WHEN TIME MAGAZINE recently published a list of history's worst-ever automobiles, there were plenty of obvious choices that made the list. The Ford Edsel, the AMC Gremlin, the Sachsenring Trabant, the Zastava Yugo -- one could go on. But amazingly, TIME also included on the list -- wait for it -- the Model T!
But wait, you say. Wasn't the Model T an unqualified success? Wasn't it a triumph of manufacturing? Wasn't it so popular that it had a twenty year production run and sold millions upon millions of units? And wasn't it so cheap that everyone, even a hod carrier making $2,000 per year, could afford it if he scrimped and saved? (I mean, by the Twenties the Model T's price was down to less than $300, arguably putting it within reach of even common laborers.) Well, according to TIME, that's the problem:
Let's stipulate that the Model T did everything that the history books say: It put America on wheels, supercharged the nation's economy and transformed the landscape in ways unimagined when the first Tin Lizzy rolled out of the factory. Well, that's just the problem, isn't it? The Model T — whose mass production technique was the work of engineer William C. Klann, who had visited a slaughterhouse's "disassembly line" — conferred to Americans the notion of automobility as something akin to natural law, a right endowed by our Creator. A century later, the consequences of putting every living soul on gas-powered wheels are piling up, from the air over our cities to the sand under our soldiers' boots. And by the way, with its blacksmithed body panels and crude instruments, the Model T was a piece of junk, the Yugo of its day.
What the hell is wrong with these people? I mean, they're either stupid or evil, and I don't know which. How could anyone be against economic progress and growth, particularly when that economic progress and growth enabled the working classes to enjoy at least some of the fruits of America's industrialization? Particularly when one considers how the automobile was a key factor in contributing to the growth of the West and the Sun Belt?
As it turns out the lead writer on this TIME special was none other than Dan Neil, the auto columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Why exactly Mr Neil assented to this idiocy, I don't know -- maybe he had one too many bad commutes and while sitting in traffic on The 10 one day, decided that he'd had enough of this shit and suddenly became a convert to the supposed glories of mass transit.
But one cannot blame the automobile for outdated urban planning. I downright love driving -- it is one of my few hobbies -- and I relish each chance I get to go for a drive. That said, one of the things I loved about living in Washington was the capital's fantastic public transit system, which quickly and effortlessly moved people around the city. If only the Metro would operate 24 hours, and if only the Silver and Purple lines would get built!
Here in Manchester, N.H., we don't have near enough people for a subway and our bus system is hub-and-spoke, making it inconvenient for short trips. For instance, if I want to go to the grocery some two miles away, I have to take the No. 7 bus downtown and transfer to the No. 2 bus. It's roughly 12 minutes downtown, but I'd miss the No. 7 bus heading outbound and so would have to wait 35 minutes for the next one, upon which it would take an additional 10 minutes to get to the grocery. Thus, the total travel time would be about an hour each way, or roughly twice the time it would take me to walk to the store and back.
So it's a good thing I have my trusty Ford Taurus handy. Mr Neil and TIME might wish in their hearts the autoways were open and clear for the elites, but for my money, I'd rather have the traffic and congestion if it means all can share in our nation's economic prosperity.Posted by Benjamin Kepple at September 11, 2007 10:02 AM | TrackBack