Sunday, June 28, 2009

Car Tales From New Orleans

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Two Tons Of Fun
Old Iron
Okay eco-nazis, before you start the funeral, before you lower that emission standard, before you nail that coffin of my Camaro, Comet, 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 or their plight. And I feel rightly so.
Once there were scores of car manufacturers with names like Duisenberg, Auburn, Studebaker, Hudson, Cord, Kaiser, Checker, Nash and more. Dinosaurs; and, cars that are now made by big conglomerates (that are going belly up) were once, as well, their own entities.
In the spirit of historic perspective-ness, I’ll re-inform you that 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 fifties. 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 whom is now being bought by Opel who is being bought by Fiat or some such nonsense.
With profits as motivation, competition is fierce for the almighty automobile dollar. Historically, it’s a fuster cluck of dog fighting, bear baiting and 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, misdirected manufacturers of cars that no one wants to buy.
BUT, and this is a huge BUTT, in the day, in the space between dream 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 and Bel Air.
‘Woodies’ were family station wagons and later adopted by surfers. Ramblers were family cars and I have a friend that swears that he had one that played 45rpm records, they also had push button transmissions.
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 and did not lie!
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.
Rancheros and El Dorados held their own against Apaches and F-100’s 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 for 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. 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 expertise. Lads with little to spend created their own cars from parts and called 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’. Kid’s drag raced 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 90mph uphill in second gear without a shimmy. Do you even know what second gear is? Granny gear?
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) that would fill up your 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 proportionate to gasoline prices you would now be making fifty dollars an hour (and if frogs had wings…). It’s 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.
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 blue collar workers.
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’. Both know the thrill of ‘joy riding’ and the freedom of ‘road trips’. Neither one can think of a car worth stealing nowadays. So it goes.

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