Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Engines of Change, A Review

Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen CarsEngines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars by Paul Ingrassia
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ingrassia does for cars what Halberstam did for the Fifties.  Well maybe not quite that good,  but really a great book that explains the effects of the various cars on the American way of life.  Ingrassia selects 15 cars that have influenced American society, from the Ford Model T to the Toyota Prius.  

One thing to note about the book, it is not predominately about the car itself.  It is more of a look at the history of the epoch, the people and the trends that created the car, the people that bought the car,  and how the spirit of the car affected American society.  So gear heads beware, you are not going to get a chart that shows you the engine displacement and horse power selections available for each year of Corvettes.  You will learn the role that Duntov played in the car and why the car appealed to Americans after the Depression and the Second World War.  The book should appeal to a wide audience, and not just car enthusiasts. 

Also one can argue with his choice of what vehicles to include.  The author explains its best:

The hardest part about writing this book wasn’t deciding what cars to include. It was deciding what cars to leave out. My selections will disappoint some people, especially fans of iconic automobiles not included.

But this book isn’t intended to be about great cars, fast cars, or famous cars, although it contains some of each. Instead it’s about the automobiles that have influenced how we live and think as Americans. The cars in this book either changed American society or uniquely captured the spirit of their time. By those criteria most cars, even those regarded as automotive icons, fall short.

Ingrassia, Paul (2012-05-01). Engines of Change (Kindle Locations 5485-5489). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

So if you are a fan of say a 57 Chevy, you are going to be disappointed because a 57 Chevy, while certainly an iconic car, in no way affected American society the way the Corvair did.

The book is informative and fun to read.  Ingrassia did a great job researching this book and has a good sense of humor.  Excellent book, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

View all my reviews, Engines of Change, Paul Ingrassia

Edit 8-21-12:  Here is my 1970 Duster which is my favorite car of memory.  It was not mentioned in the book.

1970 Plymouth Duster at El Mirage Dry Lake, California


  1. I remember you suggesting this book once before. I thought I had requested it from the library, but it never arrived. SO, I have put it back on the request list. Should be here in a couple days.
    Thanks for the review!
    Happy Reading!

    1. It definitely is an enjoyable read. I think very much worth requesting it again if needed. Thanks for dropping by.

  2. Interesting review. Makes me want to read the book, even though I know I wouldn't finish it ...sorry. But what car changed your life the most Sextant? Or what car brings back the fondest memories for you?

    1. Alicia! I thought you had left Earth and was hanging out with the Old Baguette in the rings of Saturn. Welcome back!

      I don't imagine Engines of Change will be at your local Goodwill for 80 cents any time soon! It is not that kind of book, (unlike 50 Shades of Bullshit which I think you will see hundreds of copies as soon as the ass beating novelty wears off) but you should be able to get it at the library. It is a very interesting story with lots of corporate intrigue and a look at American automotive fashion and fads. It reads like a novel in places.

      You ask difficult questions, my dear. Which is your favorite child? Hmmm! No actually your first question is a bit difficult, but the second is easy.

      Fondest memories would be my 1970 Duster, it was my second car but first new car. It was sporty enough to fill my macho needs as a young man but would not qualify as a hot rod, but it could shit and get as the saying went. I got the car right before I went in the service, which was stupid of course, and it fell in that period of young manhood when cars are important. I went to and from California in that car, dated my wife in that car, and it was our car for the first couple of years of our marriage. A car for memories but otherwise a 70s piece of shit. Within a year of returning to Pennsylvania it started to rust out. The rear quarter panels required a yearly application of sheet metal put on with pop rivets which was disconcerting because I had the car Ziebarted when it was new. Typical problem back in the 70s.

      Which car changed my life the most? I don't know. Probably my Plymouth Voyager mini-van which was on Ingrassia's list. It was the first vehicle that I actually enjoyed driving since my Duster. I liked the sloppy comfort of the van, sitting high, it handled relatively well, and it was very utilitarian for a time in my life when I needed utility--hauling my kid to and fro college. I loved that van, far more than the Duster actually. But Chrysler and I have different opinions on how long a transmission should last. After dutifully changing my transmission fluid yearly (by the dealer following Chrysler's recommendations) the transmission went out at 6 years and 105,000 miles. I had bought the van new with an extended warranty that covered for 7 years, 100,000 miles. I expressed my frustration with the dealer that having them change the ATF every year and having bought the warranty that the transmission went, a lousy 5 thousand miles over and it was still well within the time limit. Sorry, there is nothing we can do. OK, I paid for a second transmission in the van (as well as an extended warranty that was used for nothing...which is good, but still it seems with the circumstance, they could have knocked something off the price of that transmission). Due to my tendency to go nuclear with rage issues from MS, I just let it go. No use getting thrown in jail for assault over an automatic transmission. But you know the old saying about fool me once. Sorry, there is nothing we can do, but there is something I can do. I may not be able to effective complain with my mouth without ending up in jail but I can complain with my feet. Chrysler lost a customer forever over that transmission. Twenty thousand miles later the oil pressure light starts coming on, even though I had dutifully changed the oil and oil filter beyond Chrysler's recommendations. That was it I was done with that van. Very bittersweet. I loved that damn van (not to be confused with the Jean Claude). So did my wife, she was not happy when I got rid of it.

      Ooops, a little too chatty, my post is too long. Continued below.

    2. Continued from above.

      I had thought about getting a Honda Odyssey, but we were empty nesters, so we went with the Honda CR-V, also not on Ingrassia's list Again a car that met our needs. We both had elderly mothers that we may need to get to regardless of the weather. It has a nice amount of cargo space, for empty nesters. Nice solid car, good dependability, handles like a sports car. A little timid in performance, but I am an old man. The only problem it is somewhat uncomfortable. You get one way to sit in a CR-V. I am a sprawler and they got junk in the way of my knees, that pisses me off to no end. But talk about change your life, I finally got a vehicle that laughs at winter. With a set of Bridgestone Blizzaks snow tires and the real time 4WD, that CR-V handles ice storms like it was a hot August afternoon. One time in freezing rain, I drove up my steep driveway got out of the car and nearly went on my ass, the drive way was a sheet of ice. I realized I needed to get the mail but was afraid to walk down to the mail box because of ice. I drove down and back up the driveway, just like summer time. I wish I could find a pair of Blizzak shoes!

      So what about you, what was your favorite car, and which changed your life the most?

      Oh, BTW, the Old Baguette made an appearance, then disappeared again. But just yesterday she sent me an email, after more trouble with her computer and Blogger, she has started a new blog on Wordpress:

      Hopefully the winds of fate will blow with her (and her computer) and we will get to enjoy once again the crabby wit of the Old Baguette. Speaking of disappearing, I haven't seen much activity over at your blog. Like I should talk. I have got so lazy, I have found it an effort to post anymore.

    3. First, in response to your question/comment about the inactivity over on my blog...I know. I want to blame the new house & the move and the remodeling and the decorating and the job and life in general but the truth is I'm a drug addict and currently my drug of choice is facebook and pinterest, especially pinterest.

      But I decided yesterday that I'm going cold turkey tp get that monkey off my back! So today at lunchtime, which it is right now, I just said "NO" to facebook and instead of logging in to read what everyone is having for lunch and how much they all hate Mondays, I logged in to blogger. As God is my witness, I shall never let pinterest and facebook rule my life again!

      Second...can I get an HALLELUJAH!! on our dear friend Old Baguette's resurrection! Actually I did see her out there on the Rings of Saturn, hanging out in a sleazy bar and I told her, "Woman, you must get back, for Sextant and Alicia are naught without you!"

      Third...only you can turn a comment into entries long enough to be their own blog posts! Well only YOU and I, because truth be told, I'm guilty as heck of the same thing.

      Of course, being the true Southern lady born in Arizona of Hispanic heritage that I am...I knew that if I brought up the subject of a man's favorite, that I would get a great response back! And I did, it was very interesting reading about your fav car and the one that changed your life the most. I even had to google quite a few things to understand what your were talking about. Like Ziebarting and Blizzack tires. I always learn something reading your blog!

      Ok, my favorite car was my big old Red Ford Explorer. My ex-husband and I bought that SUV right before we split up forever. We made a deal between ourselves that in lieu of child support he would continue making the payment on that car.

      A few months later I met a nice man, that was a love interest for a few months and later turned into a dear friend. The ex-husband must have been spying on me and saw this new man driving the car he was paying for! The outrage! It was one thing for this new man to be sleeping with his wife (which he wasn't) but it was an unforgiveable insult for this new man to be driving a car he was paying for. So he stopped paying! Without telling me! A few months down the road the repossessor came to take it away!

      Fortunately I had worked for American National Bank in the repossession department and this repossessor and I were friends and he was very nice about the whole thing and even told me how I could get it back. After living without my car for a weekend I showed up first thing Monday and refinanced the car in my name and paid for the car my own damn self!

      But that is not the reason that the car was my favorite car. The reason it became my favorite car was because of the fun I started having once I left my ex-husband behind. I remember trips to Arizona with my kids to show them the land of my birth and to introduce them to their family. I remember trips to the beach & to skate parks and band trips. I remember going out with girlfriends for happy hour and having one of them throw up out the passenger window after drinking a tad too much and how her vomit stained the paint and forever that memory sat right there on that door. That dear friend was with me when I traded it in and she fondly stroked the streaked paint while she and I both cried saying goodbye to Old Red! I still miss her, the car I mean because the dear friend is still my friend...on facebook :)

    4. ....OOPS...I got too wordy, here's the rest of the story :)

      The car that changed my life is the sweet little White Saturn that I am driving now. Why you ask? Why is that the one that changed my life the most? Good question Sextant! The Saturn is the first car I ever bought on my own. And when I say my own I don't just mean the only car that my dad didn't buy for me or co-sign a loan for me or my husband co-purchase with me (only to flake out in the end).

      No...when I say that is the first car I ever bought on my own I mean that I took my lil ol self on a Saturday to the car dealerships in Bakersfield and wheeled and dealed on my own to be turned down by Ford, Toyota and Honda for my debt to income ratio. I was a single mother, times were tough, did Ford, Toyota or Honda care? Nope!

      So I was driving myself home in my Ford Explorer that was on it's last legs due to transmission problems when I drove by General Motors and saw a Saturn Ion with Suicide Doors and I was intrigued. So I dried my tears and I stopped and I test drove and I was approved by GMAC to purchase the Saturn interest free!!!

      As I drove away in my brand new Saturn I was filled with pride in myself that I DID THIS! I bought a car without the help of a man. I can do this! I can make a life for me and my kids. I can buy a house on my own and not wait there in the tower combing my beautiful brown locks waiting for my Prince in Shining Armor to come save me. Nope...I was my own Princess in Shining Armor and I've been saving myself ever since! Many mornings as I leave for work I turn and look at my house, my couch, my kitchen table, my curtains, my KINGDOM and I say to myself, I DID THIS...ME, MYSELF AND I. My Saturn taught me "Si se puede!"

    5. Well my friend, that's it for now as my lunch hour is almost over and I think I may just have written my next blog post in your comment Cya!

    6. Alicia,

      I am not sure what being sentimental about a puke stain says about you, but your experience with buying your Saturn speaks much about your determinism and what would we call it? Pragmatic feminism! You are a force to behold, and quite frankly I consider myself fortunate to know you.

      Thank you for your lovely comment, and you out did me in length. Very cool.

      Thanks as always for stopping by and commenting.