The AMC Gremlin: 4-speed was optional, but not the fires
The AMC Gremlin: 4-speed was optional, but not the fires
The AMC Gremlin: 4-speed was optional, but not the fires

Earlier today, I stumbled upon an article that made me take notice. Well, actually it was Loni who just happened to be surfing a Yahoo page, when I saw the headline ‘10 Cars That Sank Detroit‘. Being a self-confessed car nut, I quickly took over the laptop and clicked on the link to see what the list included. Loni, suffering withdrawal, quickly hunted for her BlackBerry.

I was curious to see if any of my American made “classics” had made the cut. The car in the lead picture made me smile. It would be impossible to finish business school without reading a case study about Ford’s challenge with its public image and the damage control needed after it brought to market the infamous Pinto. How many jokes have there been in film, books and popular culture about the rear bumper’s sensitivity and the explosive result?

Also on the list, the Ford Taurus and Ford Explorer. I was surprised when I saw them on the list. After all, weren’t these big brand names? Yes, apparently so. But, the problem? Ford neglected to capitalize, instead letting them deteriorate over time, ultimately ceding market share and profits to the faster moving competition. Another sad demonstration of the corporate ineptitude that had crept into the corner offices of what once were the beacons of American hope.

Then there’s the interesting question of how to spend $1B on research. GM chose the Hummer. Toyota chose hybrid technology and the Prius. End of story.

There are a few missing, or perhaps consideration of addition to a top 20 cars that sank Detroit list:

AMC Gremlin. Here’s a car that was released on April Fool’s day. So much for karma. We had one in the family. My grandfather, ‘Bossie’ (who Sean Connery once shined coffins with in Scotland), purchased one new in that glorious AMC brown that for some reason he adored. It had a 3-speed, flip-up glass hatch, cool seats, James Bond-style hub cabs. And, best of all, the Gremlin himself on the glove box. Later, the car would be passed down to my parents and then to me. As my first car, I proudly drove it to sailing lessons, revving the engine when any girl would look my way. I didn’t look so cool when moments later, the floor boards caught fire, the transmission jammed and the brakes failed all at the same time. Gliding into a gas station under such circumstances is a worthy skill not to be under-rated.

AMC Javelin. See a trend here? Another family car. In AMC brown. If it didn’t set the world on fire exactly, at least it did set the engine compartment on fire on multiple occasions. But it looked quite cool. Still to this day, I think it’s a bit of a looker, in a 70s kind of way. This one was an automatic and had a cool horsheshoe shifter. The details of how my father unloaded this one involved a cloudy evening in Ottawa, a sketchy character and some cash left on the seat.

Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Ok so this probably doesn’t belong on the list that sank Detroit. In fact, I think it was quite successful, evolving over several generations and even used in NASCAR. I remember our silver — not brown thankfully — 1979 model again purchased by the elder Stark. It was fully loaded. And it glided, floated and bounced along in glorious luxury. Never mind that you could actually watch the gas guage head towards empty in real time. A small price to pay for power windows. Power everything actually. 

These are just a few of my car stories. I keep telling Loni one of these days I’m going to write about my car hall of fame… a chronological list of all the cars I’ve ever owned. There’s just too many fun stories to tell. And old photos too. I’ll have to dig some out, as long as they’re not too embarassing, 80s hair and all.

Meantime, let me know if you have any favorite car memories. And here’s hoping Detroit rises form the ashes with renewed vigor and American know-how to last future generations of car lovers. It’s not just a car. It’s a dream… even if it does sometimes require a fire extinguisher.

[Source: 10 Cars That Sank Detroit by Rick Newman]

Clinton shoots videos for Stark Insider. San Francisco Bay Area arts, Ingmar Bergman and French New Wave, and chasing the perfect home espresso shot 25 seconds at a time (and failing). Peloton: ClintTheMint. Camera: Video Gear