Car History Year 2003
Date: Monday, September 27 @ 14:19:10 UTC
BACK TO THE FUTURE...
This is the most exciting part, hopefully.
What next? Will the current fashion for "retro" styling continue? Does the taste for cars that look like the cars that their designers thought were cool when they were kids, demonstrate and unhealthy inability to grow up and face up to current challenges like pollution and diminishing reserves of fossil fuels, and our dependency on states that might prove, any minute, not to be dependable?
In the new and uncomfortable and unpredictable world of the third millennium, the accepted safeguards and certainties of the way of life of the United States - of the entire free world - have been called into question. Even so, it would be sad to think that insecurity regarding the future could blunt the creativity of that most imaginative of institutions: The American Automobile Industry. It's easy to read too much into trends in fashion and design; in fact you can make a case for whatever interpretation of the facts takes your fancy. It could be argued that the recent explosion of enthusiasm for Recreational Vehicles in general and four-by-fours in particular is a manifestation of some kind of yuppie insecurity: middle-class moms using semi-armored personnel carriers - all bull-bars and off-road capability - to pick up their kids from school. It could be argued that the recent explosion of enthusiasm for Recreational Vehicles in general and four-by-fours in particular is a manifestation of a new sense of freedom and confidence: a rediscovery of the pioneering spirit and a yearning to experience the Great Outdoors. So either we're scared to go out or we can't bear to be kept in...
Will looking back over all the wonderful -and not so wonderful - automobiles that fill the pages of this book give us any insight into what the cars of next year will look like? Probably. Will we be able to make an accurate prediction of what cars will look like in ten years? Maybe. How about twenty years? Look back at, say, the 1919 Ford Model T and then look at the 1928 Model A. Nearly a decade between them but not a whole lot of difference, right? Now try the '39 Mercury; could you have seen that coming, sitting in a Model T? Look at that fabulous '59 Cadillac and then turn to the 1980 model, then try the same with the Corvette! We can see that there are "generational" shifts in auto design, as with most other things. Cars look "Fifties" in the same way that clothes or electrical appliances of the period do. Sometimes styling details from an earlier period are picked up on by a new generation and recycled. In recent years Chrysier have produced Concept Cars that hark back to the 'thirties. Who's to say that Cadillac may not revive the fin one day, or Buick the Ventiport?
For many years - many more years than most people imagine - the styling of automobiles was separate and distinct from their design in engineering terms. It was in the early 1920's that the indomitable Alfred P. Sloan circulated a memorandum to senior staff at General Motors to the effect that the basic design of the automobile - in engineering terms - had been established and was unlikely to change radically. He was right - in many ways, it hasn't! The only way to encourage people to keep buying new cars, therefore, he opined, was to make them appear different, even if, underneath, they were pretty much the same. The idea, basically, was to move the automobile from being a consumer durable, like a stove or a refrigerator, to being a "disposable" item, insofar as its styling would automatically become outdated by the introduction of a "new" model - every year. Cars, like clothes, would become subject to the whims of fashion. So, in 1926, GM's legendary "Art and Color Section" was established and Harley Earl elected to head it, and the annual model range was introduced throughout every division in the corporation. Henry Ford's vision of the simple, sound design, ceaselessly refined and improved, was destined for the glue factory. Whether that was a good thing or a bad thing is debatable. The fact is that the Great American Public fell in love with the idea of novelty and innovation, even when it was innovation for innovation's sake, and they didn't care what anybody else thought about it and, by and large, they still don't.
The same could be said of baroque architecture - let's face it, the same could be said of the pyramids of Egypt and the movies of C.B.deMille. People like spectacular things and the American Automobile industry has produced plenty in the past hundred years.
It's tempting to try to pick a favorite, or to try to decide which was the Greatest American Automobile ever made - or not made. Discussion of this topic can provide hours of enjoyment, but be warned, debate can get pretty heated. Try it: If you could have any U.S. auto ever produced, regardless of price or rarity, which one would it be? AJ-Series Duesenberg? An 812 Cord? A V16 Cadillac? A Chrysier 300C? A '63 Corvette? A Viper? Just flipping through these pages demonstrates the truly remarkable range of machinery that has been produced in the United States over little more than a century. We can see changing fashions and fortunes reflected at every turn; technological advances, the influence of legislation on safety and emissions; consumer confidence waxing and waning... The whole history of the American people has been recorded in steel. Will this continue to be true now that America is part of a truly globalized market? Who could have imagined, in the early 'fifties, that by the end of the century many Americans would aspire to the ownership of automobiles from Germany and Japan? Now that all our manufacturers have agreements with foreign concerns, it is possible that the American automobile could lose its unmistakable identity. For one thing, it is possible that more and more foreign buyers may want to own an American car - and they'll expect it to look and drive like one.
What has been noticeable over the last couple of decades of the twentieth century is that that cars have got younger, sort of. It's remarkable to remember that those finned, two-tone, chrome-laden rocketships of the nineteen-fifties, the Eldorados and the Roadmasters, were bought and driven by sober businessmen. We associate many of those cars with the Rock & Roll years but the kids who were doing the rocking and the rolling weren't in the market for new cars. Elvis had a Cadillac but the millions who bought his records managed without. Nowadays, auto makers have to appeal to a much younger market and it seems that many of them are a lot more practically-minded than their parents and grandparents.
So what's going to happen in the coming years? It could well be that our method of buying cars could change, with virtual showrooms replacing expensive real-estate. New technologies will surely give us cleaner and more efficient power plants and a more environmentally-aware generation will be starting to favor low-emission or even no-emission fuels. The ever-increasing volume of traffic coupled with the limitless possibilities of computer-based communication and navigation systems may well result in automated traffic-flow management, particularly in congested city centers. The day may not be far away when, in downtown New York or Los Angeles, the car will be driven by the city's road-traffic control system. The driver will simply announce the required destination, sit back and watch TV on the way to work. Everybody will be chauffeur-driven.
Whatever happens, it is likely that the automobile will remain a "personal choice" item rather than a purely utility purchase. There are already examples of cars that can be customized on an almost daily basis, allowing different configurations of seats, even interchangeable body panels, to suit the owner's changing needs or just their whims.
The American people will still want to travel, whatever happens, and on the evidence of the last century, their auto industry will make sure that they can do it in style.
V6 - All aluminum
215 cu. ins
Bore and stroke
4 door sedan
No. of seats
c. 3,500 Ibs
HENNESSEY DODGE VIPER
V10 - all aluminum
488 cu. ins
Bore and stroke
No. of seats
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