2011 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392 with Green With Envy paint jobEnlarge Photo
America is filled with car nuts. Take a summer's drive down to the local Dairy Queen on any Friday evening, and one can find far more custom builds and restorations than ice cream cones. Most of us can pinpoint something in our youth that sparked our undying interest in the automobile.
For me, I'm not sure if it was Herbie, The General or a 1980s toy Silverado, clad with white-letter tires and two-tone paint. What I do know is that my dad always told me that the golden age of the automobile was between 1960 and 1970. Muscle, steel and chrome were what mattered then. Boy would I love to show him the 2012 entry level Mustang - you know, the one sporting 305 horsepower (120 hp more than his tire-roasting 1988 Monte Carlo SS).
Now that I've parlayed my love of automobiles into an actual career, I've come to the conclusion that we are closer to The Golden Age of the Automobile than we've ever been. A conclusion I drew after my first trip to the North American International Auto Show on January 20, 2009.
I could spend the next few paragraphs boring you with statistics and facts regarding horsepower and technology. I mean it's easy to compare the 180 hp produced by the 3.9-liter V-6 sported in my 1990 Dodge Dakota Convertible and the 3.7-liter V-6 in the 2012 Mustang. It's even easier to cite the numbers on vehicle weight, safety and overall build quality for the past 10 years.
But that just doesn't seem as fun as telling you about watching a group of 12-year-old elementary students drool over a Dodge Challenger. As I was hitting the last few booths, I walked past the Chrysler stage where a number of students from a local school had gathered. It was hard not to miss them in their khaki pants and matching blue polo shirts.
I took a second to watch as each one fought to get into the driver's seat, although I doubt any were tall enough to see over the steering wheel. Encouraged by the Chrysler rep telling them, "take it deeper into the turns," they each yanked at the steering wheel and shifted through the gears as if they were racing around a track.
Eventually, their chaperon hastily ushered them along, but I stopped to ponder, "Was this their moment of epiphany?" Did they stop on the way home to pick up a die-cast Challenger, or at least a Matchbox?
It was at that point that I looked around at the cars closest to me and realized that while the automotive industry was stumbling, it was far from dead. In fact we have more options, more technology and more fun than ever before. January 2009 may have been a low point for automotive production in the United States, but there was just enough left in the tank to inspire another generation of auto enthusiasts.