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Jan. 15, 2014

In cars

Remember the first car you ever drove? Mine was a 1970-something 10-seater Chevy Suburban affectionately called, the Moose Mobile. It was a beast of a vehicle my family got to pull our travel trailer. It had homemade curtains in the back windows to match the trailer and I think it got about 12 miles per gallon. The Moose Mobile was the family car when I took driver’s ed and my mom took me to the local cemetery, (where I couldn’t hurt anyone), and put me in the driver’s seat. Once I got my license, I could take all my friends in one car to football games, choir rehearsals and the movies. My parents even let me paint it for graduation and my artist friend painted a huge moose on the hood.

Long before I actually drove, I remember other family cars—a white VW Bug, a green LTD we drove across the country to California and a yellow Pinto my dad drove to work. The other car we had when I learned to drive was a red Chevette, a manual transmission car I never drove but referred to it by singing, “little red Chevette, clap, clap” to the tune of Prince’s 1983 hit about a much racier car, the Corvette.

Think of all the songs about cars—"Pink Cadillac," "Little Deuce Coupe," "GTO," "Mustang Sally," "Mercedes Benz," "Lowrider," "’92 Subaru." I’m sure there are songs about pickup trucks too—I just don’t listen to country so I can’t come up with one.

Why do we care so much about our cars that we write songs about them? Or name them? Or have vanity license plates? Or remember every car we’ve ever had?

The first car I ever owned was a little Toyota manual transmission pickup purchased to drive my husband and my household goods to South Dakota where he was stationed in the Air Force. We learned to drive a stick shift along the way.

We’ve had a long line of cars since then—a rare Mustang SVO; a 1983 IROC Camaro complete with T-tops and Bon Jovi on the cassette deck; a red Grand Am I brought my daughter home in; a sensible Taurus to drive her around in; a used Audi; a used Corolla; a couple of Passats, a very not sensible, but loads of fun, convertible Camaro SS; a Chrysler 200 we bought after Eminem’s Super Bowl ad; and a used red VW Bug for my daughter in high school, which is pretty much the coolest car for a 16-year-old girl. There’s a vase for a flower, for goodness sake!

Just a few days ago I brought home my newest baby—a sporty red Fiat Abarth that’s about as much fun as it is cute. I love it.

Here in Michigan, cars are our history—our lifeblood. The Motor City. The Big Three. Growing up I knew those terms, but I didn’t realize exactly what cars really meant to the state. I thought every state had auto plants sprinkled throughout their metro areas. I thought everyone knew tons of people whose parents worked on the lines.

Detroit hosted its first auto show in 1907. This weekend, the city will host the 2014 North American International Auto Show, one of the premier auto shows in the world.

Given the importance of the automobile industry to Michigan, it makes complete sense that MSU is among the nation’s leaders in auto-related research. The university receives millions of dollars in research grants every year that are used to develop better cars and the fuel that keeps them running. In addition, there are dozens of faculty from a variety of colleges who conduct research on auto-related matters. Check out the gorgeous MSUToday feature, Gearing Up, to learn more about MSU’s role in the future of the automobile. 

And there are more than just the faculty in the feature who do work related to cars. Ramani Narayan, a professor of chemical engineering and materials, is working on a project with soybeans and their role in reducing carbon footprints and replacing nonrenewable resources such as fossil fuels. He says Henry Ford himself wanted cars to be run with bio based fuels. Read his FACULTY VOICE: Working toward a sustainable future, to learn more.

There are some MSU students who have a lot of fun working with cars.  MSU’s Formula Racing Team represents MSU’s entry into the Formula SAE collegiate design series, a competition sanctioned by SAE International. Formula SAE promotes innovation and education by challenging students to fund, design, manufacture and race small, open-wheel racecars. Check out the video in the STUDENT VIEW: Roaring into the field, to see them in action.

I think it’s safe to say Americans love their cars. They aren’t simply a way to get from point A to point B, but an extension of who we are and what we like. The industry is always changing as new and better ways are discovered to build, fuel and run autos and Spartans are more than ready to go along for the ride.

Spartans Will.

Lisa Mulcrone
Editor, MSUToday




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