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There is an old saying, "As GM goes, so goes the country". That was a time when General Motors was the largest company of any kind in the world and it had hundreds of thousands of employees in the U.S. alone. Now, GM isn't even the largest car company in the United States, it's sales and workforce are shrinking daily and it is saddled with huge overhead and a plethora mediocre product lines. To say that the General is not what it used to be would be a true masterpiece of understatement.
Having said that, as a car guy, I was 100% behind the efforts of Congress to help save our great American auto industry through the proposed 25 billion dollar financial bailout. As I said, I was, until I heard the testimony of the big three CEO's before Congress. The arrogance and total lack of any plan other than "business as usual", especially from GM's Rick Wagoner, made me seriously question whether throwing billions of dollars at GM would achieve anything positive. Obviously, GM declaring bankruptcy would have major ramifications, but not all would be negative. Is GM worth saving?
The current state of affairs in the U. S. auto industry is causing considerable conversation not only on Wall Street and in business offices across the country, but among car collectors and automotive historians. It's hard to imagine the fabled Big Three becoming two companies-or even one. As businesses go, the automobile industry is a mature business. The glory days are far behind for American automobile companies. Reading the various commentaries about the state of things at Chrysler, Ford and GM, it's clear that Ford is in the best shape of the three-and that's not saying much. GM may be in the worst shape. It appears to me that an infusion of cash by the U. S. Government will not solve the long-term problems of the automobile industry. As cruel as it may sound, the best thing for GM would be to go into bankruptcy. If it did so, it will have the opportunity to emerge as a leaner, more efficient company. There will be plenty of pain, to be sure, both for GM and the many companies that would be affected by GM's bankruptcy. But it's a necessary step.
The big Arizona auctions are just around the corner-January 2009. The one that gets most publicity, thanks to the Speed Channel, is the Barrett-Jackson auction. There are at least four other auctions during the month. Gooding & Company, RM Auctions, Russo & Steele and the venerable Kruse Auction. There may be others-who knows? Gooding and RM will have the big classics and exotic foreign cars. Russo & Steele is all about muscle and collector cars. Then there's Barrett-Jackson, which offers an eclectic group of cars, mostly muscle and collector cars. However, anything can show up there and usually does. Last year B-J sold a creation called Robosaurus, which destroyed cars. This year, their off-the-wall offering is bit tamer-a Ford Tri-Motor airplane. What will happen at these auctions? Will the prices be down, as a result of the crummy state of the economy? My hunch is the great cars will still command great prices but the average stuff won't do as well. And I think the muscle car market has cooled-off quite a bit. But that's just my opinion. How about you?
What got you into old cars? Were you always an old car person-or did you get into the hobby later in life? I truly can't remember when I wasn't interested in old cars. As a kid, I built the Highway Pioneers series of old cars-Stanley Steamer, Ford Model T, Studebaker electric and others instead of cars of the era. But the big event in my life was a visit to the Old Car festival at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. One of my grandfathers took me. This was a show featuring cars owned by collectors. Only cars built before 1925 were on display. The show had everything you could imagine-steam cars, electric cars and gasoline engine cars. My grandfather showed me the car on which he learned to drive-a Brush, with a wooden front axle. I was hooked. I bought many of the old car books reprinted by Floyd Clymer. They were packed with information and photos of these early cars. I never became interested in muscle cars. It was antique cars for me! How about you?
Long before I was old enough to drive, I developed an addiction for car magazines. That's where all my spare nickels and dimes went as a kid. I would read them over and over and then carefully store them for future reference and/or posterity. Yes, just like I have the first car I bought, I still have the first copy of "Road & Track" I purchased over forty years ago.
Besides R&T, "Motor Trend" and "Car and Driver" (really its predecessors) were my childhood favorite monthlies. They really shaped my taste for the cars I have collected as an adult. "Motor Trend' was the most well rounded, featuring all aspects of the car culture including new car tests, imports, rods and customs as well as Bob Gottlieb's pioneering column on classic cars. My favorite part of "Road & Track" was the classified section featuring exotic machines from around the world. This was the fantasy land of car collectors before eBay and Barrett-Jackson.
At the recent Glenmoor Gathering the car named Best in Show was a 1938 Horch (pronounced "hork). All I knew about this car was that it was German and reminded me of a Mercedes-Benz. I did some research and learned that Horch was part of the Auto Union combine (sort of a German General Motors) which included Audi, Wanderer, DKW and Horch. The Horch first appeared around 1902 but the company really hit its stride in the early 1930's when it became a member of Auto Union. They built some beautiful, fast automobiles in a variety of body styles. They were very impressive cars. The last Horch was built in 1939. In 1945 the company was nationalized and in 1956 brought out a new Horch but the car had to be renamed the Sachsenring since the sole rights to the Horch name, as well as Audi, DKW and Wanderer still belonged to Auto Union. Audi was reintroduced in 1965 and used the original Auto Union symbol, four interlocking rings. There can't be many Horch automobiles in this country.
Election Day is finally here. Since both presidential candidates have promised us that they will return our country to prosperity almost instantly, it's time to start fantasizing again.
Everyone has a dream car regardless if they are a car person or not. Whether it's a totally reliable and economical mode of transportation they can keep forever or if it's Speed Racer's Mach 5 brought to life, we all have a fantasy of some sort of automotive unobtanium. Like any decent fantasy, it's OK if your dream car changes periodically.