Before GM Stood for Government Motors

One picture is worth a thousand words, so here are twenty-one thousand words. These are photos of billboards posted by General Motors in the Detroit area at a time in history when America was exceptional, proud, and still the best country in the world. It was at a time when blacks, hispanics, muslims, and gays thought so too. None of them needed demonstrations, hash tags, and civil disobedience to show they belonged. People had purpose in life because they worked. The war on poverty was not yet established, food stamps were not invented, and if you claimed unemployment insurance it was because you were unemployable for some drastic reason. Medicare was still a figment of some democrats imagination, and health care is what you did everyday to eat right, sleep right, and keep physically active right. There was no need for a war on drugs either.

This was a time when owning a car was still special. Your car was an expression of your self, and gave you another degree of freedom.

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An Overly Long History of My Cars

The Detroit auto show is showing off new car designs with the hope that sales will pick up. I remember a time in my life when I wanted to be a car designer. My grammar school notebook dividers were filled with doodles of new car designs. Years later I reviewed some of the sketches to realize that some of the actual car designs resembled my doodles. Today, I can give a rat’s behind about what a car looks like. I’m more impressed by how little I have to get it fixed.

The Avalon Death Star is a few miles away from turning seventy-thousand miles. (I always thought old guys drove less.) That number began rolling in my mind as I recalled some of the cars I have owned.

The very first car that I bought was a 1959 Volkswagen bug.  That was during my “green period.” Gas was eighteen cents a gallon, and I was worried about mileage. I also preached about conservation, and pollution. Today, I choose to drive a car with the highest horsepower, and the best overall economy.

After the Bug reached sixty-thousand miles, I fell in love with the VW Karmann Ghia. I bought a brand new one for $2750.00 at a time when you could buy a new Cadillac for $2500. I owned the car for ten years. Style wise it was fabulous, but not a good family car. It was a maintenance nightmare in spite of all the cute VW ads that pointed out how many ways they had improved the car. I spent many a cold evening in a frozen garage changing shock absorbers and mufflers. Why is it that these things always fail when it is zero outside? Eventually, the head lights fell out of the fenders because of a severe rust problem. I don’t know how many miles it had on it, because the speedometer failed several times, and I was tired of paying for new ones. Besides, the superior attitude of the German mechanics who refused to believe that a German car could break always ignited my furor.

We needed a family car, so I bought a used 1960 Ford Falcon for Barb. It was an unexciting car, and we piled a ton of miles onto it. I remember hooking a baby seat over the top of the bench seat to give my kids a better view of the steel dashboard. In today’s world, I’d be arrested for that. This car was so unexciting, I have completely forgotten what we did with it.

In 1967, we got the camping bug and bought a brand new Dodge van. It was bare inside except for a bench seat. I built a bed, and storage area behind the seat, and Barb made privacy curtains to shade the sun. This little truck served us well, but it too required lot’s of maintenance. I remember teaching Barb how to lift the hood to remove the air cleaner to tickle the butterfly so the damn thing would start. (The hood was inside the truck between the front seats. You could drive and change spark plugs at the same time.) This little van is etched in my memory as one of my all time favorite vehicles. It deserves a separate story to chronicle all we did with it.

In 1969, I became the proud owner of a brand new Toyota. It was a cute little red Corolla station wagon.  It had a front engine, with water cooling, which meant it had heat. As opposed to my VW which had air cooled engine, and never had enough heat to clear the fog off the windows. Within six months of owning the Toy, I detected an engine knock. The dealer never heard the knock, and my complaints went unheeded. Finally, I decided to run the car until the knock got audible. It did. Within a few short weeks, one could hear the car from a block away. I drove it to the dealer and asked the service guy if he could tell me what the strange noise was coming from the engine. It had nine thousand miles on it. I started it up. Within a second, he waved furiously to shut it off. I left the car with them to be fixed, they finally admitted to a problem. It took ten weeks and daily harassment to get my car back. My kids wonder why I hated Jap Crap so much. I sold the Corolla wagon with twenty-six thousand miles on it.

I chose to keep my Dodge van as my commuter car, and bought a 1973 Dodge van to serve as the family vehicle and trailer tower. We were a two van family.

The seventy-three van left Barb dangling many times with a stuck choke, but the hood was outside and she wasn’t able to tickle the carburetor anymore. The driver’s side floor rusted through after three years, making me a very unhappy camper. Water leaked through the rear doors and rolled forward under the mats to settle under the driver’s feet. We kept the green van until 1978, when I switched to a GMC van.

The GMC had horsepower to spare. We pulled a very heavy trailer and didn’t even know it was behind us. It was more reliable than the Dodge, but it too had problems with rust, and changing spark plugs required as much work as an overhaul.

One evening, Barb and I were returning home from a visit to my Dad’s house. We waited at a red light when a hot rod pulled up beside us. “Watch this,” I told Barb. The light turned green. I put my foot into it, and bam. We coasted across the intersection. I blew the damn transmission. Luckily for me, I still had second gear to limp home with.

In 1985 I became the proud owner of a Mercury Sable. What a sexy car. Ford was improving quality and I gave them a chance to show me how good they were. The Sable was a good car, but it too had moments. I told people that it is the best car I ever owned. When I really thought about it, the best car would not receive a Christmas card from the towing company. I replaced the transmission three times, and a switch failure earned a tow job three times. I was on the way to get the steering arm replaced when I slid off an icy road and hit a six by six mail box post. I totaled the Sable at one hundred and twenty-thousand miles, and after serving me for twelve years.

Barb persuaded me to buy an Oldsmobile Intrigue. The was hands down the best car I owned until it reached one hundred and twenty-thousand miles. At that point, I became friendly with the tow company again. Twice, within a year, I paid hundreds of dollars to have an intake manifold replaced. Researching the problem on the internet, I learned that the GM engine had a known problem with manifolds for years. Did they do anything to fix it? Hell no.

This saga brings me to the 2005 Avalon. I knick named it “Death Star” when Toyota had to recall them for run away acceleration problems. So far, knock on wood. This is the best car I have ever owned. A far cry ahead of the 1969 Corolla, and the UAW counterparts. I have seventy-thousand miles on it, and I expect it to go for three times that amount. That is if I live long enough to make it happen.

As I write this, I realize that each car had its own history, and each one deserves individual reflection.

There are a few I left out of the history, like the VW Scirocco, Buick Sky Hawk, and 1980’s vintage Corolla.

Old Rods, Hot Rods, Street Rods, and Rat Rods

     I had the pleasure of viewing a magnificent array of hot rods this evening. I will not tell you where this event was because I want you to guess. Today, there were a large number of 1932-39 vintage hot rods. The best sleeper in the event was a 1961 VW. Having owned a 1959 VW with 39 horsepower, I struck up a conversation with the owner. I was curious as to how much power VW added between the years 1959 to 1961. I never found out. This car owner told me his bug had 220 HP. What?  He built the engine from standard catalog parts, and it develops 220 HP. I asked him what his time was in the quarter mile. His reply was 12.6 seconds, not bad for a Bug. I did not ask any more questions.

     Here are my photographs of what I think are the best looking cars at the event. Remember, you have to tell me where they are.

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A Great Piece of Advice for Life

    One of my best friends and work associate sent me this piece is by  Pulitzer Prize winning editorial author Michael Gartner.  I want to meet him and thank him for this eloquently written story about his parents.

This is a piece by Michael Gartner, president of NBC News; in 1997, he won a Pulitzer Prize. It is well worth reading, even if it looks too long for you to read right now, and a few good chuckles are guaranteed. Please take a few minutes to absorb the meaning of this
 story, and then go hug someone…..Here goes…

      My father never drove a car. Well, that’s not quite right. I should  say I never saw him drive a car.
 He quit driving in 1927, when he was 25 years old, and the last car he drove was a 1926 Whippet.

     “In those days,” he told me when he was in his 90’s, “to drive a car you had to do things with your hands, and do things with your feet, and look every which way, and I decided you could walk through life  and enjoy it or drive through life and miss it.” At which point my mother, a sometimes salty Irishwoman, chimed in:
      “Oh, bullshit!” she said. “He hit a horse.”
      “Well,” my father said, “there was that, too.”
        So my brother and I grew up in a household without a car. The neighbors all had cars — the Kollingses next door had a green 1941 Dodge, the VanLaninghams across the street a gray 1936 Plymouth, the Hopsons two doors down a black 1941 Ford — but we had none. My father, a newspaperman in Des Moines, would take the streetcar to work and, often as not, walk the 3 miles home. If he took the  streetcar home, my mother and brother and I would walk the three  blocks to the streetcar stop, meet him and walk home together.

     My brother, David, was born in 1935, and I was born in 1938, and sometimes, at dinner, we’d ask how come all the neighbors had cars but we had none. “No one in the family drives,” my mother would explain, and that was that. But, sometimes, my father would say, “But as soon as one of you boys
 turns 16, we’ll get one.” It was as if he wasn’t sure which one of uswould turn 16 first.
 But, sure enough , my brother turned 16 before I did, so in 1951 my parents bought a used 1950 Chevrolet from a friend who ran the parts  department at a Chevy dealership downtown.
It was a four-door, white model, stick shift, fender skirts, loaded  with everything, and, since my parents didn’t drive, it more or less  became my brother’s car.

      Having a car but not being able to drive didn’t bother my father, but  it didn’t make sense to my mother. So in 1952, when she was 43 years old, she asked a friend to teach her  to drive. She learned in a nearby cemetery, the place where I learned to drive the following year and where, a generation later, I took my  two sons to practice driving. The cemetery probably was my father’s  idea.

     “Who can your mother hurt in the cemetery?” I remember him  saying more than once.
     For the next 45 years or so, until she was 90, my mother was the driver in the family. Neither she nor my father had any sense of direction, but he loaded up on maps — though they seldom left the city limits — and appointed himself navigator. It seemed to work.
      Still, they both continued to walk a lot. My mother was a devout Catholic, and my father an equally devout agnostic, an arrangement that didn’t seem to bother either of them through their 75 years of
 marriage. (Yes, 75 years, and they were deeply in love the entire time.)  He retired when he was 70, and nearly every morning for the next 20 years or so, he would walk with her the mile to St. Augustin’s Church. She would walk down and sit in the front pew, and he would wait in the  back until he saw which of the parish’s two priests was on duty that morning. If it was the pastor, my father then would go out and take a  2-mile walk, meeting my mother at the end of the service and walking her home.
 If it was the assistant pastor, he’d take just a 1-mile walk and then head back to the church. He called the priests “Father Fast” and “Father Slow.”
     After he retired, my father almost always accompanied my mother whenever she drove anywhere, even if he had no reason to go along. If she were going to the beauty parlor, he’d sit in the car and read, or go take a stroll or, if it was summer, have her keep the engine running so he could listen to the Cubs game on the radio. In the evening, then, when I’d stop by, he’d explain:

      “The Cubs lost again. The millionaire on second base made a bad throw to the millionaire on first base, so the multimillionaire on third base scored.”
      If she were going to the grocery store, he would go along to carry the  bags out — and to make sure she loaded up on ice cream. As I said, he was always the navigator, and once, when he was 95 and she was 88 and still driving, he said to me, “Do you want to know the secret of a long life?”
      “I guess so,” I said, knowing it probably would be something bizarre

     “No left turns,” he said.

     “What?” I asked.

      “No left turns,” he repeated. “Several years ago, your mother and I read an article that said most accidents that old people are in happen when they turn left in front of oncoming traffic.
As you get older, your eyesight worsens, and you can lose your depth perception, it said. So your mother and I decided never again to make a left turn.”

      “What?” I said again.

      “No left turns,” he said. “Think about it. Three rights are the same as a left, and that’s a lot safer. So we always make three rights.”

      “You’re kidding!” I said, and I turned to my mother for support.

     “No,” she said, “your father is right. We make three rights. It
works.” But then she added: “Except when your father loses count…” I was driving at the time, and I almost drove off the road as I started laughing.

      “Loses count?” I asked.

      “Yes,” my father admitted, “that sometimes happens. But it’s not a  problem. You just make seven rights, and you’re okay again.”

      I couldn’t resist. “Do you ever go for 11?” I asked.

     “No,” he said ” If we miss it at seven, we just come home and call it  a bad day. Besides, nothing in life is so important it can’t be put  off another day or another week.”

      My mother was never in an accident, but one evening she handed me her  car keys and said she had decided to quit driving. That was in 1999, when she was 90. She lived four more years, until 2003. My father died the next year, at 102. They both died in the bungalow they had moved into in 1937 and bought  a few years later for $3,000. (Sixty years later, my brother and I paid $8,000 to have a shower put in the tiny bathroom — the house had never had one. My father would have died then and there if he knew the shower cost nearly three times what he paid for the house.)

      He continued to walk daily — he had me get him a treadmill when he  was 101 because he was afraid he’d fall on the icy sidewalks but wanted to keep exercising — and he was of sound mind and sound body
 until the moment he died.

      One September afternoon in 2004, he and my son went with me when I had to give a talk in a neighboring town, and it was clear to all three of us that he was wearing out, though we had the usual wide-ranging  conversation about politics and newspapers and things in the news. A few weeks earlier, he had told my son, “You know, Mike, the first hundred years are a lot easier than the second hundred.” At one point in our drive that Saturday, he said, “You know, I’m probably not going  to live much longer.”
      “You’re probably right,” I said.

      “Why would you say that?” He countered, somewhat irritated.

     “Because you’re 102 years old,” I said…

      “Yes,” he said, “you’re right.” He stayed in bed all the next day. That night, I suggested to my son and daughter that we sit up with him through the night.  He appreciated it, he said, though at one point, apparently seeing us  look gloomy, he said: “I would like to make an announcement: No one in this room is dead yet”

     An hour or so later, he spoke his last words: “I want you to know,” he said, clearly and lucidly, “that I am in no pain. I am very comfortable. And I have had as happy a life as anyone on this earth could ever have.”
     A short time later, he died. I miss him a lot, and I think about him a lot. I’ve wondered now and then how it was that my family and I were so lucky that he lived so long. I can’t figure out if it was because he walked through life, or because he quit taking left turns. ”

 Life is too short to wake up with regrets. So — love the people who treat you right. Forget about the ones who don’t. Believe that everything happens for a reason. If you get a chance, take it and if it changes your life, let it. Nobody said life would be easy; they just promised it would most likely be worth it.”

      ENJOY IT, BECAUSE LIFE HAS AN EXPIRATION DATE!

Louie,

 Thanks for sending this story. It brought tears to my eyes.

LUV,

Grumpa Joe

Barney Frank to Head GM!

News Flash. “Barney Frank Takes Over the Reins of GM.” Why not? He did a great job with the housing market. He would probably work wonders for GM. The first thing he could do is to present legislation called the “Transportation Revitalization Act.” This law would force lending institutions to make subprime car loans to people who could not afford to own one.  It would be a social engineering program aimed at low income workers. Everyone is entitled to a car.  With the current recession headed toward a depression, the idea might fly. The caveat would be that in order to qualify for a loan, the buyer must purchase American. i.e. GM, Ford, or Chrysler.
The Transportation Revitaalization Act would serve several fronts. First, we give everyone in the country a car. Second, we get the country back on its feet. Think of all the jobs created by the demand for American made cars.
Barney is the perfect guy for the job. He did so well with the housing market that the country experienced economic growth like no other time in history.
I can just see Barney across the table with the UAW. There would be no adversarial relationship between manufacturer and the union. Barney would also be fair, and limit his salary to one half of what the current GM CEO’s make. He would also limit his parachute to a lifetime of service in the Senate.

Another great outcome from the Transportation Revitalization Act is the threat from Japanese, Korean, and Chinese car makers is over. Who would want to buy a foreign product and have to pay for it?  Most likely my kids, they would still insist on a car they wouldn’t have to take back to the dealer for an argument every month.

Write to your congressman today. Insist he initiate the Transportation Revitalization Act in the first session after the Christmas, er Holiday Break.

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