Do Americans cling to bad cars?
DETROIT – No stranger to criticism of the U.S. auto industry, Barack Obama made it personal this week when he singled out his candidate for Detroit’s “worst car” ever: the 1970s-era Ford Granada.
The cutting comment came in an interview with an Indiana radio station and then was picked up by the Detroit News, seized on as a talking point for Detroit radio and stirring debate in Internet chat rooms as of Wednesday.
Obama said he had learned to drive first on his grandfather’s Ford Granada, a boxy, big-engined sedan that Ford once tried to market as a kind of Everyman’s Mercedes-Benz.
The Illinois senator did not remember it so fondly.
“It may be the worst car that Detroit ever built. This thing was a tin can. It was during the ’70s when oil had just gone up so they were trying to compete with the Japanese. They wanted to keep the cars big, so they made them out of tin foil,” he was quoted as saying. “It would rattle and shake. You basically couldn’t go over 80 (miles per hour) without the thing getting out of control.”
Fans of the Granada, which made a cameo in last year’s Academy Award-winning drama “No Country for Old Men,” rushed to the defense of a car killed with little fanfare 25 years ago.
“I’m a Barack voter but I disagree with him on the Granada,” said Jesse Sweigart, a 32-year-old computer engineer in Columbia, Pennsylvania.
Sweigart said his 31-year-old Ford Granada, bought on a whim for $400 over a year ago, runs like a dream and gets better gas mileage than his newer Dodge truck. “They really put things together back then,” he said.
Tom Peterson, another enthusiast, said Obama was wrong to suggest the big Ford featured flimsy “tin foil” since it was a heavyweight in its late 1970s heyday. “If Obama actually said this, it sounds like (a) politician gum-flapping based on no knowledge,” he said.
“Here comes Granadagate,” wrote one Web poster. “We should invite Barack to drive a couple of our rides. Time heals all wounds.”
Sweigart offered to let Obama take a spin down memory land if the presidential campaign takes him back to Pennsylvania.
“I think if he got behind the wheel it would all come back,” he said. “I’d be happy to give him a ride to the next state.”
In the meantime, Obama may have some damage control ahead with voters in Michigan’s still auto-heavy economy. The Michigan Democratic delegation remains in play ahead of the party convention in August, and polls show Republican John McCain as a strong challenger to Obama in a prospective match-up in the 8th most populous state.
Photo credit: Reuters/Ellen Ozier (U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama speaks to supporters at his North Carolina and Indiana primary election night rally in Raleigh)