Old Auto Plant

The Packard Assembly Plant ~ Detroit

This article is written from the perspective of a very avid consumer of American automobiles. I have owned somewhere in the neighborhood of 135 cars and trucks in my lifetime of 78 years. Only a handful of those were foreign made. I always felt it was my duty as an American patriot to support American manufacturers. However, that doesn’t make me blind to a few important details. American auto manufacturers have pushed one hell of a lot of really crappy cars onto the public. I have owned a few of them. So, the following words and thoughts are nothing more than my opinion of how this all went down.

From the beginning, until about the late fifties, early sixties, Detroit had a captive audience. There were very few foreign cars sold in the U.S. In the fifties, a few British cars were showing up, but they weren’t a match for American cars as far as size, speed and reliability. Anyone that has ever owned a British car knows how dreadful the Lucas electrical systems were. However, I must admit, the 1950’s Jaguar Marks Vll were gorgeous cars, and were very nice to drive and ride in. However, most average Americans were loyal to their favorite brands, and there were plenty to choose from.

By the late fifties and early sixties, General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler, referred to as the “Big Three” had pretty much pushed all of the other domestic manufacturers out of business. Studebaker/Packard, and American Motors hung on into the mid sixties before finally throwing in the towel. The ” Big Three ” were the last ones standing. Japanese cars started trickling in, but they were tiny little cars that not many took seriously. They were sort of a novelty. Americans wanted big, flashy, fast cars that were at least sixteen feet long. Detroit was more than happy to keep turning them out. The economy was strong, and gas was cheap. During the sixties and early seventies, the ” Big Three ” created some very iconic muscle cars that today’s collectors pay very handsome sums for the privilege of owning and driving.

In my opinion, this is where Detroit started coming off the rails. By the mid seventies it was becoming very apparent that cars were huge contributors to air pollution. Los Angeles and other large cities were chocking in smog. I lived in the LA Basin in the sixties and it was horrible. Detroit could not wean itself from building big gas guzzling cars. They kept building large V8 engines and loaded them down with air pollution controls that choked the the horsepower output, and did little to curb the fuel consumption. They had ignored all of the warnings, and did the last minute fixes, that turned out to be a fiasco.

Then the death knell came. The oil embargo. The price of gasoline skyrocketed overnight. You had to wait in long lines at gas stations. Often, by the time you got to the pumps, they were out of gas. Then they set up lotteries according to your license plate numbers, and you could only get gas on odd or even days. People started dumping their big American behemoths and started buying the sub compact Japanese cars. I sold my 1975 Dodge Charger and bought a Toyota Celica. Detroit had squandered all of their time building large, poor quality automobiles, when they should have been focusing on building better, more efficient products. The Big Three pretty much forced their buyers into the Toyota and Datsun showrooms. My 1975 Dodge Charger with a 360 cu. in. V8 got 13 mpg in the city, in contrast my Celica got 22 mpg in the city. The Celica was no match for the Charger in power, speed or comfort. But it sure felt better when I filled the tank.

The Big Three finally got their act together, and were turning out some pretty good stuff by the mid to late eighties. But they had left the barn door open, and handed over a large portion of the market to their foreign competitors. By the eighties, the Japanese manufacturers were upping the game, and it was becoming apparent that the build quality was outstanding. By this time the Germans were getting into the market with some great products, and between the Japanese and the Germans, the Big Three were losing some serious ground.

I realize I have over simplified this whole issue, there are way more moving parts than I covered. However, I feel this is the bottom line, and a hard learned lesson. The Big Three Auto manufacturers  became complacent, and lazy. Thinking they could keep selling an inferior product to infinity. The marketing geniuses should have seen the writing on the wall, and warned management about what was eventually going to happen. They get paid to figure that stuff out. The marketing people are the lookouts in the towers.

Here’s the silver lining. This whole thing forced American car companies to start building high quality autos. They had no choice if they were going to stay in the game. The Big Three now holds about a 44% share of the U.S. auto market. I went back to American cars in the late eighties and have not strayed again. Most of them have been good, reliable efficient cars and trucks. However, I have had a couple that I would like to forget.

In my opinion, the beating that Detroit took, was well deserved for being lazy, and greedy, and pushing junk onto their loyal customers, like me. My Cadillac CTS, 3.8 liter V6 is fast, efficient, and drives like a sports car. Detroit should have been building cars like this years ago, and they would have a larger market share today. I have no sympathy to offer them.


 Red Caddy