Before we let them supervise anything, we should make them drive Donny Krieger’s ’69 SS Chevelle.
Maybe I better explain.
There was an interesting report on CNN recently about the demise of the classic American muscle car. I speak of the heart-stopping works of art that Detroit built in the ’60s and early ’70s.
Chevrolet’s 1969 SS Chevelle was one of the era’s masterpieces. So, too, was the SS Camaro, the Pontiac GTO, the Ford Shelby Mustang and the Plymouth Road Runner, Motor Trend’s Car of the Year in 1969.
The country was packed full of young, optimistic baby boomers then. Detroit produced affordable muscle cars to appeal to them and, boy, did the boomers respond. They spent hours of pleasure, to borrow from Henry Ford, burning rubber in God’s great open spaces — until oil prices soared and gas-guzzling muscle cars gave way to dinky compacts.
I was saddened to learn that, then, that GM, in response to its cost woes, is disbanding its high-performance-vehicle division. Here’s why: If American carmakers need to do anything to win back consumers, they need to stop making bland, dinky, egg-shaped Japanese knockoffs. They need to get back to building distinctly American cars that reflect American creativity, ingenuity, confidence and optimism.
I worry that isn’t going to happen.
According to The New York Times , President Obama has established a presidential panel for the auto industry to “supervise” the $17.4 billion in government loan agreements we’ve already given to GM and Chrysler. But, according to the Detroit News , most of the 18 panel members don’t have a whit of passion for automobiles.
Sure, Joe Biden drives a ’67 Corvette, another member drives a Lexus and another a Mini Cooper, but two panel members don’t even own a car and the others tool around in vehicles that would embarrass a teenager. One drives a 1995 Mazda Protege, three drive Honda minivans, another drives a Subaru station wagon and another drives a Volvo — now there’s a car that gets the blood pumping. Worse, one panel member drives a French car, one a lawnmower-sized hybrid and another a 1998 Chevy Cavalier.
And this group of uninspired individuals is going to “supervise” GM and Chrysler? God help us.
If there is anything that is needed to save Detroit, it is passion — the passion I got to know the very first time I drove a car, Donny Krieger’s ’69 SS Chevelle.
I was only 15 then — I didn’t even have a license — but Donny let me drive. We were coasting down Horning Road in first gear when he told me to floor it. The nose of the car shot upward. The rear wheels began to spin. The motor exploded into a loud, angry growl, as though the heavens were bursting loose.
I shifted into second and floored it again and was rewarded with more screeching tires, more explosive growling and an adrenaline rush that only the American muscle car could produce.
American automakers have many problems to solve, to be sure. But if they want to win back the American consumer, they need to recapture our hearts. They need to produce cars that reflect our spirit, optimism and love of the open road.
We don’t care how they do it. Power the cars with batteries or hydrogen or vegetable oil. Invent something new. Just be innovative, stylish and bold. Be American, for goodness’ sakes!
But now that GM and Chrysler have accepted billions from Washington — now that they’ve signed a pact with the devil — I fear it will be harder than ever for them to be authentically bold, innovative and stylish. I fear that the government panel members will push their own notion of boldness, innovation and style — a notion that will lead to cars that are even dinkier, duller and less likely to sell.
As I said, we ought to make them drive Donny Krieger’s ’69 SS Chevelle before we let them begin supervising anything.