Monday, May 20, 2019

Foreign Cars

Sixty years ago imported (or “foreign”) cars were an interesting if not important part of the U.S. auto market.  If you wanted to go exotic you could get a Mercedes-Benz through the local Studebaker dealer, and of course everybody thought the VW Beetle was cute but not what you’d call a family car if you were used to driving a Ford Country Squire with room for nine passengers and a dog.  Japanese cars?  Are you kidding?

Well, that was then, and so was Ike and the Edsel.  Today the American car market is dominated by vehicles whose headquarters may be in Tokyo or Seoul but who build them here to the point that they’re exporting cars built in Ohio back to Japan.  Not only that, they have taught the American manufacturers how they did it, and now if you buy a Ford or Buick chances are it has parts brought in from their factories overseas (my 2007 Mustang’s engine is from Germany) and even certain models are badge-engineered to look and sound like American cars.

But apparently this represents a national security threat to some dipshit in the White House.

A US Commerce Department report has concluded that American auto imports threaten national security, setting the stage for possible tariffs by the White House, two people familiar with the matter said Thursday.

The investigation, ordered by President Donald Trump in May, is “positive” with respect to the central question of whether the imports “impair” US national security, said a European auto industry source.

“It’s going to say that auto imports are a threat to national security,” said an official with another auto company.

The report, which is expected to be delivered to the White House by a Sunday deadline, has been seen as a major risk for foreign automakers.

Trump has threatened to slap 25 percent duties on European autos, especially targeting Germany, which he says has harmed the American car industry.

Toyota is neither amused or impressed.

“Today’s proclamation sends a message to Toyota that our investments are not welcomed, and the contributions from each of our employees across America are not valued,” the company said.

The statement says Toyota has 10 manufacturing plants in the United States, some 1,500 dealerships, an extensive supply chain and directly and indirectly employs 475,000 US workers.

“Most every American has a Toyota story and we are very proud of the fact that over 36 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles are still on U.S. roads today. Our operations and employees contribute significantly to the American way of life, the U.S. economy and are not a national security threat.”

But Trump promised those workers at the Studebaker plant he’d save their jobs, and by golly he’s gonna do it.

PS: The last Studebaker plant to build cars for the U.S. market was in Canada.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Me And My Mustangs: Fifty Years And More

Fifty years ago this weekend — April 1969 — my parents and I went over to Brondes Ford in Toledo and found a gray 1965 Mustang 2+2 with a black interior, an AM radio, and a heater.  It had the 289 V-8 with a three-speed manual transmission, no power steering, and no power brakes.  They paid $1,500 for it.  Somewhere in my box of pictures I have one of me standing next to it, but for now this stock photo of one will have to do.

1965 Ford Mustang 2+2

Thus began my fifty-year love affair with the Mustang. In truth, though, I was smitten five years before when they were introduced with great fanfare at the New York Worlds Fair on April 15, 1964.  They took the world by storm, selling over 600,000 in their first model year, and when they introduced the 2+2 in September 1964 to go with the coupe and convertible, they made an impression on this twelve-year-old car-crazy kid: I wanted one.

By April 1969 I’d had my license for all of six months and drove either my mom’s 1967 Ford Country Squire (the seed of my affection for wood-grain-sided wagons) or my dad’s 1965 Ford LTD.  But I’d been bugging my parents for my own car and by April I’d worn them down to the point that even Mom liked the idea of me with a Mustang (although I can’t remember if she ever drove it).  Ostensibly the car was to be shared with my older brother and sister, but they were away at school, so for the first few months it was my car, and when I went off to college in Miami in 1971 (and thanks to an inattentive clerk at registration who didn’t notice that as a freshman I wasn’t supposed to have a car on campus), I took it with me to Miami.

In August 1973, in a fit of stupidity, I sold the Mustang to some kid for $300 and bought an F-150 pick-up.  Meanwhile, Ford kept making changes to the Mustang, including making it bigger and, to me, less attractive, and when they brought out the Pinto-based 1974 Mustang II, the love affair, as they often do, turned to indifference and even derision.  For the next thirty years I stayed away, dallying, as it were, with other cars including a Ford Granada, a Jeep Wagoneer, a Subaru wagon, and finally settling down with the Pontiac in 1989.  But the siren call of the Mustang was still in the back of my mind.  In 2003, when my mom, who had traded her 1979 Volvo for a 1995 Mustang GT convertible, V-8 5-liter Laser Red with white leather interior, sold it to me so she could acquire a Mini Cooper (which she still drives), all was forgiven and I was back in a Mustang.  The Pontiac went into the garage for a well-earned rest after 250,000 miles.

1995 Mustang GT — August 2003 – March 2008

I happily drove it from August 2003 until one fateful afternoon in March 2008 when another driver in Coral Gables tried to test the theory that two molecules can occupy the same space at the same time by making a left turn in front of me. His theory was disproved, and the Mustang was totaled.  I drove the Pontiac for a year, and then in March 2009 I took the insurance payout and, utilizing the internet, found a 2007 Mustang convertible, Wind Veil blue with gray interior and a black top and a V-6 at Maroone Ford in Fort Lauderdale. It had 34,000 miles and a full warranty.

2007 Mustang — March 2009 – present

Ten years later, it’s still with me, 100,000 more miles on the odometer, and likely to be with me for a while.

Like all love affairs, it’s not easy to explain.  After all, it’s just a car; a machine that takes you from one place to another.  But there’s always been a connection between me and this particular brand, and even though there was a long hiatus, I still get that feeling I had fifty years ago on the cold gray April afternoon when I drove my first Mustang off the lot in Toledo and learned, on the way home, how to drive a stick.  What can I say? Love is like that.

By the way, the Pontiac doesn’t mind.  It’s the one that wins the trophies at the car shows.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Friday, February 22, 2019

Friends And Family Weekend Among The Rich

I’m heading out this weekend for the gilded shores and resorts of Boca Raton, home of the 13th annual Boca Raton Concours d’Elegance (and, by the way, some of the finest, if not most expensive, drug and alcohol rehab “spas” in the country.  Coincidence?).

A lot of my friends from here in Miami will be attending to judge these cars; this will be my thirteenth show as a judge and third as as “distinguished guest judge,” which means they put me up for the whole weekend at the very nice Boca Raton Resort and Club.  It is all for a great cause: the Boys and Girls Clubs of Broward County.

And I will be meeting up with my brother who flies in every year to join in the fun of looking over these amazing automobiles. So this is it for this morning, but I’ll have some pictures and stories to tell between now and Sunday, so check in as I infiltrate the upper crust.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Picture Of The Day

This photograph was taken last Sunday on Ocean Drive on Miami Beach as we were setting up for the second day of the car show as part of Art Deco Weekend.  A cool front was coming through — the same one that brought all that cold and snow up north — and with it came a band of heavy rain just as we got there around 8 a.m.


I’m not much of an art historian, but I know what I like, and to me this evokes the work of Edward Hopper: the grey skies, the damp and empty street, the wind pushing the flag to full extension, and the composition of the lines and colors.  It’s now one of my favorite photos.

It was taken by one of our club members who showed up to volunteer to help with the show.  I’ll respect his privacy so I’ll thank him in person.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Saturday, January 5, 2019

A Long-Term Relationship

Thirty years ago today — Thursday, January 5, 1989 — I flew from Denver to Traverse City, Michigan to pick up my new car, a 1988 Pontiac 6000 LE Safari that my dad had found at Hertz Car Sales. It had a little over 5,000 miles on it. The asking price was $12,700, but when Ernie, the salesman, found out the one-way airfare to come get the car was $200, he dropped the price to $12,500. I spent the weekend with my parents, then drove back to Longmont, Colorado, where I was living while teaching. As you probably guessed or already know, I still have the Pontiac. It has over 260,000 miles on it, and it’s been everywhere I’ve gone: back to Michigan for six years (1990-1995), New Mexico (1995-2001), and Florida (2001-now). It’s had its share of fixes and repairs, but all in all it’s held up remarkably well. In the picture, you’re seeing it as it was last weekend (I have photos for every major anniversary), and since it became an official AACA antique five years ago, I’ve taken it to a number of car shows, both local and national.  It’s won its share of trophies, but most often I get grins and nods from baby boomers and their kids who say they had one just like it growing up.

It may sound strange to get sentimental about a machine like a car, but a lot of people do (and Madison Avenue knows it), and the Pontiac is no exception. There are probably all sorts of psychological reasons for it, including memories of childhood — we had a 1967 Ford Country Squire with the same color scheme — but I’m not interested in trying to explain it. I have always loved cars and this one has been a true keeper. We have miles to go.

Bonus Track: A 1988 Pontiac promotion ad. In all 2:31, there’s not one 6000 LE wagon to be seen. Yeah, kinda figured there wouldn’t be.

Monday, November 26, 2018

GM Cutting 14,000 Jobs

Trump told us as recently as a week ago that car companies were opening new plants all across the country.

Maybe they are, but today General Motors announced that they’re closing three assembly plants in North America and cutting 14,000 jobs.  That includes the plant in Oshawa, Ontario, where my 1988 Pontiac 6000 station wagon was built in February 1988.

Changes in the auto industry are nothing new, and it’s less than ten years since GM went through bankruptcy and made some very big cuts, including dropping four North American brands, including Pontiac.  (Now it’s an orphan twice over.)  That’s the way things go in capitalism.

But now Trump has been telling everyone that the American auto industry is booming, plants are opening, jobs are being created, and he’s taking all the credit, of course.

Well, now, who’s he going to blame when the plants close, people lose their jobs, and the ripple effect rattles through the towns and cities that depended on the car plant to keep the grocery stores and the schools open?

He’ll find a way to blame Obama.  Or Hillary.  Or Robert Mueller.  Count on it.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Well, I’m Back

Sorry about the blackout yesterday and Friday evening.  The hotel blames it on the cable provider which also handles their wifi. Whatever.  I’m home safe and sound and happy to report that the Pontiac performed flawlessly; no runs, no drips, no errors.  I’ll post some pictures later after I download them, but here’s one that I took yesterday afternoon on the field showing the view that I usually have at a car show.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Showtime

I’m heading out with some friends this morning for Lakeland, Florida, for the MIDFLORIDA Auto Show and Lake Mirror Concours, so this is it for blogging this morning.  I’ll report in later today and tomorrow with photos and stories about our trip.

If you’re in the Lakeland area, the show starts Saturday at 10. I’ll be in the American Production section on Tennessee Avenue between Lemon and Main.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Small Blessings

Sometime scrolling through a news feed can be frustrating.  Trying to find something interesting to read that doesn’t have me reaching for a second dose of BP meds is difficult enough with idiots and racists running the government, but the sheer stupidity and hypocrisy of a lot of what passes for news as we ramp up to the midterm elections makes it even harder to find something to laugh at, which is why I chose that little piece of Chico and Harpo Marx tickling the ivories for ALNM last night.

This morning it wasn’t a whole lot better: Trump would rather do Nuremberg 2.0 in Pennsylvania than stay in D.C. to monitor hurricane relief, even though we know that’s just for optics because there’s not a lot he could do even if he was competent; that’s what FEMA is for.  Hillary Clinton said it’s time for the Democrats to take the gloves off and the right-wing Orcosphere goes nuts, but that’s their setting anyway anytime she says please pass the butter.  A stringer reporter disappears in Turkey at the hands of the Saudis and suddenly the White House doesn’t even know how to get in touch with the perps.  The Supreme Court is already showing their complete disdain for Native American voters in North Dakota; they can’t be real voters if they don’t have a street address like real Americans do in all the cul-de-sacs in Maryland where teens really know how to par-tay (right, Brett?).

So now what?  The mid-terms are in a few weeks, and so now we have to switch to the cable pundits wondering just how the Democrats will blow their lead just like they did in 2016.  It’s enough to make me turn off the TV and start Googling cheap retirement in the Caribbean.  But you have to balance it out.  There’s good stuff to be had, even if it’s small or seems trivial.  The Miami Metro Rail ran on time yesterday.  (Karma alert: the trains were messed up this morning.) My friends up in the panhandle checked in safe after the hurricane passed.  My friend Christopher got a great write-up in the New York Times about his play opening next month on Broadway.  Someone shot a Youtube of the Miami International Auto Show and included nice things to say about Memory Lane and my car.

So while the news may be depressing, aggravating, annoying, and laugh-so-that-we-may-not-weep, sometimes we just have to remember that there are small blessings, too, and it does put it all in perspective.  For a little while, at least.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Warning Lights

I learned long ago not to ignore certain warning lights on the dashboard.  Last night the battery light came on while driving home from a car club meeting — ironically, the guest speaker was our trusty mechanic — so this morning the Mustang is going in to see what’s wrong with the electrical system.

Posting will resume when I get back from the shop.

Update: It’s probably the alternator.  I’ll know this afternoon.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Ten Million Mustangs

1965 Ford Mustang 2+2

A bit of automotive history has been made.

When Samuel Crawford’s grade-school teacher asked her students what they wanted to do when they grew up, his classmates said they wanted to be doctors, lawyers and accountants. Sam said he wanted to build Mustangs, and his classmates laughed.

“The ’64 Mustang had just come out,” Crawford said. “All I could think about was that brand new pony car.”

Of his 31 years at the Flat Rock Assembly Plant, Crawford, has spent the last nine putting racing stripes on Mustangs. Today, he will join thousands of Ford workers celebrating production of the 10 millionth Mustang.

“I do what I said I wanted to do,” he said. “I didn’t know how they were built, but I knew I wanted to be a part of it. And I have worked on 4,000 or 5,000 Mustangs.”

The iconic vehicle has been America’s best-selling sports car in the last half century and the world’s top selling sports car three years straight.

[…]

The 10 millionth Ford Mustang is a high-tech, 460-horsepower 2019 Wimbledon White GT V8 six-speed manual convertible equipped with driver assist technology and built at Flat Rock. The first serialized Mustang (VIN 001) produced in 1964 was the same color and model with a three-speed manual transmission and 164-horsepower V8.

I’ve had three, so in some small way, I’m part of the parade.