Gran Torino: Dan Neil Nails It

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

There’s a reason why the Pulitzer Prize committee gave Dan Neil kudos, and it ain’t ’cause his hair stylist saw Eraserhead a few times too many. The LA Times carmudgeon’s eco-friendly posture can be a bit of a bore. And there are times when Neil geeks out but good. But there are columns where Neil drops it like he’s hot. His commentary on the symbolism of the 1972 Gran Turino in the movie Gran Torino is a prose poem that will, Samuel Johnson-like, stand the test of time (unlike the POS upon which the column and movie are based). “1972 was in many ways an inflection point for the U.S. automakers, the year that Detroit’s mighty cylinders began to seize. The Big Three would never again be as comfortable, and arrogant, and solipsistic, as they were then. The following year’s OPEC oil embargo sent them reeling. It was this generation of cars, which almost seemed to radiate contempt for their buyers, that drove Americans into the embrace of Japanese automakers when they came. It was this generation of carmakers, and indeed the one that came after, that failed to answer the challenges of an increasingly competitive global market. That failure took Detroit — a once-beautiful city of broad avenues and majestic public spaces — straight to hell.” Make the jump for Neil’s Talking Heads-style conclusion.

“So to say Walt Kowalski’s Gran Torino is a cinematic metaphor doesn’t really do it justice. The car — to whatever extent it is fractionally responsible for Detroit’s undoing — is an agent of the film’s action, a prime mover, an original sin. And Walt, a retired Ford autoworker, is an original sinner. One day in 1972 Walt is wrenching away on a Ford assembly line, stuffing a steering box into a shiny Gran Torino before going home to a comfortable middle-class home on a quiet street in Highland Park. Thirty-six years later, he raises the blinds of that same house to discover the world he knew is gone. The jobs have vanished, the factories closed, the prosperity replaced with desperation. How did he get here?”

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  • Jack Baruth Jack Baruth on Dec 26, 2008

    What changed in this country? People didn't change. The law changed. More particularly, the laws regarding trade changed. By modern standards, Americans had a miserable standard of living in 1955... but virtually everything they touched had been made in the United States by Americans earning a living wage. The American family of 1965 may have only had one car, one television, and a limited number of clothing and toys, but those purchases stayed in the economy. The "economic boom" of the fiat-money era (small "F") was a direct result of currency valuation, and it was prolonged by China's understanding that they could build their manufacturing base by undercutting ours. Manufacturing jobs will return once the dollar doesn't buy anything overseas. That day is coming.

  • Tigeraid Tigeraid on Dec 29, 2008

    wtf, '72 Torinos were great. It started going downhill in '73.

  • ToolGuy "We're marking the anniversary of the time Robert Farago started the GM death watch and called for the company to die."• No, we aren't. Robert Farago wrote that in April 2005. It was reposted in 2009 on the eve of the actual bankruptcy filing.The byline dates are sometimes strange/off with the site revisions (and the 'this is a repost' note got lost), but the date string in the link is correct (...2005/04...). Posting about GM bankruptcy in 2005 was a slightly more difficult call than doing it in 2009.-- The Truth About Calendars
  • Kat Laneaux Agree with Michael500, we wasted all that money just to bail out GM and they are developing these cars in China and other countries. What the heck. I understand the cheap labor but that is just another foothold the government has on their citizens and they already treat them like crap. That is pretty disgusting to go forward to put other peoples health and mental stability on a crazy crazed, control freak, leader, who is in bed with Russia. Thought about getting a buick but that just shot that one out of the park. All of this for the greed. They get what they lay in bed with. Disgusting.
  • Michael500 Good thing Obama used $50 billion of taxpayer money to bail them out and give unions a big stake. GM is headed to BK again with their Hail Mary hope of EVs. Hopefully a Republican in office will let them go BK the next time, and it's coming. The US economy is not related/dependent on GM and their Chinese made Buicks.
  • MaintenanceCosts "Rural areas hardly noticed COVID at all."I very much doubt that is true in places like the Navajo Nation or the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, some of which lost 2% or more of their population to COVID.No city had a death rate in the same order of magnitude.Low-density living is a very modern invention. Before cars, people, even in agricultural areas, needed to live densely to survive.
  • Wjtinfwb Always liked these MN12 cars and the subsequent Lincoln variant. But Ford, apparently strapped for resources or cash, introduced these half-baked. Very sophisticated chassis and styling, let down but antiquated old pushrod engines and cheap interiors. The 4.6L Modular V8 helped a bit, no faster than the 5.0 but extremely smooth and quiet. The interior came next, nicer wrap-around dash, airbags instead of the mouse belts and refined exterior styling. The Supercharged 3.8L V6 was potent, but kind of crude and had an appetite for head gaskets early on. Most were bolted to the AOD automatic, a sturdy but slow shifting gearbox made much better with electronic controls in the later days. Nice cars that in the right color, evoked the 6 series BMW, at least the Thunderbird did. Could have been great cars and maybe should have been a swoopy CLS style sedan. Pretty hard to find a decent one these days.