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13Oct/08Off

Learning to Drive Loewy

As a young, rebellious teenager, I remember rising early on foggy mornings to roll our servants' French Deuxcheveaus down the gravel driveway, far from my father's ears. I first learned how to drive, grinding the gears of that post-war tin can down the rocky roads and forest trails of my Dad's beloved French estate 'La Cense.'

For my punishment, I inherited our servants' Ford Pinto, an equally disturbing little car. I commonly referred to the mustard-colored abomination as my mobil lighter, due to the dangerous location of the rear gas tank.

As a teenager on a limited budget (Thanks Dad!), I began to appreciate the great gas mileage and ease of parking. However, after the umpteenth CBS expose on flaming Pintos, Dad had a change of heart, and bought me a new VW Rabbit. It served me well during my days at USC and my infrequent trips to my parents' winter residence in Palm Springs. But I must admit, it was always a little unsettling to park my little car next to Dad's latest Avanti or some damned exotic creation.

Was Dad trying to teach me a valuable lesson or was he just being stingy? As an international traveler, Dad understood what it meant to fork over a large roll of Francs for a tank of petrol. I can hear him now, going off in a colorful and most entertaining French rant. Upon graduation, wanting to impress my father, I elected to enter the world of poorly paid journalism. Small, fuel-efficient cars became my mode of transportation for years as I covered my beats in the congested metropolitan areas of LA.

In the 70's, during our first US gas crisis, the automotive world asked, "Where is Raymond Loewy when we need him?" For many years Loewy's credo was "WEIGHT IS THE ENEMY!" I'm told he drove his designers nuts posting his reminders on the walls throughout his design studio in South Bend.

Loewy always stressed a lower, streamlined body with reduced weight. He felt a well-tuned 6 cylinder, with tight European tolerances, would dramatically aid the family sedan in gas economy and improve handling characteristics.

We remain nostalgic about the 2 ton, chromed-out jukeboxes produced by Harley Earl and Detroit's Big Three; however the Loewy Coupes and Avantis continue to set the design standards for many of today's cars.

My father loved his adopted country of America. If he were here today, he would have supported the drill here, drill now philosophy. From his international point of view, he always understood the advantages of becoming energy independent. Along with drilling, Loewy would have advocated the development of all viable energy sources in a timely fashion.

At a Loewy exhibition in Palm Springs in 2001, I had the opportunity to see one of the first Smart Cars imported to the US. It reminded me of a similar styled metropolitan car Dad had sketched in 1967. I'm sure he would have insisted on bright colors for high visibility and installed an engine kill-switch that would have automatically activated within 500 yards of a freeway on-ramp.

Till this day, I keep a small car trucked away, in anticipation of future gas rationing. But for now I remain addicted to my midnight-blue Jeep Overland. I enjoy scanning the horizon, looking over all those Eco-friendly bunnies; thus allowing me to locate the last of the full-service gas stations.

Laurence Loewy
10/14/08

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