A hyphen blunder and the wrath of Jack
Dale Jewett is technical editor of Autoweek.
I owe my depth of knowledge of the auto industry to Jack Teahen. Without Jack I would have been consigned to writing press releases a long time ago.
When I first met Jack in 1990 I was a pure gearhead, hopped up from years of reading car enthusiast magazines. And Peter Brown had hired me from Palm Springs, Calif., to join the Automotive News copy desk -- the guardians at the gate of the industry’s top trade publication.
Jack’s curmudgeonly looks and demeanor made me afraid of him. I’d had curmudgeon editors before. And I made mistakes -- I once deleted the hyphen in Hydra-Matic in a headline and let it get published, which brought the wrath of Jack upon me. I’ve never made that mistake again in my life. He was a demanding editor with only one philosophy: Whatever you write, make it as simple and clear as possible. I remind myself of that lesson before writing every story.
But the key to Jack was to sit and talk with him.
And I did. The best times were in the early evenings, after most of the staff had left for the day. Jack always worked late, and when the bosses left he was free to smoke in the office. That’s when class was in session.
I was so lucky -- Jack was a living piece of history. He knew all auto history because he had lived during most of it. He met and knew the kings of the industry -- “Old” Henry Ford and The Deuce, Alfred Sloan and the Fisher brothers, and Lee Iacocca.
He knew how car dealers survived during World War II when there were no new cars to sell for five years. And he knew every deal, spiff and shenanigan the factories tried with the dealers and the dealers tried with customers. Jack was happy to talk about all of it for as long as I would sit there. He even made the effort to teach me the dark art of vehicle pricing and sales-weighting of price increases. I worked at it but would never be as good as it as Jack.
He was a sports fan, primarily of the Detroit Lions football team, and was happy to talk about the sport anytime. He was also generous a few times and let me use his tickets to some Lions home games. And he was a devotee of rear-drive cars -- in particular the Ford Thunderbird. He was a car dealer’s dream -- he would take a new car every three years, like clockwork. When Ford pulled the plug on the T-bird after the ’97 model year, he switched to the Lincoln LS.
Coming of age in the golden era of the “buff book” car magazines, Autoweek editor Leon Mandel and Car and Driver editor David E. Davis Jr. were among my personal and professional idols as I pursued a career as an automotive journalist. I didn’t know Jack Teahen until I landed in Detroit on a snowy day in February 1990. But he became and always will be a member in my personal Hall of Fame.