I had a friend back in 1980 who had a jukebox in his rec room that played 45s. One of the discs we played over and over again was “Cars” by Gary Numan. It was the year of cheesy Christopher Cross and Olivia Newton John tunes and Numan’s music sounded so high-tech, heavy and out-there that we loved it. Now he’s shilling for Sears and their DieHard battery with this odd rendition of “Cars” using autos set up like the keys of a synthesizer.
There’s a used bookstore in Maryland I’ve been frequenting on trips down 95 and last week I scored Brock Yate’s “The Decline and Fall of the American Automobile Industry“. Having read some of Yates crotchety screens in the Wall Street Journal I figured I’d at least get something entertaining and I haven’t been disappointed. The book documents the trumpeted launch and immediate failure of General Motors J-car line from 1981. He talks of the insular “Detroit Mind” which produced a car that was supposed to compete with the European and Japanese imports but wound up being just another anemic, ill-fitting American rustbucket, albeit with a smaller wheelbase than usual. Yates was at least 20 years ahead in outlining the reasons for the eventual bankruptcy of GM. His book is an indictment of the 50’s and 60’s organization men who rose to the lofty heights of American hubris but didn’t have the creativity or foresight to redirect their giant multinational corporations to produce high-performance, reliable cars at the end of the 20th century.
The ad above is for the Chevrolet Celebrity Eurosport, built on the J-car base in the mid 80’s. The transparent grandiosity of the name of the car is comical. “Celebrity”? I suppose I could be famous if I drove one around, but not for the reasons GM is touting. “Eurosport”? Let me guess: it’s designed to compete with Mercedes/BMW/Volvo? Their ad company should have been fired for cramming 6’6″ Ken Howard, who played a basketball coach on TV’s “White Shadow”, into the drivers seat and having his head continually rub against the roof liner. When I’m looking to not-fit into a car to drive slowly across vast expanses of highly polished studio floors I’ll head straight for the Chevy dealer.
The Euro package came with mammoth 14″ alloy rims, V6 power, sport handling and black and red-lined trim and badges that look more appropriate as a logo for the latest Nightmare on Elm Street than on a domestic car. I love it.
Bonus: This article in Popular Science takes the odd position of testing America’s “Eurosedans” against themselves, instead of the European high-performance cars they obviously strive to be.
I used to go to hot rod shows with my dad back in the late 70’s/ early 80’s and they were usually jam packed with custom conversion vans. Tons of candy apple paint, air-brushed illustrations of vikings and evil polar bears and lots of furry dashboards. Most of them had beds in the back, including one with a waterbed and a huge fish tank.
The Selvedge yard has compiled a slew of pictures of the craze in all it’s metal-flake glory.
Before there was “Christine“, there was “The Car”, a movie I remember seeing on late-night TV in the early 80’s. I’m sure it was a drive-in theater treat when it came out in 1977. Nothing like being chased by a huge, vaguely Ford-looking black bucket of Bondo.
BONUS: Hot Rod Magazine’s 40 top car movies. Nice to see Mad Max represented.
In 1974 movie goers were treated to Gone in Sixty Seconds, one long chase scene expanded into a full-length feature film. The movie barely had actors; it was just stunt drivers skidding and careening around, smashing fruit stands and plate glass. In this clip, we see the final jump sequence, repeated twice in slow motion, then once in real-time. By Jerry Bruckheimer’s standards it’s pretty tame, but at least it’s a real car and not a CG cartoon, like the one used for the final jump in the 2000 remake.
BONUS: James Hetfield flies down the hills of San Francisco in Metallica’s “I Disappear”.
In the wet dream of Bob Lutz, the 2010 Cadillacs are a multi-stage rocket blasting across the salt flats under the watchful eye of the NASAesque GM launch team. The new CTS Sportwagon bursts forth as the first stage in a cycle that ends with a new coupe.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday I had the please to read Chuck Closterman’s “Eating the Dinosaur“. In it he talks of how, as a culture, we’ve come to accept the lies that the advertising media presents us, and the fact that we don’t take things literally. The media business knows this, and presents products to us with the knowledge that we don’t take them seriously. Advertisers moved from presenting their clients products factually to evoking an impression to the subconscious of how a consumer will feel when they buy their product. We’re at a point now where we know it’s all lies, so advertisers can just present any hyperbolic scenario and know that we won’t think they’re presenting truth; it’s just stuff that looks cool blowing up! Therefore, we get a 264hp V6 station wagon being compared to a rocket burning hundreds of gallons of fuel each second to achieve earth orbit.
BONUS: The first few seconds of this Cadillac ad show a woman grinning as she drives a new SRX. I was pleasantly surprised to recognize Paula Merritt, a woman I knew briefly a couple years ago through a friend in Brooklyn. She used to play drums for Grandma’s Boy (now Bad Girlfriend) before moving to LA to further her modeling career. Looks like she’s doing well. Way to go Paula!