Thursday, June 4, 2009

Our Family was a GM family. . .

Dad's new 1965 Pontiac Bonneville, our new home in Littleton, Colorado, and five-year-old me.
It's been hard to wrap my mind around the idea that industrial behemoth General Motors indeed has gone bankrupt. Sure, it'll survive, hopefully in a leaner, more market-responsive manner, but the very idea of GM broke and unable to continue operation without government assistance just shatters another one of the absolutes held dear to American life--that the corporation was so strong and vital it wouldn't be allowed to fail.

My father grew up in Michigan, so even if there was the option to buy foreign back then (there wasn't), I'm sure he wouldn't have even considered it. For most of my father's car-ownership years, he was a GM man. Pontiacs, mostly, and Buicks. He made fun of a neighbor who was the first one we knew who bought a Volkswagen ("it make's Harry's house look bigger when he parks it outside. It'll make his head look bigger, too!").
He was one of those guys on a first-name basis with his local dealer, and a customer each year for a new car when the new model lines were introduced. And purchase off the lot? Not on your life. Dad took advantage of the options and customizations once possible, paid his deposit, then waited for the word that his new car had arrived. I remember one Sunday in the late 1960s where we took a drive out to the rail yard in Denver where new cars were delivered as dad tracked down his new Buick Riviera--gold, with a tan leather interior. I remember him climbing up on the side of the freight car to check out his latest purchase. A few days later, he brought it home, complete with a "Built Especially For Lou Kooistra" plaque on the glovebox door.

My mom, but 24-years-old, with Dad's new 1951 Buick Special, resplendent in "Barton Grey" paint.
In the 70s, dad's District Manager job provided him with a company car, and he tried out a few new brands--Chevy (a Monte Carlo which eventually became my first--and only--GM car when I purchased it second hand) and Ford (LTD, metallic light green--very 70s). We owned a bright-red 1972 Mustang for a while, but that was "mom's car". Actually, it was my sister's, that she shouldn't have purchased anyway, but dumped it for a Jeep Renegade--my Dad just couldn't let that sporty Mustang go, so he bought it for mom.

Later on, dad had a penchant for Chryslers. He wasn't a "Chrysler guy," though, but a man of the "grey flannel suit" post-war corporate America era, he admired successful businessmen, so when Lee Iacocca rode to the rescue of Chrysler, I think he was inclined to give Chrysler a try, owning a number of LeBaron convertables.
Dad never owned an import. He doesn't drive anymore. Dad's in a nursing home, the LeBaron in the garage of the house he doesn't live in anymore. My sisters and I will be selling both soon. It was Dad's last car, and it was American-built. Dad was the sort of loyal buyer GM and Ford and Chrysler wish they still had. But those kind of buyers are customers from another era, when brand loyalty often trumped quality and price.
Dad and the Detroit Big Three belonged to an age of absolutes. But nothing is absolute anymore. Not even the survival of an industrial behemoth like GM.
Buick sold 405,000 Specials like this one in 1951. Dad owned one of them. He was just a youngster of 26 at the time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh to have that 65' ragtop now a days!