perspective, I’ll re-inform you that once there were scores of car manufacturers with names like Duisenberg, Auburn, Studebaker, Hudson, Cord, Kaiser, Checker, and Nash: dinosaurs, all. Cars that are now made by big conglomerates (going belly-up) were once, as well, their own entities.

Two Tons of Fun OR Old Iron

Companies such as Buick, Oldsmobile, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and Oakland (Pontiac) became GM early on under the influences and resources of William C. Durant. Lincoln and Mercury became affiliates of Ford. Packard and Studebaker fell as a result of price wars in the late 50s. Tucker was a one-hit economic mugging. Chrysler swallowed Plymouth and Dodge. Nash and Hudson became American Motors, only themselves to be gathered into the Chrysler family in 1987. Kaiser (who had once owned Willys and Jeep) had been sold to Renault who later sold out to Chrysler who is now being bought by Opel who is being bought by Fiat or some such nonsense.

Two Tons of Fun OR Old Iron

With profits as motivation, competition is fierce for the almighty American automobile dollar. Historically, it’s a fuster cluck of dog fighting and bear baiting; a take-no-prisoners, show-no-mercy, greed-feed philosophy. The way small companies rose up only to fall prey—like little fish being eaten by the bigger (and bigger) fish—was brutal and barbaric, until only the Big Three remained, worm-eaten from the inside, termite shells of mismanaged and misdirected manufacturers of cars no one wants to buy.

Two Tons of Fun OR Old Iron

BUT, and this is a huge BUTT, in the day, in the space between dreams and disaster, these companies made some great, great cars. Cars that geezers call “old iron” are cars that can still leave me breathless when I see one cruising: Roadmaster, Bonneville, GTO, Gran Torino, Malibu, Fury, New Yorker, Bel Air, and the almighty T-Bird.

Woodies were family station wagons later adopted by surfers and surfettes. Ramblers were family cars, and I have a friend who swears that he had one that played 45 rpm records; they also had push-button transmissions.

Two Tons of Fun OR Old Iron

Fender skirts, windshield visors, side-vent windows, four-on-the-floor, dual-carb, bored and stroked, two-toned or multiple-coated candy-apple red rubbed to a fine sheen: the American dream of power. The speedometers went to 130 and up, unrepentant and unashamed!

Convertibles with a continuous front seat so your girl could curl up beside you while you snuck a feel or stole a kiss. A back seat as big as an efficiency apartment where if you hadn’t gotten busted for getting laid on it, you were damn sure planning to.

Two Tons of Fun OR Old Iron

Rancheros and El Dorados held their own against Apaches and F-100s in the pick-up truck arenas.

More affluent families had a Continental, Coupe DeVille, or Fleetwood in their garages. Middle classes had Galaxies, Rivieras, Le Sabres, Fairlanes, or Impalas. Dear old dads gave daughters Comets, Sky Larks, Valiants, and Falcons. Guys who had to buy their own cars dreamed of Grand Prixs, Trans Ams, Thunderbirds, and the woody-producing Sting Ray. And don’t forget the economy-minded: the Monarch, Montclair, and Monterey, which a pal of mine got busted in, doing 105 coming back from a Steve Miller concert, fried on LSD.

Two Tons of Fun OR Old Iron

Poor people got what was handed down or leftover that they could keep running using baling wire, spit, and duct tape. Basic repairs and maintenance could be accomplished with few tools and limited experience. Lads with little to spend could create their own cars from parts and call them jalopies.

Early rock-and-rollers sang praises of speed and power and the way that drivers “won’t come back from Dead Man’s Curve.” Kids drag-raced “hot rods” and played “chicken” with their peers. I had a 57 Fairlane 500 that cruised at 115 and never broke a sweat; also, a '67 Checker limousine that did 90 mph uphill in second gear without a shimmy. Do you even know what second gear is? Granny gear? Double clutching?

Two Tons of Fun OR Old Iron

Gas was not a problem, two bucks in the tank and you could take a nice long drive. Gas stations were called filling stations and they had mechanics on duty and teenagers with bad complexions and dirty rags in their back pockets (blue or red) who would fill up a tank, check your oil, and wipe your windshield as part of the service provided. Gas prices now are a controlled, premeditated, calculated rip-off. Consider this: if your pay had gone up proportionately to gasoline prices you would now be making $50 an hour (and if frogs had wings…). It is true that over the years, cars and car motors have been produced that would give 60, 70, 80, and even 100 mpg, but the big companies bought up the patents and buried the technology because they’re in bed (or were) with the gasoline companies.

In return, though, the car companies gave us hard-top convertibles, Dynaflo drives, anti-lock brakes, suicide doors, and cars that could convert to boats so that we could go from road to river with ease. Drive-in movies.

Two Tons of Fun OR Old Iron

What do we have now? Well, starting with the German and Japanese invasions with cars that were cheaper and more efficient, Americans turned to emasculated road vehicles, SUVs were bought for tax write-offs, and pick-up trucks are now primarily for the working poor.

And it’s a shame. Why? Because we missed passing on the muscle car mentality to our womenfolk! Both of my daughters know how to get into a car with a wire coat hanger and both have been shown the rudiments of “hot wiring” an engine. Both know the thrill of “joy riding” and the freedom of “road trips.” Neither of them can think of a car worth stealing nowadays. So it goes.

To be continued…

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