Saturday, November 26, 2011

Will Smartphones End the American Love Affair with the Automobile?

The iPhone 5 -- its design as alluring as a new Corvette?

American youth on the whole are simply not as enthralled with the automobile as kids from previous generations. That doesn't mean that there are not young people who love automobiles, new, used, and classic. But the numbers are not large, and that should worry the auto hobby in general, including those collectors with cars that some day will have to be sold.

But then there is the iPhone, seemingly more important than a drivers' license to more than a few teenagers. Why smartphones? Yesterday my son-in-law lost his, as he placed it on the top of a car that I drove off in to get motor oil at Pep-Boys! He just simply called to report it lost and claim insurance for the loss. Today a new phone will be in the mail to him.

Somehow, for these new generation of kids smartphones -- and other mobile devices -- convey status. Like my chronograph watch. The iPhone offers freedom and social reach, but does it really do that like a car? Can you really get away from your parents by using a smartphone? Can you foster a meaningful relationship by communicating electronically the way you can talk to someone in the front seat of a car or during a road trip?

One survey suggests that 46 percent of young people 18 to 24 prefer access to the internet rather than access to their own car. In 1978, 50% of 16 year olds obtained their first drivers' license; in 2008, only 30% did the same.

What this means is that cars increasingly need to come with innovative electrical gadgets, or with communicaton technologies built in. Whoever comes up with a killer app adaptable to the car will further a revolution that goes well beyond hybrid or electric propulsion.

Friday, November 25, 2011

When Life Ends Far Too Soon -- Recent Accidents in the Dayton, Ohio Area

Plenty can be said about young people whose lives end too soon because of an auto accident. A few weeks ago, two Chinese students died on a weekend evening in the suburbs -- they were 18 and 19 years old. According to one source, the car they were traveling in down Mad River Road was going at least 70 in a 40 zone. The older student had just purchased an Eclipse, and then had it hopped up at a speed shop. Near the corner of Jenny Lane and Mad River the car hit a tree, and burned. The bodies of the students so severely that there can be no determination if alcohol was involved in the crash.

Last weekend a drunk driver from Florida was traveling at speeds of around 100 mph and T-boned a car at the intersection of Wilmington and Wayne (See photos above) in the City of Dayton. Two kids in the car that was hit died -- a boy 18 and a girl 20. As you might expect, the drunk driver survived. That intersection had just been improved, and one wonders if making the road better contributed in a very tangential way to this accident.

In a nutshell, and from the very beginning, the car brings with it risks that we usually fail to account for in our everyday lives. After all, we think it will never happen to us. How frail life really is!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Chevy OK Used Cars and Louis Chevrolet's Signature

Hi folks -- when I was a kid I always noticed the OK used car signs at the dealers' lots. But where did the OK logo come from? I recently saw an ad from 1918 for an American Motors Corporation "American Six." Louis Chevrolet was the Vice President and Chief Engineer of this company, and on the inside dash of each car Chevrolet signed in his own had "O.K. Chevrolet." As the ad copy went on to explain, "Louis Chevrolet's O.K. is a sure guarantee of the sterling qualities that set the AMERICAN SIX apart from other cars."

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Evolution of the Jordan Playboy Advertising Copy

Hi folks -- when I dealt with the importance of Ned Jordan and the Jordan Playboy "Somewhere West of Laramie" ad of 1923, it seems that this copy popped out of nowhere and had little or no antecedents. That is patently false, as Ned Jordan gradually shaped and reshaped his words until the now-famous ad appeared. ONE MIGHT ARGUE THAT THE REAL SHIFT THAT TOOK PLACE IS AS MUCH IN THE IMAGE AS IN THE WORDS -- THAT THE IMAGE EVOKES A SENSE OF MYSTERY AND POWER ABSENT FROM PREVIOUS ADS. Note above Jordan ads, and how the static gives way to the dynamic.
a 1922 ad copy for the Playboy:

A spirited companion for a wonderful girl and a wonderful boy.
It's a shame to call kit a roadster. So full is this brawny,
graceful thing of the vigor of boyhood and morning.
It carries two passengers with a cockpit-swanky seat behind.
It revels along with the wandering wind and roars like a Caproni
biplane. It's a car fora man's man -- that's certain.
Or for the girl who loves the out-of-doors.
It's true -- there's some of the twang of that rare old English ale
that was brewed from the smiles of youth and of old boxing gloves.
How did we happen to think of it?
Why a girl who can swim and paddle and shoot described it to a
boy who loves the roar of the cut-out.
We built one and slipped it away from the quiet zone.
And stepped on it.
And the dogs barked.
And the boys stopped to cheer.
And the people we passed stopped and looked back.
And we were boys again.
The Playboy will be built in limited numbers -- frankly because we
love to do it.

From 1918 ad for the Jordan Sport Marine

The Jordan Sport Marine is the first completely equipped motor car ever offered as a stock model by a manufacturer. It is a custom made car at a stock car price.
The new continental motor, introduced by Jordan, eliminates vibration, accentuates speed, increases power and affords a degree of economy and smoothness that is far in advance of the times. The aluminum body is fifty pounds lighter, free from rumbles and ripples and takes that beautiful velvety finish.
Two optional colors, Briarcliff green and Liberty Blue. Upholstered in special hand buffed, genuine leather, with velvet tonneau rug. Rim wind sport clack and tonneau light empancelled in Honduras mahogany.
Because of its completeness, its ultra comfort, its smartness, the Sport Marine is essentially a woman's car.
It is fashionably low with five 32x4 wire wheels and five Silvertown Cord Tires, special gear ratio, sport windshield, taileored top, traffic bumper, motometer, Macbeth green visor lenses and Lin-Rhubber on running boards as standard equipment. Curtains open with the doors.

The Most "Bizzaro" automobile anti-theft device ever -- the Bosco "Rubber Man"

As some of you know, I am working on a history of auto theft entitled "Stealing Cars." At night, while watching TV, I love to read auto history material, and especially like the old publications of Floyd Clymer. Last evening I found this description of a rubber man in a Floyd Clymer Auto History Scrapbook published in 1947:

Perhaps the most bizarre, and in retrospect, humorous countermeasure was the Bosco "Collapsible Rubber Driver." Made in Akron, Ohio, ad copy for the rubber man claimed that: "locks may be picked or jimmied. Cars may be stolen in spite of them. But no thief ever attempted to steal a car with a man at the wheel. [It] is so lifelike and terrifying, that nobody a foot away can tell it isn't a real, live man. When Not in use, this marvelous device is simply deflated and put under the seat."[i]

[i] Floyd Clymer, Historical Scrapbook No. 4 (Los Angeles: Clymer, 1947), p. 162.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Stealing Cars: Data from May-July, 1924, from Buffalo, NY

For example, in Buffalo, New York, between May 15 and July 15, 1924, the following makes of cars (and numbers) were reported stolen:[i]
Make of Motor Vehicle Number Reported Stolen, May 15 to July 15, 1924
Auburn --2
Cole --2
Dodge --8
Ford --172
Wills St. Claire--5
Willys Knight--5
[i] “Automobile Record Book for 1924,” Buffalo New York, in possession of author.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Post WWII American Literature and the Road Trip

Taken from a Smithsonian website.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac, 1957 When this semi-autobiographical work was published, the New York Times hailed it as the “most important utterance” by anyone from the Beat Generation. Though he changed the names, the characters in the novel have real life counterparts. Salvatore “Sal” Paradise (Kerouac) from New York City meets Dean Moriarty (fellow beatnik Neal Cassady) on a cross-country journey fueled by drugs, sex and poetry The novel’s protagonists crisscross the United States and venture into Mexico on three separate trips that reveal much about the character of the epic hero, Moriarty, and the narrator.

Black Like Me John Howard Griffin, 1961 To document the African American experience in the South during the 1950s, John Howard Griffin, a white journalist, artificially darkened his skin using medication and UV lamps. He spoke as little as possible and maintained his name and biography. The only thing that has changed was the color of his skin. He traveled through Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia discovering the nuances of race relations in the segregated South. The reaction was varied: Griffin was hanged in effigy in his Texas hometown, but many recognized the book, which sold 10 million copies and was translated into 14 languages, as an important step in human rights activism.

Travels With Charley John Steinbeck, 1962 Near the end of his career, John Steinbeck set out to rediscover the country he had made a living writing about. With only his French poodle Charley as company, he embarked on a three-month journey across most of the continental United States. On his way, he meets the terse residents of Maine, falls in love with Montana and watches desegregation protests in New Orleans. Although Steinbeck certainly came to his own conclusions on his journey, he respects individual experience: He saw what he saw and knows that anyone else would have seen something different.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe, 1968 Young writer Ken Kesey led a group of LSD-using hippies called the Merry Pranksters around the country in a painted bus in the 1960s. Wolfe combines original reporting with creative writing techniques to both cover the reality of the journey and the hallucinogenic experiences of the characters. The cast reads like a who’s who of counter-culture: Bob Dylan, Neal Cassady, Hunter S. Thompson, Doctor Strange and Jerry Garcia. The book remains one of the most intimate and well-respected testaments to hippie subculture.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream by Hunter S. Thompson, 1971 What many consider the quintessential drug-induced book of the 1970s was an amalgam of two magazine assignments, one from Rolling Stone and the other from Sports Illustrated. Reporting on the Los Angeles murder of journalist Ruben Salazar, Thompson decided that the best way to mine good material out of his source, political activist Oscar Zeta Acosta, was to take to the open road and drive to Las Vegas. But when they got there, their intentions turned to drugs, alcohol and gambling. Ever the enterprising reporter, Thompson also took a respite from his highs to take on a caption-writing assignment to cover an off-road desert race for Sports Illustrated. Although the loose narrative blurs the line between reality and what the characters are merely imagining, a sharp critique of American culture permeates the pages.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig, 1974 A deep, philosophical book that masquerades as a simple story of a father-and-son motorcycle trip, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is Pirsig’s first foray into philosophy writing. Their motorcycle trip from Minneapolis to San Francisco is also a trip through Eastern and Western philosophical traditions. His friend, a romantic, lives by the principle of Zen and relies on mechanics to fix his motorcycle. Pirisg, on the other hand, leaves nothing up to chance and knows the ins and outs of maintaining his bike.

Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon, 1982 After losing his wife and job as a professor, William Least Heat-Moon sets out on a soul-searching journey across the United States. He avoids large cities and interstates, choosing to travel only on “blue” highways—so called for their color in the Rand McNally Road Atlas. Along the way, he meets and records conversations with a born-again Christian hitchhiker, an Appalachian log cabin restorer, a Nevada prostitute and a Hopi Native American medical student.
Mississippi Solo by Eddy L. Harris, 1988 Harris was 30 years old when he wrote his memoir of a journey down the length of the Mississippi River, from Minnesota to New Orleans, in a canoe. His discussion of racial issues, a focus of the book, is shaped by his experience of moving from Harlem to suburban St. Louis 20 years earlier. Along the way Harris meets a spectrum of people, forcing him to reassess his preconceived ideas about whom he would encounter on the trip.

The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson, 1989 Prolific travel writer Bill Bryson returns to the United States after two decades in England to search for the perfect American small town. But Bryson finds an America unlike the place he idealizes. In a Chevy Chevette he borrows from his mother, Bryson drives through 38 states eschewing the big city and luxury hotels befitting this famed journalist.