Syndicated column: What motivates us | Opinion


Not so long ago, you could tell a lot about someone by the car they drove.

If someone drove a reasonable vehicle, like a small sedan, they were thrifty and wanted to make sure their family enjoyed comfort while traveling. If someone drove a big red sports car, they had lots of money and lots of speeding tickets.

In the 1950s and 60s in Ashdown, Arkansas, most families had one car. The father drove him to work, except for one or two days a week when he carpooled and left the car with the mother to buy groceries, take the children to the dentist or buy school clothes at Sears.

Today, it seems like almost everyone drives a nice set of wheels. Even the children.

I saw a photo on Facebook of someone’s kid standing next to a new pickup. The truck was at least as big as a Greyhound bus. The child not only got a nice truck for his first vehicle, but the parents added a lift kit.

In the early to mid-70s, every kid hoped their grandma had a cool car. Because it was a safe bet that what grandma was driving would be your first ride.

Grandma probably didn’t drive a 1970 Oldsmobile 442 W-30 convertible, but she could have driven a 1970 Olds Cutlass Supreme, which would have been great. Any of my friends would have loved to have an Oldsmobile.

But instead of a 442 with a Hurst Shifter, an 8-track under the dash and a tachometer attached to the steering wheel, it was more likely that grandma was driving a 1966 Plymouth Valiant. Complete with AM radio and push-button transmission -button integrated in the dashboard.

But the children were not difficult. We took whatever came to hand. We would have loved to have a car, any car, even if it had no doors, windows or seats.

Once we had a car, we found a job, saved our money and fixed it.

Not these days. Now people won’t settle for a new vehicle, even if that means financing it for as long as their house note.

And honestly, I don’t know why people are in such a rush to get new cars. Why the rush? Have you been watching extensively what’s coming out of Detroit (or, I guess I should say Mexico)?

The cars had style. Even a Plymouth Valiant.

You could tell which vehicle was coming down the road just by its appearance. The cars made a statement. They had distinctive features. You could tell the difference between a Ford and a Chevy. A Dodge and a Mercury. A Lincoln and a Cadillac.

You knew a caddy when you saw him, even though he was three miles away. The grille, headlights, vinyl top and especially the tail fins told you what it was all about. The Cadillacs were distinct. They were pretty and highly desirable.

Almost everyone aspired to own a Cadillac. When Elvis grew up, he bought Cadillacs like the rest of us bought packets of chewing gum. He gave Coupe de Villes as a gift.

Elvis fan: “Hey, Elvis, I love your Cadillac!”

Elvis: “Well, here you can have it.”

Elvis fan: “Thank you, Elvis! Thank you very much.”

Today, I can’t tell the difference between a Cadillac and a Camry. The government has regulated cars in the anonymity of fuel efficiency. I don’t think automakers could make vehicles with personality if they wanted to (which I don’t think they would).

They have to worry about whether their cars and trucks can go 382 miles per gallon, rather than whether the vehicle is something people really love and are proud to have in their garage.

I miss the days when even though we drove a Plymouth Valiant, we at least had some distinction on the road. We deserve to get that back.

Let’s each get a 1965 Mustang (or whatever classic you prefer), fix it, buy some extra parts and store them in the barn, and drive this car until the retirement home takes our keys .

We all know what motivates us, so let’s get to it.


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