September 16, 2016
My first car was a very pre-owned, 1971 Ford Thunderbird. I was only 14 years old when I bought it and I didn’t even have my full driver’s license. Since I only had my driver’s permit at the time, my dad had to accompany me on the first test-drive. The ’71 T-bird is by no means considered a “classic” in the way that a Chevy Chevelle would be viewed today, but, back then, I thought it was pretty cool.
My bird was calf-shit brown with a white leather interior. It was a 2-door Hardtop with a Thunder Jet 429 V-8, Cruise-O-Matic tranny, an eight-track player and it had very unique amphitheater-like, curved rear seats. By today’s standards, it was a giant land yacht of a car and just opening its heavy driver’s door was harder than bench-pressing my maximum weight at wrestling practice.
One time, when my parents were out of town, two of my buddies and I decided to take an illegal road trip to a nearby state park. On the way back I put the pedal to the metal on a long, straight and narrow blacktop. At 98 miles an hour it started to sputter and cough, then after a burst of bluish black smoke exploding from its aftermarket glass packs, we took off faster than Neil Armstrong heading moonward.
At 115 MPH, I remember the hood was shaking more violently than Hillary Clinton off her meds during a stump speech and we went gliding over a slightly elevated culvert that seemed more akin to the first flight of the Wright Brothers. When I slowed down, I looked over at my two friends and they were pale as Michael Jackson’s face in the moonlight. On another timeline, I’m sure we all died that day. But in the here and now, I never felt so alive. I was 15 years old. In fact, even to this day, that is the second fastest I ever traveled at ground level. The first fastest was on a motorcycle, but that’s another story.
I suppose first cars are like first loves. They are never forgotten. I have many other memories in that car ranging from nervous first dates to cleaning up buddy puke from its seats and floorboards. In the end though, I sold it sputtering on 7 cylinders for a mere few hundred bucks.
In the years that followed, I always drove “American”. Mopar (Dodge), General Motors and Jeep. One time at a Christmas party someone was telling my wife about how much they just LOVE their new Honda and I overheard my lovely bride proudly tell them: “Oh, my husband would NEVER consider buying a foreign car.” And, it was true.
A few years back I sold a 1985 Jeep CJ-7 hardtop with a lift kit, a retro-installed Chevy 350 V-8 and a three-speed automatic tranny. With that weird combination it was no wonder that damn thing only got 12 miles per gallon. But I couldn’t complain because that was still better than what I got with my aforementioned Thunderbird. Anyway, the guy that bought the Jeep farmed 2500 acres half a state away from me and, after we were done with the test drive, looking under the hood and crawling under it, he looked over at me and said: “They sure don’t build ‘em like this anymore.” To which I replied: “Nope. They sure don’t.”
That reminded me of another time over 25 years ago, when in order to pay the bills, I took a job selling Chryslers and Chevy’s. That was quite an experience and I did it for several years with some success. I had a lot of repeat customers and the matriarch of a large clan who considered me as their car expert, told me one time: “You know, as far as car salesmen go, I believe you are as honest as one can be.” I looked at her and said: “Thanks. I think?” and she laughed.
My favorite customers back then though were the old codgers. More often than not, when I asked them what kind of vehicles they would consider, they always had an opinion. They also had the same opinion when it came to foreign made cars and it usually went down like this:
They: “Need a car (for me, or wife, or offspring or grand kid). What’s cheap today?
Me: “Depends. Whattaya wanna spend?”
They: “Not a lot”
Me: “OK. How about this Toyota over here?”
They: “What? Japanese? Hell no! They paid me to kill them bastards in the war!”
Me: “OK. I guess that also rules out that Volkswagen over there, then. Hmmmnnn….”
And the union guys? Fuhgeddaboudit! If I showed them something foreign made they would think I WANTED them to get their asses kicked when they drove up to the local UAW hall.
Indeed, they were all just like me and would NEVER consider buying a foreign made car.
Unfortunately, “never” is not a very long time after all.
Within the span of just a few decades, Chrysler bought Jeep, Germany’s Daimler Benz bought Chrysler AND Jeep, then in 2014, BOTH Chrysler and Jeep became owned by Italy’s Fiat; General Motors became Government Motors, and the first Afro-American U.S. president also became the first president ever to fire the CEO of an American car company .
Thank God for Ford! Wait a minute. On Wednesday September 14, 2016 Ford’s CEO, Mark Fields, announced to the world:
“Over the next two to three years, we will have migrated all of our small car production to Mexico and out of the United States,”
Although, bad as that sounds, we should take heart that Ford has decided to “invest $9 billion in U.S. plants, with about half going to 11 facilities in Michigan” and not be concerned that “Mexico has seen a 40% increase in auto jobs since 2008 to 675,000 last year while the U.S. saw only a 15% increase in the same period to more than 900,000, according to the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor.”
To me, that sounds a little like: “Hey! It’s not all that bad! I shot the sheriff, but I didn’t shoot the deputy!”
Henry Ford, the eponymous Founder of Ford Motor Company once stated:
“My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me.”
Today it seems his company has a new girlfriend and has decided to sell his first love “sputtering on seven cylinders” for pennies on the dollar. You’d like to think, with all the mental horsepower at Ford Motor Company they could figure out a way to make America great again. After all, Henry Ford also said:
“If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”
Evidently, like its competitors, Ford has decided they can’t do a thing.
It’s ironic. Henry Ford’s lovechild was the first automotive endeavor to represent America’s rise. And now, it remains the final holdout during America’s steadfast decline.
Well, it was nice while it lasted. At least we have the memories.