The General hasn’t had much to celebrate lately, but on September 16th, the storied Detroit automaker will mark 100 years of operations.

Teenage Lust

Okay, I’ll admit it: growing up in what was to become metro Detroit (Rochester was still a small town back then), I lusted after GM cars – any GM car, for that matter.

Back then, your dad was either a Ford guy, a GM guy or a Chrysler guy – and my dad was, for better or for worse, a Ford guy, and for me, it was definitely for worse. That’s because in the 50’s and the 60’s, GM was at its zenith in terms of automotive design. Everyone else – the Fords and the Chryslers – were the forgotten stepchildren, hoping to gather up the crumbs after GM left the table.

1963 Ford Fairlane Ranch Wagon

1966 Ford Fairlane Ranch Wagon

While many of our friends and neighbors worked for GM and drove a new car almost every year (Pontiac Bonnevilles, Chevy Impalas, Buick Centuries and Electras and Oldsmobile Starfires!), we drove Ford station wagons because my dad used it in our hardware business. It was beyond bad.

And then something miraculous happened. The year I turned 16, our family (my dad, my mom, my younger brother and I) went down to the Detroit Auto Show. After spending most of the day looking at all the shiny new models, we got back into our beige (there is no color worse than beige) 1963 Fairlane Ranch Wagon and proceeded to head back home via Woodward Avenue. Less than a mile up Woodward, the Fairlane simply stopped running. No amount of coaxing could get it started. It took my aunt almost 2 hours to get down to Detroit through a snow storm to pick us up. The fact that we had to walk by a burlesque house to dine at the Golden Café – a restaurant located down Woodward from where our car had been towed - only made matters worse. Upon our return home, my father swore he’d never buy another Ford.

1966 Buick Skylark Hardtop Coupe

1966 Buick Skylark Hardtop Coupe

He kept his word. Less than 5 months later, and just in time for my driver’s license, he came home with a brand new car. Not a station wagon, mind you, but an actual car. And not just any car, but a light metallic blue 1966 Buick Skylark hardtop coupe with a white vinyl top and a cloth interior (station wagons were always vinyl). It was cool. Besides the look, I was most impressed by the “Body by Fisher” insignia on the brushed metal door sills. I’d always wanted a car with that logo. It was as if our family had finally arrived.

The Future

That, in a nutshell, is what General Motors meant to me while I was growing up. Their cars represented style, quality and prestige. And just like every other kid that grew up in their heyday, GM’s fall from the pinnacle was painful for me to watch.

Fortunately, there are signs that there may be more than a few rounds left in the fight. The product guys, it seems, have taken control back from the bean counters. Cadillac is once again at the top of its game. The new Chevy Malibu is, once again, a solid contender in its segment while the Aveo and the new Traverse are both great vehicles. The Pontiac Solstice, G8 and Vibe are all solid contenders. Buick and GMC are both doing well with their CUV’s, while Saturn is finding new life (after plastic) with GM’s European-based vehicles.

So here’s to you, GM. I, for one, am hoping for another 100 years.