Editor’s Note: This week, Peter reminds us of just how far this business has fallen from its glory days. In On The Table, the Camaro fades from view – for now – and Dodge waves its freak flag high one last time. And Peter features one of the most brilliant singer/songwriters of all-time – Laura Nyro – in our AE Song of the Week. In Fumes, Peter continues with Part X of his popular series “The Great Races” – this week taking us back to the 1964 Road America 500 sports car race. And finally, we have results from the first MotoGP of the year in Portugal, Whit Bazemore returns with his evocative take on what’s wrong with MotoGP right now, and we highlight NASCAR’s visit to Circuit of the Americas, all in The Line. Onward. -WG 
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. A long time ago in an auto business far, far away, things were actually quite different than they are today. As in, 180 degrees different. Confident, seasoned executives roamed the earth with one overriding mission: to create truly great cars and trucks while doing it with a swagger that left mediocrity right where it belonged – like a house of regret on the side of the road.
Decisiveness was part and parcel of the standard operating procedure, from styling (now “Design”) and engineering, to product development, manufacturing, marketing and sales. It was go hard all the time, because anything less just wouldn’t cut it. Hesitation wasn’t part of the equation and wafflers didn’t last long. This was probably due to the fact that the annual product change was so all-consuming and so brutally demanding that every single automaker – at least here in the U.S. – was expected to produce “new” and “different” every fall. How they accomplished what they did still boggles the mind. Mild “refreshes” – which are so common in today’s world – just wouldn’t cut it back then. And frankly, we were all the richer for it. Yes, as I’ve said it many times before, it was a different time and a different era.
In what other time period could it have happened that the great engineer Bill Collins (who passed away just recently) told John DeLorean that they could stuff a 389-cu.in. V8 into the “mid-size” Pontiac Tempest body and make a screamer out of it. DeLorean did green-light the project and then promptly took credit for it in order to accelerate his career at GM (it worked, as John Z. was a relentless self-promoter), but it was Collins who was the true father of the now-legendary GTO. In order to make it happen, it was called an option package to avoid undue scrutiny from the No Fun League down on the 14th Floor at GM headquarters. That worked, too, because by the time the suits found out what was going on, the GTO was a spectacular, runaway sales success, and no one dared screw up a good thing. (Even GM’s fabled bean counters could be pragmatic when need be.) The point being that True Believers even back then took action when presented an opportunity. 
Now? Yes, in GM’s case the True Believers still make decisive commitments to building the best that they can build (See Corvette, Cadillac CT4-V and CT5-V Blackwings, Cadillac Celestiq and Lyriq EVs), but generally, the “biz” is mired in compromised mediocrity. Much of it is brought on by an oppressive environment dictated by Wall Street-types and “activist” board members who insist that they only have the best interests of these companies in mind, when in fact they have a brace of hidden agendas all their own. Back when the auto business was firing on all cylinders, so-called “qualified” board members who brought their own hidden agendas to the table to the detriment of all concerned were a non-factor. No one had the time or the inclination to indulge their whims, so they were rooted out and marginalized. Or, they never got near a board to begin with.
And back in the day, the business wasn’t subject to flash-in-the-pan wannabe “executives” who stumbled around, careening from one instant solution to the next, only to find out that what they deemed the “future” didn’t really work all that well either. Those shiny happy executives who are wandering around in today’s world wouldn’t last a quarter back when it really mattered. No one had time for that kind of executive back then. In fact, that kind of executive wouldn’t even get a whiff of a top job. Throw in the misguided bleating from knee-jerk politicians in search of a sound bite, eager to share their “concerns” about a subject matter they know absolutely nothing about, and you have a recipe for unmitigated disaster. (In case you’re wondering, knee-jerk politicians with a limited mental capacity to understand anything certainly isn’t a contemporary phenomenon; they’ve been an ugly reality of corporate America – and life – since Day One.)
I reserve particular ire, of course, for the legions of dimwits weighing-in on marketing and advertising campaigns that they’re singularly unqualified to comment on, let alone have real input affecting multi-million-dollar marketing and advertising campaigns. Yes, there are contemporary advertising campaigns worthy of praise and honor. But I defy anyone to show me anything that holds up to the monumentally influential advertising campaigns for Pontiac back in that GM division’s heyday. Some have mentioned the Dodge muscle car work as worthy of that status, but I beg to differ. Some of the Dodge stuff is worthy, but it only scratches the surface of that brilliant Pontiac work.
So, somewhere over the decades this industry has succumbed to the swirling maelstrom of shit that defines the business today.
Decisiveness is too often delayed by middling compromise.
Brilliance is being constantly tempered and downgraded by the winds of the “acceptably appropriate.”
Bold advertising and marketing strokes are relentlessly watered down and corroded in order to appease constituencies that should not matter. 
That shoulda-coulda-woulda regrets and excuses have come to dominate this business in the throes of the EV “revolution” does not bode well for our driving future. 
Where are we now? 
This business is too often lost in mediocrity. Not always, but just enough to make one look off to the horizon and wistfully wish things were different. 
I’ve lived through the heyday of the auto business. Will we see the likes of those glory days again? 
Short answer? No. 
It’s a different time and a different era, one totally devoid of the exuberance, optimism and unbridled, swashbuckling excitement that defined this industry’s greatest, high-flying period.
I just hope there are enough superlatives left to look forward to.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.

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