Hind­sight

Muscle Car Review - - Editor's Note - Drew Hardin [email protected]­global.net

Yes­ter­day I re­ceived the mag­a­zine/ pro­gram that Bob Ash­ton pro­duces for the Mus­cle Car and Corvette Na­tion­als, which takes place about three weeks after I’m writ­ing this. In it he wrote an in­ter­est­ing story about 1968, “the year that rocked the world,” to put in his­tor­i­cal con­text the show’s Class of 1968 50th An­niver­sary In­vi­ta­tional dis­play.

Au­to­mo­tively speak­ing, 1968 was mon­u­men­tal. In a lot of ways it was Gen­eral Mo­tors’ year. The re­vamp of the mid­size A-Body mod­els sewed seeds of mus­cle car great­ness for Chevro­let, Pon­tiac, Oldsmo­bile, and Buick for years to come. If you were a sports-car lover, the 1968 Corvette seemed to jump years into the fu­ture with its slinky new shark-in­spired body.

Chrysler also thor­oughly re­vised its mid­size B-Body mod­els, and in a way one-upped its GM ri­vals with the in­tro­duc­tion of a low-cost, low-con­tent, youthori­ented car named after a car­toon bird. It may have seemed goofy at first, but the suc­cess of the Road Run­ner got every­one’s at­ten­tion in Detroit.

Ford was still bask­ing in the glow of the Mus­tang, but ex­ter­nal forces had the big­gest im­pact on the orig­i­nal Pony­car that year. One came from our own pub­lish­ing com­pany (or where we all be­gan, any­way), when a story by Hot Rod mag­a­zine’s Eric Dahlquist about Bob Tasca’s KR-8 su­per Mus­tang in­spired

(or should we say “pushed”?) FoMoCo to build­ing the 428 Co­bra Jet.

The other ma­jor in­flu­ence also came out of Cal­i­for­nia. It would be hard to cal­cu­late the pro­mo­tional value of a cer­tain High­land Green Mus­tang that chased a cer­tain black Charger around the streets of San Fran­cisco in a movie we are still talk­ing about, and is still selling cars for Ford, 50 years later.

“The year that rocked the world”

Even fi­nan­cially strug­gling Amer­i­can Mo­tors came to the party. AMC fi­nally in­tro­duced its unique-look­ing en­try into the pony­car mar­ket, the Javelin, and fol­lowed it up with the even more rad­i­cal AMX.

It’s fas­ci­nat­ing to me that all this au­to­mo­tive ex­u­ber­ance came in a year that was ar­guably the most tu­mul­tuous in a decade of huge so­cial and po­lit­i­cal change and up­heaval. Most are fa­mil­iar with the tragic as­sas­si­na­tions of Mar­tin Luther King Jr. in April and Robert Kennedy in June. But those events are just part of a fren­zied year.

Our in­volve­ment in Viet­nam was po­lar­iz­ing the coun­try, and 1968 was a roller­coaster that started with the Tet Of­fen­sive in Jan­uary but saw Pres­i­dent Lyn­don John­son call an end to bomb­ing North Viet­nam in Oc­to­ber be­cause of progress made at the Paris Peace Talks.

John­son an­nounced he would not seek re­elec­tion in 1968, be­liev­ing he could not run the trou­bled coun­try and cam­paign for pres­i­dent at the same time. That opened the door to other Demo­cratic con­tenders, in­clud­ing the ill-fated Kennedy and, ul­ti­mately, Hu­bert Humphrey, whose can­di­dacy was an­nounced at a (lit­er­ally) ri­otous Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion in Chicago. Humphrey was beat that Novem­ber by Richard Nixon, who went on to have some tough times of his own.

Ri­ots and protests weren’t lim­ited to the Chicago con­ven­tion. They broke out in the wake of MLK’s killing and at col­lege cam­puses across the coun­try, with civil rights and Viet­nam their flash­points. Two of the year’s most mem­o­rable news pho­tos re­flected the times: Ed­die Adams’ Pulitzer Prize–win­ning photo of a South Viet­namese po­lice chief ex­e­cut­ing a bound Viet Cong of­fi­cer with his re­volver; and the im­ages of sprint­ers Tom­mie Smith and John Car­los rais­ing their fists in a Black Power salute while on the podium at the Sum­mer Olympics in Mex­ico City.

Not all of 1968 was grim.

This same year gave us Rowan & Mar­tin’s Laugh-In and 60 Min­utes. The Bea­tles re­leased the al­bum The Bea­tles (aka the White Al­bum), and Led Zep­pelin formed. Science fic­tion movies ran the gamut from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Planet of the Apes. Mat­tel in­tro­duced the first Hot Wheels cars. And in a pre­view of what would be the big­gest story of 1969, Apollo as­tro­nauts cir­cled the Moon for the first time, in prepa­ra­tion for our even­tual land­ing six months later.

How does one square the tech­no­log­i­cal and cul­tural ac­com­plish­ments that took place dur­ing a year that tore at the very fab­ric of our so­ci­ety? How can some­thing as silly and fun as the Road Run­ner (car or car­toon) ex­ist along­side as­sas­si­na­tions and vi­o­lent protests? I’m no philoso­pher, just a car mag­a­zine hack. But I think you can look at 1968, and maybe the en­tire decade, as a cru­cible. Not a phys­i­cal one, a meta­phoric one: “A sit­u­a­tion of se­vere trial, or in which dif­fer­ent el­e­ments in­ter­act, lead­ing to the cre­ation of some­thing new,” as my on­line dic­tio­nary de­scribed it. You could see these works of art, me­chan­i­cal and cul­tural, as in­spired by—or as a re­ac­tion to—the pres­sures of our se­vere so­ci­etal un­rest.

That’s my take, any­way. If you’ve thought about this too, let me know.

n My pick for the most sig­nif­i­cant new car of 1968? The Road Run­ner. Big fun in a stripped-down, af­ford­able pack­age, aimed squarely at the youth mar­ket—even those too young to drive, judg­ing by these kids’ faces.

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