Detroit – 2001 Imagine what Bob Eaton’s true reasons could have been for seeking a merger between Chrysler Corp. and Germany’s Daimler-Benz. Despite his eight years as head of General Motors in Europe, he had jumped ship to become Chrysler’s chairman half-a-decade earlier which cut him off from any return to GM. If that wasn’t enough, he already was entering his late 50s, so any move he needed to make to ensure his immortality in automotive history had to be made soon.
Now, upon surreptitiously meeting with Daimler-Benz chairman Juergen Schrempp in early 1998, there was a chance to put his imprint on what easily could become the biggest, most influential auto maker that ever existed.
It had to be a heady time for a man who, in a surge of supreme self-confidence, saw himself ultimately as the lone leader of the world’s largest car company.
Storm Clouds in the Distance
That was three years ago, when the industry was floating in an excess of success with no apparent end in sight. But there were nagging little signs of trouble that were beginning to appear for anyone who bothered to look.
And Bob Eaton was looking.
What he saw in the distance were the makings of a maelstrom of unsurpassed proportions, the beginning of a confluence of seemingly unrelated events that, when they collided, would become so magnified they could only be called a perfect storm.
Eaton had used that very expression in an internal company speech he gave early in 1998, before any word of the impending merger had surfaced. Surely such an alliance would protect both partners from the storm that was sure to come.
That was what Bob Eaton had in his distant vision when he sat down with pen in hand and essentially gave away America’s third largest auto company.
Publisher’s note: One wonders aloud why it took an Italian acquisition to allow this country to see what most of the world already knew: The historical center of the automotive universe is America and more specifically, Detroit.
Legions of PR, marketing and advertising people have come and gone over the last 37 years, and save for a creative and innovative few, have failed to tap into the rich performance and styling history that exemplified Chrysler Corp… Dodge Division in particular.
The vehicle most responsible for setting me on a professional path within the auto industry was an Autumn/copper 440 C.I. Magnum-powered 1968 Charger R/T that came over a rise of an intersection at 67th and State Street on the south side of Chicago one early November 1967 morning. I heard it before I saw it, and once visible, was glorious to behold. Being an avid aviation enthusiast from age 6 focused on high performance military aircraft past and present inclusive of P-51 Mustang, P-38 Lightning, F-86 Sabre, F-104 Starfighter and F-4 Phantom, I couldn’t believe how stunningly beautiful that Charger was.
This then 16 year-old whooped and danced in the street as the Charger glided by exuding sensuous design elegance and raw, perceptively inexhaustible, power. A perception put paid when unforgettable images from the classic action movie “Bullitt” of an assassin’s 1968 Charger pursued by McQueen’s 390 (legend says it was a Ford NASCAR 427) Mustang through the streets of San Francisco graced the silver screen.
The closest I came to acquiring my dream machine was a 1973 Charger SE with Police Recruiter 400 C.I.D. engine “sleeper” modified with enclosed exhaust headers, 750 CFM Holley 4bbl Carb, a 3500 rpm stall-speed torque converter and 3:90 Posi-traction rear axle. Family friend Jeanne Smith in Detroit got closer: To this day she owns the same ’68 Charger 440 Magnum she was driving when we first met in September 1969.
I’ve not driven the 2011 Charger R/T AWD that oozes homage to the ’68,’69 and ’70 models as yet, but if you happen to spy some guy whooping and dancing on some big city street, it will probably be yours truly… having concluded that the Dodge Boys, with no little help from the car buffs of Rome, did it right.
Auto enthusiasts everywhere, and most certainly the City of Detroit, owe FIAT leadership a debt of gratitude for the fabulous image boost emergent amidst decades of societal derision. Moreover, my family is especially proud of the “Imported From Detroit” Super Bowl commercial featuring the pounding fist statue of master pugilista Joe Louis “The Brown Bomber” Barrow: The Stokes’ and Barrows of Camp Hill, Alabama, married into each other’s families decades ago…
-Myron D. Stokes
Images: 1. DaimlerChrysler 2. Chrysler Group, LLC 3. Warner Bros.