One way economic analysts track the size of middle class America is by the number of cars purchased. Although Americans still hold the highest rates of household spending, car buying is in decline. (In fact, the US has fewer cars per capita than Italy, Germany, France, Spain, and 20 other countries, according to a recent paper from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.) Perhaps automobile companies need to reevaluate their marketing campaigns to Americans – take a lesson from the past. In 1964, Ford was largely responsible for selling the notion of the two-car family lifestyle with its sporty little (and inexpensive, $2,400) Mustang. Both mom and dad liked it; a nice compliment to the station wagon.
That marketing scheme, devised by auto eminence Lee Iacocca, is alive and well in the hearts of children who sat on the backseats of those cars. Still there’s great pride in the ownership of a 1964 Mustang. And there’s never a shortage of baby boomers willing to uncover theirs at a classic car show. Every year thousands of people rev the engines of their beloved and coveted Chargers and Corvettes so others can marvel at the design, inspect a clean engine under the hood and reminisce about the days before seat belts, emission testing, and $4 gallons of gas (in 1964, it was 25 cents a gallon). Popular is the Lee Iacocca Award honoring “a person who, over time, has demonstrated an extraordinary dedication to the classic car hobby through vehicle preservation, club participation, and one who has unselfishly assisted and encouraged others in perpetuating an ‘American Automotive Tradition.’” It’s bound to happen: Iacocca in his day was all about innovation – and now he’s poster boy for preservation. What will the Steve Jobs Award honor, in 2065?