Tuesday, May 26, 2009

American Iron - Forever?

The very first car I ever owned was a Chrysler product. It was a puke-green 1956 Plymouth Savoy two-door sedan with a flathead six and three-speed manual transmission. I use the word “owned” in the sense that even though I was too young to have a drivers license in 1962, my buddies and I gave 25 bucks - a fortune at the time - to the owner of the clapped-out piece of Detroit iron (it was built in Highland Park, Michigan) and we had our first car.

We “drove” it to the Hortonville Homecoming, a civic celebration held the third weekend of June every year, where we’d paid five bucks for a permit to “display” the car. Prior to that, we’d gone to Tom O’Donnell’s Gambles Store on the main drag and bought a couple sturdy sledgehammers. We charged 25 cents a swing, and when the Chief Oshkosh and Adler Brau beer kicked in about 8 PM, we had a LOT of customers.

I believe we more than recouped our investment, including the cost of having the remains hauled off on a farmer’s wagon at the end of the civic celebration.

Through the years, I’ve owned a number of Chrysler products. In the salad days back in the 80’s and early 90’s, my stable of nine collector cars included a 1966 Plymouth Belvedere with the renowned 426 cubic inch Hemi engine in factory drag-pack trim, and a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda with the same engine - the so-called “Hemi-Cuda”. I bought and collected the cars I’d lusted after but couldn’t afford, back in the day, when they were new.

My wife now owns an ‘08 Dodge Magnum R/T, with the hemi engine. To be sure, it’s not the legendary 426 hemi that put out well over 500 horsepower. It’s a 345-cubic-inch hemi that puts out 340 horsepower. It’s not the pavement-ripper that the legendary hemi was, but it’s not tame, either. I wouldn’t have dreamed of driving my collector hemi’s in snow, but my wife’s car has All-Wheel-Drive and Chrysler’s great ESP (Electronic Stability Program), and not once did she get stuck in the snow last winter.

I guess my love for American Iron rubbed off on her, since she traded in her foreign-built sporty car for the hemi-Magnum. I didn’t have the heart to tell her Mercedes-Benz built the five-speed automatic transmission in her Magnum. But she tells me she feels “safer” in the Magnum - with all that Detroit steel around her. And, to be honest, whether she’s tooling down the beltline during rush hour on the way home, or on the NorthWest Tollway headed to her mom’s house, I feel better, too.

Chrysler stepped into bankruptcy a few weeks ago, but I’m confident they’ll emerge a better, stronger company. I have a feeling they’re not going to be making many more 340-horsepower station wagons like the Magnum, but I’m OK with that. Bankruptcy is supposed to give you a second chance, and I’m hopeful the Chrysler execs will use it wisely.

They’d better.