Today’s automobiles just don’t measure up

Wally’s World

I’m currently driving a 2003 Pontiac. It’s a nice, little car, has reliably taken me wherever I’ve wanted to go and it still has a few good miles left. Nevertheless, wear has taken its toll and in a couple years I’ll have to think seriously about buying something else.

There are rumors the Pontiac line is about to be scrapped. I’ve no idea what this would do to the trade-in value of my car, but I doubt it will ever become a valuable classic like, say, the original Thunderbird. In the present cash-strapped, screwed-up automotive industry, teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and begging for more government handouts, several makes and/or models will probably be eliminated. This has been the trend as far back as the 1930s.

Indeed, a quick check on the Internet indicates that at least 10 different makes have been axed just since the 1950s; i. e., the Hudson, Packard, DeSoto, Nash/Rambler, Studebaker, Plymouth, Edsel, Mercury and Oldsmobile.

These names are familiar to me, but I’d be hard pressed to describe any of them. I never knew any one who owned a Studebaker and, in general, it appears no one did. The DeSoto was the ugliest damn thing to ever move on a highway. Running it a close second was the Edsel. Whereas the other cars on my list were around for several years, the Edsel was so homely it only lasted two years. At the other extreme, my folks owned a 1960 Mercury – the big, black bomb – and this was quite an attractive car. I’m a bit confused about Nash/Rambler; they may have been different cars, but I suspect the Rambler was merely a model of the Nash. Yet there’s one thing I’m not confused about: In the late 1950s, there were rumors that the Nash wasn’t allowed in drive-in theaters because the seats laid down to form a bed. Upon first hearing this, I thought it was so much nonsense – but sometimes a young fellow had to wonder.

Of course, the sexual escapades allowed within a car – parked at the end of that secluded, dead-end street where Cascade Motors is presently located – have been a major factor in the popularity of cars ever since their inception. I’d venture to guess 70 percent of us lost our virginity in a car. No wonder a car was probably the first major purchase most of us made.

But today, with our relaxed sexual morality and our mass transit systems, cars no longer seem quite as important or admired, especially among city dwellers. I know several urbanites, particularly in New York, who don’t own cars and don’t want one.

In the past, one make of car was easily distinguished from another; that is, a Chevy was very different from a Buick, as a Buick was drastically different from a Ford. Today, not only are there far fewer brands, but they all look more or less the same to me. Granted, we seem to lose our ability to differentiate between similar objects as we age, but I don’t think that’s my problem in this case. Rather, relative to the past, today’s cars actually look more alike.

There were a lot of swell cars back in the 1920s. In fact, the ‘20s might well have been the glory days of automotive culture. One of my personal favorites was the 1924 Pierce-Arrow passenger touring car (check the Internet to see a photo.) In those days, that model was the absolute height of car luxury. Babe Ruth owned one. So did President Franklin Roosevelt and Chicago gangster Al Capone.

Initially, a new 1924 Pierce-Arrow touring roadster probably sold for around $5,000. And what’s it worth today? In an exclusive, gated community of New Jersey, one recently sold for 350,000 bucks!

So, listen up, car aficionados. If you have a 1955 Chevy, treat it with kid gloves and store it for another 20 years.