America's Love Affair with the Automobile

by Barry Horn...

There is an old saying which originated from the Bible, Ecclesiastes 1:9, “… there is nothing new under the sun.” Even though Henry Ford began mass production of the Model T, he really didn't “invent” the automobile. And, he really didn’t “invent” the assembly line. Historically, these were credited to others. However, he is the one identified with making the first mass-produced American automobile. 

During the last century, America has had a profound love affair with the automobile. From the mass-produced Model T to the post-war classic like the 1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air, to the modern engineering marvel of the Chevrolet Corvette, America loves the designs and looks of its automobiles. Henry Ford started the affair with his low-priced, mass-produced Model T. He cut costs so the average American could afford to buy his car.

Ford had a contract with the Dodge brothers to build his engines. Each engine was to be crated and the wood crate had to be a certain size. When the engines arrived, Ford issued each worker a crowbar so that each crate could be carefully disassembled. Then, this wood was sent to the end of the production line and used as floorboards or other inside areas of the Model T, an ingenious idea to cut costs! 

After Ford’s Model T success, other automobile manufacturers jumped on board. The luxury Duesenberg was something extraordinary and unique. Hollywood stars and the elite were the only ones during the Depression who could afford these fancy automobiles. 

A great story about Gary Cooper with his new Duesie landed on the front cover of LIFE magazine and the very next month LOOK magazine sported Clark Gable with his classic Duesenberg on its front cover! Yes, Hollywood was known as a town of copycats. Soon, more of the tinsel town stars like Tyrone Power and Jean Harlow either owned a flashy Duesenberg or a racy Auburn. The great era of the 20s, 30s, and 40s was marked in the history books as the introduction of the fast and stylish automobile.

Then came the fabulous fifties, Detroit’s horsepower race was just heating up. General Motors deserves much of the credit as it introduced several high-performance V8s during the second half of the 1950s. The early 1960s was the muscle car era. It began with Pontiac’s GTO. This groundbreaking automobile kick-started the race in Detroit to see which factory could outdo the other. The “Big Three” all had their muscle cars with flashy paint and graphic options as long as your arm. By the end of the decade, the performance was off and running. It seemed like it would never end, but it did. Safety and clean air spelled the end for the factory hot rods; and, by 1971, the muscle car was history.

There has been, and always will be, a special relationship between owners and their automobiles. Whether it’s a sporty convertible, a high-performance coupe, or a luxury sedan, the automobile makes a personal statement about its owner. 

America’s love affair with the automobile continues to be alive and well...and, that's nothing new under the sun.

mershons photos used by permission 

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