The American automobile industry is a very slow moving target these days in the “shooting fish in a barrel” sense.


‘Right now it’s a battered and bruised body on the pavement absorbing steeled toed boots to the head from a host of critics.’



I want to swim upstream and talk about what made Detroit great.


By Detroit I mean the American automobile industry, including addresses outside of Michigan.


Henry Ford made Detroit great when he made early cars affordable through the economics of mass production. Unions and a casual attitude towards quality eventually compromised Hank’s vision but the man had 20/20 corporate vision in his day.


Extinct marques like Cord and Duesenburg made the American automotive industry great when they owned the stage for early 20th century lifestyles of the rich and famous. Front wheel drive and 100+ mph automobiles were engineering marvels for well-heeled Americans with wealthy tastes in cars.


People who still had money after the 1929 Wall Street swan dive drove big expensive American iron over everything else available to them.


The Jeep made Detroit great.



This little war pony helped get troops where they had to go during WWII when this simple four wheel drive platform became a legend. These days the Jeep is still a hero as a valuable asset in the Chrysler stable.


The 1949 Ford made Detroit great.


The WWII hangover in car design officially ended with the sleek design of the 1949 Ford. Welcome to the 50s and the early rounds of the Cold War when the godless Commies made great bombs and lousy cars. Ford got the jump on everybody with a great new look and the Pentagon took care of the warhead issue.


Virgil Exner made Detroit great.



The back nine of the 50s were defined by fins and nobody did it better than the boys at Chrysler, with all due respect to Harley Earl. Chrysler produced the definitive army of finned warriors backed up by muscular engines and sophisticated steering and suspension systems. Skin deep beauty masked some serious bodywork issues, but these cars were as fresh as Elvis in the 50s.


The 1963 Corvette Stingray split window coupe made Detroit great.




This is an iconic car that redefined the sports car look in North America. It looked fast parked and oozed sex appeal from every fiberglass and metal molecule.  The General got it exactly right with this ‘Vette and they can still take bows for the 1963 Corvette Stingray.



The 1968 Dodge Charger made Detroit great and Bullitt made it famous.




This car had the perfect combination of hidden headlights and the best rear view look outside of a then young Jane Fonda. One of the two has remained a classic to this very day and it has a steering wheel.
The 1972 Chevrolet ½ ton made Detroit great.



The basic design was about 5 years old but the 1972 trim and grill package made things perfect for the popular last year of this design. Chevy had a decent combination of power and comfort with its 1972 truck model long before today’s luxury trucks with no work pedigree under names like Cadillac and Lincoln.


T-roofs made Detroit great.



You can define the American automobile industry in the 70s and early 80s by the T-roof. Cheap gas, big horsepower, and convertibles were not a legitimate part of the philosophy in Detroit during that time frame, but T-roofs defined the sporty look.
The mid to late 80s Buick Grand National made Detroit great.




This sophisticated V6 screamer proved that Detroit could build a monster in a small package. The Grand National was an instant limited edition legend with a wild street reputation which will always carry a big price tag for those who want a big bang for their collector buck.


The Dodge Viper made Detroit great.





Basically the Viper was an illegitimate love child of the original Shelby Cobra, but the Viper made Dad proud and brought real muscle back to Mopar. There was never a practical reason for Detroit muscle cars but common sense had little to do with these cars. More importantly, nobody gave a rat’s ass about common sense when it came to Detroit muscle and they still don’t. The Viper brought back that philosophy.



Detroit has had many reasons to feel good about itself over the years and let’s hope that a great reason for the smugness returns in the future.


I could dig that.


Jim Sutherland