Tuesday, June 2, 2009

When American Cars Were Cool!

I was listening to the Tom Sullivan Radio Show this afternoon and a discussion of the downfall of the American Car Culture. Tom was asking if we remembered when American cars were cool? I sure do. In the fifties and sixties they were cool. Every year around September we would await the new look of the latest Chevy or Ford, by far the most popular American cars, or at least the most affordable in those days, and then for those who had more expensive tastes there were the other American brands. There was nothing like owning a ‘56 Ford or a ’57 Chevy. And if you were lucky enough to have a Ford Convertible you were almost in heaven, and then if you owned a Corvette that was heaven!

In 1954 my Dad decided to put money away to buy a new car. He gave up beer for one thing, to set extra aside. He did not believe in credit/charging, and was determined to save enough to pay cash for it. I believe it was about $1800 or less.

So what happened to the Car Culture we once had? We were proud to be buying American cars and occasionally a German VW Beatle or VW Bus would be around. (And I must disclose I had a Volvo in 1962. Guess I should have kept it as I hear they go for a pretty good price now, LOL. I also owned a Toyota in the 1970’s. ) But I have had Chevy pickups and Chevy sedans. The one I drive now is a 1991 and just turned 60,000 miles and is a great car.

In those early days of car ownership “pride” we saw advertising for the newest models in Life and Look Magazine and other magazines, there was television network advertising such as in 1956 the one hour program on NBC, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show. The program was extremely popular, and its theme song "See the USA in your Chevrolet...”; Bob Hope Presents The Chrysler Theatre; and there was the Ford Theatre a radio and television anthology series broadcast 1940s and 1950s, and named for its sponsor. Of course we had only three networks at that time so the marketing was pretty focused and became part of our everyday or weekly life.

Dinah Shore Chevy Show

There were a lot of songs related to cars at that time. Being a fan of Johnny Cash, I always liked his 1976 song, One Piece at A Time, about working in Detroit making Cadillacs. Actually a car of various pieces was built and given to Johnny Cash. The car is on display at Historic Auto Attractions. The rockabilly song was written by Wayne Kemp. Others that come to mind include The Beach Boys with their songs (below), Jan and Dean singing Little Old Lady From Pasadena, but there were many other songs related to cars including several of those early rock and roll songs about a car crash: Tell Laura I Love Her, Teen Angel, and many more.

Maybe the downfall of American car manufactures has to do with too much expansion, lack of good marketing, over supply, and greed, in addition to foreign automobiles taking over the market with product that beat most American cars on gas mileage. That has become such an issue since the ‘70s. It is sad that so many people have been impacted by GM cutbacks and bankruptcy, and the closer various automobile plants. With the unemployment rate at 12% in Michigan, that is painful. But now we, you and I, own part of GM and just maybe it will get back on track with reorganization and new blood in there. Let’s hope so. I heard they have buyers for divisions of the company, including that "tank" they build and call an automobile. China wants to buy that division. Oh dear.

Get out your lunch pails....and let's go to Detriot...

Get your surf boards out....or at least put on your flip-flops.



Ronda Laveen said...

I love old cars! I have for as long as I can remember. This post was a fun walk down memory lane, when American automobiles stood for independence, inovation, and the Great American Dream. It is so sad to see what GM and Chrysler companies have become. Maybe...out of the ashes...just maybe...we can again rise to greatness.

John Hayes said...

I always had a thing for the old American cars, too. Now, however, I drive a Subaru-- my wife Eberle & I have had Subarus for the past 12 years. They're very reliable & they really stand up over time--200K is not uncommon. I don't know that American manufacturers have been able to match this type of performance. But as you & Ronda have said, maybe the industry can be revitalized-- I'd think an effort to "go green" might very well give the US car industry a shot in the arm.