Crappy Cars of the 1970s
An American poet named Sammy Hagar wrote a passionate song titled I Can't Drive 55! Ironically released in 1984, Mr. Hagar warns of the Orwellian oppression of lowered speed limits. In his poem, Mr. Hagar clearly believes his precious time to be a valuable commodity! He laments, What used to take two hours now takes all day/ Huh, it took me 16 hours to get to L.A. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Hagar was not rushing back to Cedars-Sinai to conduct a heart transplant; instead, he was racing to S.I.R. studios to practice more of his pig-squealing guitar solos. Such depravations for headbangers! From his bucket seat, the libertarian laments, Write me up for 125/Post my face wanted dead or alive/Take my license, all that jive/I CAN’T DRIVE 55! Jive! If Samuel Roy Hagar cannot cruise a highway at 125 mph, what is next? Will he be forced to wear underwear beneath his spandex? Will his chain of casino eateries be audited?
Hagar is best known as Van Halen’s singer in the late 80’s before Cyd Charisse (or whatever his name was) took over. “55” was on MTV and features his ugly band VOA. In the video, Hagar is clad in a yellow racing onesy (to provide easier I.D. after dissolving into a tree after crashing at 125?). He leaves the freedom of a racing track for the madding crowd of metro L.A.––depression and slow driving ensue. The Federal highway speed limit was implemented during the oil shocks of the 70's in an attempt to save fuel. To put it mildly, this was unpopular. In the USA, "sacrifice" is something that is barely tolerated at a baseball game. ONE NATION UNDER METAL “What was good for GM was good for America” (as with many iconic quotes, “Engine” Charlie Wilson did not use those exact words, but that was his intended message). Wilson stepped out of the GM boardroom and into the Defense Department in 1953, solidifying a revolving door tradition between public service and business. GM was one of the largest defense contractors at the time, and Wilson was happy to “enlist” GM in the cause against the great enemy of the time, Godless Communism (as opposed to our current enemy, God-filled Islamic terrorism). The intimate relationship between big auto and government thrived, like a hotline to God. For example, in 1974 when Lee Iacocca (then an executive at Ford) reportedly asked the government to expel the Volkswagen "Thing" from America’s Eden, it was done. America's auto manufacturers had consolidated and by the late 1960's their management system more resembled a combination of military bureaucracy and a Bulgarian shoe factory. Excellence and innovation took a back seat to sycophancy and going along to get along. Did they, like Icarus, fly too long on borrowed wings? Their atonement, and our atonement, was the 1970’s. LEMON, NOW AVAILABLE IN ALL COLORS There is nothing “classic” about American automobiles from the 1970’s. Few collectors waste garage space with them (unless they are to be rented out for period-piece films and television). “Planned Obsolescence” became “Instant Obsolescence.” They were ugly and a mechanic’s employment insurance. Like a coked-out band going through the motions, Detroit churned them out. Ads for imported German cars boasted of “precision-made engineering” or put another way, You’re not going to believe this folks, but the pieces actually fit together! The doors won’t sag. The latches really lock! Hail Wirtschaftswunder! How did things get this way? In the 1960's, small imported cars were mostly a joke to Detroit. The Volkswagen Beetle was considered unmasculine and cheap--a throwback to the great depression. "Well I suppose you could also wear a barrel with suspenders for clothing, but with such abundant prosperity why would anyone want to?" Detroit continued to pander to masculine fantasies of speed racing and middle-class aspirations of riding in an Americanized limousine or a boat on wheels with "road-hugging weight." Oh, we'll throw in a few models for gramps on a fixed income, but youth (and those looking to recapture it) is where the fountain of disposable income flows. Not many were expecting what came next, save a Texas geologist named King Hubbert. In 1956, Hubbert predicted that by 1970 the U.S. would become a net importer of oil, and not a producer. He was right. This became known as Hubbert’s Peak. Americans and businesses were accustomed to oil being a third spigot, alongside hot and cold water. Oil and oil services reflected a much larger percentage of the US economy than they do today. Oil was taken for granted. Still, inflation was creeping up in the late 60's, and the economic Inspector Clouseaus went about looking for the culprit. They blamed labor unions; too many people working ('The Phillips Curve"); "Guns and Butter" (Military and Social government spending) and budget deficits (which were relatively low, compared to today or when Reagan increased the national debt by 186% in the 1980’s). The keystone kops continued their search through the 1970's, when Milton Friedman's "starve a cold, starve a fever" theory of Monetarism and "targeting the quantity" of money (i.e., shrinking the money supply) was embraced in both the UK and the US. At the end of the decade, Fed chair Paul Volcker pointlessly jacked the prime-lending rate up to 21%, which resulted in a severe recession. Milton Friedman later recanted the false contrarian notion that doing the opposite of Keynesian stimulus could "cure" inflation. Inflation in the 1970’s was caused by more demand for oil in the world than there was supply. But this was not foremost in the minds of Detroit executives. They were obsessed with safety––that is, maintaining the lack of it for economy’s sake.
And thus the 1970s and '80s were one endless crane shot from Godard’s Weekend. The forklifts and the Cats claimed the remains of the Gremlins, the Pacers, the VW Things, the rusted Vegas and the exploded Pintos. The whole production line of Eros and Thanatos. The elderly died in their LTD Broughams and their FORD FAIRMONT FUTURAS! The Buick LeSabres were covered with the sweat of a rising interest rate death spiral. Workin’ at the car wash! Unlike Lourdes, we could not wash off the pigeon dung of economic malaise. Planned obsolescence, planned rather too well. The madhouse of hubris and going along to get along. Feel the steel, not an airbag. On warm. Leatherette.
Freud's death drive, even when it is upholstered in Corinthian leather and accessorized with bucket seats, remains a death drive.