The American Dream: The Automobile


Henry Ford told potential buyers of his Model T they could get the car in any color they wanted -- as long as it was black.

Thank you, Mr. Ford.


The ‘56 Chevy is an icon among car collectors who restore, modify and display them at events, such as this weekend's Beeline Cruise-In. A complete guide to the event will be inserted in Friday's Payson Roundup.

In 1908, Ford began production of the Model T Ford and changed the course of America forever. The automobile had only been around for about 20 years and only the rich or very rich had one.

Ford thought the masses should have an affordable car. Between 1908 and 1927, Ford built 16 million or so cars and America was on the road. By the mid-1930s, following Ford's production line lead, car companies began popping up like crazy and many of the names remain today. There were also the independents, which gave us some of the most cherished of specialty cars, like the Duesenbergs, Auburns and Packards.

Over the years, there have been many nameplates that have gone by the wayside. In just my lifetime, I have seen the demise of Allard, Corvair, DeLorean, Devlin, Desoto, Edsel (some still say that's OK), Falcon, Graham, Hudson, Jensen, Kaiser, LaSalle (just a little before my time), Metropolitan, Oldsmobile, Packard, Plymouth, Rambler, Studebaker and Willys.

14th Annual Beeline Cruise-In & Charity Auto ShowPublic eventsWhen: All day, April 28Where: Main Street in Payson

The American Dream

After World War II, the politicians promised us prosperity with a television in every room and a car in every garage. Now, 60 years later,

their projection has proven correct, except that some still don't have a garage.

Why do you suppose politicians made such outlandish promises, aside from politics as usual? They believed in the American dream and that dream was the American automobile.

No sooner had cars started rolling off assembly lines, than enterprising young people began to change the car to fit their dreams. Coming home from the war with skills many never dreamed of having, they began to customize cars to become their own personal reality.

Just because a car with an appealing shape came with an underpowered engine didn't mean it had to stay that way, and that is how the real "hot rod" was born. A 1932 Ford ran fine without its fenders and running boards with a flat head Ford V-8, but a 1949 Ford with "Fat Fenders" and the same V-8 ran even better if the engine was replaced by one out of a Cadillac.

American boys and girls had been to Europe during the war and saw what the car companies there were producing. They saw the Mercedes-Benz, Rolls-Royce and Jaguar, with styling that made the American cars pale. They took their hint from Europe and came home, chopped the roof off their car to lower the profile, which gave it a sleeker look.

They set the body of the car down over the frame (channeling) and gave it a lower stance, they took the chrome rings around the headlights off, filled the space and painted it to match the body, which gave the lights the look of French cuffs and they called it "cool."

The "lead sled," the "hot rod," the "cool custom" are all uniquely American automobiles.

My First Car

By the time I was 5 years old, I could recognize almost every car on the road and tell you the year it was built. I learned this, sitting in the family car with my dad, while my mom was shopping.

By the time I was 10, I'd grown tall enough to see over the steering wheel if I sat on Dad's lap.

He started teaching me how to steer the '51 Chevy station wagon down old country roads. Thankfully, there wasn't a lot of traffic because it took a while to figure out how to keep it between the yellow line and the edge of the road.

The lessons continued and when I turned 15, I was old enough to apply for my learner's permit, which meant I could drive with a licensed adult sitting next to me in the car. That was fortunate, because my grandpa, in his late 70s, had quit driving and my grandma, 13 years behind, wasn't a very good driver.

Once a week, I'd ride my bike to their house and we'd go to the store and, on Sundays, to church. This lasted for almost a year.

Those were the most enjoyable days of my life, until Grandma got sick and passed away. The heartache of her passing eased somewhat when Grandpa told me that before she died, Grandma had told him that I was to have their car, if I promised to continue driving him to the store and church. I was overwhelmed and solemnly agreed to her wishes, which I carried out faithfully and with enormous love. My first car was a 1954 Ford two-door sedan.

The first car I bought

It was 1970. I was home from Vietnam and had secured my first job. On my way to work one day, I spotted what I thought was the car of my dreams. It was a 1966 Corvette Roadster, for sale on a car lot on McDowell Road in Scottsdale.

I promised myself that the next day, I would go and see how much it was and whether I could afford it. It was white with a blue, removable hardtop and a white convertible top. The interior was saddle leather and it had a 327 4-speed. They wanted $2,999, which was just fine with me. I was headed out to the credit union to get the loan when I saw the prettiest 1955 Ford Thunderbird I had ever seen for sale in any other car lot.

That T-Bird became mine for $1,999 and, even though I'd saved a thousand dollars, it was a little tougher to finance, because of the age. We were talking high finance, after all.

That was the first car I ever bought and I tell the story because it was three years later, with family to consider, that the car had to be sold.

I knew that T-Birds had increased in value and was excited when a man approached me and offered $3,500 for the car. I sold it. Three months later, the buyer returned to thank me and when he showed me the letter from Ford Motor Company, I knew why. My T-Bird (now his) turned out to be one of the first 1,300 ever built and was one of 300 factory-produced racecars. (I thought it was kind of fast and wondered why it didn't have a heater.) The last line of the letter floored me: "The cars were all sent out to dealers and Ford doesn't know where any of them are. We would like to put it in our museum and are willing to pay $23,000 for the car if you'll sell."

Jack Jordan, the T-Bird's new owner, said the car wasn't for sale and last I heard, he still had it.

I learned my lesson -- research, research, research.

Am I nuts?

By now, you're probably under the impression that I'm a car nut. I hope so. That is my intention.

I can't think of a time in my life when I didn't think about cars. Even in war-torn Vietnam, there were 40-year-old Peugeot taxies that caught my attention.

I also remember the gas wars of the '60s, when gas stations were trying to drive their competition out of business and gas was being sold at 17 cents a gallon. There was a movement afoot to end the use of leaded gas for health reasons (I've never been told what those health reasons were, nor have I heard of any case of leaded gas causing health problems). That movement ultimately led to 1973 when the American "Dream" car died and was replaced by a politically correct engine that burned unleaded gas and got terrible mileage.

The oil embargo from the Middle East had us standing in line to pump our own gas. Not to fill the tank, but only enough to get by, we were screaming about gas costing $1.50 a gallon.

The embargo ended, cars from Japan began invading the United States and our way of life changed forever. However, the American car enthusiast wouldn't let the dream die.

Rather than purchase the slugs being produced in Detroit under the mandates of the federal government, they began to look back and said, we can rebuild, make better and enjoy the cars of our past. Car clubs began popping up all over America. Classic car clubs, European car clubs and hot rod clubs fed the passion and appreciation of these gems and made sure they were here to stay.

Probably the biggest boon to car collectors and restorers was when Lee Iacocca of Chrysler announced to America that sticker shock was about to happen and that American car prices were about to go over $10,000.

Don't you wish we could go back to the '70s and experience that again?

So, whether your taste is for the classics, the nameplates no longer being produced, the sizzling hot rods or beauties built for racing, come to Payson's West Main Street on April 28 for the 14th Annual Beeline Cruise-In Car Show brought to the community by the members of the Rim Country Classic Auto Club.

I'll be there, looking for a 1954 Ford to show my grandson and I'll also be looking for one out of the dozens of cars I've had over the years to see how they've been brought back to life.

I expect these visions will trigger many fond memories.

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