Tag: Nostalgia

By on May 6, 2011

Photos courtesy of Cars In Depth

As a Detroiter I hate ruin porn. I particularly hate it when lazy journalists, bloggers, editors and video crews shoot photos or video, or worse, use stock footage and pics, of the Michigan Central Station and the old Packard plant. So I’m a little reluctant to share these photos that I shot just south of State Fair, east of Woodward. Ultimately, the photos were just too good, so emblematic of Detroit’s decay, that I had to share them. Also, it’s an opportunity to share some hope about the city.

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By on May 6, 2011


Start the video, then pause. Click on the “3D” icon on the YouTube menu bar to select your choice of 3D formats or 2D. Video and original photos courtesy of Cars In Depth

We’ve all seen too many pictures and videos of the magnificent ruin that was once the Packard plant on Detroit’s east side. It turns out that there’s a Packard site in the Detroit area that’s not a ruin, the Packard Proving Grounds in Shelby Twp. about 15 miles north of Eight Mile Road. Like the Packard plant on East Grand Blvd, Albert Kahn designed all the original Packard buildings on the proving grounds site, including a tudorish looking lodge where the facility’s manager and his family lived. It may be the only place where Kahn designed both residential and industrial buildings. It was built in 1927 at a cost of over a million dollars. Packard used the facility to develop and test their cars, aviation engines (there was a small airfield inside the big oval track – Charles Lindbergh visited the site), and also for publicity and marketing. The proving grounds even had a role in the Arsenal of Democracy. Chrysler used the facility during WWII to test Sherman tanks, erecting a building used to service the tanks that were tested inside the paved oval.

Additional video after the jump.
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By on December 18, 2010


Here’s a question that may well be impossible to answer, due to the numerous gray areas involved. Sure, we could set all kinds of limitations (e.g., “production run” applies only to engines built by the original manufacturer) and of course you stumble into the quagmire of defining when changes to an engine design become significant enough to result in a different engine… but why should we do that? (Read More…)

By on November 29, 2010

Bill Mitchell, only the second man to head General Motors styling when he took over from the monumental Harley Earl, was not a man about whom people were impartial. GM’s official history reveres him. Harley Earl’s family reviles him. His coworkers and subordinates at GM either loved him or despised the man. Even landmark designs that were signatures of his reign at GM Styling, the split-window 1963 Corvette Sting Ray and the boat tail Rivieras, are polarizing designs that had detractors, including some on the GM Styling staff. He admittedly ran that department like a dictator, though he rarely fired anyone. Mercurial in temper, he’d have screaming fits at his design staff, laced with the most vulgar epithets, then defuse the tension with an offhand joke as he left the room. Shamelessly ambitious and self-promoting, often taking personal credit for his staffs’ designs, had the term “larger than life” not existed, Mitchell would have coined it to describe himself.

By today’s standards of workplace political correctness, diversity and racial and sexual harassment law, Bill Mitchell was an atavistic throwback to an age when ethnic jokes by supervisors were uncomfortably endured by the brunt of that ‘humor’. An executive then could tell his secretary to order him up some hookers after a multiple martini lunch, knowing that she’d hold all calls and cover for him if his wife (or another executive) got jealous. As a result, in addition to whatever praise and criticism his aesthetic direction and management skills have garnered, Bill Mitchell’s legacy has been somewhat tarred with the brush of bigotry.

The question is are we being fair to the man? Are we applying contemporary standards to an era that was simultaneously more innocent and more evil in terms of racial, ethnic and other prejudice?

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By on November 23, 2010

The last time I attended a ball game, JFK was running for president. My older brother tells me that Mickey Mantle hit a homer. He would remember. Tom was a baseball fan.

I loved cars, not sports. At age six, I asked my mother to count the days until I could drive. I loved especially the elegantly maternal Mercurys. Nonetheless, I saw brands as classification systems, like the species of my beloved butterflies, rather than as foci for tribal loyalty, like my brother’s Yankees.

But fandom–the word derives from “fanatic”–is a holy grail of marketing, and I was not immune. At age nine, I sacrificed my objective appreciation of cars on Madison Avenue’s altar. In choosing my favorite car, loyalty trumped aesthetics. We had a Chevy.

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By on September 23, 2010

As someone who has driven over 300,000 non-livery, private-owner miles in various iterations of Ford’s Panther, TTAC’s Panther Appreciation Week struck a bittersweet chord for me. I’ve enjoyed seeing this versatile vehicle-from-another-era get the admiration and respect I believe it deserves, and the peek at the other side of the philosophical coin – courtesy of some Best & Brightest commentators (and Paul) – has also been interesting. But this tribute to the platform’s imminent demise has saddened me, as it highlights how the Panther has represented such a stoic constant on North American roads for so many years. Regardless, change is the only true constant, and it won’t be long before the pride of St. Thomas Assembly is irretrievably crushed by the ever-advancing juggernaut of modernity. Standing at the precipice of this retirement, I feel compelled to look at what the Panther has meant, both in my life, and in the market over these past three decades.

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By on September 8, 2010

Part One of this piece can be found here.

Were it not for an act of God, the fecklessness of General Motors’ executives and the difference between a self-promoting Texan and a Californian willing to walk away from it all, the many Cobras you see, real and ersatz, would be joined by another predator, Bill Thomas’ Cheetah.

Developed with backdoor assistance from Chevrolet, the Cheetah was the Chevy powered answer to the “Powered by Ford” Cobra. A racing Cheetah was given one of the first Gen IV big block 396 Chevy “rat” motors made. Based around Corvette drivetrain and suspension components, and a not very robust tube frame, the Cheetah was covered in a body that is unforgettable.

Though the Cheetah only competed in a small number of SCCA races, winning 11 events while simultaneously developing a reputation for extreme speed but treacherous handling (caused by the flimsy chassis), its drop dead gorgeous body styling made it instantly memorable. The fact that the Cheetah came out in the mid 1960s, when scale models and slot car racing were hugely popular with teen baby boomers, didn’t hurt the car’s popularity.

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By on June 26, 2010


TTAC readers, the Best and the Brightest, seemed to have liked the first Magazine Memories so I started to sort and  organize the boxes of old buff books in the basement, with an eye towards another column for you guys. The first piece was about a Sports Car Graphic from 1969, a golden age for both performance cars and auto racing. I thought it would be interesting, by way of contrast, to look at an era of less worthy automobiles, the “malaise era”, so named because of a speech given by Jimmy Carter during his presidency that attempted to address a sense of national lethargy. Though Carter never actually used the word malaise, the tag stuck. Looking at magazines from the middle of the Carter years, the winter of 1980-81, though, the cars were so boring and mediocre that I thought it’d be too much of a challenge to even joke about how boring and mediocre they were.
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By on June 3, 2010

If you scan the autoblogosphere on a regular basis, you’ve read some half-hearted eulogies to the best and worst of Mercury. Fair enough, as the Mercury brand deserves every one of those backhanded compliments: sharing too much content with a comparable Fords and (sometimes) sharing too many styling cues with the Lincolns means it couldn’t die off without a dig or two. And it is an easy target: aside from the (lead-sled) post war Yuppie clientele that inspired Mercury’s creation, the original sleeky-Sable and a few old Cougars, this was bound to happen.

But obviously my love for Mercury (here, here, and here) means I’m not going to bury Mercury, but to praise it. And to make sure the brand remains in our collective consciousness just as long as it’s GM counterpart, Pontiac. Wishful thinking, Mehta?

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By on May 30, 2010

In the basement are boxes of historic newspapers and old car magazines that I’ve saved since the late 1960s. The oldest items date to the Detroit Tigers’ 1968 World Series victory and the Armstrong/Aldrin moon landing the following year. The automotive publications are mostly from the early 1970s through the late 1980s, primarily Road & Track and Car and Driver from the US and CAR from the UK, plus a few odds and ends.

While looking for the newspapers on the moon landing I came across the November 1969 issue of Sports Car Graphic. SCG’s content was aimed more at the string-back glove set and road racing fans than Robert Peteresen’s other titles like Hot Rod & Motor Trend. I guess SCG was staking out a niche between C&D and Autoweek. I believe that TTAC contributor, Stephan Wilkinson was an editor at Sports Car Graphic during the 1970s so perhaps he can give us some historical background on the publication.

Picking up and reading a 40 year old car magazine evokes a range of thoughts and feelings. The physical object is both an artifact as well as historical source material. Certainly there’s a sense of nostalgia, as well as curiosity to look at the table of contents for cool cars. You read an old magazine differently than you’d read one that came through your mail chute today. If you still subscribe to C&D or R&T, you flip past the TireRack ads as fast as you can. With an old magazine you savor even the advertising copy, wondering if IECO still makes Corvair parts or even exists. Thinking Francophonically, there is an enduring sense not of déjà vu but rather of plus que change.
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By on May 8, 2010

Today, we’re setting the way-back machine for 1999 for an ABC “exclusive” behind the scenes of General Motors. Rick Wagoner is in charge, market share is dropping and the Aztek still hasn’t emerged from its camouflage. It’s a more innocent time, as evidenced by ABC’s breathless, toothless reportage, and it makes for good nostalgia and good schadenfreude. Does it get any better than that?
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By on April 17, 2010

I’d been wondering if I’d damaged the fuel pump when I ran out of gas a couple of months ago, for the only time in my 350,000-400,000 lifetime miles. Sometimes, after coasting in gear I’d feel the Accord 5-speed subtly hesitate as I gently pressed the gas. But this morning, the engine seemed to be gasping for fuel, and the check engine light–a species which is well known to cry wolf–was blinking at me as if it really meant it. Instead of to the espresso joint, I headed to the local mechanic.

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By on April 17, 2010

The man’s wife, an actress who looked Scandinavian, called it “The Monster.”

“You’ve come for the Monster,” she said.

“Yes, I have,” I said. Meanwhile trying to figure out why she would call one of Pininfarina’s most beautiful Ferraris– the GTC/4– “The Monster.”

I say “most beautiful” but the Italians, with their ever more refined eyes for body shapes (both women and cars) called it “the hunchback with clown lips” because it had an ever so slight rise to the center of the rear deck lid, and up front there was a rubber bumper surround. Neither feature hurt the car’s looks but you know the Italians. They wanted things just right or they would find something to criticize.

I found out later on, once I took the car, it ate money. It wasn’t the cookie monster, but the money monster.

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By on March 24, 2010

Terrence Steven McQueen was born to a stunt pilot father and an alcoholic mother on this day in 1930. His father left them both halfway to Steve’s first birthday. In the ensuing years he would find a home on his Uncle’s farm in Indiana, be moved to Indianapolis and L.A. where he was shipped off to a Junior Republic by an abusive stepfather, lumberjack, be a Marine guard for President Harry Turman’s yacht and become the highest paid movie star in the world.

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By on March 20, 2010

Statistically speaking, it’s a little early to be ragging on the baby boomers. In addition to numerical advantages, the boomers also haven’t slipped fully into retirement, meaning mainstream culture will be stuck for a little longer in the era of unrepentantly rosy nostalgia. And though the pasturing of America’s second-greatest-by-default generation will be ruinous for little things like government entitlement programs, the benefits to important stuff like car design will be profound. Unlike subsequent generations, the baby boomers still had the privilege of living during the golden age of the automobile, a time before Detroit’s decline, the massive government regulation of safety and emission standards, and the general blandifying of the car. As a result, boomers bring a bizarrely retro-sensibility to the modern car market, not just for restored classics, and retro-muscle cars, but for the vehicles that brought an end to the era of Detroit Baroque. Which is where things get interesting.

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