By on August 1, 2014

corvair-1960-brochure

Decades after the events in question, Marina Oswald claimed that on the night of Thursday, November 21, 1963, her husband Lee Harvey Oswald suggested that they end their estrangement by having make-up sex (although I believe that term was unknown in 1963).

She claimed that while she was resigned to having sexual relations with Lee again, she wanted him to stew in his own juices one more day by making him wait for the weekend. However, she didn’t dangle a promise (or even a possibility) in front of him.

Marina claimed to be morally certain that this sexual rejection was what pushed “lone nut” Lee Harvey Oswald over the edge and made him impulsively bring his WWII-era Italian military rifle to work with him the next morning. Oswald’s life being a total mess (and finding no comfort on the home front), he decided to go out in a blaze of Marxist-Leninist glory.

That’s Marina’s story, and she’s sticking with it.

corvair66b_jpg
If you can accept the possibility that there was no conspiracy (and so, JFK’s death was a cosmic or Kafkaesque joke), Marina’s story has the ring of near-truth to it. (However, political operative and Nixon confidante Roger Stone’s recent book makes a compelling case that Richard Nixon—rightly or wrongly—believed that LBJ had orchestrated JFK’s death.)

With Slavic fatalism, Marina told a researcher, “It all came down to the turn of a card.”

“The turn of a card”—another way to express the reasoning behind what is often called the “Horseshoe Nail” theory of history. That’s the idea that seemingly trivial or limited decisions trigger a cascade of unforeseeable events that in some cases lead to major consequences. “For the want of a horseshoe nail, the kingdom was lost.”

In 1959, General Motors’ bean-counting, cynical, and hubristic corporate culture set in motion a truly remarkable series of horseshoe-nail event cascades. Due to mission creep on one hand and cost cutting on the other (replacing aluminum with steel), the load on the Corvair’s swing-axle rear suspension turned out to be 140 pounds more than anticipated and designed for. That extra load tipped the car’s weight distribution to 38% front/62% rear, guaranteeing dangerously unpredictable handling.
corvair04_jpg
Chevrolet’s engineers and even some managers such as John Z. Delorean (who was a competent engineer with several patents to his name, some of which he had earned while trying to rescue Packard) knew that the Corvair would have beastly handling. They recommended a $5 anti-sway bar that would transfer force from one front wheel to the other, lowering rear wheel slip angles and the tendency to break loose that made the car spin and at times roll over.

(When Ford finally obtained a Corvair to test, Ford test driver and future Le Mans winner Carroll Shelby got the Corvair to roll over at a speed under 30 miles an hour. Shelby and his Ford colleagues had a good laugh. The Falcon might have been the result of unimaginative engineering, but it did not roll over easily.)

Rather than spend $5 per car on a front anti-sway bar, GM decided to specify (but to not publicize) a major imbalance in recommended tire pressures. Reportedly, rear tire pressure was to be 30 psi while the front pressure was recommended to be 18 psi, in an effort to make the front tires “grippier.” However, if the kid at the gas station helpfully filled your tires to 30 psi all around, the Corvair would handle in a truly evil manner.
corvair02_jpg
Here’s the “Horseshoe Nail’s Big Consequence”: One can easily argue that GM’s decision not to spend $5 per Corvair on a foolproof engineering fix of handling they knew to be dangerous, directly led to George W. Bush’s being elected President in 2000.

In 1959, a bookish young lawyer named Ralph Nader wrote a magazine article about the automobile industry’s disregard of safety. A publisher recommended that Nader turn his article into a book. Nader’s book, published in 1965, focused its first chapter on the Corvair. Thus, the “consumer movement” was born, and Nader became a household name.

Nader was the Green Party’s candidate for President in 2000, and he was on the Florida ballot. Nader received 97,421 votes in Florida, whereas Bush’s official margin of victory was fewer than 600 votes. Had Nader not been on the Florida ballot, Al Gore surely would have won Florida and the Presidency (which still rankles many Democrats).

Nader was on the Florida ballot in large part because he was famous and well regarded for having exposed GM’s fecklessness. Had GM decided in 1959 to sacrifice $5 in profits rather than sacrifice human lives (and keep in mind that several Corvair fatalities were family members of Chevrolet dealers), today Ralph Nader might be an obscure lawyer, Al Gore a former President, and George Bush a gentleman rancher who paints pictures.

Mark Twain observed that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.
cor00
From the Corvair’s troubled handling in 1959 to today’s troubles with ignition lock cylinders, GM’s corporate culture does not seem to have learned much. One might say, that’s the nature of the beast: “Culture eats strategy for lunch.”

The only law that never gets broken is the law of unintended consequences. And GM has a genius for setting in motion horseshoe-nail event cascades.

So, my friends: How do you think “Corvair 2.0” will eventually play out?

(Personally, I’d love to see GM convicted of Bankruptcy fraud and its Chapter 11 discharge unwound, but a voice from under the bed says, “Forget it, John—It’s Chinatown.”)

Record producer John Marks is a columnist for Stereophile magazine.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

152 Comments on “Horseshoe Nails, The Rhythm of History, and General Motors...”


  • avatar
    Truckducken

    Good stuff, John. “Culture eats strategy for lunch” – that’s priceless.

    • 0 avatar
      John Marks

      Thanks.

      I use that formulation because it is immediately comprehensible, and memorable.

      That said, I believe that the truth of the matter is not that it is culture that eats strategy for lunch, but rather strategy gets eaten by fear of change and fear of the unknown.

      But that isn’t as catchy, and there is no difference in the outcome.

      BTW, Marina and the girls were bunking out free at Ruth Paine’s house while Lee rented a room elsewhere, in part because (according to one book) Ruth Paine had the Lesbian hots for Marina.

      You can almost hear the hinge of History squeaking in that one.

      ATB,

      JM

    • 0 avatar
      velvet fog

      That quote is most often attributed to Peter Drucker.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    So husband gets cut off from sex with estranged wife and goes out and shoots president who nailed anyone who struck his fancy (including two secretaries nicknamed ‘Fiddle’ and ‘Faddle’ who according to legend couldn’t actually type but were gainfully employed at the White House.) And people claim the universe’s higher power doesn’t have a sense of humor.

    Of course as my own wife says; “Lack of booty makes you moody.”

    People forget how brilliant John DeLorean was. He designed Packard’s famous load leveling suspension which was a hallmark of their final years. A $5 solution ($40 roughly in today’s dollars) that could have had the Corvair remembered as one of the great bang for the buck compact sports cars of all time.

    Corvair 2.0? Who knows what the ending will be, GM has already recalled more cars than they made in the past several years. As Mark Twain also said: “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”

    • 0 avatar
      Willyam

      Wow Dan, that’s a weirdly ironic point I totally missed in the article. Large mail-order rifle as antidote for overall impotence in life? Creepy. I’ve been to big-D and on that spot a few times. It’s smaller than you’d think, but makes you look at the whole event and go “yeah, he might have just pulled it off by himself”.

      I must admit that even if I had owned an Explorer with Audi pedals, Firestone tires, and Toyota Camry floor mats I was never really super worried, as my first few Pontiacs had tried to off me several times (brake pedal to the floor, shift linkage letting go while moving, etc.) and failed as a bit of common sense would usually stop the car safely. Still you would think that GM would at least learn from these well publicised public car-demonizing floggings a bit.

    • 0 avatar
      John Marks

      FYI, Jackie Kennedy was well aware of Fiddle and Faddle’s functions.

      She referred to the two of them as “The White House Dogs.”

      According to reports, she did object, however, when she found another woman’s underpants in her own bed.

      BTW, as long as we are going to Burkean lengths of Connectivity (I will take the mentions as compliments, thanks), Aristotle Onassis confessed to a former girlfriend that he had paid the PLO (to whom he was already paying protection money to prevent the hijacking of Olympic Airways airplanes) to arrange to have Bobby Kennedy killed.

      RFK supposedly had commented that Jackie could marry Ari over RFK’s dead body, in reply to which Ari muttered “That works for me.”

      Here’s the book:

      http://www.amazon.com/Nemesis-Aristotle-Onassis-Triangle-Kennedys/dp/0060580542/

      Sirhan Sirhan, btw, is NOT a Muslim. He was raised Greek Orthodox, of all things… .

      ATB,

      JM

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Men who are in leadership positions whom find that their sexual energy is far too much for one person to handle often have wives that are tacitly aware of the situation but (like Jackie K) don’t want the infidelity shoved in their faces.

        I say this not as an observer of politics and history (which I am) but as someone whose position brings me into frequent contact with leaders who have have similar arrangements with unwritten understandings with spouses.

    • 0 avatar

      Packard’s “torsion level suspension” was invented by William D. Allison, while at Hudson. Since that company didn’t have the resources to develop it, the idea, and Allison, ended up at Packard. I know that John DeLorean had a role in the development of Packard’s Ultramatic transmission but I haven’t come across a reference to him being involved with the last Packards’ novel suspension.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Thank’s for the clarification Ronnie, I read an article once (now long lost) where I would swear that John got credit but then he was always a shameless self promoter.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      Speaking of Corvair’s and presidents and future first ladies. http://www.snopes.com/politics/bush/laura.asp

      As far as DeLorean is concerned not only did he conceive of the muscle car but was part of the creation of one of the best GM engines of all time; the Pontiac OHC-6. It was only around from 66-69 maybe it’s demise was because it was too ahead of it’s time. GM should have just lopped off two cylinders and used it in Vega, Monza, Astre with fewer headaches than the all aluminum 140 ci.

      • 0 avatar
        Pig_Iron

        @MRF 95 T-Bird
        That’s an interesting angle that hadn’t occurred to me before. I knew the Chevy Six bore the 153 Chevy Four and the Pontiac Six, which in turn begat the OHC and the Iron Duke, but I’d never put them together like that. Thanks for pointing it out.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Interesting anecdote; didn’t know that about Mr and Mrs Oswald

    “One can easily argue that GM’s decision not to spend $5 per Corvair on a foolproof engineering fix of handling they knew to be dangerous, directly led to George W. Bush’s being elected President in 2000.”

    Nah, Al Gore lost the election all on his own. Blaming Ralph Nader is a nice way for Democrats to let themselves off the hook for a truly awful candidate and campaign.

    • 0 avatar
      fincar1

      I agree…he couldn’t carry his own home state of Tennessee. What other major-party presidential candidate has failed to carry his home state?

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        Since WWII:

        Adlai Stevenson (twice)
        George McGovern
        Al Gore
        Mitt Romney

        • 0 avatar
          psarhjinian

          I think that record speaks for itself; each of those candidates were either feckless or problematically unelectable.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            Interesting perspective, but the way the US works is the electoral college elects president. The home state of the candidate has no impact beyond what it normally does in an election. So the fact that Gore won more votes than Bush in the general election is meaningless.

            All that matters is that the electoral college, on the back of Florida’s questionable election is what elected Bush.

        • 0 avatar
          Brad2971

          While Mitt Romney is stateless, one should be fair and state that with the possible exception of UT (he went to college @BYU), he’s lost every state he’s had a “permanent” residence in.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      I tend to agree that Nader did not demonstrably throw the election to Bush. I think that the Nader voters would not have voted for either Gore or Bush, they only came out for Nader. However, if you accept that Nader tipped the balance, you have to extend the horseshoe nail theory beyond the 2000 election. The invasion of Iraq on false/trumped up circumstances will go down as one of the greatest political fiascoes of the 21st century, something that would have been highly unlikely had Gore won in 2000.

      • 0 avatar
        Roader

        Maybe, maybe not:

        “We know that he has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country.”
        – Al Gore, Sept. 23, 2002

        “Iraq’s search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to deter and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power.”
        – Al Gore, Sept. 23, 2002

        • 0 avatar
          Willyam

          Boy does that bring up an interesting sidebar, how would things have turned out with the same bad intelligence and no team Cheney/Rove/Rumsfeld? That’s for a different forum I suppose…

        • 0 avatar
          ClutchCarGo

          That was a time where pressure was building internationally to ease up on sanctions aimed at Saddam that were mostly hurting the Iraqi people. I doubt that President Gore’s response to that pressure would have been to invade Iraq. More likely he would have worked on shoring up support for the sanctions and finding a way to target Saddam more precisely. Without Cheney/Wolfowitz/Feith and the rest of the neocons advocating for invasion, I wonder if Bush would have even gone in.

        • 0 avatar
          geo

          Gore would have just done what Clinton did a few years earlier; launch a few air strikes and claim victory.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      Bush’s election cannot be attributed to the Corvair. While I also believe Gore gave it away, there’s a simpler principle in play: the effects of any single event diminish over time, like turbulence in a stream. There are too many other events during the span that affected the outcome or damped the specific event of the Corvair.

      Maybe Nader would have written his book & become famous anyway. Maybe his role would have been filled by someone else. Without Nader, the two parties likely would have run their campaigns differently and so the results could have been the same regardless.

      However, it’s impossible to deny that the Corvair was big part of Nader’s career, and as such is an associated detail that can be tied in with the 2000 election. That makes it interesting but not causality.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      Yeah, if the alternative means President Gore, then I’m glad GM skipped that part.

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      I thought it was Pat Buchanon and the butterfly ballot?

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        Ah, the infamous butterfly ballot, or, as I like to think of it, the voter IQ test:

        Step 1: find the person you want to vote for
        Step 2: find the big arrow RIGHT NEXT to their name
        Step 3: punch out the chad next to that big arrow

        Caution: Steps 1-3 require you to READ THE BALLOT

        Seriously. And to keep it automotively back on topic, the same kinds of people who got worked up over those butterfly ballot are the same kinds of people who back their cars into stuff and use “my car has a blind spot” as an excuse.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      George W. Bush beat Al Gore in Florida by 537 votes.

      Ralph Nader won 97,488 votes in Florida during a campaign in which he was obviously appealing to leftist populists (who apparently never studied political science.)

      As a matter of statistical reality, it’s virtually impossible to find a scenario in which Al Gore couldn’t have won 538 more of those voters than Bush would have had Nader not been on the ballot trying to be a deliberate spoiler. Gore ran a lousy campaign, but that doesn’t change the fact that Nader hurt the Democrats in 2000. (Republicans could have their own gripes about Ross Perot doing something similar to them in 1992.)

      • 0 avatar
        John Marks

        THANK YOU!!!

        I am in near-total agreement with:

        “As a matter of statistical reality, it’s virtually impossible to find a scenario in which Al Gore couldn’t have won 538 more of those voters than Bush would have had Nader not been on the ballot trying to be a deliberate spoiler.”

        Yes, 100% right; there is no plausible scenario (even one in which half of the voters who went to the polls for Nader stay home in protest) where Gore would not pick up 538 + 1.

        Not sure: Perhaps I am being Pollyanna here, but I don’t think that Nader was consciously and intentionally “trying to be a deliberate spoiler.” But if that is the case, the Nader-hating Democrats are right.

        I am more inclined to believe that Nader was Delusional and Self-Guided (to the exclusion of ignoring wise counsel), and that he wanted to campaign in the Battleground States because that is what SERIOUS NATIONAL Candidates do. And if Nader was not a Serious National Candidate, who was he? Hamlet? Rosencrantz? Guildenstern?

        Nader obviously (I studied Poli Sci and worked on statewide campaigns) would have done a better job of getting the Green Party past the 5% threshold for FEC funding if he had campaigned in “Safe D” states like RI or NY on a platform of “A vote for me in Rhode Island will not hurt Al Gore, but it will down the road help keep the Democratic Party honest, as Progressives define honest.”

        For a man of Nader’s obvious self-regard, that would be putting a “Kick Me, I Am a Loser” sign on his back.

        Yes, Nader killed the Democrats in 2000, but I think that it was the result of egocentric delusion; whether Gore won or lost was not a factor is Nader’s calculations.

        I am told BTW that as recently as last week on an NPR station in San Francisco, Nader was either eloquent (or strident) in defending himself over Florida 2000!!!

        Trivial mega-trivia bit! There was a party on the 2000 Florida ballot, the Natural Law party. The NLP candidate got 2,281 votes!!! Had Al Gore gotten all the Natural Law Party voters, he would have been President under the official count, and also the media consortium recount (IIRC, under 1,500 votes).

        So what is the Natural Law Party? One might think, Die-Hard Anti-Vatican II Catholics who like to quote Augustine and Aquinas; and, one would be tragically wrong. But one also has to wonder how many protest votes were cast with those thoughts in mind.

        NO, Rapunzel, NLP is the political arm of Transcendental Meditation!

        But I could not hang a GM think piece on that.

        I am a huge back-patter, but I really think I outdid myself on the Marina Oswald lead-in. She was hot, all things considered.

        Thanks again for your crystal-clear contribution.

        ATB,

        jm

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          In a moment of candor, Nader was on record as having said that he wanted a Bush victory in 2000:
          ________

          When asked if someone put a gun to his head and told him to vote for either Gore or Bush, which he would choose, Nader answered without hesitation: “Bush.” Not that he actually thinks the man he calls “Bush Inc.” deserves to be elected: “He’ll do whatever industry wants done.” The rumpled crusader clearly prefers to sink his righteous teeth into Al Gore, however: “He’s totally betrayed his 1992 book,” Nader says. “It’s all rhetoric.” Gore “groveled openly” to automakers, charges Nader, who concludes with the sotto voce realpolitik of a ward heeler: “If you want the parties to diverge from one another, have Bush win.”

          http://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/Ralph-Nader-2000-Campaign-Interview.html
          ________

          Nader believed that a Bush presidency would be bad enough to push the Democrats to the left. Nader clearly wanted Al Gore to lose.

          • 0 avatar
            John Marks

            Thanks for that info; I had never known that Nader had come that far out of the closet.

            The person I know who recently heard Nader on the local radio on his book tour gave me the idea that Nader’s position was, “It was not my fault,” rather than, “I did it, and I would do it again gladly.”

            JM

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Nader’s fan club is so divorced from reality that it doesn’t understand the basic arithmetic that goes into US presidential elections.

            Third party candidates have no chance to win in the US, given the nature of the electoral college, and third parties that can pull more than a few votes naturally serve as spoilers in a two-party system such as this one. It shouldn’t be complicated to understand — it’s just math — yet they don’t get something as basic as this.

            In any case, Nader’s fantasy of a truly progressive Democratic party is a pipedream. And he ought to remember that the one time that this came to fruition in the post-war era proved to be a tremendous win for the GOP. (Perhaps Nader slept through the McGovern era.)

            Bill Clinton and Tony Blair both realized that far left politics don’t work in the Anglo-Saxon world, and grownups should understand that compromises are necessary in a democracy, which should ultimately push things toward the center.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            Pch101 writes, “Third party candidates have no chance to win in the US, given the nature of the electoral college, and third parties that can pull more than a few votes naturally serve as spoilers in a two-party system such as this one.”

            There is much simple truth to this (and your comment about basic arithmetic), but I respectfully disagree. Rather, I contend that both mainstream parties alienate third-party voters.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Third parties don’t work in the US because of the electoral college. Take the Constitution, apply math to it, and the result is clear.

            In many parliamentary systems, multiple parties form coalitions with each other. In the US, coalitions are formed within the two major parties. There is a reason why the US got out of the multiple party business during the 19th century; the mathematical implications of the Constitution became obvious.

            Those who are too far on the fringes to play nicely with one of the main groups end up making themselves politically irrelevant. The founders would not have objected to that, since their goal was to control fringe and faddish views from dominating the government.

        • 0 avatar
          3Deuce27

          Reg; “I am more inclined to believe that Nader was Delusional and Self-Guided (to the exclusion of ignoring wise counsel), and that he wanted to campaign in the Battleground States because that is what SERIOUS NATIONAL Candidates do.”

          “egocentric delusion; whether Gore won or lost was not a factor is Nader’s calculations. ”

          I have to laugh at the partisan Demos who blame Nader for their loss, and also at those who don’t understand why he was running.

          It seems few in this country understand the real problems facing this country and the world, and the rest choose to put their heads in the sand at their own peril. Nader was just trying to deliver a message, multiple messages. And like myself, has no respect for Democrats or Repukians.

          Ralph Nader has done more for the people of this country and beyond, then and all of the post-war presidential candidates or presidents combined.

          As is clearly evident, the Demos and Repukians, are taking us nowhere fast, with the help of a passive, delusional, irresponsible citizenry and a misguided enabling partisan party followers and apparatchik.

          Nader’s other intent, though, a minor consideration, was to have Gore lose for reasons I don’t have time to go into today… got to get a fence built and it is going to be 110* degrees here today, so I got to get out there.

          Get a clue people, we are going to hell under full acceleration.

          Studied Poli-Sci?

          Other wise, John, fun posting, despite some mis-info and debatable statements in the article. And I appreciate your involved response to comments, style.

          • 0 avatar
            John Marks

            Thanks for your kind words.

            After all, I am here TO SERVE MAN.

            _____________________________________

            “Come back! IT’S A COOKBOOK!”

            (A “Twilght Zone” reference.)

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIufLRpJYnI

            jm

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            @3Deuce27, I have a feeling that you and I may have politically divergent leanings (left/right), but I agree with a great deal of your sentiments about partisan politics gone amok. I despise what the kool-aide drinking party faithful on both sides have become.

            I contend that the Dems *lost* the 2000 election rather than the other side won it and similarly, the Repubs *lost* in 1992. Nader and Perot respectively split the vote at a critical point in each race, but I maintain that, overall, each party lost because their own hubris. And had neither man thrown his hat in the race, I think that another, similar figure would have taken his place. And I also think that they both parties deserved to be soundly spanked at the polls.

            @John Marks- thanks for the link! Now I finally “get” that joke from 2 1/2. Also, +1 to you for remembering the Natural Law Party. I remember their rise to prominence (?) in the “footnote party landscape” in the 1990s- lunatics!

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Oh man, I haven’t had to pop up a big old bowl of TTAC popcorn in a looooooooooooong time. This should be really good.

    crunch…crunch…crunch…crunch…

  • avatar
    Toad

    GM has a long history of almost Soviet level incompetence and rule by bureaucracy. The Soviets could launch the first satellite but not keep bread on store shelves; GM could do some of the best mechanical engineering on the planet but not actually deliver reliable safe cars to consumers.

    “Those who ignore history are destined to repeat it” -George Santayana

    • 0 avatar
      petezeiss

      Those who keep citing that Santayana quote make me barf like a cat.

      It’s tired as a realtor’s smile and issued from a “metaphysical naturalist” who believed that human nature evolves for the better.

      • 0 avatar
        Brad2971

        So we can clearly and unequivocally state George Santayana was on narcotics when he made that self-evidently nonsensical statement? Either that, or Santayana never had children or grandchildren.

    • 0 avatar
      koshchei

      Economist’s Law: “What men learn from history is that men do not learn from history.”

  • avatar
    Duaney

    Well again to defend the Corvair, as we all know the Corvair was proven safe by years of investigation by the Federal Highway Safety Commission. To flat out tell it like it is, the original Corvair handled well, yes, adding the roll-bar and other improvements made the car handle extremely well. And by 1965, the Corvair was one of the best handling cars in the world. I have in my collection here, over 250 Corvairs. Mostly parts cars and builders, but if they rolled so easily, why are not one of mine rolled? I have examples wrecked in the front, side, rear, all over, but not one rolled. I’ve been to dozens of auto wrecking yards, never seen rolled Corvairs. Yes, some rolled, yes, some people were killed, but we can say that for almost any make or model. I can’t wait now for the Corvair haters to show up, most of whom have never drove a Corvair. But seriously, where are all the rolled cars??

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      Duaney,
      The Corvair was never proven safe. The NHTSA test only compared its handling to contemporary vehicles, finding that the Corvair was comparable, and in some ways superior in handling. That’s a LONG way from being “proven safe.”

      We should also keep in mind that GM’s own JZD considered the Corvair unsafe and that the smear campaign GM launched against Nader may have influenced the results at NHTSA.

      GM hired private detectives to tap Nader’s phone and prostitutes to try to entrap him. Perhaps the NHTSA officials were motivated to avoid such treatment at the hands of the what was the world’s most powerful company.

      Regardless, I am not about to put my kids in a Corvair. Your choices are your own.

      • 0 avatar
        jimbob457

        My college roommate had one of the early model Corvairs. On three different occasions I had to go pick him up after his Corvair unaccountably suddenly ended up in a field as he was driving along a highway in good weather. His car didn’t roll over, and he was never seriously injured. Even so, without swaybars the Corvair is a dangerous vehicle.

        • 0 avatar
          Drewlssix

          How many peoples college roommates do you suppose had similar experiences in say early BMW 3 series cars? Porsche 911s? Toyota MR2s? Acura/Honda NSX?

          All known to one degree or another for tail out antics and even dead occupants.

          The corvair did not handle poorly, it was not by contemporary standards un safe. Was marketing a Porsche sedan as a frugal family appliance perhaps un wise? yeah. But by and large people bought the corvair and the above cars for their handling traits, or atleast for the ‘look’ that driving a car known for its handling traits gave the owner. If you wanted a car that plowed like a pig well before you got into trouble GM and others offered countless options designed specifically to lose control in the least dramatic and dangerous way possible.

          • 0 avatar
            mkirk

            What College did you go to? The typical dude I knew in college likely had these experiences in a Chevy Celebrity with a prepetual check engine light or an old Honda that had been gifted when their parents upgraded.

      • 0 avatar
        jim brewer

        ht. A series of misdeeds catapulted Nader to fame. Oswald had long standing grievances against his country and had attempted to assassinate a local Bircher. So, not apt. Still, I wouldn’t discount what marina said: she was pretty darn hot, especially compared to Lee.

      • 0 avatar
        Duaney

        There is no car, truck, motorcycle, etc, safe. Yes you’re correct everything you’ve said. But my point is that contrary to the position of the article, the Corvair, wasn’t the death trap that Nader made it out to be. Nader also called the swing axle Volkswagon Beetle and the Renault Dauphine unsafe. I still haven’t seen many of those rolled. The evidence just isn’t here today that Nader was correct. There is very much more evidence today that the Chevelle SS396 muscle car was much more dangerous, as well as the other assorted muscle cars of that time with their bad handling, drum brakes, etc. One of the most horrific crash’s is the head-on collision. The Corvair is exceptionally safe in that regard with the empty trunk in the front that acts like a giant sponge to absorb the impact, without harming the occupants. I have examples here, and the drivers all walked away. Hey, I’ll argue forever that the Corvair is safe. If you’re in Colorado, I’ll give your kids a ride in my 1960.

        • 0 avatar
          DC Bruce

          Well, I was almost with you until you rolled out that “empty sponge” comment about the crash benefits of the Corvair’s empty trunk.

          I’ve driven first-generation Corvairs when they were new. They would surprise you in unpleasant ways, in the same way that VW Beetles would “surprise” you in unpleasant ways. Were they “unsafe”? Depends upon what you mean by the term. Certainly the muscle cars of that era, not to mention all family cars capable of going 70+ mph were seriously underbraked. The drum brakes were good for one solid stop from speed and then they had to be cooled off. The rear wheels would typically lock up in a panic stop.

          The basic problem with the Corvair and the Beetle was that most American cars were set up to understeer and would give their drivers warning through the steering wheel that they were reaching adhesion limits, and the more adventurous probably discovered that you could reduce that problem by applying the brakes in a curve. Most Americans had no experience with oversteer. Using the brakes, or even lifting, in a curve, would put a Corvair, or a VW or a Porsche into a spin.

          And, in the rain, with bias-ply tires, the problem was twice as bad.

          • 0 avatar
            Duaney

            Thanks for being “almost with me”. Most all of us know that the Corvair was intended to be a dependable economical family car, but because people enjoyed the handling and fun to drive aspects, (in spite of the understeer), the Corvair had to evolve into a true sports car, which it did in 1965. So the early cars get dissed for not seeing the future in the present. I drive a 1960 almost weekly, and enjoy the pleasant ride and easy steering, as compared to other collector cars that I own that feel like driving dump trucks in comparison. The reason I mentioned the front collision results of the Corvair, is that I have here a few Corvairs that suffered head on impacts, and in spite of the front clip smashed in, the passenger compartment is untouched. One car owned by an elderly lady was wrecked when someone pulled in front of her, but her son reported that she didn’t suffer a scratch, and wasn’t wearing a seat belt either. The location of the gas tank and steering column seems to be safe also, as the column doesn’t spear the driver through the heart, or the gas tank explode. So in my opinion, in spite of some unrefined engineering of the early Corvair, it’s really a safer car than many other cars. I wish we could post pictures here, I could show everyone some examples.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Well, since you asked:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tfI48CaxauE

      Frankly, I love the Corvair, but have never owned one (my dad did), and I’m not convinced the rollover susceptibility is all hype. I thought it might be interesting to review the reports released by the NHTSA in 1972, currently available from NTIS. The shorter report, running 24 pages, costs $33! For research that was funded by our tax dollars 40 years ago!

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        My maternal grandfather (who worked in a GM foundry and was a UAW member) never owned a GM vehicle except one, a Corvair he purchased when his oldest daughters were reaching driving age (late 60s). My aunt (the second oldest, my mother was the oldest) promptly wrapped it around a telephone pole ass end first. She’s still with us and in her 50s, it is to date the only accident she has ever had in a vehicle.

        Now that is simply an anecdote but she’s not exactly a fool hardy risk taker and my grandfather required that his daughters be comfortable driving his manual trans 4×4 1st generation Bronco before he would allow them to take their driving test.

        • 0 avatar
          Firestorm 500

          So your grandfather didn’t start having kids until his early 50′s?

        • 0 avatar
          Drewlssix

          Same story could have played out (and probably did) with several cars. parents have a tendency to buy children inappropriate cars.

          A car designed to take on Porsches ( Porsches being known killers even)by emulating their basic design is certainly inappropriate even in basic dull sedan form.

          His daughter could well have replicated that mistake with her offspring by buying him/her any form of 80s BMW 3 among many other cars with sporty pretense.

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      “But seriously, where are all the rolled cars??”

      Umm, I’m going to go out on a limb and say they were crushed back in the 60′s and are probably now in your washing machine and other appliances.

      • 0 avatar
        Duaney

        Read my earlier post, in my auto salvage yard I have over 250 Corvairs. Some are wrecked in many ways, most of the wrecked one’s from the 1960′s era, none have rolled. Have visited dozens of salvage yards for over 45 years, have never seen a rolled Corvair. So this evidence tells me that Naders lie, that Corvairs flip over all by themselves is just bull-!!!!!

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      If Corvairs were so perfect there wouldn’t be 200+ sitting in your salvage yard, they’d still be on the road.

      Maybe all those banged up ones were from the cars unstable handling.
      Second gen Corvairs were genuinely nice cars though, GM had an interesting suspension setup on them that gave them fine handling for the time.

      • 0 avatar
        Duaney

        Most of them have nice bodies, I’ve saved them to provide parts for survivors. An interesting observation is that here in Colorado, there are active Corvair clubs in Denver and Colorado Springs, you can see Corvairs on the road all throughout the year, (Early and Late),I’ve noticed that there are no Falcon clubs, or Valiant-Dart clubs, and I’ve never seen the early Mopar or Ford products driving around, (Corvair’s contemporary competitors) Frankly, the evidence is that the Corvair was and is the best car, and most desirable. Perfect, no, but a great car none the less.

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          Good ol’ 60′s high guage steel, good thinking saving them.

          Valiants and Falcons are a bit too bread and butter to command much clubs, they’re really more budget fixer uppers with only special editions commanding anything. I like them, but not that many others.

          What I find interesting about the Corvair is the impact it had in Europe with how many copycats there were, Sunbeam, BMW, NSU, Renault, some Russian companies, VWs type 4 line-up. It also influenced the first Skyline in Japan aesthetically.

          Now its backwards, Americans copying everyone.

  • avatar
    bunkie

    If there’s a corner of the journalism world that’s even worse than autos for editorial shenanigans, high-end audio would be it. To be sure, there are some very lovely audio components. But there is an awful of pandering to advertisers and way too many flowery descriptions of nuances that are thinner than NASA’s latest incarnation of aerogel. Despite being an audiophile, I long ago gave up reading the magazines that report on the field.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      Video Games are pretty bad too as far as journalistic integrity goes as well, its interesting how big name game makers can never put out anything below an 8 even if they gouge you for downloadable content.

  • avatar
    LALoser

    Remember the old show ” Connections” with James Burke?

    • 0 avatar
      friedclams

      I am compelled to respond… I saw that as a kid and it profoundly shaped my current worldview. More people should know his work.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Yes; it was awesome. Even if some of his connections were tenuous, it made the viewer consider the consequences of their actions.

    • 0 avatar
      jim brewer

      Well, if You want “connections” how about this: who was the only man in Russia to have seen a u-2 up close when Francis Gary powers was shot down? A. Lee Harvey Oswald (he had worked at their airbase before defecting).

      • 0 avatar
        John Marks

        Bingo.

        Oswald also knew the U2′s 90,000-foot crusing altitude and its climb rate, from his Top Secret work as a radar operator at Atsugi.

        U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers claimed that when he was in prison (IIRC, Lubyanka), the peephole in his cell door opened and a man looked in, and Powers believed until his dying day that it was Oswald.

        There’s also a theory that Marina Prusakova was the only living relative of a KBG Major who wanted to defect, and that the price he wanted was safety and a new life for his niece.

        To use Marilyn Monroe’s deathless phrase, in that regard Marina got the fuzzy end of the lollipop stick.

        ATB,

        jm

    • 0 avatar
      SpinnyD

      They are all available on youtube. Mr. Burke put them up himself.

      https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=james+burke+connections

  • avatar
    petezeiss

    God, how I love early ’60s GM rooflines. So clean, modern and graceful at the time and I was at the prime imprinting age when they appeared.

  • avatar
    OneAlpha

    Human beings aren’t the only things that have lifespans. Machines, countries and companies all do as well.

    General Motors is over a century old and maybe that’s too long for a company to exist. It’s an elderly thing, long ago having transitioned into senility. Market competition would’ve naturally killed GM, Ford and Chrysler decades ago, making way for new, more innovative companies with superior practices and better products.

    We all would’ve been better off, even though the transition would’ve been painful. But transitions are always painful to some extent.

    Instead, the Detroit 3 were deemed Too Big To Lose, so the government and some popular opinion kept them going, zombielike, long past their natural lifespans.

    So, just like a TV show that should’ve only lasted three seasons but is now into its much-disliked sixth, GM lumbers along with the same tired practices that once worked, but no longer do.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      Companies like these can die, but don’t expect new ones to step up and take their place.

    • 0 avatar
      John Marks

      I think you are on to something there.

      Interestingly enough, both the British Raj in India, and Soviet Communism, lasted about 70 years.

      And, you can also say that the US has had several incarnations, each lasting about 70 years. Taking the start of the US not from the Revolution but the Ratification of the Constitution. So, roughly 1790 to 1860 was V 1.0; from the Civil War (1861) to the New Deal (1932) was V 2.0; and now we are on the cusp of V 3.0.

      David Hackett Fischer divides Western history since the start of the High Middle Ages (AD 1100) to the present into four periods of relative price stability and four periods of price instability, which he calls “price revolutions.” Even for someone who has studied economic history, the level of detail is mind numbing. That said, it is the greatest “macro” history book I have ever read.

      http://www.amazon.com/The-Great-Wave-Revolutions-History/dp/019512121X/

      ATB,

      JM

      • 0 avatar
        koshchei

        Certainly, a society’s priorities change as policy decisions alter the conditions they’ve been designed to address, leading to an interesting pendulum-like generational dialectic, but whether a society can be treated as a super-organism with a finite lifespan would be a much more difficult theory to compellingly argue.

      • 0 avatar
        OneAlpha

        Certainly, the big, command-and-control industrial bureaucracy model worked for a time – but that time was defined primarily by a near-total lack of competition, and a technological level that required armies of comparatively-low-skilled employees doing the same manual-labor thing repeatedly throughout the workday.

        That time is now long past.

        These days, it’s more like an automated factory full of CNC machines driven by CAD data produced by a comparative handful of highly-skilled, highly-paid designers and engineers.

        The “army” part comes in with the need for machinery maintenance but again, the need here is for highly-skilled specialists. The old mobilize-the-farmers-to-build-tanks business model doesn’t work anymore.

        • 0 avatar
          petezeiss

          @OneAlpha

          I interrupt this coffee to praise your splendid thumbnail explanation of America’s mid-century spike in manufacturing employment as well as its current devastation.

    • 0 avatar
      Monty

      I submit for you consideration:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_oldest_companies

      Hudson’s Bay Company at 344 years is the oldest North American company. So some manage to evolve and thrive. There are a few on the list that go back 1400 years!

    • 0 avatar
      3Deuce27

      Reg; “General Motors is over a century old and maybe that’s too long for a company to exist. It’s an elderly thing, long ago having transitioned into senility.”

      And yet they just created the C7-Z51 Corvette. A specious tender, if ever.

  • avatar
    Brad2971

    “The only law that never gets broken is the law of unintended consequences.”

    I would submit to you that the Law Of Diminishing Returns (AKA “If the only tool you have is a hammer, EVERYTHING is a nail.”) makes its presence felt right about as often as the Law of Unintended Consequences does.

    • 0 avatar
      bunkie

      Huh? That’s not my understanding of the law of diminishing returns. Simply put, it takes ever-increasing amounts of effort to extract smaller and smaller results. A much better analogy is what happens when you run out of low-hanging fruit.

      Ironically, most of high-end audio is about diminishing returns. After all, how much better is a $150K monoblock power amplifier than one that sells for a mere $15K?

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “I’d love to see GM convicted of Bankruptcy fraud and its Chapter 11 discharge unwound, but a voice from under the bed says, ‘Forget it, John—It’s Chinatown.’”

    That wouldn’t make any sense at all. If there is an element of fraud involved here (and that would be a poor assumption), then that would suggest that the New GM overpaid for the assets. That would call for a partial refund to the buyer, not an unwinding of the entire bankruptcy.

    • 0 avatar
      Brad2971

      My best guess is that people who think what happened with GM was ‘bankruptcy fraud’ are the types who think bondholders should get as close to 100 cents on the dollar as possible for a settlement.

      Judging by what is happening with Paul Singer’s Elliott Capital and the NATION of Argentina, the Feds were absolutely correct in making the bondholders take a haircut. I seriously doubt any bondholder should be entitled to 100% payout on a bond that he/she paid mere cents on the dollar for.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Those who believe that bondholders are entitled to be paid at par in a bankruptcy don’t know anything about bonds or bankruptcy.

        In any case, opposition to the bankruptcy has morphed into a way for the right to complain about the Democrats. The facts don’t really matter when it’s ideology that is at stake.

        • 0 avatar
          CJinSD

          “The facts don’t really matter when it’s ideology that is at stake.”

          Which is exactly what happened in the UAW’s bankruptcy farce. The ends justify the means for totalitarians, so there’s no point arguing about the laws. They’re no longer binding.

        • 0 avatar
          Japanese Buick

          If it weren’t for the bankruptcy/bailout there would be no GM today. Lots of people think that would be a good thing, but have those people asked who would be doing the recall repairs on millions of dangerous/defective cars today if GM had been allowed to go under in 2009?

          • 0 avatar
            3Deuce27

            Reg; “If it weren’t for the bankruptcy/bailout there would be no GM today.”

            GM was never going away. The opportunity was created, the cards were shuffled, and GM and Fiat-Chysler shed a lot of debt and now we have a new leaner GM and Fiat-Chysler.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            “Lots of people think that would be a good thing, but have those people asked who would be doing the recall repairs on millions of dangerous/defective cars today if GM had been allowed to go under in 2009?”

            Had GM liquidated, then it’s likely that there would have been funds set aside that would fund recall repairs.

            In other words, Old GM’s bondholders and creditors would have taken a bigger haircut to pay for today’s recalls. Creating a new company benefited them; the taxpayer provided them with a partial bailout.

  • avatar
    red60r

    My first new car was a 1961 Corvair coupe — 4-speed manual and the “bigger” twin-carb, 90-HP engine. With the recommended F/R tire pressure imbalance, the soft front tires weren’t grippier, but did cause a bit of understeer that was intended to compensate for the huge rearward imbalance. The solution I chose was to modify both ends of the suspension with mail-order parts: a front sway bar and a “camber compensator” transverse leaf spring that connected the real wheels across a pivot point under the transmission. That turned it into a really tossable, fun ride. Both mods appeared as standard equipment in the 1964 model, post Nader and too late. Add in the traction of all that weight on the rear end plus snow tires and it was able to cope with just about anything a Chicago winter could throw at it as long as the belly pan wasn’t tobogganing on too much snow. Publicized worries about eating fan belts were not a problem — some belt lubricant (some sort of wax in stick form) recommended by my local mechanic kept it running on the original for two tears before the car was traded for a TR4.

    The remaining downsides to the cheapness of the car remained insoluble, unfortunately: Heat? Fuggedaboudit. Brakes? Use the gears and pray a lot. On top of those design flubs was a dealer that obviously didn’t give a damn about the car — their delivery prep included polishing off the Cosmoline coating right down to bare metal in a couple of places and then bitching about having to repaint their damage. Installing a radio, they drilled a hole for the antenna wire through the fresh air intake channel and forgot to caulk around the wire. I drove home from their store in my brand-new toy in a Midwest thunderstorm that came into the passenger’s seat well like Yosemite Falls. The passenger-side seat back fell off its hinge pin because the retaining cap was never there, and there was NO replacement cap in the entire Chevy parts catalog. No one offered to replace the whole seat under warranty, although that was apparently the only available fix.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      To be fair, drum brakes of that era were terrible across the board. I twice had my 65 Mustang lose all braking power due to a combination of 3 passengers and a steep mountain road. Fun times.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      Worth noting, that the ’64 improvements came out before Unsafe At Any Speed was released (which came out in ’65, a couple months after GM had internally decided to stop future Corvair development).

      As I recall, Nader even acknowledged the improvements GM had made, but was just indignant about what had made its way to production, and how it had been swept under the rug.

      Also worth noting that in a later chapter, the Mustang (which had just been released, and is arguably the real Corvair killer) was also written up for its own evil handling traits.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Boy, really pulling at strings from all over the map today.

  • avatar
    CliffG

    My first car, back in 1971, was a 1962 Corvair. My second was a 1962 Impala. The major difference between the two, as has often been cited – Hi Porscheofiles! – is that the Corvair would hit the tree with the rear end and the Impala with the front. I must confess, the first time I experienced lift off over steer in a corner, snap spin out, was quite intriguing (also the afternoon after I got my license). I soon learned to keep my foot in it with the Corvair (handy knowledge for riding motorcycles I might note). Also, the ’65 was an absolute treat with none of the snappiness of the earlier model. I think my ’68 Firebird had the opposite r/f weight distribution of the Corvair. The only rear driver I ever really thought was trying to kill me was an early ’60s Bug I owned for awhile in college. Now that sumbitch should have been the one written up by Nader (I remember he did do a feature on the VW van – the only reason it didn’t kill in huge numbers is you couldn’t get it over 35mph anyway).

  • avatar
    RogerB34

    Yet more JFK conspiracy theories. Man never went to the moon either.
    The Corvair instability issue is long dead.
    “The Corvair Is Exonerated
    At the conclusion of these tests, the NHTSA released its 134 page report. It exonerated the Corvair from Nader’s charges, and said things such as: “The 1960-63 Corvair compares favorably with contemporary vehicles used in the tests,” and, “The handling and stability performance of the 1960-63 Corvair does not result in an abnormal potential for loss of control or rollover, and it is at least as good as the performance of some contemporary vehicles both foreign and domestic.” The complete report, PB 211-015, can be obtained from the National Technical Information Service (NTIS)*.”

    • 0 avatar
      Roader

      This. Different front / rear tire pressures were and remain common on rear engine cars. 1962 Corvair tire pressure was 15 front / 26 rear. 1962 VW Type 1 tire pressure was 16 front / 20 rear. A 2009 911 Carrera was 37 front / 44 rear. All pressure figures pulled out of original owners manuals.

      The “Rather than spend $5 per car on a front anti-sway bar…” argument is silly. Rear engine cars handle differently, always have, always will.

      • 0 avatar
        John Marks

        But different front/rear pressures were NOT common on CHEVROLET cars, and the record is clear that Chevrolet failed at notifying and training its dealers and their service personnel. And in any event, as I pointed out in my article, if the nice kid at the local gas station filled all your Corvair’s tires to 30 psi all around, which was the norm then for bias ply tires, you were in big trouble.

        It is very clear to me that the Texas A&M report cites as exonerating the Corvair was the result of tunnel vision, and that they did NOT test a car with 30 psi tire inflation pressures all around, especially on flooded wet surfaces.

        Further, comparing the Corvair, with its 6-cyl engine to the Beetle and the Dauphine was silly, in that they had 4-cyl engines and weight distribution that was not as bad.

        Are you disputing that Carroll Shelby was able to roll the Corvair at a speed under 30 mph?

        JM

        • 0 avatar
          Drewlssix

          chevys at the time did run split pressures and even had recommendations for differing pressures under load. The vair was more extreme in its split but it was long established that cars have specific tire pressures to operate at and Im sure countless accidents and even deaths can be attributed to improper pressures on all sorts of cars.

        • 0 avatar
          Roader

          I’m disputing your “Rather than spend $5 per car on a front anti-sway bar…” statement. It’s wrong. A front anti-sway bar alone wouldn’t have solved the problem of the swing axles jacking up around corners. The leaf spring/camber compensator added to the ’64 models was the overwhelming reason those models handled better. And of course the ’65—on IRS cars were superb handlers with similar weight distribution. Considering that a late-model Porsche 911 GT2 has 37% / 63% weight distribution with that big ol’ six cylinder hanging out the back, would your review of that car conclude:

          “That extra load tipped the car’s weight distribution to 37% front/63% rear, guaranteeing dangerously unpredictable handling.”

          ???

          I’ve owned probably ten Corvairs, most of them swing axles, the first starting at the stupid age of 16. Never rolled one, never wrapped one around a tree, and, frankly, they didn’t handle much different than swing axle VWs.

        • 0 avatar
          Roader

          Not to beat a dead horse, but:

          “Further, comparing the Corvair, with its 6-cyl engine to the Beetle and the Dauphine was silly, in that they had 4-cyl engines and weight distribution that was not as bad.”

          Not much English language Dauphine spec’s on the Web, but I did find a Canadian page stating 35 / 65:

          carpictures.com/vehicle/01IRD102498265/Renault-Dauphine-cream-1964

          IDK if it’s true or not. My Dad, a D-Day vet, was and remains @ 90-years-old a Francophile, having spent a couple of years in the US Army in France after the invasion. He bought a ’62 Dauphine new. I was too young and can’t remember the car.

          This was an entertaining article, especially the Oswald car-sex intro. Good pic’s too. But this is a car mag…you gotta’ get the car stuff down pat. Wikipedia is often filled with “politically correct” crap. Perusing the CORSA (Corvair Society) website would have exposed you to different POVs. For instance, there was quite a large decal on the inside of each Corvair’s glove box showing tire pressures, along with this verbiage:

          “FRONT AND REAR PRESSURE DIFFERENCE IS IMPORTANT TO VEHICLE HANDLING”

          • 0 avatar
            John Marks

            Hi-

            Thanks for the data point.

            I did not have that 35/65 datum, and if I had, I Would have written differently.

            However, despite my not being an engineer, is it not the case that “weight distribution” is a static measurement taken by putting scales under all four wheels?

            Whereas by my limited understanding, “moment of inertia” is a dynamic phenomenon, or at least my assumption was that the longer crankcase of a 6-cyl engine would put that weight out farther behind the midpoint of the car, and its dynamic behavior would be worse.

            Or, I could be all wet. I know an automotive engineer I can ask, and I will do so.

            Thanks for reading and thanks for taking time to write.

            jm

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      The NHTSA report is the result of GM’s intimidation, not science.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I never heard the Maria Oswald story before, but it doesn’t work for me; seems like the cry of a widow burdened with guilt.

    I used to buy the JFK conspiracy theories, but no longer. Frankly, it isn’t that hard to do what he did, but it is much harder to keep a conspiracy quiet.

    As for GM, it just doesn’t seem like an organization that wants to get better. I don’t think they have any mirrors there.

    • 0 avatar
      petezeiss

      “Frankly, it isn’t that hard to do what he did, but it is much harder to keep a conspiracy quiet.”

      Golden. That’s my own Occam’s Razor for the JFK thing. After all these years and with all the incentives American commercial media offer, is it really easier to believe that no conspirator would talk than that a competent rifleman hit a slowly moving target at, for a marksman, a trivially close range?

      • 0 avatar
        Firestorm 500

        I think the gun was a cheap Italian one that he mail ordered for $16.00.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          Well honestly if Oswald had been home in bed with his wife he wouldn’t have shot anybody. ;)

        • 0 avatar
          petezeiss

          The Mannlicher-Carcano he used was a WWI era bolt-action, 30-ish caliber rifle of standard infantry issue much like the Mausers, Lee-Enfields and ’03 Springfields in service at the time. It was certainly adequate for sniping between the DBD window and JFK’s Lincoln.

          In a duel of 200 yards or more, whoever had one of those other rifles would probably kill the Carcano guy. But it was a proven and reliable infantry rifle for a 2nd tier power in WWI.

      • 0 avatar
        Drewlssix

        If you believe in the movie Oswald was a terrible shot. If you believe the records kept by the Marines he was easily a master marksman.

        • 0 avatar
          John Marks

          I believe, based on ancient memories of reading the paperback summary of the Warren Commission report, was the LHO passed as a “Sharpshooter,” which means “adequate.”

          Members of his platoon interviewed years later said that Oswald got more “Maggie’s Drawers” (the red flag indicating that the shot totally missed the entire paper target) than anyone else.

          On the other hand, either Oswald or a double had several practice sessions at Dallas-area target ranges. If you understand the theory of how to hit a target, and you have done it to some degree, you can improve through practice if you are motivated.

          John Marks
          Former NRA member

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    I am also a big fan of Burke’s Connections.

    Indeed, even in my own personal life I can find a seemingly small decision or action which I took long ago, which has significantly shaped my life afterwards.

  • avatar
    Rick T.

    Interesting that the back ends of the cars look very “saggy” except for the one in black which shows both ends level.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      Because the black one is the only one to have a full-depth fender cutout, the others do not. I don’t think you would call it a fender skirt because it is not removeable, but it is the same effect.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    32 front / 68 rear.

    This is the exact opposite of the Gen I Ford EXP

    68 front / 32 rear.

  • avatar
    Freddie

    Of course, just an incredible coincidence that LHO had a job which put him right on the motorcade route.

    • 0 avatar
      John Marks

      Yes, and that the motorcade route was changed to bring it right in front of TSBD.

      Roger Stone’s book, linked to in my text, is truly horrifying. If Nixon was right about LBJ, as Nixon purportedly told Stone, then we do have a crisis of legitimacy of both major political parties.

      Stone’s book goes into chapter and verse about the changes to the motorcade route and the verbal order to police personnel assigned to Dealey Plaza that they were just there as “observers,” and that security was a federal matter.

      Like Shakespeare, except in baggy modern suits.

      JM

      • 0 avatar

        Wonderful piece! Damn.

        Where did you pick up all your knowledge of matters soviet?

        • 0 avatar
          John Marks

          Hi.

          Thanks for your kind words.

          Growing up, I had not one but two uncles who were History professors, and yet another who was very high up (operationally) in the CIA. I got my undergraduate degree in American Civilization. I admired JFK and I was I think traumatized by his killing (whereas my mother, who had been told by her CIA brother during the Cuban Missile Crisis “just take the kids to Mass every day,” thought that the world was going to end, literally. As in a pre-emptive nuclear strike from Newport to the First Naval District in Boston, among other places.) I read the paperback summary of the Warren Commission report when it came out, I duly paid $5 to watch a grainy print of the Zapruder film, and I have read an estimated 200 books on the assassination or that era.

          Ironically enough, at Thomas More College I was a guest lecturer on music theory and music history. But I carry a book manuscript around in my head, about the 20th century as a succession of disasters on a par with the 14th century.

          ATB,

          JM

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        I read a book about 3 years ago by a former Secret Service agent who had been part of JFK’s personal security detail since his inauguration.

        According to the book, most of JFK’s regular security crew were changed just prior to the trip to Dallas, in contradiction with normal operating procedures.

        No explanation was given for this change.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    Are you suggesting that the GM recall issues will lead to another president of George W’s caliber… Be afraid?

    • 0 avatar
      koshchei

      I think that compared to the political offerings from the GOP these days, George W was a politically adroit elder statesman. Frankly, I’d be terrified.

      • 0 avatar
        Jeff Weimer

        And the Democrat offerings are any better? Jimmy Carter looks a giant among them.

        • 0 avatar
          05lgt

          Saint Carter. I like that. He’s done good work with Habitat, managed to alter the trajectory of military spending, championed conservation in a way that only Gore believes Gore did, and got one really neat sub named after him.

  • avatar
    wmba

    There were plenty of Corvairs around during my high school and college years. Slow as sin with about 63 hp net and two speed Powerglide. Handled like all the other Detroit cars – lousily, and by handle, I mean it had about six turns of the steering wheel lock to lock to mimic the primitive power steering effort (fingertip light) of big cars but with manual recirculating ball or worm and peg steering, whatever they gave it. You couldn’t save a slide because your hands couldn’t twirl the wheel fast enough. Funny to see in snow. But on the road? Hell 2-ply squealing rayon tires and max 0.5g cornering wouldn’t upend them unless you ignored the howling tires. Then was not now with its judgmental criticism of past events based on today’s mores.

    When the Nader book came out, at the car club we laughed our heads off. It was printed with typewriter font on crap paper to make it look as though the whole enterprise had at least a whole 29 cents of pure financial muscle behind it. You read it, and it becomes immediately obvious that Nader had no idea how to even drive a car. Don’t think he had a licence. Anyway, it was a tease, never really explaining what the problems were. If he had any clue, he’d have attacked the VDub as well (at least it had quick steering, though).

    What won the day for Nader was the revelation that GM had private eyes trailing him trying to dig up dirt on the man. But he was a monk. GM was forced to admit their “error” in having him tailed, and basically gave in to the bad PR.

    This article is poor, repeating all the old rumors as if they were fact. Revisionism really, and not worthy of a car website. Sure, the EMPI Camber Compensator helped at the back to prevent tuck-under in extremis, but scarcely nobody ever drove that hard. Then again, all Detroiters handled like sludge or had arse-ends that slid in the rain. Mustangs scared me more than tootling about in a Corvair struggling to get to 50 mph, and I’ve been in several driven by college kids. Never landed tin-top down despite idiotic driving.

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      You happen to try the turbo version? A childhood friend bought his neighbors in 81. It had been lightly modified to make a few extra HP and was a fairly quick car. Not a match for the later muscle also around though. He got rid of it in less than a year because “the damn thing keeps trying to kill me”. He wasn’t the bravest driver, but two cars later he did have fun in a CRX sometimes.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    I have nothing to say/add except that this was an exceptional & thought-provoking essay.

  • avatar
    jdash1972

    Nicely done and very interesting. The best book written about the JFK assassination was “Case Closed” by Gerald Posner, btw.

  • avatar
    OneAlpha

    GM, or at least the personality type that keeps ending up running GM, seems to lack wisdom.

    I’ve heard it said, rather poetically I think, that wisdom is nothing more than the ability to see patterns.

    GM’s had the same pattern for decades:

    1 – Design an innovative, potentially good piece of machinery or a vehicle.

    2 – Let Accounting half-ass it into mediocrity.

    3 – Release the vehicle or equipment (that is essentially a beta-test version), which gets a reputation for being another Almost.

    4 – Release a refined version that should’ve been the debut model, with the initial reputation-killing flaws corrected.

    5 – Sell it for a year or two and when it starts to take off, give it the axe.

    6 – Beg for a bailout from Uncle Sam.

    7 – Wash, rinse, repeat.

    Wisdom would dictate that the company break the cycle or die, but it’s nowhere to be found.

    Maybe what’s necessary here is something truly radical.

    I have this theory that if we really want to build a spacecraft that can make the trip to Mars and back, we shouldn’t give the assignment and budget to NASA.

    Instead, we should go find THAT ONE GUY at NASA who’s completely obsessed with the idea of a Mars ship and give HIM the job – and the budget.

    I propose the same solution for GM’s woes. Put the whole company under the control of one inspired lunatic and hit the Go Button.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      I propose the same solution for GM’s woes. Put the whole company under the control of one inspired lunatic and hit the Go Button.

      Hell pre-bankruptcy I would have said, why not, what have we got to loose?

      Give it to Buickman, every theory is just theory until it is put into action.

  • avatar
    segfault

    I’ve long argued the need for TTAC to institute a GM Second Bankruptcy Watch. It’s never too early!

  • avatar
    3Deuce27

    Rear engine ‘swing-axle’ vehicles didn’t usually have enough built in limit to the axle swing especially when the vehicle rotated/tipped excessively(5-degrees or more) about its longitudinal axis. I addressed this issue, back in the day, with limit straps.

    My first limit strap was chain, probably 1/4″ chain, then 1/4″ steel cable and a clamp or two, later, as seat belts became common in the junk yards, I used those. Quieter and quickly adjustable, while quite durable, seat belts proved to be very effective in limiting axle swing travel. With those, I could corner my 57′ type-1 on two wheels with full control. The only problem was the driver’s door would often open and I would have to grab it while still on two wheels. I later used panel door locking hardware from 727 purchased from Boeing surplus to hold the doors closed. The passenger door never opened, probably due to the better condition of the passenger door latch, or maybe more load torque on the body with my body load on the drivers side initiated the action with the drivers door, or maybe I just could build higher loads cornering to the right.

    Anyway, limit straps were a cheap and effective solution to the problem of too much axle travel. Other suspension upgrades just increased the road holding/cornering power of the the Corvair and 356. Appropriate applied driving technique is the only real solution to those old swing axle vehicles, especially if rear engined.

    I have been fussing with suspensions since about 1960 when a friend and I bought and built a 40′ Ford coupe, a bit later building Ford V-8 ‘Tees’ and hot rods, brought further understanding of suspensions. Road racing and building vehicles for track work, and a nearly life long independent study of suspension design coupled with an engineering background, have further enhanced my understanding of vehicle dynamics.

    Like hydrodynamics/fluid dynamics and elements of aeroelasticity, the permutations of suspension dynamics, are endlessly fascinating. Even Einstein, through sailing, was fascinated by aeroelasticity and hydrodynamics, . He would have probably had the same regard for suspension actions and designs had he ever confronted it.

    My brother still has my 66′ Corvair convertible with only 42,000 miles on it. Sweet little fun car with a bunch of Finch parts on it from the day.

  • avatar
    slow kills

    This is what I want TTAC to be! Articles must be different, entertaining, and informative and Mr. Marks does this succinctly. More of this, please.

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    Aside from the Gore issue. . .

    Can you imagine if the Corvair survived? A GM Porsche 911 killer (turbos in the Corvair a decade before the 911) for less than half the price.

    By the time Nader’s book came out GM has introduced the 2nd generation 1965 Corvair, with a proper camber correcting double-jointed half-shaft multi-link rear suspension instead of less expensive swing arms (the Porsche 356 and every iteration of VW Beetle also used swing arms).

    But it was too late, the Corvair name had been destroyed even though the car itself was vastly improved.

    The image in this link shows the difference between the first and second generation suspensions.

    http://www.american-buddha.com/nader.unsafeanyspeed.1.htm

  • avatar
    JimC2

    “Mark Twain observed that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

    The corollary to this is, as RUN DMC observed, that “rhymes connect.”

    As the B&B ponder Ralph Nader and unintended consequences on future U.S. presidential elections in the year 2000, even if he hadn’t written his Unsafe at Any Speed (1965) about the Corvair, about seven years later his book about the VW Beetle came out. Do the math… Oh my!

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    The pictures used and article were a fine work, the pre-jump text confused me though. I initially thought this was a Sunday Story or something.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Mr. Marks
    First you review Detroit in a way that leads me to buy, read, enjoy, and so far share 3 times. The music reviews missed me, but I loved the piece on The man in blacks wheels. Now you step bravely into the turmoil induced void with prose, history, and seriously popcorn worthy click bait. Thank you. Mad props. Job well done. Please keep baking them fresh.

  • avatar
    Duaney

    The six cylinder Pontiac OHC engine was really a good one, would have been great as a four in the Vega. The story goes that some Chevy engineers wanted to just use the Chevy 4 cylinder, instead of the Vega engine, but Ed Cole was fully committed to his Vega engine, so that’s what they received. Pontiac later revised the Chevy four as their “Iron Duke” engine, installing it in their 1977 Astre, (Vega). Then the other H body cars, Monza, Sunbird, Starfire, received the Iron Duke as they dropped the Vega engine. So it went full circle.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    @OneAlpha–I agree, but I would go one step further that any corporation can get too big and their culture too entrenched to where they will ultimately fail unless they change. Too big to fail should not be used as an excuse. Originally I was for the Government bailout because of the large number of unemployed and the destruction of the suppliers which would have had a large ripple effect upon the US economy. GM was forced to make some major changes by cutting the number of brands. The problem is that the GM culture is still there and like a cancer it should be removed in order for the patient (GM) to survive in the long run. GM is not alone in this as most major corporations have a form of this type of culture. As for dangerous products one needs to look at Ford as well with Pintos with combustible gas tanks, early Mustangs with gas tanks directly under the trunks that could rupture in a collision, automatic transmissions that could slip into reverse, and trucks that could catch fire in garages and burn homes down. GM itself has had other dangerous issues with motor mounts coming loose and side saddle gas tanks on 73-87 GM trucks that would rupture in collisions. Bean counting and cheapening a product is a practice that has been going on for a long time in corporate America as short term profits are emphasized at the expense of product quality. When the cost cutting is at the expense of safety and it is known long before it is publicly acknowledged as with the GM ignition switch then this is an issue that is inexcusable. Ford did this as well with the Pinto when they decided it was cheaper to settle a law suit than to fix the gas tanks. Ford has made some significant changes under Mulally, who was given the latitude to make the changes that were necessary for Ford’s survival.

    @John Marks a good article and to the point. Were you a guest lecture at the Thomas More College in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area?

    • 0 avatar
      John Marks

      Dear Jeff,

      Thanks for reading, and thanks for your contribution.

      No, I ran the Chamber Music Performing Arts Series and guest-lectured about music history and theory at the TMC in New Hampshire.

      ATB,

      John

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      “Dangerous gas tanks” I guess you didn’t know that, at the time, it was standard practice to always hang the gas tank behind the rear axle. And I guess you also didn’t know that the “exploding saddle gas tanks” shown on, IIRC “60 Minutes” or “Dateline” was completely staged, including the use of pyrotechnics.

      The reason you “cheapen the product” is so people can buy it. To be sure, modern cars are safer than cars of the 1950s or 1960s, which in turn were safer than cars of the 1930s or 1920s.

  • avatar
    TomHend

    The “horsenails” “tipping point/Malcolm Gladwell” stuff is a bunch of nonsense.

    • 0 avatar
      John Marks

      Well, you of course are entitled to your opinion.

      Please note that I did not personally endorse the Horseshoe Nail theory of history. I think that after discarding the obvious nutty theories, there are several valid approaches to thinking about historical causation.

      To use my lead-in example: A strong case can be made that Lee Harvey Oswald was not a lone nut and had likely been groomed as a Patsy, which might be why his income tax returns have never been made public. If was being paid informant money by some Federal entity such as the Office of Naval Intelligence, that would change the leopard’s spots.

      An equally strong case can be made that those who live by the sword die by the sword, and if double-crossing the Mafia were not enough, and if adding 14 murder attempts against Castro were not enough, letting LBJ know that he might not be on the ticket next time and therefore might be fed to the Federal prosecutors for a variety of rancid business dealings; it would appear that at some point, JFK was going be killed for being a reckless and arrogant bastard, and if it did not happen in Dallas it could happen in Chicago or Miami.

      An FBI informant told his FBI handler 13 days before November 22 that Joseph Milteer, a white supremacist, had predicted JFK’s death by a lone nut shooting from a tall building overlooking JFK’s motorcade. The informant got it on audio tape.

      Zooming back, one can make a respectable but not strong case that had JFK lived, we still would have gotten bogged down in Vietnam, because he did not want to cut South Vietnam loose until he had won re-election.

      I think that the only historical theory that can be tested backwards and frontwards is David Hackett Fischer’s “Great (price) Wave” theory, but that only describes general economic trends in 100- to 200-year blocks. The Great Wave theory could not have predicted that a checkpoint guard would arrest the disguised-as-a-commoner Marie Antoinette, because she smelled too good to be poor… .

      But that happened, and it, to a degree, changed the course of history.

      Have a happy happy day!

      jm

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    @DC Bruce–I wasn’t stating that it is wrong to make cost cutting measures to a product. My point is that when there is a known safety issue and it is known within the company for a number of years and it is deliberately ignored then that is inexcusable. Do you know for a fact that the Pinto gas tanks were safe? True the Mustang tanks were typical of cars made then but they were still not safe. Would manufacturers be allowed to make a gas tank like that today? Any manufacturer can have a defect in a product and sometimes that defect can make it an unsafe product. The point is when a corporation deliberately ignores a defect that is unsafe? Do you approve of ignoring known safety issues?


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributing Writers

  • Jack Baruth, United States
  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Vojta Dobes, Czech Republic
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Cameron Aubernon, United States
  • J Emerson, United States