This is the thought experiment I use to begin my Cash for Clunkers retrospective:
When I look at a 1970 Pontiac GTO, I don’t think of old metal. I think of sideburns, sexuality, and back seats that ensured Gen X got here just fine. I see my parents riding to FM radio on a summer night, racing beneath boulevard lights, or taking on the world. With 455 cubic inches of V8, the GTO is the quintessential muscle car. But it has creases and lines that suggest the curves of a woman. To look at that car is to see a time machine that travels to a place where long-haired gods and goddesses rumble over the earth dazed and confused, longing to be free.
By 1973, muscle cars were still cool. But stagflation had set in after embargoes by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, price controls, and wacky monetary policy. Oil and energy prices rose. A few years after that, Shi'ite fundamentalists overthrew the Shah in Iran. Energy prices rose again. Before we knew it, it was 1980. The Carter administration did a lot of backward things, like make people queue for gas. But here's a thought experiment: What if at the height of the energy crisis the president had decided to pay Americans to destroy ten-year-old cars so they would go out and buy new Datsuns? How many of those Pontiac GTOs would be around today? Or Ford Mustangs, or Dodge Challengers? Despite the fact that a 1970 GTO was still considered a pretty cool car in 1980, it had not yet been infused with 40 years of romance. Now, that essence lives in every part—in its "originality."
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