Best Muscle Cars

Remember when foreign cars were bad?

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Cars labelled as ‘foreign’, those not made by a US manufacturer, have a great reputation for reliability, build and longevity. But like any linage of car, they had their up-and-down years.

Way back in the mid 1980’s I worked very close to a gigantic steel mill. They employed about fifteen thousand workers per shift! The place was a 24/7 operation and many families had generations of people gainfully employed there. Times were good and people in the area spent the money on cars, boats, cabins in the woods, and more.

Then, the invasion began of the so called foreign car. Trust me, in those days you better not pull into the lot in a Honda or other such foreign car. The workers felt the foreigners were stealing there jobs and threatened the way of life they lived. I recall one Saturday the steel workers had a rally in a mall parking lot. The Mayor of the little town was there along with all the town council and anybody else that needed a vote. They wheeled out a foreign car and anyone could hit the car with a sledge hammer for a buck a swing. The lines were long and the speeches were filled with angry tones. It was a sight to see and at the time I drove a Mercury to save it from an unexpected fire.

I ran the automotive repair shop in that town and we knew what the hot buttons where and were not to go.
As you know the jobs decreased to the point where the plant had about 500 people total. It was a ghost town and very sad. People lost homes, divorce rates climbed and many businesses associated to the mill collapsed as well. We hung on as we cut every corner to stay alive. We did a lot of free work to help those in dire need. I recall a young woman coming in and she had a flat tire. I went out and looked at all the tires and all of them were bald with the steel cords hanging out. She had three small children and no money. We did the right thing at the shop that day and all of us found four tires we could put on and get her safe again. She cried hard when we told her we would not charge her a dime. She, and many like her were in dire straits and we did what we could to help. We asked her not to tell anyone as we feared lines around the building looking for free services and such. As a group we just helped out when we could and asked for nothing in return except silence. We would all go home at night numb from what we saw everyday.

Eventually I was transferred to a different location and left the poor souls behind. As the years went on more of these foreign cars were seen on the streets and the running joke was , ” do you work on foreign cars”? If we knew the customer we would reply , ” yes, all cars are foreign to us” to break the tension. You see for the younger crowd there was a time if you owned a Honda you just about had to go to the dealer for service. Clearly that is a thing of the past and nearly everyone claims to be an expert in all makes and models.

Now, all these moons later I reflect on those days with not to many fond memories. I saw cities and towns destroyed, families torn apart, and an entire workforce be turned upside down. One could blame the unions, or the cheap quality of steel being dropped our shores. I am not here to debate the reasons why , just make an observation that I cannot shake. Yes, the mills are still gone even though some thought they would return someday soon. Wal Mart’s popped up and an entire younger generation of today have no idea what it was like back then. When it was good it was really good and obvious when it went bad it was beyond bad. There are few left in those communities that saw the death spiral and when you see what they are today it is tough not to get misty eyed. The gangs took hold and drugs and other illegal activities still exist in these areas.

However, here is the rub and I really cannot believe it’s true. The area that was so proud of its heritage and such now have driveways filled with those “foreign” cars. Kia,Honda, Toyota, and so on are everywhere. Why? At first it was they were cheaper to buy than let’s say a Ford or Chevy. Then, the tone changed to the foreign cars are built better. Did I hear right? They are building Chevrolets in Lordstown Ohio to this day, Jeeps and such in lower Michigan and so on. All these foreign car makers are in the United States and providing jobs. I remember an old man back in the 80’s telling me he would rather die than drive a foreign car. I never had the guts to tell him about half of the parts on his Chrysler came from; the Philippines,Mexico, Brazil, and yes parts of Japan. He would have had a stroke and I would have that on my mind to this day.

The world is flat now and we source parts from all over the world. Your iPad, TV, and a lot of gadgets are coming from the sources some said they would never embrace. I went to buy some front disc rotors for one of my newer cars and the slug behind the counter offers me some rotors for $19.95 each. Sounds like a great deal but the fact is they are of terrible quality and I opted for the best. Why? I am crazy enough to want my brakes to be perfect all the time and not crack in half on a panic stop.

Our ideals have changed and we accept the products and services from around the globe now without a sledgehammer, a rally speech, and at times idle threats. Heck, my Dad worked in a Ford plant in the 50’s and it was expected back then that you drive a Ford. Seems smart as they were signing the paycheck every week. Later, Dad would go on to work for a large steel producer and he was loyal to them. For that generation they thought differently and just could not get past some things. For example the World War Two veterans held a grudge for years after the war. None of those guys were going to drive some Japanese car! No way. Little did they know they were at times and later I saw some of these hardliners driving an Accord because they perceived it as more dependable.

This story seems like it happened a hundred years ago at times but I have some burning memories that are not pleasant from which I wrote about a few paragraphs ago. Time heals the wounds and change is hard but it does happen.

All of my classics I own are what we call American cars. There is no way a 1986 Accord will ever be a classic or even be compared to a Buick Grand National. Most of those foreign cars of that era are long gone and have been recycled into Coke cans. Clearly we must have done something right because we do not see Classic Toyota clubs all over the place. They are out there but let’s be honest here. We made some terrific cars by terrific people and that will last forever no matter what.



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