The American automotive industry has become symbolic of everything I hate.
Back in its heyday, American car manufacturers were numerous. They were innovative, competition-driven, and entrepreneurial. They were daring, risky, and in some cases, downright crazy. But the United States was home to men who made works of art such as Deusenbergs, Auburns, pre-war Cadillacs, and many, many other astoundingly beautiful automobiles. Some of these cars had innovative features that, to this day, still haven't been improved on or fully implemented. They had a presence of styling that hasn't been seen in any subsequent era.
I don't believe anyone could rightfully dispute that today's cars (and the faceless corporations that manufacture them) are empty husks- ghosts of what used to be. So why are American highways now full of bland blobs with wheels? Why are there only three companies left standing, when before WWII, there were dozens? What happened to the creativity, the innovation, the industrious pursuit of excellence? While countries like Italy and Germany have continued to make both stunningly beautiful and technologically advanced cars, America has settled into a vapid mediocrity that makes drying paint look exciting by comparison.
So what happened?
Simply put, the American People did it to themselves. Since FDR and the New Deal, American businesses, and the general population, have continually pushed profit/cost above quality and innovation. The industry makes what sells... and what sells is convenience. What is sadly missing however is innovation, beauty, excitement, and inspiration.
Americans, as a whole, don't care about beauty any more. We live in a "healthy at any weight" world, in the "men with identity issues are women too" illusion. The world of art has long been corrupted into filth and degeneracy. Architecture has dissolved from majestic Gothic spires and stunning Art Nouveau mansions to squalid Post-Modernism cubes. So why would we have any expectation that the auto industry would be radically different? What I long for is the days of adventure, of beauty, of speed and adrenaline. The wonder of wind whipping through your hair to the roar of a Packard V12. The glint of sunlight on chrome, the blur of the landscape, every nerve aware... (sounds familiar?)
Why are today's cars so ugly? Mostly for reasons of cost, fuel efficiency, and ease of assembly. Sure, they may occasionally carve a few accent lines in the blobs and have brand-specific grille openings, but for the most part they're the same shapes, in the same colors. Efficiency has driven this trend- and I don't mean just fuel efficiency. Manufacturers want to make the most profitable car they can, so they must build it as cheaply as possible. Cheap plastics, shared platforms and assembly lines, minimal inspiration. When bean counters run the show, beauty is thrown out the window. Any semblance of beauty is accidental, or only hinted at as a weak marketing ploy.
Compare a 1970 Dodge Challenger to a 2020 Dodge Challenger, and you will see they are quite different animals. Sure, the styling cues are there, but the actual body shape is completely different. They tacked on hints of what the original car had, in hopes that people would somehow relate the two. But the tacked-on parts aren't what made the original car sleek and beautiful!
Even through the 50's, when the round-fendered bodies were being phased out, they kept the idea of lines, flow, and beauty. The iconic '57 Chevy's tailfins and chrome have stood the test of time. Even in the 60's, when the fins started to go away, we saw the invention of the Fastback, which drew inspiration from the round-backed sedans of the 40's. They were curvy, sleek, and attractive- but the glow of pre-war majesty was already beginning to fade. There would never be another Deusenberg, Cord, or Auburn. There was no American equivalent to Jaguar, Alfa Romeo, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Porsche, Lotus, TVR, and so on. There never was a proper American answer to the Mercedes SL 300 Gullwing, the Austin-Healey 3000, the Triumph TR3, or any number of beauties that came out of Europe. The only thing that came close was the original Corvette, in 1954 (the Shelby/AC Cobra, though considered an "American" car, was designed and originally built in Europe).
Convenience Over Concentration
The average American is not interested in hard work, voluntary discomfort, or mastering a craft through perseverance to achieve something transcendent. If it's not easy and convenient, they're just not interested.
The days of old are lightly romanticized, but never taken seriously. Most people born since 2000 will never know what it's like to drive a car that commands all of your attention. They don't understand the dynamic between man and machine. Cars have become like microwaves- a simple appliance that performs a function, nothing more. It serves its purpose and is discarded. Set it and forget it.
In the age of cars as appliances, transportation has become indistinguishable from waiting in line at the grocery store. Now, entertainment in cars isn't driving the car itself, but an extension of people's smartphones. The social media "attention engineers" that are ruining modern thought have invaded our physical space, by installing multimedia distractions in a machine that should be requiring your full attention. Built-in OnStar cellphones that can let your car call for directions; no need to find out how to get there before you leave.
Instead of expecting drivers to take responsibility for their actions, we get cars with anti-tailgating, auto lane correction, auto emergency braking, twenty airbags, automated lights, and autopilot. We've simply given up on expecting people to improve, and so as people got dumber, cars became smarter.
All of this coddling is absolutely unnecessary, counterproductive, and detrimental to the Human Condition. It's indicative of how irresponsible we've become, to the point where people take it for granted.
The Final Frontier
As much as I hold the beauty of classic cars dear to my heart, their existence is all but gone in the eyes of modern society. They're too expensive for most people to own and maintain. Exquisite, rare, and tempting, yes. But accessible? Those days are gone.
There is still hope- however, in the form of fewer wheels. The alluring, swooping lines, the stripped-down utility, the excitement and danger, the will to experience life- these still exist in the motorcycle world. Sadly, it's not the same experience, but as long as it's allowed, there will be a glimmer of hope for those of us who long to drink deeply of life.
Perhaps at some point in the distant future, we will have passed through the disgusting morass of mediocrity and efficiency, to emerge into a new era of beauty, excitement, innovation, and glory.
Until then however, the American auto industry can go to hell.