Monday, June 29, 2009

There's a Devil in My Car!!!

Hi folks -- Back in Ohio and trying to get my life in order after seven weeks in Germany. One big problem is getting my Porsche running properly, after several bad episodes with a distributor rotor that kept crashing into the cap. OK, so the diagnosis appears to be bad distributor bushings, and the remedy is to send the distributor out to Jerry Woods in California for a rebuild and a re-curve. My friend Cliff tried to get the car running with the rebuilt distributor while I was gone, but to no avail the car awaited my gentle touch last week upon return from Leipzig. So the last 5 days I have spent my free time trying to set the timing and get the distributor to distribute the spark properly to the spark plugs. My best efforts have resulted in the car running well at idle, but once under load the car bogs down, and it accelerates unevenly. The plugs seem to be carbon fouled, or at least characterized as having carbon deposits on them. So not enough spark it seems.

So there is a devil in my car. I used to call my car Lazarus because I raised it from the dead, but now I have renamed it Legion, for the many evil spirits that are in it. There was a great song in the early 1980s by one of my favorite groups, the B-52s, entitled "Devil in my Car."

HELP! The devil's in my car.
HELP! The devil's in my car.
HELP! The devil's in my car.
Ho, devil's in my car, whoa please
PLEASE! Leave me alone!

We're really tearin' tar.
We're goin' 90 miles an hour.
Ho! He's drivin' me crazy.
He's drivin' me to Hell now.

He's pointing his pitchfork at me.
He's in the front seat of my car!
He's taking over!
Oo, he ripped my upholstry.
He's at the wheel,
HELP! The devil's in my car.
HELP! He's drivin' too far.

(scream!) Ooooooh!


I can't lock the door,
I can't put on my safety belt.
There's nothing for me to do but yell HELP!
Devil's in my car!
I'm goin' to Hell in my old Chevrolet,
I don't know which way.
Oh, HELP! Devil's in my car!
Yeah, yeah. He's gone too far.
I won't see ya tomorrow.
I won't see ya anymore.
He's got his cloven hoof on the clutch.
Oh! Ow! I'm sitting on his tail.

Oh-Ohh, I don't wanna go to Hell.
(I don't wanna go to the devil.)
He's in my car, in my car, in my car.


The radio gives me static,
there's nothing on my CB.
Oh, HELP! the devil's in my car.
Oh, he's in my car. He's in my car.
The devil's in my car.
We're turning off the road.
Oh! Where ya taking me devil?
Oh! He's grinning door to door.
He's got his cloven hoof on the clutch.
Oh, I don't wanna go to Hell.
(I don't wanna go to the devil.)
He's in my car.

Freeway to Hell.
We're burning up the road.
Freeway to Hell. (Right through the tollbooth)
We're burning up the road.
Freeway to Hell. (Right through the guardrail)
We're burning up the road.
Freeway to Hell. (Across the median)
We're burning up the road.
Freeway to Hell. (Would you slow down?)
We're burning up the road.

I've got the devil juice in my CARburater!
I've got the devil in my cigarette lighter.
I don't need no battery (I got the devil in my car).
In my car. In my car-oh!
In my car
In my car
In my car
In my car
In my car

Clearly, there are devils in my car!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Final Exam, HST 344 Leipzig

HST 344

Summer, 2009, Leipzig

Final Exam

Open Book Exam! You must work independently with no help from anyone, and no discussion among members of the class! Send your exam to no later than June 22, 2009.

I Identification and historical significance (50 pts.). Answer five (5) of the following eight (8) people, places, and things in a concise and detailed paragraph for each of five sentences or less.

1. Fred and August Duesenberg

2. Sitdown and the Coming of the UAW

3. The Jeep and WWII Popular Culture

4. The Cadillac as a Symbol of Post-WWII Success in America

5. Ben Hamper’s Rivethead

6. Ralph Nader and Unsafe at Any Speed (1965)

7. Lowriders and Hispanic Culture

8. Oil Shock II, 1979

II Essay. (50 pts.) Answer one of the following by writing a coherent essay harnessing factual evidence whenever possible. Your answer should have both an introduction and a conclusion.

  1. It seems obvious that the current decline in the American automobile industry didn‘t happen in the past six months, or even the past few years. In your own words and using what you have learned in this course, trace the decline of the American industry, making sure to discuss key aspects and developments in chronological fashion. Do you think this decline was inevitable or not, and why?

B. Discuss recent developments in car culture, post 1960, in terms of music, film, and literature. Why is culture integral to developing an understanding of the place of the automobile in American life?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Germans love their automobiles -- Wolfgang's Alfa-Romeo

One of the best things about this trip to Germany was meeting folks who, like myself and many other Americans, love their automobiles. And indeed this is the case for many Germans. Along with others in our Study Abroad program, I had the privilege of meeting and spending time with several great people who are employed at the BMW plant in Leipzig. Indeed, without their efforts, our program would have not been nearly as successful. So many thanks to Dr. Stefan Frenchel, Rueben Petzold, and Dr. Wolfgang Shwartz. I cannot believe the time they put into teaching our students about BMW and the auto industry! After our program at BMW was over, we had a dinner at which Dr. Shwartz drove by in his remarkable 1962 Alfa-Romeo! This car is near perfect! So I am attaching some photos that Wolfgang took of his car during a recent trip to Italy and also back in Leipzig. The love of the car is alive and well, not only in the U.S. but also in Germany and undoubtedly worldwide.

Friday, June 19, 2009

"I've Been Everywhere" -- The German Auto Experience

It is time to end the German trip, go home, take a short trip to Mississippi, and then rest for a time in Centerville, Ohio, before getting back to writing history. I wanted to take stock of all the places I have been since May 8, 2009, related to the automobile industry in Germany.

1. Technical Museum of Baden-Wurrtemburg located in Mannheim

2. Ladenburg Benz Museum

3. Porsche Museum, Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen

4. Mercedes-Benz Museum, Stuttgart

5. Audi Museum, Ingolstadt

6. BMW Plant, Leipzig -- 4 days

7. Porsche Museum and Archives, Zuffenhausen -- second time

8. Mercedes-Benz Museum, Stuttgart -- second time

9. Technical Museum, Munich, Transportation Section

10. Eisenach BMW Die/Stamping/Rolls Royce Development Center

11. Eisenach Opel Assembly Plant

12. Dresden "Glass Factory" VW Plant

13. Zwickau Audi Horch Museum

14. BMW Museum, Munich

15. Porsche Leipzig Assembly Plant and Track

And I might have missed something!

Special thanks to other UD faculty members -- Dr. Art Mosher, Sean Falkowski, and Becky Blust! And our wonderful 16 students -- I love you guys!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Porsche-Leipzig Visit, June 17

After nearly 6 weeks in Leipzig, we finally made it to the Porsche facility, one of the most modern assembly plants in the world. Located near the Leipzig airport and northwest of the city center, this site is a must visit for anyone wanting to learn more about the contemporary auto industry. After a remarkable lunch in a restaurant located at the top of the visitor center, we were taken for an in-depth tour of the plant by our guide Christa, who without a doubt ranked at the very top of all museum/plant tour guides during our trip both in terms of enthusiasm and knowledge. Currently the mixed line Cayenne/Panamera production process makes about 78 cars per shift, with two shifts per day, and a 5 Cayenne/1 Panamera mix. About 17% of the product is now going to China. Right now, all Panameras are going to the press and to dealers, with customer production starting September 17.

The plant is located next to the track, where one can take a driver education class, or just be piloted around a course that has numerous GP track design features. We were also taken into a state-of-the-art camera facility, where there are more than 20 cameras that video one's driving experience. In short, it is simply impossible to describe the facility to you. You need to visit, or minimally look at the Porsche-Leipzig URL at

What struck me the most about the tour was the answer to a question I posed to Christa about plant absenteeism. Recently we had visited Opel at Eisenach where I learned that absenteeism was at about 7%. Christa did not even understand the question! Apparently unless one is sick, there is simply is no absenteeism at this Porsche plant. As she explained, people are proud to work at Porsche, and the more than 500 employees working there are a tight knit group. That story was repeated at BMW as well. Elite manufacturers, making smaller units of vehicles, simply do not have the labor problems of those pushing higher rates of cars per hour.
In sum, the visit here was a capstone to our study of the German auto industry. From all accounts, and despite the world-wide recession and drop in consumer demand, the German luxury manufacturers are optimistic and will hold on, despite the storm. Both BMW and Porsche employees possess strong emotional ties to their work, their products, and their organizations.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Pluralism in America and our Love of the Automobile

During the past 20 years, the term "pluralism" has been used to describe the wide variety of belief systems in America and the notion that tolerance among groups should take place. It seems that this thinking has taken hold, as even among Evangelical Protestants, who should believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation, some 57% actually think that that are various paths to eternal life. Certainly those who have taught and promoted this notion have an agenda well beyond places of worship, as they have instilled the idea that there are many religious and secular "Americas." This intellectual movement has contributed to the recent loss of a common set of values that are shared by all people living in the United States. We have increasingly become a fragmented society, one in which each subgroup is free to pursue their own lifestyle. In sum, we no longer have a moral consensus, and we are free to go off in many divergent directions, so long as others are not hurt in the process.

In The Automobile and American Life, I equate America's love of the automobile with a religious impulse, using a quote from theologian Martin Marty, who described his observations after visiting the 1958 Chicago Auto show:
"No one, I imagine, escapes the authentic involvement with this gathering symbol of our pervasive materialism. But the 50th annual Auto Show, it seems to me, gives the lie to surveys ... and to motivation researchers who suggest that at the root of America's disproportionate reverence for automobility there is something profoundly sexual. Few people give ultimate devotion to sex; their really ultimate devotion goes to religions like this one."
What has emerged in our own time is a fragmentation of the automobile love affair, and this is best illustrated by the great variety of groups representing different segments of race, class, and gender, who continue to pursue a hobby that can be more powerful than traditional religion. It is not so much that our love affair with the automobile has ended, but that it has taken on various forms, some more publicized and understood than others.

We begin with NASCAR fans, and the NASCAR way of life.
During the 1990s, NASCAR exploded on the American scene. Once confined to the Southeastern United States, NASCAR became a national sport, with highly-paid drivers, a large and increasingly diverse fan base, extravagant sponsors and broad media coverage. And money was everywhere.

For example, during the 1990s, sponsorship contributions rose 7 percent annually. By 1998 more than 50 companies invested more than $10 million each year. Top sponsors included Phillip-Morris, Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola, General Motors, PepsiCo, AT&T, RJR Nabisco, and McDonalds. New sponsors in sectors with little direct connection to the automobile business – fast food, home supplies, detergents – became commonplace.

Consequently, top drivers like Dale Earnhart and Jeff Gordon earned more than $10 million a year, and successful crew chiefs $300,000 to $500,000. Ultimately, the money was due to the fact that NASCAR was highly adaptable to television, and thus it was media executives rather than the auto industry that were now calling the shots in this business.

The 1990s also witnessed the rise of a new generation of NASCAR drivers. Heroes from the 1960s and 1970s, including Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, and Buddy Baker gave way to Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett, Ernie Ervin, Mark Martin, Bobby Labonte, and Jeff and Ward Burton, Ricky Craven, Johnny Benson, and Jeremy Mayfield. Symbolically, Richard Petty’s 1992 “Fan Appreciation Tour” ended winless. Petty's last race in Atlanta found him running his final laps at half speed, the consequence of an earlier crash.

New owners were also a part of the NASCAR scene during the 1990s. Included were stars from other sports, including NFL coach Joe Gibbs, and the NBA’s Julius Erving and Brad Daugherty. With new tracks located near Fort Worth, Texas and Fontana, California, NASCAR was seemingly being transformed in virtually every possible way.

Perhaps the most dramatic event of the 1990s was NASCAR’s coming to the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1995. With NASCAR founder Bill France and long-time Indy track owner Tony Hulman now dead, their successors could bury long-term differences and realize the potential of such an event in terms of media coverage and fan enthusiasm. Thus, on August 6, 1995, Jeff Gordon won the inaugural 160-lap event in front of 300,000 fans.

There are the Concours d'Elegance folks, almost always white, upper middle class or better, well-heeled and often pretentious.

This celebration was orchestrated largely by Baby Boomers, although automobile collecting has a long history, particularly among the elite, who beginning after WWII had assembled collections of Olympian vehicles. But the hobby was now broadened to include many middle class collectors. Boomers reached middle age by the 1980s, and their high levels of disposable income allowed for indulgence into a rather expensive hobby, which created a demand for automobiles that were the object of a generation's desire when they were too young to either drive them or own them. This demand had parallels in Europe, although there the desire for mid-market marques was for the most part quite different. The hobby, which has become a big business, is exemplified by the Barrett-Jackson auctions, held several times a year in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Palm Beach, Florida. The demand for muscle cars, prototypes, customized roadsters and hot rods, and select foreign classics and exotics has been quite strong, with expected market volatility from time to time. On a level above Barrett-Jackson are concours events that attract a generally higher-class clientele; the most publicized of these events take place at Pebble Beach, California; Amelia Island, Florida; and Meadowbrook, in Michigan.

There are the Friday night Cruise-in followers, perhaps the most heterogeneous of all of these automobile hobbyist groups, meeting in parking lots that often feature 50s and 60s rock and roll music. Here young, old, families, black and white, all co-mingle on warm summer nights all over America.

In addition to the classic car and classic street rod and hot rod hobbyists, a number of whom we might want to label as “Rolex” car people, several other significant car subcultures have emerged in recent times, each with its own distinctive ethnic and generational members. In the Latino communities of Southern California, “Low-Riders” have become so significant that a special exhibit was dedicated to them at the Peterson Museum in 2005. Low-Rider culture was first institutionalized with Low Rider Magazine in 1978. The Low-Rider was often a Chevrolet that had been tricked out with special hydraulically-operated shocks to shake the car rhythmically. With powerful sound systems and brilliantly decorated and painted bodies, the Low-Rider reflects values associated with the Hispanic Community, especially family and community.

It is interesting to note, however, that a new automobile subculture emerged over the past 15 years despite the relative inability of owners to work on cars, and that is centered on Tuners. The Tuners are a new generation of Americans obsessed with speed. The Tuner drives a high revving, four-cylinder automobile with front wheel drive and conspicuous exhaust outlet, referred to by some as a “fart can.” In these cars, nitrous oxide is used as an auxiliary oxidant when called on – NOS – that gives Tuners an extra burst of speed. To give an imperfect definition, a Tuner is an automotive enthusiast who enjoys modifying a modern compact vehicle both cosmetically and mechanically. It is an effort to display creativity, innovation, and individualism. The car of choice has been the Japanese model – Acura, Honda, Nissan, or Mazda – although some Fords have also been modified. Typically, tuners are young – 87 percent are under the age of 30 – and are about 4 to 1 male to female. Further, they are ethnically diverse according to a 2003 study, as some 42 percent are White, 29 percent Asian, 16 percent Hispanic, and 8 percent African-American. According to Alan Paradise, for Tuners “the car becomes a guiding force for their lifestyle, rather than merely a means of transportation.” The Tuner car world is diverse, but can generally be divided into five primary groups: street, strip, sport, show, and sound.

Tuner culture was well portrayed in The Fast and the Furious, a film loosely based on an magazine article about street clubs that race Japanese cars late at night. It is a depiction of the world of street racing. The film stars Vin Diesel as Domenic Toretto, the leader of a street gang who is under suspicion of stealing expensive electronic equipment. Paul Walker plays an undercover FBI officer (Brian O’Conner) who attempts to find out who exactly is stealing the equipment, while falling for Domenic’s younger sister played by Jordana Brewster. A sequel to Fast and Furious appeared in 2003, entitled 2 Fast 2 Furious. Set in Miami, Officer O’Conner, stripped of his badge, is recruited to infiltrate the Miami street racing circuit in an effort to redeem himself. It was a bad movie with well-worn plot lines and semi-plausible scenarios. But the movie is all about the cars, and the cars deliver with literal flying colors. They look cool. The film featured fast-paced scenes with quick-cutting standard shots, and a frenetic tempo to boot. Hip-hop music was played throughout this mediocre at best but entertaining for the X‑generation film.

Finally, amongst African-Americans, there are the "Pimp My Ride" folks, those young men who can't buy wheels big enough and who thrive on hip-hop music that older people like myself can't stand but that young white chicks can't get enough of.

From Kayne West, "Diamonds from Sierra Leone:"
I remember I couldn't afford a Ford Escort or even a four-track recorder
so its only right that I let the top drop on a drop-top Porsche
- its for yourself that's important
If a stripper named Porscha and u get tips from many men
Then your fat friend her nickname is Minivan

In all of these cases, I cannot stress enough the primal forces that exist in individuals who celebrate and connect with their rides in contemporary America.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Visit to the VW "Glass Factory," Dresden

Yesterday the class took a short ride to Dresden and visited the VW "Glass Factory," an assembly plant in which the luxury Phaeton is made. Yes, Phaetons are still in production, although the model is no longer available in the American market. These cars sell for between 70,000 to 125,000 Euros, and one wonders why anyone would pay that kind of money to get into an expensive car and look at the VW logo on the steering wheel!

Due to reduced demand, only about 28 cars a day are made at this facility, opened in 2001 at a cost of 186 million Euros. The cars are very nice and extremely well made, as great care is expended at every stage of the manufacturing process. Like the other manufacturers located in former Eastern Germany, energy and ecology are given a high priority, and thus supplier parts are brought in to this factory via a tram system that uses public tram tracks.

But make no mistake, this facility is here not only to make cars, but also to sell them. Visitors are encouraged to "make their own" Phaeton, and an elaborate ceremony takes place when a person who ordered one of these cars comes to pick it up.

As a historian, the best part of this visit is seeing the 1936 Horch open limo that was once owned by Ethiopia's Haile Selassie. Unfortunately, the car is located so close to the shop floor that one cannot take photos, a rather silly rule given the fact that anyone can tour this facility and see what the VW folks are up to.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Industry Week, June 2009 Interview

BMW plant located in Leipzig, 1 and3 series cars are made there.
One of the most modern car plants in the world

Future VW Plant located in Chattanooga, TN

Roger Penske, and a new future for Saturn?

Before I left for Germany, I was interviewed for an article that was ultimately entitled "A Tale of Two Industries." At the time (early May) I saw things this way:
What does the future hold for the U.S. auto industry?

"In some cases, national industries that are a leading sector for a time tend to fall off and don't come back -- like the British auto industry," says John Heitmann, a professor of history at the University of Dayton and U.S. auto industry history expert. "I'm not quite that pessimistic on things. In the long run in this country, there will be a great demand for personal vehicles. The question will be: Will it be the type of internal combustion engine that once dominated the industry for 100 years?"

Heitmann believes U.S. auto manufacturers will be broken up in into smaller, more nimble units with more distinguishable brands. But, he cautions, U.S. automakers and their suppliers will have to be wary of foreign competitors establishing their ground in the United States while they retool.

"All of this instability is creating opportunity for Asian manufacturers to come in and fill the gaps, and I'm thinking of the coming Chinese industry over the next decade," he says. "That's my concern in all of this as things shake out and we move into the new era. So much of this depends on what is going to be the price of energy over the next five to 10 years, and are these manufacturers going to respond appropriately?"
After spending the past 4 weeks in Germany, however, my sense is not to worry so much about the Chinese in the short run, but rather the Germans and Japanese. For example, within the past two weeks, BMW here in Leipzig transitioned from one shift making the 1 and 3 series to two, and will bring in 300 workers from another factory to ramp up production. They are obviously smelling blood in the U.S. VW has changed its initial plant capacity plans for the Chattanooga, TN, facility that will open in a few years, for undoubtedly the same reason. "Car wars" is now being fought on American soil in a way quite different from the past, prior to the credit crisis and recession that began in late 2008.

It is encouraging to note, however, that Roger Penske has entered the fray by taking on GM's Saturn operation. Penske's leadership and competitive spirit may just be what is needed to take on competitors who largely work in large, collaborative teams. Management systems that rely on forging a consensus among 200 people may prove too slow and unable to read properly the needs of the market.

After all, the American automobile industry was forged by strong individuals, and may be reborn by that same type of person, distinctly American in character and spirit.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Mercedes-Benz and Porsche Museums in Stuttgart, BMW in Munich

University of Dayton Study Abroad Students and Faculty
with Dr. Dieter Landenberger of Porsche.

BMW Museum Munich

Porsche Museum, Zuffanhausen/Stuttgart

Mercedes Museum Stuttgart

Back in Leipzig after a rather fast-paced trip to museums in Stuttgart and Munich. As an aside, the photo above is of me sitting on a statue celebrating one of the greatest race drivers in history, Juan Manual Fangio. The cast bronze memorial is in front of the Mercedes Museum in Stuttgart, and of course as a driver, it is highly unlikely I share any genes with the great Fangio. Fangio drove with unparalleled courage and tenacity; I tend to forget to check who is on my left, but without incident so far! And of course if you scroll down on my blog, you can also read how I tangled with an Opel in Leipzig and demolished a VW Golf!

The museums that we visited reflected the nature and character of the various companies that have invested large amounts of money in erecting the structures, and in organizing the various exhibits. Each museum had strengths that ultimately complemented the others, so by visiting all three, one leaves with a dramatically enhanced sense of German automotive history.

Personally, the highpoint of the trip was the visit to the Porsche Museum and a guided tour by Dr. Dieter Landenberger, Deputy Director of the Museum and Archivist. Dieter knows his Porsches, Porsche people, and the firm's history, and he gave us a most insightful tour, beginning with the repair shop and ending with the archives.

For example, until the tour, I did not know that Ferry Porsche's favorite color was Hunter Green, and that he was not such a good driver! Now I feel better about my own abilities behind the wheel. And while at the archives, I had the opportunity to get the autograph in a book that was given to me of Hans Mezger, the designer of the 911 engine and one of the greatest automotive engineers of the 20th century. With more than 3 million images, company correspondence, production records, and an extensive run of post-WWII journals, the Porsche archives are one of the most extensive on automobile history in the world.

Mercedes has the longest history of the companies and also has the most comprehensive historical exhibit that covers much of the 20th century. The strength of this collection is two fold. First, the Mercedes Museum depicts the context of automobile history in the 20th century as no other museum. Many aspects of German history are thus incorporated into the displays, including the pioneer era, World Wars I and II, the post-War/Cold War period, and more recent times. Secondly, the display cabinets contain artifacts that are a clear representation of car culture in Germany -- music, film, everyday life, etc. Looking at those materials was thought-provoking, and has stimulated my thinking about future research.

Dash from a 1960 Mercedes 300 SL


The Technical Museum at Munich

OK, Cliff Brockman, a 1987 Pontiac Fiero!!!

An 1817 Boneshaker

The Transport Museum that is a part of the Technical Museum has some real strengths in their collection that one cannot find at the other museums that we recently visited. For example, there are hands-on displays that illustrate how engines, transmissions, steering gear and ignition systems work. In addition to other exhibits that illustrate the breadth of transportation history, the collection has numerous vehicles on display, from the very important like an 1886 Benz three wheeler, to the incredibly marginal 1987 Pontiac Fiero. And there are many other cars that fit in-between. Here are some photos from that collection:

1967 Porsche 911 made of stainless Steel

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

CNN talks Opel

On Friday, May 29, I took a train to Berlin for an interview with CNN International reporter Diana Magnay. We spoke outside The RTL/CNN facilities and discussed the future of GM's European brand, European politics, and labor issues. With the promise of German government intervention, along with that of the parts company Magna, and the lack of enthusiasm on the part of the British government to financially support Vauxhall operations, this story is far from over, and a point of contention among Europeans with a stake in the outcome.