Defending Automaking (and the Chevy Vega, sort of)…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, February 23, 2009

Spring Break 1981: My friends Dominic, Lewis, Joe, and I took an ill-advised and somewhat unsanctioned trip. We swung through Pennsylvania to visit (and get free meals from) my relatives in Reading, then Dominic’s grandmother north of Philly. From there we headed to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Spent five days playing and having fun — Frisbee, wave-diving, basketball, go-karts… someday ask me to tell you the story about Lewis and the water slide. Then back over the mountains and home to Michigan. All this without a lick of trouble from Dominic’s Chevy Vega.

Oh, it wasn’t comfortable. Whenever I had to take my turn riding in back, I had to be careful to fold myself up just right and not relax. If I relaxed and Dom hit a bump, my head would smack against the unpadded trim where the back window and the roof met. And when it got too warm, we had to have the heat on full blast so the engine wouldn’t explode. And the tape deck that Dom installed played only one audio channel. So certain songs would disappear for several moments. Whenever I hear “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” I get nostalgic:

Hand across the water (water)
Heads across the sky
Hand across the water (water)
Heads across the sky

The only parts we would actually hear was the “water” repeat. We only had three tapes, so we listened to the radio a lot. That was pretty slim pickings, especially when you consider the geography and what was being played by radio stations in 1981. Someday ask me to tell you the story about how Joe Hasselbach nearly chose death for all rather than listen to a whole Barry Manilow song.

Anyway, I tell you this because most stories or blog posts (particularly the blog posts) that are in favor of letting GM, Chrysler, and the whole automotive industry just go to hell start off with an anecdote about a crappy Detroit 3 car they once owned. Right. So there I have offered a happy story about a notoriously crappy car model.

Now we can get on with the real discussion: What needs to be done to ensure the United States will have a viable capacity for automobile production once we get out of this financial crisis?

Ready, go…

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