Saturday, January 30, 2010

Chinese Chauffeurs during the 1920s and "The Squeeze"

Hi folks -- I had a student come in to my office the other day wondering about doing a term paper on the history of the automotive industry in China. In searching the literature I found this curious Department of Commerce report from 1923 entitled "Automotive Market in China, British Malaya, and Chosen." I promptly ordered this report from Ohiolink, and it had a number of interesting bits after review that I wanted to share with you. In 1923, no cars were manufactured in China, although there was a trade in body construction. The above photo shows an example of what was said to be the very fine work of Chinese craftsmen in body construction, and particularly paint and upholstery.
Secondly, there was a discussion of the corruption associated with Chinese chauffeurs. The term used is "the squeeze" and is discussed on page 11:
"Hardly anyone who has ever done business with the Chinese has failed to come into contact wit the multifarious forms of petty graft known to foreigners as "squeeze" and to the Chinese as "cumshaw." It is the greatest tax which industry and life of the country generally had to bear. Foreigners have tried to stamp it out, but in many lines of activity they have given up the task as hopeless. Wherever there is a transaction in buying or selling, hiring or "firing" is involved, it is almost certain that the squeeze enters. in many cases the acceptance of the squeeze is quite open, and there are many Chinese who regard it as a right. This is especially true in the automotive industry.
Squeeze beings with the sale of the car and follows it through its career until the last of its parts are utterly useless. Owners know that their chauffeurs are constantly collecting commissions, and many are aware that their employees are not above taking nuts and bolts to be sold to the native repair shops which will alter be put the same nuts and bolts back on the car when the chauffeur brings it in for repair, but they are helpless. the owners claim that it serves no purpose to discharge a pilfering chauffeur, for his successor will be no better. one of the sources of revenue to the chauffeur is the dale of gasoline drained from the car's tank and sold to native dealers at one-third its value."

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Brief and Incomplete Review of "Eat My Dust," by Georgine Clarsen

hi folks -- there is still much to be done related to women and automobiles, particularly in the period after World War II. Recently Cotten Seiler called my attention to the work of Georgine Clarsen, author of the recently released book Eat My Dust (Johns Hopkins Press). If you are at all interested in the history of the automobile and recent scholarship, this shorter study is a must read. First, the author, a senior lecturer at the University of Wollongong in Australia, has impeccable credentials, in terms of her scholarly background and interestingly enough, in terms of practical experience as a former mechanic. Georgine in her previous life might have been good with a spanner in her hand, but her writing style can be characterized as flowing and damned-near flawless. yesterday I was simply captivated during my reading of a number of sections in this book, including chapter 6, "The Woman Who Does" (on a remarkable woman who owned a repair garage in Melbourne) and chapter 8 "Machines as the Measure of Women (Women on a motor journey from Cape to Cairo). I have more to read, but can say that this title will be used in my next Automobile and American Life senior history seminar, slated for the fall of 2010.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cars for Czars: The Imperial Garage and Nicholas II

The young man behind the wheel is the hemophiliac Alexei

Hi folks -- my thanks to colleague David Darrow for these photos of Nicholas II and his Imperial Garage. Before there was cars for comrades, the Romanovs had their own collection of cars to take them from Imperial Palace to visit the lumpen proletariat living in the cities and the recently freed serfs in the countryside.
Anyone able to help with the identification of the cars in the photos?

Monday, January 25, 2010

What you can do with an old amusement park bumper car!

My thanks to Rhonda McCullom for the images. Rhonda's son, Corey, did the Irish Green paint job on my Porsche about 2 years ago.

Friday, January 22, 2010

More Toyotas Recalled! Now it is the Accelerator Pedal Mechanism That is Suspect.

The big question at Toyota right now is it just floor mats or defective pedal mechanisms that are causing accelerators to stick? Or is it the computer system, which Toyota denies. All of this started with a four-person fatal accident of an off-duy policeman and 3 passengers near San Diego. Is this a computer flaw from the Toyota hardware as it came off the line? Could a hacker change the computer to program it so that unintended acceleration took place? Could the accident in San Diego really been a planned murder? In these other cases of complaints involving Toyotas and Lexus, could someone have sabotaged the computers to embarass Toyota and thus put a huge chink in their brand reputation for quality? Computers in cars have raised many, many questions that challenge the notion of the car as a feedom machine. What if you have OnStar? Can someone listen to your conversations? Follow exactly where you are located? Cause the car to accelerate and involve you in a potentially fatal accident?

If you encounter a situation with unintended acceleration, do this -- move the transmission lever to neutral as soon as you can!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

UD Student "Auto-Biography" -- Jimmy Roesinger -- Humility and a 1998 Honda Accord

James Roesinger
The car is a symbol of freedom and for the first time in my life making decisions without parental advisory. I could listen to any type of music, drive any speed I felt comfortable at knowing the consequences of getting caught going to fast, take whatever roads I felt were the quickest, and even decide whether to go through the intersection when the light had been yellow before I entered. My parents allowed me to be an active, social teenager by paying for my car a 1998 green Honda Accord and allowing me to put expenses on the credit card to fill up my tank every other week in high school. It is one of those things now I look back on and say man I truly didn’t understand just how well I had it. Everything was going great in my new career as a driver, some might have thought that I was driving Jeff Gordon’s race car rather than a Honda Accord but for the first few months I had no tickets or accidents so I figured I was invincible. I’m sure I thought to my self no way will you get caught for speeding or no only dumb drivers get in accidents, well I soon learned I was no Superman.
It was the first big snowfall of the winter, after my last final when my driving career made an immediate 360 degree turn from that day forward. I was so happy that I was finished with finals and so happy to be on Christmas break. I get into my car and am off like Lightening McQueen zooming past people trying to look good. Now most of us know that when there is snow on the ground handling a car is more difficult and tends to slide, well thinking I was invincible I go into the turn with a full head of steam. There in lies the problem, the turn was on a hill and to sharp for a car without 4-wheel drive. I spin out in three circles across on coming traffic and hit the guard rail. My mind was blank; I was in shock and didn’t know what to do. This was the first time I was in an accident; I didn’t know what to do. I sat for a few minutes and tried to figure out what had just occurred. I was lucky to be unharmed and for that matter alive because usually this road had a steady flow of traffic. For some reason during this particular incident there was no one, maybe one reason why my faith is what it is today because I am still amazed by this whole situation.
After I snapped out of shock I decided to make the phone call to my parents which to this day they will still tell me that any time I call them on a road trip they are nervous. Nervous because they think it will be the same call I gave them on this day stating I had been in an accident. Mom was the first to answer and she became very emotional asking if I was hurt telling me not to move. I replied to her responses by explaining I was fine but I do not know so much about the car. They were loving parents so they came to the location immediately. They gave me a hug and allow I was embarrassed because I had created a traffic jam with angry drivers, I was glad to get a hug from my mom saying it would be okay.
As I stated before I was lucky to be uninjured and alive because I am sure if I watched that happen again I would be in the same shock as I was when it happened. This accident though changed my driving style from Jeff Gordon to what I would call a soccer mom driving style, which includes leaving early to make sure you can get there on time, and going the speed limit to assure safety. It is a shame that it took this accident for me to realize this but at 16 years of age I guess you could say I just didn’t know any better, I was invincible.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Elvis and American Car Culture -- "Spinout" -- 1966

Hi folks-- Taking a break at Five Seasons Sports Club today, I watched parts of the 1966 film starring Elvis entitled "Spinout" while on the exercise bike. its funny how I used to dislike those Elvis films when I was a teenager, but now see them through different eyes, so to speak. Yes, Elvis was stiff and certainly was not paid because of his acting. nevertheless, the cars in his film were often iconic and the girls -- well, they were so beautiful. And then I began to wonder, if it was Elvis' film "Blue Hawaii" where he drivers an MGA that got me a few years later to yearn for a car that absolutely no one in my family had ever owned or even talked about.
"Spinout" featured a Cobra as well as a 1929 funky Duesenberg and an Elva (#5). My point is that these movies had weak plots, weak acting, silly scenes, but the impression of the automobiles and girls on young adolescent boys cannot be underestimated. It certainly contributed to the car as an object of desire in American life during the 1960s.

Monday, January 18, 2010

UD Student "Auto-Biography;" Matt Dudik, 2010 Ford Fusion SEL

One automobile experience that I recently enjoyed and shall remember forever is when my family traveled to Alabama this past Christmas vacation. We live in southwestern Pennsylvania and we were on our way to Gadsden, Alabama to visit my sister for the holidays the day after Christmas. We had our route planned out; one that would take us through five states and into a different time zone in addition to totaling over 700 miles and 11 hours. My parents had previously taken the trip, but my brother and I had never even been to three of the states that we were travelling in (Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama). It was also the longest car trip we had ever undertaken in a single day. Starting off, no one was overly concerned about the length and breadth of the trip. We had our snacks, water bottles, maps, GPS device, cell phones, and a car load of suitcases and objects that my sister still hadn’t removed from our house. However, the most important asset with which we were traveling was the newest addition to our family, a 2010 sport blue Ford Fusion SEL. It won Motor Trend’s Car of the Year for a reason. It has black leather interior with a sun roof, driver-passenger climate control (a must for our perpetually cold mother), SYNC, ambient lighting, and a 12-speaker sound system. It is the first new car my mom has ever had and the first non-minivan vehicle for her in 20 years. To start the trip off, Mom was driving with Dad as copilot, with my brother and me in the back seats. There came the typical little problems. We had mistakenly left an important box for my sister behind because we were out of space. Unfortunately, when we realized this, we were already in West Virginia and it was too late to turn back. Next, we had a scare that my father’s work phone was left at home. I was able to find it after we stopped and I stuck my entire head under the seat, something which I am still surprised that I was able to accomplish.

As the hours passed, my mother and father switched driving duties back-and-forth, still not willing to trust my brother and I, both licensed drivers, with the reigns of the new car. My brother and I, knowing that we should pick our battles and instead petition for driving duties on the ride back, were content to watch the scenery. We even went over the New River Gorge Bridge. It was really astonishing to look at the valley below from such heights. We drove through the Appalachians throughout, with the Smoky Mountains being our favorite section. My brother and I spoke at length about how Chattanooga,TN looked like the perfect place to retire and how all the barricades that had signs on them indicating the highway was closed in heavy fog told us exactly how the Smoky Mountains got their name.

Another way to pass the time that my brother and I always enjoy is analyzing the other vehicles on the road. We were rather surprised to see a few vehicles from Alaska, leading to my brother and me to take into perspective how the trip we were on was mere child’s play in comparison. We also observed how the vehicles changed from region to region. In the cities, especially Chattanooga and Knoxville, there were a fair amount of luxury vehicles, such as the Mercedes, Lexus, and Porsche brands. Once we were in more rural areas however, it seemed that we were the only car on a roadway dominated by trucks and large SUVs, more appropriate when some side roads looked like they were unpaved. We also found it interesting to note the sports teams’ logos on the back of the vehicles. It was as if there needn’t be any state line markers. Once we got to Alabama, it came to a point where we were trying to find a vehicle without a license plate cover that didn’t say “Roll Tide Roll”. The last few hours were spent intently listening to the Pittsburgh Panthers’ football bowl game via our Sirius Satellite Radio. My parents are both lifelong Pittsburghers, alumni of the University of Pittsburgh, and met there during their undergrad studies, so Pitt holds a special place in all of our hearts. We all cheered on the Panthers and they were able to win the bowl, ending their season with their best record since my parents attended there. Listening to the game on the radio left the most lasting impression of the trip. It was all about cheering the good plays, yelling at the bad ones, and making fun of the color guy that had a handful of clich├ęs that made absolutely no sense. It was all about the four of us high-fiving each other and being engaged with each other and enjoying each others’ company. Once we arrived at our destination, we went to my sister’s apartment door and knocked. The door opened up and my sister was there. The trip was complete and the goal was realized. Our family was together as it should be. That was the purpose of our trip and what made it so special.

1960 Columbus, Ohio Trotters: NHRA; African-American Dragster Team/Club

Hi folks-- Recently I picked up a book at my local library in Centerville, Ohio entitled Middletown Pacemakers: The Story of an Ohio Hot Rod Club, by Ron Robertston (Arcadia, 2002). I was interested in this book because it is a grassroots history of hot rodding in middle America. The narrative isn't particularly compelling and much of this tends to be a sort of broad family history. But there are plenty of photographs in this book, and one of was of enormous interest to me. For some time I have been interested in African-Americans and the automobile. My student, Peter, Cajka, won the SAH Scharchburg Prize in 2008 for a study that he did of African-Americans, Ebony, and the automobile. There is very little out there on this important topic.
So in this book by Roberson there is a photo from 1960 that depicts the Trotters from Columbus. Does anyone know more about this group? Any survivors one could interview? African-Americans and automobile clubs are a topic of great interest, and particularly when they got out into the competitive arena during the late 1950s and early 1960s. If you do run across this post and have knowledge on the topic, please contact me.

UD Student "Auto-Biography:" Matthew King and his 2003 Ford Ranger XLT


I have been lucky enough, although my parents may say spoiled, to have received a 2003 white Ford Ranger XLT for my 16th birthday. I can remember the day that it happened. My mom came to my work and asked if I had my driver’s license on me because my dad wanted to have me drive home after we went out to eat for my birthday. I replied, “Yes.” My dad picked me up from work and proceeded to drive to dinner, but stopped at a Ford dealership to “use to the bathroom.” Little did I know, he was finalizing the deal and signing the paperwork. About 20 minutes later he came out side and asked me to look at this car they had on the showroom floor. As soon as I stepped out of the car, he handed me a set of keys to my brand new and very own truck. Honestly, I had no idea this was coming because, ironically, my brother, just 18 months older that I, had also receive a white 2002 Ford Ranger XLT for his 16th birthday. So, within an 18 month span, my parents had bought two brand new white Ford Ranger XLTs.

I had never thought that a car had so much influence on my daily life activities. I, apparently, had been taking my parents and friends’ parents generosity, when it came to transportation, for granted. But, now that I had my own truck, I no long had to depend on them or anyone else; I was free, or so I thought. I can remember being a good driver, never getting into any accidents, never getting any speeding tickets, and never mistreating my truck. This attitude continued for about two years, until I got into my first accident. I immediately hated my truck because of how much money it was costing me to fix the damage, roughly $600. Soon after I began speeding, still no tickets, and taking my truck for granted. My parents recognized my actions and took the truck away. I, again, became dependent on others for transportation. Then and truly then, I realized how much I needed that truck, my truck. It took about one week for me to realize my previous actions and to quickly ratify them in hopes to get my truck back.

After graduating high school I attended a local community college, Lorain County Community College, which was about 35 minutes from my house. My truck was my only means of transportation. I knew no one in my classes and could not rely on my brother or parents for a ride to and from the college. I, once again, was completely dependent on my truck. About four months after my college career started, it looked to me over, grades came. My parents felt that I was capable of doing better than I did and punished me by taking my truck away for two weeks. When classes resumed in mid January, I knew I had to put in the hard work, not just to appease my parents, but to keep my truck. I hit the books and made the grades.

After one year of community college, I transferred to the University of Dayton. I came in a sophomore, which meant I could have full access to my truck. My truck provided everything yet again. It was my way to and from home, to and from the store, to and from work, to and from anything. My truck moved me in and out of my first and only college dorm room too.

In that summer, the summer of 2008, I receive an internship with the Sherwin-Williams Company where I was a sales representative. I was responsible the territory of four neighboring cities to my home town. I had to drive to meetings, drive to meet clients or potential clients, drive to sales calls, deliveries, pick-ups, you name it and I drove there. Many miles later that internship ended August first of 2008 and back to college I went where my truck moved me down again. For the most part, the same uses of my truck applied my junior year as they did my sophomore year; they uses may have been more frequent, but not different.

That school year came and went and I, thankfully, had another internship waiting for me in the summer. I worked for a company in Jersey City, New Jersey in the summer of 2009 but lived in Manhattan. With the exception of moving me in and out of my temporary living arrangement, I was not dependent on my truck. I was able to take a subway to and from work, to and from the grocery store; to and from anywhere I wanted to go. But, the nicest part about not having a truck was that I did not have to pay for gas, for oil changes, for storage, for anything, not even insurance (parents covered me). I did have to pay for a subway pass but it was far cheaper than my truck expenses. It was also nice to be able to go out after work and not have to worry about getting home after a few drinks. I did not have to worry about rush hour, or any of life’s little annoyances. I was free of my truck, which I then noticed was a burden.

I am currently in my final semester of my senior year and I am still using my truck. Thirty thousand miles later, my truck is still there for me; through the good times and the bad, my tuck never left my side. It is clear to say that I have formed a relationship with my truck and don’t plan on ending it anytime soon.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Brief Review of Stephen Bayley's Cars: Freedom, Style, Sex, Power, Motion, Colour, Everything

Hi folks -- I first saw this book on the shelf at the Collier in Naples, Florida. It is an expensive book, destined for the coffee table. Much to my surprise, I next saw it at my local library in Centerville, Ohio., and so I checked it out.

This is a book not worth buying, even at a discounted price. It has little text, although there are a few insightful gems from the British author, who is purportedly an expert on automobiles and design. There are numerous very nice photographs of iconic cars, but you can find those in many other books as well.

What I find worth the read are the quotes that are found in the introduction. Here are a few:

Cars, cars, fast, fast! One is seized, filled with enthusiasm, with joy...the joy of power. The simple and naive pleasure of being in the midst of power, of strength.. -- Le Corbusier, The City of Tomorrow, 1929.

No dignity without chromium/ No truth but a glossy finish/ If she purrs she's virtuous/ If she hits ninety she's pure... -- William Carlos Williams, Ballad of Faith, 1954.

Drive ten thousand miles across America and you will know more about the country than all the institutes of sociology and political science put together. -- Jean Baudrillard, America, 1989.

I regard Henry Ford as my inspiration. -- Adolph Hitler, The Detroit News, 31 December 1931.

I think that cars today are almost the exact equivalent of the great Gothic cathedrals: I mean the supreme creation of an era, conceived with passion by unknown artists, and consumed in an image if not in usage by a whole population which appropriates them as a purely magical object. --Roland Barthes, Mythologies, 1957.

We value speed more highly than we value human life. -- George Orwell, 1946.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

UD Student Justin Foley's "Auto-Biography": 1988 Plymouth Voyager; 1988 Pontiac Grand Am


My earliest memory of an automobile is from when I was around five years old. My younger brother, who was three years old at the time, and I were excitedly exploring the vehicle that my parents has just purchased. It was our first mini-van, a 1988 Plymouth Voyager. The baby blue paint was the perfect back drop for the stylish wood panels. She was absolutely incredible in the eyes of my brother and I. We loved the bench seats, the personal lights in the back we could control all by ourselves, and perhaps best of all, the curtains that could be untied and stretched to cover the windows. Those curtains came in handy on long trips to and from Youngstown Ohio where our grandparents lived.

I most remember the winter time two and and half hour drives from Columbus to Youngstown. As amazing as my brother and I thought the Voyager was, the heating was absolutely horrible. If my parents turned the heat up all the way, they would be roasted in the front seats, too low and we would be freezing in the back. We compromised with something in the middle and my parents gave my brother and I a big sleeping bag to cover ourselves up with. Two and half hours was a heck of a lot of time for a three and five year old to amuse themselves, so my brother and I were constantly trying to figure out new ways to cure our boredom. Probably one of the best days of my life to this day was when I figured out that if we stuck our heads inside our winter coats and rubbed our hair on the inside, we could make static electricity that would light up in the dark. Of course, we had to close all of the curtains to ensure that it was dark enough to see the sparks.

While we were not traveling to Youngstown my mother stayed at home to care for my brother and I while my father went to school full-time and worked full-time. Two cars were necessary. My father drove a 1988 two door Pontiac Grand Am. The car was silver and gray, inside and out. I always thought it was very stylish. The Grand Am had a four speed manual transmission and the way my father drove always amazed me when I was younger. I always held on to the notion that nobody could drive the Grand Am as well as he could.

My evidence was in my recollection of one particular drive through Holmes county Ohio—“Amish Country”. There was almost no other traffic on the road they day were were driving and it was just my father and I. I was already feeling special because he let me ride in the front seat, something mother forbid. I was enjoying having my window rolled down and letting the fresh summer air glide through my hair when my father turned to me and asked: “do you think we can go one-hundred miles an hour?” I just stared at him in amazement, speechless, and smiling ear to ear. He understood. He floored the accelerator and we took off! I didn't know where to look, forward at the road or at the speedometer to see if we made it to one-hundred. When we hit one-hundred my father let out a “woo-hooooo!” and so I did the same. After slowing down to the speed limit and letting the adrenaline settle for a minute or two my father only had one thing to say: “don't tell your mother.”

There have been more cars in my life beyond the Grand Am and the Voyager, but none hold the same type of memories. I'm sure when it comes time for me to purchase my own car I will begin building more memories to add to my auto-biography. Until then however, I will savor what I have.