GM used to be the biggest company in the US, and one of the most successful in the world. Now they’ve filed for bankruptcy protection, becoming “Government Motors” with 60% owned by Uncle Sam. Hopefully they will emerge soon and stronger. And since much has already been written about this fall, both supportive and damning, I find myself a bit nostalgic about my first love affair with the American car.
I spent my formative years in England, living in a tiny village twenty miles from London in the late seventies and early eighties. These were bad decades for cars world wide, and England was filled with non-descript rolling boxes. The damp streets were full of the small, bland, and unremarkable, with few bright spots or unique variations to stir my early automotive obsession. So as I learned to ride my bike down these sleepy streets I never paid attention to the cars. Except for one.
At the end of one especially quiet cul-de-sac sat a blue and white ’57 chevy. At least that’s what my dad said it was. To me it could have been an attacking spacecraft. The fins and the chrome. The two-tone. To my young eyes it looked brand new and the fins seemed sharp enough to take off my arm. My dad explained that the shiny name across the trunk was pronounced “Shevro-Lay” not “Chevro-LET”. French, he told me, but the car was American. That made no sense to my little mind, but the message was clear… This car represented the U.S.A.
Many times in the years to follow I rode down that cul-de-sac just to see if the big Chevy was parked outside. It was my touchstone, a visible link to America. It told me I was from a country that wanted to make a statement and get noticed. A people who were stylish and cool. I was an American kid overseas, and I liked feeling connected to that world an ocean away.
Many General Motors products lay in my future. My 1982 Pontiac Firebird, the “Knight Rider” body style, with an anemic four cylinder. It was a terrible car, displaying many of the traits which drove people away from American cars in the ‘80s. But I loved it. To me, it was a supercar. Then there was a string of Caprice Classics, bought and obsessed over by my father who found them to be reliable and luxurious holy-grails on wheels. Even today, my wife and I own a GMC Yukon, which has been a godsend for countless ski-trips and days of film production.
But the magic has been gone a long time, maybe since those sharp edged chrome monsters of the late fifties. I don’t lust after American cars more than anything else. The days of a unique offering which only GM builds have been gone since… well… maybe the EV1. But few lusted after that car either.
Car design is now a sea of sameness. Every four door seems to look a bit like the Honda Accord. And even the most exotic sports cars have cupholders and Bluetooth as selling features. In short, car companies chase the middle ground in search of the largest sales demographic. No different than any other business, and all the same as each other.
In recent years, I began to have hope. GM started to make trucks with interiors from this century. Good build quality and reliability. And cars in the pipeline which compete in every class. I even became a proponent of Pontiac, the excitement brand was back! But we all know how that will end.
So now, with the Volt on the horizon, and good looking, true enthusiast cars like the Camaro and Solstice Coupe just getting to showrooms… the General gets swallowed by the Government. The tragic fact in all this is the truly competitive quality of current GM product. But there’s a lingering reputation problem, we still think this is GM from the 1980s. So no one’s buying.
I hope the company emerges stronger. And in years to come I hope some eye-popping cars come out with “Chevrolet” on the back. I would be nice to point one out to my own child, instead of explaining them alongside Tucker, and Packard, and Dusenburg.
And if you’re looking, it’s the right time for an amazing deal. Maybe for something which will wind up as historic as the old ’57.