Keep The Faith!
In the last month, the domestic auto industry has been in the news a lot. Chrysler declared bankruptcy, then GM declared bankruptcy, thousands of dealerships will be closed, Pontiac is deep-sixed, Penske bought Saturn, the communists bought Hummer, the White House wants a national cash for clunkers bill, and we have a 35.5-mpg corporate average fuel economy mandate to meet by the year 2016. Any one of these news items by itself would be a major earthquake in the auto industry in any given year, but it's all raining down on us at once. By now, of course, you've had some time to reflect on all this, as well as absorb whatever new changes have occurred since thiswas written.

I'm of the opinion that most of us are in great shape to weather the storm, and here's why. For starters, today's new cars just aren't very hobbyist friendly, and haven't been for a while. Any new Camaro, Challenger, or Mustang is pretty much off limits beyond an exhaust system, cold-air package, and a blower kit. These cars do make good daily drivers, but for the kind of mods PHR readers typically make to their classics, they're dead players in the power department. (All bets are off, however, if Congress gets their act together to pass the Right To Repair Act, which would force Detroit to give up the computer codes, so you-and a whole bunch of small- and medium-sized businesses-can work on computer controlled late-models. For now, it hasn't happened, but in this anti-big business climate, it's a good bet it passes.) Nevertheless, I'd argue that what Detroit or Washington does now is immaterial to the muscle car hobby.

That brings me to my main point: If you've already got a muscle car-even one that's not running-you're golden. If you don't, take solace that the economy is so rotten that you can pick one up for a song. It is guaranteed to be worth more in five years-which is more than I can say for my SoCal home. The days are quickly coming to an end when you'll be able to buy a really quick, brand-new factory hot rod; you'll have to build one on your own, and that's what hot rodding is all about.

As domestic car dealerships disappear, and hot V-8 models dry up from the dealers that are left (I'm talking five to ten years out), enthusiasts of all persuasions will increasingly turn to classic iron to satisfy their jones for performance. They just won't have any choice in the matter, as current V-8 models will be phased out in short order to meet the 35.5-mpg CAFE standard by 2016. And the stampede to older muscle cars won't just be limited to the top-shelf stuff like '69 Camaros, Fastback Mustangs, and '68 Chargers. Lesser classics will get more popular ('75 Laguna anyone?), and there will be more support from the aftermarket to fill that need. I predict defunct brands like Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and Plymouth will be especially cool to own.

This is one of those junctures in history where two types of people emerge: the scared guy who runs around screaming that the sky is falling, and the guy who sees the trend as a golden opportunity to have some fun, live his dream, and maybe even make some money. It's Chicken Little versus Chicken Dinner. This economy is the real game changer. People with previously stable jobs find themselves out of work, and more willing to take chances. That dream of opening a small shop, running a salvage parts business on eBay, building cool widgets in the garage, or starting a message board devoted to '72 Venturas may finally be your reality. The perfect example is this month's story on Jeff Schwartz and his '71 Olds Cutlass (see "Double Negative," page 36). Until recently, Jeff was a manager at a very large assembly plant for one of the Big Three, when they thanked him for his long service, and kicked him out the back door. It was catastrophic for Jeff when it happened, but it was just the kick in the pants he needed to fulfill a lifelong desire of opening up his own shop, Schwartz Extreme Performance.

The changing face of the auto industry and the positive effect it will have on hot rodding-and the small businesses that vet the hobby-will offer a lot more chances for fun and success, starting right now. The question is, are you gonna be Chicken Little or Chicken Dinner?

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I want to hear from you.Drop me a brief email at john.hunkins@sorc.com.