Monday, December 30, 2013

Heroic Road Trips Taken During the 1920s and 1930s

Hi Folks-- recently I picked up some interesting books dealing with heroic road trips undertaken during the 1920s and 1930s. These stories proved to be not only fascinating travel descriptions but also involved struggles between humans and rather primitive auto machinery.  Their courage is humbling to those of us who won't leave home on a road tip with our restored cars without Haggerty or AAA towing insurance!

1. H.H. McWilliams. The Diabolical: An Account of the Adventures of Five People Who Set Out in a Converted Ford Lorry to Make a Journey from Palestine to England Across Asia Minor and the Balkans. London: Duckworth, 1934. This book presents one crazy story to say the least. Take a modified Ford truck named the "Diabolical" start in the middle east, and drive to Europe. Excellent detail of roads, auto services, people and cultures (the ugliest people live in Bulgaria!), issues with customs and borders, etc.

2.George S. Counts. A Ford Crosses Soviet Russia. Boston: Stratford, 1930.

3.Guy de Larigaudie, trans. by Andree J. Rie. Flivver to Cambodia: Two Boy Scouts Across Asia. New York: Putnam's Sons, 1939. Actually two crazy young Frenchmen who are Scouts (although they seem a bit old for this) and their drive to Saigon. Viva La France!

4. Joseph Henry Jackson. Mexican Interlude. New York: Macmillan, 1936. Husband and wife try out the new Pan-American Highway. This socially pretentious pair tour by auto a Mexico that beyond Monterrey  has not been driven by many at the time. A sugar coated trip description with some value as to details associated with Mexican culture of the day. Everything is rosy, it seems, in a land that was far from that.

5.H. Birch Richardson. High Street, Africa. Edinburgh and London, 1936.


Our Prayers are with you, Michael Schmacher!





He always has lived at the edge --  F1, motorcycles, skiing. Only the great can look fear in the eye with defiance.










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Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Penultimate Road Food -- Roller Hot Dogs




Hi folks -- well, nobody lives forever!  Whenever I go on a road trip, I always look forward to stopping at a Love's Travel Center and partaking in my favorite road meal -- roller dogs.  Not any hot dog, mind you, but a Jalapeno Cheese Dog, or Cheddar Cheese Dog, or maybe even a Polish Sausage or Brat. I paid $3 for 2 today; at my local Speedway roller dogs go for 2 for $2.22.  Juicy, tasty, coffin nails.

To top this off one might buy a hostess filled pie -- chocolate my favorite, lemon or apple also OK.

There ought to be a law to keep people like me from shortening my life, Mayor Bloomberg!


Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Automobile and American Life -- Senior Seminar Syllabus, Spring, 2014

Hi folks -- here is a draft of the syllabus I will be using the coming spring term.  Comments and criticisms are welcome!

John

SEMINAR--HST 485P1 SPRING, 2014
The Automobile, the Road, and American Life
Class Meeting: Wednesday, 3:00-5:50 p.m.
HM 468

Instructor: Dr. John A. Heitmann
Office: HM 435
Telephone: x92803
Office Hours:
MW10-10:50 a.m., W 2-2:50 p.m., or by appointment.


It has been said that the automobile is the perfect technological symbol of American culture, a tangible expression of our quest to level space, time and class, and a reflection of our restless mobility, social and otherwise. In this seminar we will explore together the place of the automobile in American life, and how it transformed business, life on the farm and in the city, the nature and organization of work, leisure time, and the arts. This is a most complex transition that we will study, as the automobile transformed everyday life and the environment in which we operate.  It influenced the foods we eat; music we listen to; risks we take; places we visit; errands we run; emotions we feel; movies we watch; stress we endure; and, the air we breathe.

Required Texts:

John Heitmann, The Automobile and American Life (McFarland, 2009).
Warren Belasco, Americans on the Road: From Autocamp to Motel, 1910-194 (Johns Hopkins, 1999).
            Jack Keroauc, On the Road (Penguin, 1997).
            John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley in Search of America (Penguin, 2012).
           
           
Grades: Course work will consist of seminar lectures, discussions, presentations, films, and optional field trips to the Packard Museum and the Taj Garag. Grades will be based on class discussion and 3 three page book review papers (45%), an assigned article class presentation (15%) and a research paper (40%).

            In this class we will define the seminar as a shared learning experience in which one of its purposes is to create new knowledge. Therefore, the research paper is the most significant assignment of this course. It should critically explore an area of knowledge related to the automobile and American life, and ideally should be 10 pages double spaced in length, with additional footnotes and bibliography, and furthermore draw on minimally 15 sources, primary and secondary. I plan to meet with you individually and collectively during the semester to ensure that your topic has a proper focus and that sources are readily available for your project. A late paper will be penalized one-half letter grade per day.

           


Among the term paper topics are the following suggestions:


The Automobile and World War I
The American Auto Industry in China before WWII
The Architecture of Early Automobile Plants
George Romney and American Motors
A Reassessment of the Life of Henry Ford II
General Motors at Lordstown, Ohio and Labor Issues
Dayton, Ohio as a "GM Town"
Fast Women -- Women Race Drivers (The Bugatti Queen, Denise McCluggage, and others)
Women as Depicted in Automobile Advertising during the 1970s (you should narrow down the decades)
Seat Belts (or the Airbag, or Crumple Zones) and the Coming of Automobile Safety
Auto Racing -- any era
A History of the Driver's License
African-Americans living in the South and the Automobile during the 1920s
The American Drive-In
The Promise and Ultimate Disappointment with the Rotary Wankel Engine
Automation and the Post-WWII American Auto Industry
The VW Comes to America
The Automobile and American Literature
The Automobile and Film -- any era
The "Fast and Furious" Franchise
Music about the Automobile or about Highways -- From Race Music to Rock and Roll
Drinking and Driving in the 20th Century
Hip-Hop and Cars – themes and artists
Elon Musk and the Coming of the Tesla Motor Car

           
            My book The Automobile and American Life is our key common reading in this class and the touchstone for our discussions. While you will not be tested on this reading, you will be responsible for reading this book and critically commenting on it in class.
           
            Additionally, you must select from the syllabus an article that you will report on to the class at the scheduled time. All articles listed are on Isidore; you are to prepare a 20-30 minute presentation in which you discuss the author’s main theme(s), the subject topic of the book and its central narrative, and finally your own assessment of this book and how it enhanced(or stultified) your knowledge and interest in the history of the automobile in America.

Schedule of Assignments and Class Meetings

Week 1 — January 13
Introduction. What our cars tell us about ourselves. The automobile and its inherent contradictionsThe automobile in art and as art.
            Reading: Heitmann, Introduction.
            Film:  “Wild Wheels”
                       

Week 2 — January 22
            Pioneers
Reading: Heitmann, Chapter 1.
            Film: “Horatio’s Drive”
Article Report(s): James J. Flink, "Three Stages of American Automobile Consciousness," American Quarterly, 24 (October, 1972), 451-473; Pamela Walker Laird, '"The Car Without a Single Weakness," Early Automobile Advertising," Technology &
            Culture, 37 (October, 1996), 796-812.

Week 3 — January 29
            Henry Ford, Fordism, and the Model T.
            Reading:  Heitmann, Chapter 2
            Films:  Mack Sennet, “Gussle’s Day of Rest( 1915).”
“California Straight Ahead,” (1925).
            Article report(s): Christopher Wells, "The Road to the Model T: Culture, Road                  
            Conditions, and Innovation at the Dawn of the American Motor Age," Technology          
            & Culture, 48 (July, 2007), 497-523; Kevin Borg, "'The "Chauffeur Problem' in the
            Early Auto Era: Structuration Theory and the Users of Technology," Technology and       
            Culture 40 (1999), 797-832.

Week 4 — February 5
            The Rise of General Motors and Sloanism     
            Reading: Heitmann, Chapter 3.
            Film: “Roger and Me;” "Master Hands."
Article report(s): Blaine Brownell, " A Symbol of Modernity: Attitudes Toward the Automobile in Southern Cities in the 1920s," American Quarterly, 24 (March, 1972), 20-44.
           
Week  5 — February 12
            America on the Road: The Highway and the City;
            Reading: Heitmann, Chapter 4
            Film: "Route 66;" “Taken for a Ride”
Review of Warren James Belasco, Americans on the Road: From Autocamp to Motel, 1910-1945 (Johns Hopkins, 1997) is due.

Week 6  -- February 19
             Women Behind the Wheel; Religion, Sex, and the Automobile
            Readings:  Heitmann, Chapter 5
Article reports: Virginia Scharf, "The Lady Takes the Wheel," The Journal of Arizona History, 34 (1993), 419-32.
            Films: “Thelma and Louise;”

Week 7 — February 26
            Library and Consultation Day

Week 8 -- March 12
            The Interwar Years; The Great Depression
            Reading: Heitmann, Chapter 6.
            Music:  Virginia Liston, Bertha Chippie Hill, Robert Johnson
            Article report: Peter Norton, "Street Rivals: Jaywalking and the Invention of the Motor Age Street, Technology and Culture, 2007, 331-359.
Films: “The Crowd Roars” (1932); “Burn ‘Em Up Barnes"(1934)
            Term Paper Proposal Due; The Completion of a Working Bibliography of no less than 15 Sources, 5 of which are articles.

           
Week 9 — March 19
             WWII and the Reconversion Economy
           
            Reading: Heitmann, Chapter 7.
Article report(s): Cotton Seiler, "Statist means to Individualist Ends: Subjectivity, Automobility, and the Cold War State," American Studies, 44 (Fall, 2003), 5-36.
            Film: “Tucker”
Review of Jack Keroauc's On the Road is Due



Week 10 — March 26
             Chrome Dreams of the 1950s
Readings:  Heitmann, Chapter 8
Article report: Karal Ann Marling, "America's Love Affair with the Automobile in the Television Age," Design Quarterly, 46 (1989), 5-20.
            Film:   “Rebel Without a Cause;” “Thunder Road.”
            Music:  Jackie Berenson, Howlin’ Wolf, and Chuck Berry.
           


Week 11 — April 2
Muscle Cars of the 1960s; Jan & Dean and the Beach Boys
            Readings: Heitmann, Chapter 9
Music: Dead Man’s Curve — Jan and Dean; Little Duce Coupe — The Beach Boys; GTO – Ronny and the Daytonas;
            Article report:  John Heitmann and Todd Uhlman, " Stealing Freedom:  Auto-Theft    and the Rebellious Revitalization of the Masculine American Self in Visual Culture"
 Journal of Popular Culture, forthcoming.
            Film: “Bullitt;” “American Graffiti”
 Review of Steinbeck's Travels with Charley in Search of America is due


Week 12 —  April 9 --  No Class -- work on term papers!
           
Week 13 -- April 16
            Foreign Competition: VW, Nissan and Toyota
            Japan Inc. in the USA
            Germans in the New South
Article report: Rudi Volti, "A Century of Automobility," Technology & Culture, 37 (October, 1996), 663-685.
             Reading: Heitmann, Chapter 10.
            Film: “The Fast and Furious;” “Gone in Sixty Seconds”
            Music:  Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Six Mix-a-Lot, David Banner

Week 14 —April  23 -- Term -Papers Due

            Research Paper Discussion and Closing Statements

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Chinese students buy expensive cars, at the University of Dayton and elsewhere!

Hi folks -- Ed Garten sent this article along to me form the Bloomberg News. indeed, at the University of Dayton our Chinese students often drive very nice cars, usually far better than either the faculty or American students. I have seen them behind the wheel of Porsche Panameras and Cayennes, M-Bs, and Audis. It can be quite irritating, as foreign students often drive into faculty lot "B" just to drop as student off or pick them up. And, as we learned last year, these cars can be more than the students can handle, as two died in a crash on Mad River Road.  I understand that when talking in a group to a student advisor, they will argue as to "who drives the cheapest car!"





Chinese students at the University of Iowa began coming into Carousel Motors in Iowa City about three years ago to get theirMercedes and Audi luxury cars serviced. Finally, general manager Pat Lind started asking if they’d ever considered his dealership when they made their original purchase. No, the students told him. Back in China, they’d been told to buy their wheels in Chicago before heading to college.
So Lind began sponsoring the university’s Chinese student association, which sends information to incoming students in China before they arrive in the U.S. Sales to Chinese students doubled and now make up about 5 percent of the vehicles sold at the dealership, located about two miles from campus. “We became an advertiser,” Lind says, “and got our face in front of them.”
The number of students from China enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities reached 235,597 during the past academic year, more than triple the 64,757 enrolled in 2002-03, according to the Institute of International Education. These students often come from families that are better off than the typical American college student’s, says Sid Krommenhoek, a founder of Zinch, a consulting firm owned by textbook rental company Chegg that works with prospective Chinese students. Shelling out $50,000 for a high-end car is viewed as an affordable status symbol compared with back home, where such cars can cost two to three times as much because of hefty import duties.
Among Chinese student car buyers in the U.S. in the past two years, 32 percent paid cash
Zinch surveyed 25,000 Chinese students last year and found that 62 percent said they could afford to spend at least $40,000 each year on a college education. “Most schools are recruiting [Chinese] students for whom the difference between a $20,000 and a $40,000 education is a rounding error,” Krommenhoek says. “This is a very attractive demographic for foreign brands.”
Chinese students in the U.S. purchased about $15.5 billion in new and used vehicles in 2012 and 2013 through October, according to Art Spinella, president of CNW Marketing Research. His figures, based on car sales, student and family visa data, and other factors, include Chinese students attending high school, undergraduate, and graduate institutions in the U.S. A comparable group of American students purchased $4.7 billion in vehicles, CNW estimates.
The interest in autos among Chinese students in the U.S. shouldn’t be surprising. Teeming demand on the mainland has boosted global automakers’ profits in recent years. While China’s austerity measures slowed luxury sales somewhat in 2013, deliveries there of Audi—for many years China’s No. 1 luxury nameplate—increased this year through September by 23 percent, to 366,038. Only 114,411 Audis were sold in the U.S. during the same period.

A little more than half the vehicles bought by Chinese students in the U.S. during the 22-month period CNW studied were new, with an average purchase price of $52,796; and 32 percent of buyers paid cash. Those buying used vehicles paid about $36,500, and 58 percent used cash. About 40 percent of their U.S. counterparts purchased new vehicles, with an average price of $19,472, CNW says. And fewer than 5 percent of those buyers paid cash.
Lind’s Chinese student customers almost always pay with cash. “Many times they’ll come in here,” he says. “They’ll pick out the car and say, ‘OK, I’ve got to call my parents and tell them how much to wire over. I’ve only got $20,000 in my account and I need $50,000, so they’ll wire the difference.’ ”
Some dealerships, such as Mercedes-Benz of Eugene, in Oregon, have hired Mandarin-speaking sales staff to deal with the rush of Chinese students craving luxe rides. Steve Shaheen, general manager of Okemos Auto Collection, a BMW and Mercedes dealer near Michigan State University in East Lansing, says he’s seen his sales to Chinese students rise to as much as 15 percent of his total business, from zero five years ago. Chris Perantoni, sales manager at Royal on the Eastside, an Audi and Volkswagen dealership near Indiana University at Bloomington, trumpeted in his advertising that the store had a salesman who spoke Mandarin and Cantonese—until the staffer’s visa expired and he had to leave. “Him being bilingual definitely helped,” says Perantoni, who estimates that as much as 10 percent of his annual sales are now to Chinese students. “We’d love to have him back.”

A poem for car folks! Happy Holidays!


From Britain:

May the open road caress you, may each mile bestow a curve,
May the pavement be unbroken, may you never need to swerve.

May your route be clear of snow and ice, may your traction be supreme,
May your ample arse not prove too sparse for that road trip of your dreams.

May your brake light blaze with brilliance, may you never need to pass
May your next trip be the best one yet, may your tank stay full of gas.

As you tour whichever route you wish, be it mountains, coast or canyons
May your quest be blessed with the very best of reliable companions.

So please accept this wish from me, with peace and health abiding
May happiness dwell in your home, may good fortune plague your driving.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Anti-Theft Deterrents and the Big GM SUVs



FROM  The Detroit News:

The parking lot at Simi Valley Chevrolet north of Los Angeles, Calif., is well lit and fenced. But one night in September, thieves disconnected the lights and broke into the back windows of 16 Chevrolet Suburbans and Tahoes at the dealership.
No alarms sounded. When it was all over, dealership General Manager Steve Gaines said he was left with more than $3,000 in repairs to each SUV.
“They just unclamped the third row seat and pushed them out the back window and off they went,” Gaines said.
GM’s popular big SUVs, including the Suburban, Tahoe and GMC Yukon and Yukon XL, control about three-quarters of the market, have high theft rates and are expensive to insure. Third-row seat and wheel thefts on the SUVs have become increasing problems across the country, from Texas to Detroit, as thieves take and sell parts.
To minimize the problem, the Detroit carmaker has added a suite of standard anti-theft features, and an enhanced optional security package for $395, to all its 2015 full-size utilities coming to showrooms early next year. New security features also are part of the 2015 Cadillac Escalade, also available in spring 2014.
“We’ve put a lot of technology into improving the security for our customers, everything from our glass breaking sensors in the quarter glass area to … interior movement sensors,” said Jeff Luke, GM executive chief engineer for GM’s global trucks.
Other automakers offer some anti-theft features, but GM’s Global Vehicle Security Lead, Bill Biondo, says GM’s package is the most “robust and significant theft deterrent package in the market.”
The 2015 Suburban and Tahoe will for the first time come equipped with a standard steering column lock, aimed to prevent a thief from being able to steer a vehicle out of a driveway without starting it, Biondo said. Steering column locks already come standard on the Yukon line.

A Smart Car Interior Motion Sensor




Better theft deterrents
Some changes are small, but will be big for customers such as better exterior lighting when customers approach the vehicle, enhanced theft deterrents in the navigation systems and bolted third-row seats that can’t easily be removed (second- and third-row seats will fold flat). The SUVs also have standard improvements to door locking systems, Biondo said, and for the first time will have side-milled keys that are a better deterrent to lock picking. Lock cylinders have been bolstered to make it harder to jimmy open a door.
GM also will offer a theft protection package that includes an interior motion sensor that sounds an alarm if movement is detected inside the vehicle. On GM’s current full-size SUVs, if someone breaks a window to steal a laptop, for example, the alarm doesn’t go off.
“Most alarms on 95 to 99 percent of the products in the U.S. today only sound based on the latches,” Biondo said. “You have to unlatch the door and the alarm will go off. If you break the window, the alarm will never go off.”
The new theft protection package also includes an inclination sensor that sounds an alarm if someone tries to tow the vehicle, Biondo said.
“Or, if they just wanted to jack up your car and steal your wheels and tires, it would go off also,” he said, adding the alarm sounds once the tire leaves the ground but can be disarmed by the owner for normal use or repair.
Rear glass breakage sensors that sound an alarm if broken on the rear quarter windows and lift gate window also are included in the special package. An enhanced lock cylinder and shields around the lock cylinder and lock rods to deter jimmying the lock, Biondo said.
“We talked to customers and they expressed a lot of interest in security,” he said. “And some customers perhaps based on where they live or where they frequent expressed the desire to be able to purchase additional security.”
The company hopes the new systems and technology will help lower insurance costs for owners of the SUVs as theft rates decline.
Kay Jarboe, product manager for GM’s full-size SUVs, said a GM engineer spent eight minutes trying to break into one of the new SUVs and couldn’t. She called the new SUVs “almost impossible to steal.”

Insurance premiums cut

Insurance companies typically provide Michigan drivers with discounts ranging between 15 percent and 20 percent off their comprehensive insurance coverage if the vehicles are equipped with anti-theft devices, said Lori Conarton, communications director of the Insurance Institute of Michigan.
Theft rates are just one factor that determines insurance rates. Conarton said drivers’ insurance premiums are impacted by the likelihood of a vehicle being stolen or damaged, plus the vehicle’s value at the time of a loss. She said insurers tend to look at trends ranging out three to five years such as losses from from vehicle thefts.
“If that trends down, then your rates will trend down,” she said.
And as theft rates fall, Biondo said it will provide value for customers.
On the Escalade, GM in 2010 added a standard steering column lock and theft rates on the Escalade have fallen by more than 50 percent over the past couple years, Biondo said.
IHS Automotive senior analyst Stephanie Brinley said GM’s SUVs have been stolen frequently because there are so many of them on the roads She said adding the new technologies should reduce theft rates over time.
“There’s a lot of them out there,” she said. “There’s a big market for spare parts. I think that’s why they tend to get targeted.”
GM says some of the anti-theft features it is adding to the SUVs have been available on cars in Europe since the mid- to-late 1990s. Biondo said it’s possible anti-theft packages will be included on more GM vehicles; The company has offered an optional security package on the Cadillac ATS since 2013 and added them for the 2014 Cadillac CTS and 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray models.


From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20131219/AUTO01/312190024#ixzz2o9mukVYy

Where Auto Technology is Going -- the Connected Automobile and the use of Apps -- Mercedes and Pebble Technology



Seamless Integration of Wearable Devices: Pebble Smartwatch
Comment -- what a funky looking watch! -- only a true nerd would be seen wearing this! Rolex, Breitling, Omega, Tag-Heuer, has nothing to worry about.
Intelligent connectivity: At CES Mercedes-Benz gives a glimpse of the future
  • Mercedes-Benz announces strategic partnership with Pebble Technology
  • Wearable device integration: enhanced vehicle diagnostic awareness and multisensory notifications
Stuttgart, Germany. Mercedes-Benz has announced a strategic partnership with Pebble Technology in the run-up to the 2014 International CES, the largest consumer electronics show in the world. These invaluable partnership gives Mercedes-Benz early access to some of the newest hardware and early releases of application programming interfaces (APIs) offered by the Silicon Valley-based company, allowing it to develop innovative integrated applications that pave the way for the future of in-vehicle use cases.
At its CES booth, Mercedes-Benz will demonstrate how an intelligently networked vehicle becomes a part of the "internet of things" - and what benefits this can have for the customer. For this proof of concept, the developers at Mercedes have reinvented the Digital DriveStyle app in order to allow it to communicate with Pebble smart watches.
Pebble: connect yourself to your car and never miss a beat
Pebble's smart watch acts as a "second screen" for your smartphone. This revolutionary wearable device unlocks some interesting features for the connected car. For example, when away from their vehicle, Mercedes-Benz drivers can review important vehicle information at a glance like fuel level, door-lock status, and vehicle location using their Pebble smart watch, even when they are outside the vehicle. When hopping into their car, the companion Pebble smart watch app magically transforms, alerting its driver to real-time hazards through V2V technology like accidents, road construction, or stalled vehicles by vibrating the watch.  On top of this, users pairing their Pebble smart watch can customize the three watch buttons to activate their favourite Digital DriveStyle features like reporting hazards, auto-routing, Siri activation, remote-controlling media, or quickly showing nearby traffic conditions.
At the heart of innovation: Mercedes-Benz in Silicon Valley
Mercedes-Benz recognized 20 years ago that not just IT history but also the future of the automobile was being written in Silicon Valley, and was the first ever automobile manufacturer to open its own research facility at the home of innovation. In addition to creativity and invention, Silicon Valley mainly stands out on account of its unique culture of collaboration, involving short distances, networking, innovation and informal meetings. The physical proximity to companies such as Google, Apple and Facebook, as well as small, creative start-ups, allows Mercedes-Benz to integrate innovations into its vehicles quickly and in close cooperation with its partners, as well as to keep pace with the world of consumer electronics in terms of development cycles. The newly announced strategic partnership with Pebble Technology is further example of this culture of collaboration.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Mystique of the Automobile

Hi folks -- I am currently reading over a number of articles for inclusion in the syllabus for my spring, 2014 senior history seminar. I was reading over Rudi Volti's "A Century of Automobility," Technology & Culture, 37 (October, 1996), p.667, where I found this provocative paragraph:

"The early history of the automobile shows that its overwhelming commercial success was not exclusively due to the mobility it offered. Then, as now, cars provided privacy and a sense of power, two things that always have been in short supply in human societies. This trend was reinforced by subsequent technological developments, such as closed bodies and more powerful engines. Much of the appeal of the automobile stems from its ability to confer a measure of insulation from the outside world while providing at least the illusion of power.  The private automobile is a greedy creature that makes vast claims on space, resources, and the budgets of its owners; only a device that promised more than transportation could have been so successful."

The underlining is mine.


Do we want large vehicles that take up space and reflect power because we are large people here in the U.S.? For a time it was good nutrition -- now it is simply obesity!




Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Maligned 1958 Packard -- or is it a Catfish? A contribution from Ed Garten





GONE FISHIN' -- PACKARD OR CATFISH?
1958 saw the Packard line reduced to two models and four body styles; a 4-door sedan, a 2-door hardtop coupe (sometimes referred to as the "Starlight", (a name used by Studebaker with the earlier classic Lowy Starlight Coupe), a 4-door station wagon which simply bore the Packard name, and the Packard Hawk, a modification of Studebaker's Golden Hawk with a “catfish-like” Packard grille.
Restyled by Duncan McRae, Studebaker-Packard's finances dictated that the changes for 1958 be made as cheaply as possible. Quad headlights were achieved by affixing fiberglass pods to the previous year's front fenders designed for two headlights. In the rear, McRae attempted to follow the tailfin craze established by Chrysler's 1957 "Forward Look" by crafting outward canted fiberglass fin extensions that were mounted to the tops of the existing vertical rear fenders. 1956 Clipper taillight units continued to be used. Packards also adopted a low, wide "fishmouth" grille to further distinguish them from their Studebaker cousins.
Despite McRae's efforts, the car that emerged appeared cobbled together, rather than as a cohesive design. Famed auto critic "Uncle" Tom McCahill remarked that from the rear it looked as if the cars had been left in the sun too long and the canted fiberglass fins had started to melt down the straight rear fender sides.
Perhaps the 58 Packard would have given the more recent Pontiac Aztek a run for its money as world's ugliest car.

The forgotten History of Lucille Pieti, "Chrysler's Most Beautiful Engineer" -- A contribution from Ed Garten


Last week's promotion of Mary Bara to CEO of General Motors marked a major milestone of the first female CEO of a global automaker. What may be just as remarkable was how Barra made the climb: As a mechanical engineer, a field once all but closed to women in Detroit.

Sixty years ago, the Motor City's most well-known female engineer was promoted for her looks into a television model rather than allowed to work in the field she'd chosen - and the forgotten history of Lucille Pieti, once dubbed "Chrysler's Most Beautiful Engineer," demonstrates what's changed, and what hasn't.

Pieti was a Detroit native who showed a flair for math and science in high school, and after graduating high school in 1944 signed up for engineering at nearby Wayne University (now Wayne State.) Pieti was popular - she was named Miss Wayne U her last year - but also harassed; male students would play pranks like painting her drill press pink, and engineering professors would suggest that "girls" who graduated would have promising careers as secretaries, if they didn't get hitched first. At 18, Pieti also began a co-op program with Chrysler, the traditional route for engineers to join the automaker which was poised to rebound in the years after World War II.

How rare was Pieti? When she graduated in 1950 with a bachelor's in mechanical engineering, she was not just the only woman in a class of about 300 engineers, but perhaps the first woman to get that degree from the school. Two years later, a national survey found that 0.17 percent of the nation's engineering graduates were women; Pieti was literally one in a thousand. She told Parade magazine in 1954 that getting hired by her Chrysler boss even after six years of co-op work was a challenge, despite a labor shortage: "The toughest part was convincing him to see me and then to give me the job. The rest of the work was nothing that any woman couldn't handle as easily as a man."

But Chrysler, like most industrial companies of that era, had no plan to give Pieti or any other woman the same career opportunities as her male coworkers. Instead of traditional engineering assignments, Pieti was sent to the technical writing department, a ghetto for the few women in the field with no chance of advancement beyond marriage. And it was while doing internal presentations that her bosses came up with the idea of capitalizing on Pieti's beauty.

"If you think of a mechanical engineer as someone who sports greasy overalls and a colorful vocabulary, Lucille would be an educational experience for you. Modish and slender, she has a soft voice, come-hither hazel eyes and dainty white paws tipped with rosy nail polish." That was the women's editor of the Miami Daily News in 1953 ahead of Pieti coming to town with Chrysler's "New Worlds In Motion," a mini-auto show that Chrysler barnstormed around the country. Pieti was often a star attraction, tasked with explaining tech advancements in layman's terms while Chrysler touted the beauty of its single, twentysomething engineer to the press. (Among the cars she promoted: the Dodge LaFemme, a model the company said was made "By Special Appointment to Her Majesty... the American Woman.)


Pieti proved adept enough at working the crowds that Chrysler decided to raise her exposure further. In Apri 1954, Chrysler's Plymouth division signed on as sole sponsor of a new CBS sitcom, "That's My Boy." For commercials, the company moved Pieti to Hollywood, and had her perform live, televised versions of the talks she gave on the road to actors. As Edward Malone noted in his 2010 history, she stood in a garage set, wearing tailored white overalls, occasionally with grease streaked on her face for emphasis. Pieti's fame soared, and she made an impression in Hollywood: "If you're an example of what's being turned out in Detroit, I'm going back working on the assembly line," Groucho Marx said.

And while there's no records she ever turned down a Chrysler assignment, she rejected all offers to dump the engineering career she'd now been chasing for nearly a decade in return for a shot at stardom. "I'm just the slide rule type," she told a Detroit newspaper while staying at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. "Without the micrometers and the calipers and the tools of my trade I'd be a pretty lost girl."

Here's where Hollywood would rewrite Pieti's narrative with her using her fame to make her dreams come true and stump the old-boy network. But Pieti's story was written by Detroit instead; when"That's My Boy" was cancelled in January 1955, Chrysler simply moved Pieti back to her writing job, with the additional tasks of answering customer complaint letters - work that she increasingly saw as a waste of her engineering talents. After getting engaged to her husband, petroleum engineer Jim Milne, Pieti quit Chrysler in September 1955. She got married, raised two children, and returned to engineering in 1977, this time for an oil company in Saudi Arabia. She died in 2011 at the age of 84.

Today, women make up a quarter of engineering, science and technology graduates, and Mary Barra joins a growing list of women who've used their technical degrees as a stepping stone into the executive suites. Yet among automakers, Barra remains an exception; there's few other women in line for roles such as CEO; there's no other woman at another automaker who oversees vehicle development as Barra did for GM. The path ahead may not be as clear as it should be, but for today's young Lucille Pietis crafting a career in engineering, they have far more examples of how to avoid getting lost along the way.
see.

Ed's final comment:  But it's okay to take Danica Patrick out of the driver's seat and put her in skimpy clothing and a bikini, right?  Think about it.

Some Thoughts on Warren Belasco's Americans on the Road: From Autocamp to Motel, 1910-1945

The last few days I have spent some time with Belasco's Americans on the Road, in part because I plan to use this book this time around in a senior seminar this coming spring. I have always found this work, now more than 30 years old, a joy to read. It stimulates my own romantic interest in road trips and travel, although at times the narrative is slow moving and a tad repetitive.  It was a pioneering work in its day, however, and considerable scholarship followed this books 1979 publication. Belasco traces the transition of Americans on the road for leisure. beginning with rough and ready camping during the WWI era to the evolution of free, pay, and cabin type camps during the 1920s and the 1930s. It is a story that brings in much concerning  middle class values and aspirations between the Wars, as the author explores the alternative of the hotel and why Americans desired other ways to travel than by the railroad.
So now that I have taken a decade or so break from reading this book, what struck me the most concerning its contents?
On at least two occasions, Belasco discusses the changing nature of the road trip, as daily distance itineraries increase markedly between the 1920s and the 1930s. The trip no longer is about taking time and seeing the roadside, but getting from place to place, as fast and quickly as possible. So the auto experience becoems far more about speed and driving.

Some passages from page 87:

"There seems to be a certain irresistible impulse within us to keep moving on," wrote one autocamper who was not pleased with the discovery...By the 1920s this mysterious urge to move on assumed the status of conventional wisdom....Yet all too often the auto vacation wound up as a hurried drive to a given objective."

As roads were improved daily average trip distance increased from 250 miles, to 300 miles and finally to 400 miles by the end of the 1930s.

The psychology and culture of driving from an historical perspective certainly could use more study.