Boomer Journey…

Those New Car Introductions

We’ve lost so much ground when it comes to automotive styling. Automotive styling has changed so much since we were growing up in the 1960s. I am a diehard car enthusiast and have been since I was in my teens. However, I cannot tell one car brand, nor model, from another these days. I have to look for the manufacturer’s emblems.

Although cars and trucks have nice perks inside and out they all look the same and are decidedly boring if you ask me. And—what’s with bearded cars—that broad big-assed black beard from the hood to the chin spoiler? And, taillights that look like telephone receivers, check marks, and lightning bolts? Stop that!!! Used to be automakers had brand-specific styling where you could tell the difference at a glance between an Oldsmobile and a Chevrolet or a Ford and a Dodge. No one had to tell you what it was. You knew. And, if you didn’t your ol’ man could explain to you what it was.

1963 IMPALA

Automakers crank out cars and trucks like candy makers pump out peanut butter cups and nutty crunch bars. Aside from changes in packaging not much changes from year to year because brand recognition and loyalty are important in the candy business. They’re also important in the car business. And—when sales go soft they revise packaging, advertising, and the way a model is promoted. They find a new way to tell you something new about the same old thing.

Telecommunications companies are the same way. Can you hear me now? And, who’s the creep who did away from Bran Chex? I liked them a lot and they kept me regular—and now they are gone. Someone explain this to me—regularity versus Irregularity. What does that mean exactly? Are you regular or irregular? Are you telling me because my fecal material has become like limestone and I have to work at it that I’m—well—irregular? It’s enough to give a neurotic guy like me a complex.

Getting back to cars and trucks—I think Detroit and foreign automakers are designing and building the most handsome pick-up trucks we’ve seen since the redesigned Dodge Ram arrived in the early 1990s and prior to that from all of the classics in the 1960s and 1970s. We’re getting darned handsome trucks now—but more expensive than ever, which makes you think twice about buying a new one. My 1998 Ford F-150 Super Cab isn’t the most handsome truck I’ve ever seen, but my posterior has carved a nice impression in the driver’s seat which, despite broken springs, still fits my backyard nicely. The F-150 remains a joy to drive at nearly 300,000 miles over 22 years and has been fiercely reliable.

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Seriously now—who would have ever imagined Toyota and Nissan would be offering competition to domestic trucks? Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan march down Main Street and the American highway with authority. You can keep making your emblems larger and larger, Ford and Chrysler, however—larger and larger isn’t always cool. It makes your trucks look like a stinking billboard. Smaller is tasteful. So is great styling. Keep designing and building great looking trucks and your emblems won’t have to be large. Styling will speak for itself.

Detroit, Japan, Korea and Europe have all gone a similar path in terms of styling and even interior ergonomics. When I hop from one to the other in a series of rental cars throughout the year I find very little difference across the board. Different from the pack tends to be Subaru, which I believe builds some of the best mainstream automobiles and sport utilities in the world. Of course I will get arguments on this one because everyone has a favorite flavor and each brand brings something unique to the table.

I am a diehard Ford guy and will always be loyal. However, I calls ‘em as I see’s ‘em. I choose cars and trucks like I choose my politicians—based on their own merits and what I know to be true about them. It is always good to check Consumer Reports while you’re shopping for a new vehicle and examine the ratings. Beyond that, buy something that feels good to drive that you’re proud to be seen in you will enjoy owning for years to come.

Although the automakers are long on imagination, they need a fresh approach to aerodynamics, with less attention paid to the wind tunnel. Government needs to roll back ridiculous fuel economy standards because it leads to disappointing products—which began with those stupid 5 mph bumpers in the 1970s and automobiles that ran poorly because automakers had to keep up with tougher government standards.

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People love classic American cars because the styling was uniquely American and brand specific. I recall the thrill of my mother rolling up in a new 1963 Ford Galaxie sedan rental car that summer. It was a simple two-door sedan with room for six. I remember hordes of young post-war parents with little baby boomers who drove new cars—Chevy wagons, Ford Fairlanes, Dodge Darts and Plymouth Valiants, Buick hardtops and wagons, Olds Vista Cruisers, and a host of other family cars.

A half century later, I don’t feel the same way about a new car. I think because new cars today aren’t like new cars a lifetime ago. Maybe I’ve purchased too many of them or perhaps they’re just mundane. I’ve watched new turn into old many times and said goodbye to my share of new cars that became tired old 200,000-mile wrecks. Back in the middle of the 20th century, automakers and car dealers made a big deal out of model year changeover. They papered the showroom windows and broadcasted “The all-new 1967 models are coming!!!” and made a terrific tease out of the event. We lusted over the new models hoping Dad would buy one. Do you remember the thrill of new-car introductions when you were a kid?

— Jim Smart

 

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