death of the american auto industry, a short pictorial
For various reasons, I am considering getting rid of my very nice, rather new Celica and buying into a piece of junk car to drive around in for a bit. (Actually, the reasons are simple; there's about 400 of them a month between the loan and the insurance, capped off with a sudden, inexplicable need for about 4000 new reasons in repairs).
Now, I love Japanese Cars. Most of the cars I've bought have been Hondas, plus this latest Toyota. Despite the 4000 arguments to the contrary mentioned above, American carmakers have been sucking wind trying to keep up with the Japanese for decades on reliability. An early 90's Honda can go 200k+ miles without needing major repairs, Chryslers seem to have a hard time making it to six figures.
On top of that, American carmakers seem to make design decisions based on how the boxes they buy their shoes in are designed. I don't know if they simply fired every single competent designer or they really think Americans all want cars that look exactly like the one next door. Especially when you consider that that car next door is fuckin' ugly.
But as I said, I'm looking to buy junk. When I buy junk, I don't want a plasticy rice-burner, I want something that pollutes like the word "Kyoto" is simply a city in Japan, a car that weighs more than a herd of African elephants, something that I can drive into a head-on collision with a Bradley and come out with a bent fender. My only requirements are that it be inspected and expected to live for at least a few more months without needing major repairs, and that the body...well, that it still has a body.
I figure, if I'm bearly breaking 4 digits on sticker price, it's not going to last very long whether it was made in Detroit or, well, Kyoto. At that point, I would rather have something big, nasty, and American. They're generally cheaper to fix, and besides, I don't want to be driving around in some little dorkmobile, I want something that could potentially be a "Classic" if only the rocker panels weren't rusted through and the transmission weren't wonky.
So I'm paging through the local paper, and there's a decently priced Oldsmobile Tornado that I think might be worth checking out. Now when I, and hopefully many of you, think of the Tornado, something like this is what comes to mind:
Now that, I would say, is a helluva ride. That's actually a 422, but it's similar in design to the original Tornado. And I don't really get the poster ("The car for spear-weilding jungle dwellers"?), but that car has cojones. I would be more than happy to drive that around, riddled with rust and with the muffler held on by a coathanger.
But oh no. I get home and do some looking around, turns out this is a 1984 Tornado for sale. Newer is better, right? Nope. Because at some point through the seventies and eighties, Jimmy Carter was elected, gas went through the roof, the Japanese invaded, and American automakers committed group hara-kiri.
So instead of perhaps a more efficient version of the car above, what you get is this:
I know. Ugh. A broke-down version of that is not the kind of trashy-chic I'm looking for here. It's just trashy.
But that's what you get. There are a few exceptions, but nearly every car from an American manufacturer after the mid-seventies is almost identical to that one. To get a car that has any kind of style to it whatsoever and dosen't just look like another K-car, you have to go back to the really, really old ones, i.e., ones worth thousands and thousands of dollars because somebody put in the time to maintain or restore them. You won't find anything like the first car above in the cheapo section of the paper; almost anything that old is either under a tarp in a garage or in a junkyard.
So what are those of us looking for halfway enjoyable junk to do? Well, I'm holding out and watching the papers. You never know. But eventually, I'm going to have to either make some more car payments, or break down and go for an aging jap-scrap. I won't really like it, but at least I will be able to beat a few extra miles out of it than I could with a similarly-fugly American car.