While politicos debated his opposition to the 2009 bailout of General Motors and Chrysler last week, Mitt Romney's op-ed column in The Detroit News rekindled memories of his father--George Romney, former CEO of American Motors and governor of Michigan.
In the column, defending his "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" article in The New York Times in 2008, Mitt Romney wrote: "Cars got in my bones early. And not just any cars, American cars. When the President of American Motors died suddenly in 1954, my dad … was asked to take his place. I was 7 and got my love of cars and chrome and fins and roaring motors from him."
Father and son may have shared a love of autos, but George Romney was the prototypical anti-"chrome and fins and roaring motors" guy. He popularized the phrase "gas-guzzling dinosaurs" while competing with the excessively finned Big 3 behemoths of the 1950s. He claimed to have coined the term "compact car" to describe AMC's Rambler.
Romney said he considered the Rambler "the car of the future" and said in a 1993 interview that he believed "it would revolutionize thinking about cars in America and others would have to copy it." He even dropped AMC's Nash and Hudson lines in 1957 to concentrate on the tiny car. When Romney left AMC in 1962 to run for governor, the Rambler grew larger.
"My successors didn't stick with the Rambler concept," he said. "They spent $200 million in tooling to try to make the car more like the Big 3's cars. Later, they began to tool up sports cars, the Javelin and the AMX, to copy the Corvette and the Mustang and its imitators at the Big 3. They literally threw away the biggest opportunity in the auto industry since GM overtook Ford."
Romney, who died in 1995, said: "The Big 3 were all pushing style, size and power." He said the Rambler "was like Ford's original approach, a practical car."
Had he risen to the top of GM or Chrysler instead of AMC, George Romney's views on cars might have been different. But his legacy -- at least in the auto world -- is as a beacon for small cars and fuel efficiency.