User-agent: * Allow: / Trenton Butcher Block: Ask a Man Who Owns One.....He'll Tell You to Buy A Big American Car

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Commentary on national and local events from the standpoint of a Trenton city resident and state worker.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Ask a Man Who Owns One.....He'll Tell You to Buy A Big American Car

Ask the man who owns one is the slogan that appeared in Packard ads from 1901 all the way until the brand went out of production in 1958.  This particular Packard is a 1956 Caribbean.  June 25, 1956 was the date that the Packard factory on East Grand Boulevard at Concord in Detroit ended production. and was the last year "real" Packards were made.  This top of the line model sported an array of features including a 300+ horsepower V-8, power windows and door locks and factory air.  It sold for about $5,500, a small fortune at the time.  However, that sounds like a bargain compared to what a vehicle like this in pristine condition goes for today...Around $100,000!

 Part of the fun of having a blog is you can write about anything you want.  Although this has basically turned out to be an anti-Christie blog, I often write about other things as well in between my attacks on the governor.  It gets a little tiring just writing about the governor and I'm sure the people who follow me get sick of reading about nothing else but him.

Today I am writing about my tastes in automobiles.  As you can probably guess from the picture of the Packard at the beginning of this entry, I like them big, powerful and well equipped.  A Smart or a Toyota Prius is not my idea of a daily driver.  Neither is a Lexus or even a Nissan Sentra.  To me, if they are not rear wheel drive, American made and V-8 powered, they're not worth considering.  Yes, a  1956 Packard would turn me on, but so do Lincoln Town Cars and real wheel drive Cadillacs.

They do not have to be old.  The car I currently drive is a 2008 Mercury Grand Marquis LS.  I bought it new in July 2008 back when gas was $4.50 per gallon.  So when I say I don't care about gas mileage, I really mean it.   The LS is the top of the line model and mine came with all the bells and whistles like leather seats, a decent stereo, heated seats and pedals which can be adjusted to fit the driver.  Needless to say it has the most important features of all - a V-8 motor and a real wheel drive power train.

See,  I don't drive like a grandpa.  Mounted on my windshield is a Valentine 1 Radar Detector.  Top of the line, lust like the car, the Valentine 1 sells for $500 and is unique in that it tells you where the radar source is located.  That's important if you got a lead foot.

The car's trip computer indicates that I am getting 15.5 mpg, pretty damn good if you consider that my way of getting on Route 1 from the Mercer Mall and the other stores in Lawrenceville and West Windsor is to drop the hammer.  In other words, I look for a the first gap of about 30 feet or so and just floor the thing.  You'll be up to 50 in about 5 seconds, so it just doesn't matter what's coming up behind you.

If you think my job comes with a state-issued car, just forggetaboutit.  State cars exist in Hollywood and in the imaginations of the writers of the Trentonian, not in the real world of working stiffs.  On my job I get to go on the road about three or four times a month so I can meet with the people at the one stops and get to see what is going on across South Jersey.  When I'm out, I drive about 5 or 6 hours each day and log between 120 and 150 miles.  The big Merc allows me to travel in comfort even though it costs a bit more to operate than the 32 cents per mile that the state reimburses me.

To understand why I like big gas hogs, you need to know a little about me as well at the vehicles I've driven throughout the years.  The big car fetish is the easy part.  A lot of that has to do with being 6 feet one inch tall and having a weight of 270 pounds.  When you're that big, you want a car to match especially if you spend a lot of time in it.  The American made and rear wheel drive part has a lot to do with being middle aged, that's what I grew up with.

I know all about the modern writing style.  The experts say that people today have short attention spans especially when online, so keep it brief and to the point.  Don't worry however, I like to break rules, so I will stay to form and write a book as usual.  Like I said in the begining, I am going to keep going and discuss some of the cars I had years ago.

I was born and raised in and around Trenton.  My father worked at the American Standard pottery and my mom was an industrial nurse.  In other words, she worked in various factories throughout her career and took care of employees injured on the job.  We were working class.  Forget about Packards or even V-8s.  My parents usually bought used stripped down 6 cylinder vehicles.

The low-end cars of the 1950s and 1960s were of a type no longer sold today.  In that era, most cars were "standard size" meaning big - but not enormous affairs capable of comfortably carrying 6 adults.  For anybody under 50, sedans that can carry 6 adults in comfort are an unknown commodity.  Hell, my Grand Marquis even can't do that.  But a 1960 Chevrolet Bel Air could.  More about the Bel Air later.  Then, what do I mean by not being enormous.  Well that class of vehicle - the truly enormous, was made up of behemoths like the Packard pictured at the start of this story or the Cadillac Fleetwood - hardly the kind of thing my family (or most families for that matter) could afford.  The "rest of us" had to made due with Chevys, Fords, Dodges, Plymouths and the like.  And my family drove stripped down versions of this babies.

Just like "smaller car" had quite another meaning in the 1950s than now, so did the term "stripped down".  Today that means the absence of a navigation system or a heated steering wheel, but certainly includes factory air conditioning, power steering, power brakes and an AM-FM stereo.  Well stripped in the 1950s meant the cars were lacking things like heaters, oil filters or AM radios.  You got a rubber floor.(carpet was an option), a 3 on the tree manual transmission and an in-line six cylinder engine barely big enough to get the car up to 60 miles per hour on level ground and that was pretty much it.  The brakes were manual (remember to stomp hard), the steering was manual and turning the wheel was like steering a ship, something like 2 complete turns from lock to lock.  Some cars even had a manual choke.  You had to pull the thing out to start the car and push it in once it started.  Not that a manual choke was not a bad thing, the automatic chokes of the day absolutely positively sucked.  My parents normally kept a screwdriver in the glove box.  You used it to start the car.  To start the car, you take the air filter cover off and shove a screwdriver down the butterflies.  Once the car warmed up, you'd remove the screwdriver and replace the air cleaner.

Nope, driving these things was not something out of American Graffiti. It was more like the Opie and Andy Show.

Here are some of the cars I remember that my parents had when I was a kid.  We had a 1954 Dodge.  I don't remember anything special about it except that when I was 4, I put it in neutral and had it rolling down from the Hilltop Shops in Bordentown and almost took it into Rt. 206.  My mom chased it and managed to stop it in time.  I guess if she wasn't successful, you wouldn't be reading this.  We had my grandmother's old 1952 Chevy.  It came with a 2-speed Hydromatic transmission which meant it jerked unbelievably hard when going from low to high gear.  That model was equipped with after-market turn signals. (in 52 turn signals were optional).  Then there was the 1952 Chevy pickup with a hole in the cab floor.  That had a manual choke and a throttle.  Throttle was the cruise control of the day.  Strictly manual like everything else.  You pulled a button out that fed the truck more gas.  Since that was all there was to it, it wasn't much good if you were on a hill because the truck would slow down going up and speed up going down hill.  One more honorable mention was the 1958 Olds 98 my dad bought in a bar in the late 1960s.  That was the exception to the rule because it was equipped with everything including a real automatic transmission and a powerful V-8.  It didn't stay at the house long.  When my mom saw it, she said "it's an 8.  It will use too much gas.  Get that bomb out of here."  That was the first and last time I saw it.

There was one car we had in childhood that deserves more than a fleeting mention.  That was the "king of the lemons", a 1961 Rambler Classic station wagon.  No doubt, if you know anything at all about 1960's classic cars, you heard of the "lay down Rambler".  That meant that all the seats folded down flat to form a bed.  This was a vestige of a long-standing feature of Nash Ambassador automobiles.  Some Ambassador wagons were even equipped at one time with a real mattress so you could use it as a camper.  That was in the late 1940s.  Then, you could get screens as an option so you could leave the windows open at night and keep out the bugs.

We got the Rambler in 1962 as a used car.  I remember going to Reedman's with my parents and sat in the room when they were talking with the salesman.  I remember they were looking at a new Chevy at first, but my mom thought it was too much money.  The salesman said he had a real sharp machine that was only a year old that was a lot cheaper than the Chevy.  It was the Rambler.

My mom loved it at first sight.  It was white.  "easier to keep clean and cooler in the summer".  Of course, it had no air conditioning, so the white paint job was seen as a plus on hot summer days.  It was a 9-passenger model, which meant it came with a fold-down third seat in the far rear.  My sister and I loved it, because it faced rearward and we loved riding back there.  It was like we had the car to ourselves because we didn't have to look at our parents.  Another feature was that the tailgate swung out to the side, rather than opening down flat.  "Makes it easier for the kids to get in and out."  Lastly it had modern "Captive Air" run-flat tires.  These had an inner core which stayed pressurized if the tire went flat.  That way you could keep driving and reach the gas station and have the thing fixed without changing it.  See, back in the day, tires were much less reliable than now and flats were a common occurrence.

Other neat things about the wagon was that it had a push button automatic transmission.  Rather than a shifter on the steering column it had buttons on the dash.  The dash had lots of push buttons and chrome. 
My parents got slip covers for it at Rayco on Broad Street in Hamilton.  They were meant to protect the upholstery, which was much less durable than modern seat coverings..  Yes, the Classic even came with things like carpet, a radio and a heater with defrosters.  (A real redneck Caddy, you think!)

The Classic was an intermediate-sized car, in between the full-sized Ambassador and the compact American.  By 1961, the micro-sized Nash Metropolitan was extinct.

Now comes the lemon part.  My first bad memory of the "car from hell" was from the time our family went to see my mother's sister at her farm in Illinois.  Her sister married a soldier from Ft. Dix in the 1950s.  He was a farmer, so she got to be a mid west farmer's wife after growing up in Bordentown as the daughter of an employee of Roebling Steel.  What did the 1,200 mile each way trip do to our lovely Rambler.  Well, the engine boiled over at regular intervals.  I remember my dad getting sprayed  with boiling hot water when he took off the radiator cap.

The overheating problem persisted the whole time we had the thing.  Going to Seaside was a real treat.  You had to take a few gallons of water with you for the car.  Sometime after you passed Allentown, you had to pull over and add water.  The same thing going home.

Another nasty habit this junk heap had was loosing the passenger-side front wheel.  Several times over the four years we had it, the wheel fell off.  Once we went to the school to pick up my sister and I said something about the wheel falling off.  Speak of the devil, the wheel came off when we stopped at the school.

One feature of the vehicle was that it was equipped with an aluminum head.  The car had my mother's favorite engine configuration, a straight six.  The aluminum head was nothing but problems and the car got several valve jobs.  It rocked and knocked like a sewing machine.

Finally, in 1966 my father sold the car at the bar for $50.00.  That's right, a lay down Rambler for a General Grant.  Good Riddance.

I was going to write more, but I think I did enough for today.  Perhaps another time, I'll tell you about my experiences with my first car, a 1960 Chevrolet Bel Air formerly owned by my stepfather.  It came with a 235 cubic inch straight six.  It had no radio, a rubber floor and no oil filter.  Unlike Ford, Chevrolet took mercy on their base-model purchasers and threw in a heater and defroster at no extra charge.  Of course it cam with manual "captain" steering, "stomp 'em" 4-wheel manual drum brakes, and a 3 on the tree manual transmission complete with a clutch with a throw as long as a Mack truck.

That was what I learned to drive on.  My experiences with the Chevy enabled me to get a chauffeur's license a couple years latter.  I kept this car for the beginning of my college career and made many a trip from Iowa State University in Ames to Trenton and back.  It was during those trips I proved it can carry six adults in perfect comfort.

That's enough for a taste of what may come in a future post.

From what I told you so far, you can now understand why I love big luxury model V-8 highway cruisers.  Of course, I had more of my fill of base-model "lead sleds" and have grown to appreciate the finer things in motoring life.

So leave saving gas and driving rice grinder Camrys to the schmucks.  For me, for now anyway, I'm proud to say that if you don't drive at least a Panther-Class Ford Motor Co. product, then your car has no class.

Photo:  The Detroit News
In its heyday, the mighty Packard Motor Cars. Co. factory in Detroit was advertised as the most modern auto manufacturing facility in the world.  Today, it is the nation's largest abandoned factory.  The 3.5 million square-foot. facility runs along Concord Street for a full half mile and contains over three times the total square footage of the Quakerbridge Mall..  When it was operational, no doubt it was one of Detroit's crown jewels.  Today, it still stands as a ruin of monumental proportions.  The vacant plant is a magnet for homeless people, drug users, scrap collectors, and of course, photographers and urban explorers interested in seeing industrial ruins.

1 comment:

  1. I just hope that before I die ( I am 58 ) I can get someone to give me a ride in a Packard. The photo you have here is one beautiful car. The article is great also thanks.