The End of an Era

People develop all sorts of loyalties – to athletes and sports teams,  musical groups, actors, restaurants, and even our favorite blogs.   Over the years our family developed quite a loyalty to a certain type of car  -the Pontiac – and so with General Motors announcement yesterday about  the end of this division, we’re all feeling rather mournful.

My first car wasn’t a Pontiac, but my second car definitely was – a 1975 silver Trans Am, making me the envy of not only all my girlfriends, but my boyfriend as well.   Over the next few years, we built a stable of Trans Am’s – my boyfriend (now my husband) purchased a 1976 Trans Am in Firethorn Red, and so we had two “screaming eagles” in our garage.

70taBut our ultimate Pontiac purchase was in February of 1980.  Barely hours after our son was born, Jim was investigating the purchase of a 1979 black Trans Am – the infamous Smoky and the Bandit edition.  While I lay in my hospital bed, he and my father were out test driving this car.  Now some women might have been offended and angry – but I was actually pretty excited about the whole thing.   A new baby and a new Trans Am – what could have been better?

So when I brought Brian home from the hospital, the Bandit was in the garage.  We’ve always teased Brian that he and the Bandit were siblings, coming to live with us at the same time.  And indeed, he fell in love with that car practically from birth.  In my mind’s eye there’s a vivid picture of him perched proudly in his car seat  driving off with his dad for one of their “guys nights out.”    Later, he would pose for his high school senior portrait with the Bandit in the background, and later still, drive it from the church on his wedding day.  

Yes, we still have the Bandit – it’s 30 years old this year.  Although it’s been languishing in my mom’s garage  for the past 15 years,  it’s still in pretty decent shape for a girl that age.   And even though Brian and Jim each bought brand new  Trans Am’s in 1998, I daresay they both have a lingering soft spot for the “old ’79.”

As you can see, we’re definitely a car family.  Certainly living our entire lives in Detroit makes us more interested in “rolling sculpture” than someone who lives in the farmland of Iowa.  The fact that our livelihoods have depended on automobile companies for three generations has a lot to do with it.   In fact, Brian is the first male in our family since the Great Depression whose work is not related to auto manufacturing.   (Right now that seems like a very astute choice on his part.)   It’s ironic isn’t it, that during that other period of economic upheaval it was the automobile manufacturer’s who provided hope and a fresh start for so many Americans.  My own maternal grandfather left behind the only life he’d ever known as a farmer and horse breeder in the hills of Kentucky to bring his family to Detroit and make a new life in the factories.  I recall my paternal grandfather, who came here from Armenia as a refugee from the Turkish genocide, saying “Thank God for Ford Motor Company.”  My in-law’s pensions and health care benfits from Ford Motor Company and Chrysler provided them with a good lifestyle throughout their retirement and until their deaths.

So I’m saddened by the troubles that plague the American automobile companies.  And I’m angry at all the circumstances which conspired to bring this once proud and flourishing industry to its knees. I wish people on both sides of the corporate fence hadn’t been so greedy, outsourcing so much of our labor to increase profits.  I wish the American people had been more loyal to the industry and purchased cars built by American companies.  And I hope someday I’ll be able to take my grandchildren for a ride in a new sports car made in America, even if it won’t be a Pontiac.

 The other day I bought a few shares of stock in General Motors.  Though it was little more than a symbolic show of support, it was my small way of saying thanks – for the rumble of a 400 cubic inch engine, for the memories of wind in my hair, and for the look of pure delight on a small boy’s face.   


8 thoughts on “The End of an Era

  1. My first car was a 1965 GTO…bright orange with white interior. LOVED that car. Today’s kids are missing out on something, growing up without the muscle cars of that era.

  2. Yes, it’s sad to watch an entire industry slowly grind its way to an end; so many will have to “retool” their lives because of others’ greed–and you’re right, it was on ‘both sides of the corporate fence.’ Then, too, the times were changing, and Detroit did not change fast enough. We can all learn a lesson from this.

  3. Wow. This brings back memories! I remember the kids with Trans Ams– they were the “cool” ones and the rest of us were jealous. My first car was a ’79 Chevy Chevette. LOL. Hardly a muscle car, but it lasted many long years.

    It may take a while, but I’m hoping the American automobile industry will rise again and become even better than it was. We certainly have the potential.

  4. We all own American: my husband and myself, my brother, his son, my sister and brother-in-law. Even Dad’s last truck is still hanging around. It’s a sad day that it has come to this. I know it’s most difficult for your state, Becca.

  5. I’m glad that today it seems like there is some hope for Chrysler, but like you, I’ll feel sad to see the Pontiac go. This is a lovely post, with many memories shared.

  6. Beautifully-written post. The state of the American automobile industry is tragic. It has been the lifeblood for so many families, for generations. One of my late grandmother’s young beaus left Arkansas for Michigan to work for Ford, because that’s where the money was then. I really hope the industry finds a way to re-invent itself and ride this story.

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