Friday, July 21, 2017

Comment on the article by P.J. O'Rourke, "The Last Best Year: Why 1967 may have been the pinnacle for the automobile"

1967 Austin-Healy 3000 BJ8
1967 Porsche 911S in Irish Green
The article appears in the Fall 2017 issue of Haggerty, pp. 28-39.

1967 was a year during which I was absorbed with survival in the classroom: advanced freshman chemistry, calculus, university physics -- all tough stuff.  I did own a 1959 MGA, similar to that of P.J. O'Rourke's, but probably did not heave nearly the fun in it that he did.

1967 was a great year for the automobile, and due to looming federal legislation, the last year in which automobiles were relatively free of emissions equipment and safety design modifications.  Soon the government could be designing cars, although politicians at air quality and safety hearings swore that they did not want to do so.  The reality proved different.

O'Rourke's article is a joy to read, taking me back to a day when car culture was at its apex and socialization often took place with the automobile as a backdrop. The author points to various 1967 automobiles, both domestic and foreign, that defined the ear -- the Jaguar XKE, The Porsche 911S, Austin Mini, Shelby GT350 and GT500, Corvette C2 Stingray, and Alfa Romeo Spider. It was a Golden Age that superseded the mid-1950s, in part because American per capita wealth was near its all-time peak and thus the masses could either afford or aspire vehicles that they could have only dreamed of a generation earlier.

Yes, the air was foul, and people were dying in record numbers. Urban congestion was worse than ever. Vietnam was beginning to rip into the soul of America's social and class fabric. Racism was rearing its ugly head, not only in the South but also the North.  But we were all Americans during the 1960s, despite our differences. Individualism would only triumph a decade later.

I heartily recommend that you read O'Rourke's article if you get a chance to do so.  He ends on a very strong and perceptive note, suggesting what was lost after 1967:

"Cars are better today, cleaner an safer, far more reliable, easier to drive at high speed and, in many cases, faster and more powerful as well. But enough complications have been added to make a shade tree mechanic use his tree to hang himself. And quirkiness has been subtracted. The since of aerodynamics and the ease of computer modeling has calmed styling. High-tech electronics have soothed manic -- and depressive -- mechanics traits. Modern automobiles are high-functioning, but they're on Prozac. Back in 1967, the cars were crazy good."

1967 Camaro 396 SS

1967 Ford Shelby Mustang GT500

1 comment:

  1. I'd love to know how to get copies of the photos used in the magazine article.