Paul Ingrassia won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 (with Joseph B. White) for reporting on management crises at General Motors. He is the author of Crash Course: The American Automobile Industry’s Road from Glory to Disaster and the newly released Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars.
Highlights from his May 2012 NPR interview:
On what the Chevy Corvette represented in America during the 1950sRead more highlights from the interview, or listen to the story.
The 'Vette was actually introduced in 1953, and it was a remarkable watershed year in American history. If you think about it, it was the year that Elvis started recording music, it was the year that Hugh Hefner started Playboy, it was the year the Korean War finally ended. And you had this generation of Americans that had for the past quarter-century really grown up knowing the privation of the Great Depression, and the hardship and death and dislocation of war, but all of a sudden in 1953 it was peace, it was prosperity, and a generation of Americans really wanted to let loose. And here comes this car that, you know, is really designed for letting loose and living it up.
On how the Volkswagen Beetle — Adolf Hitler's pet car — became an icon for the peace, love and granola culture
This car was invented by Ferdinand Porsche, but it was sponsored by Adolf Hitler. Just as pre-war production was about to begin, the war broke out, so production was suspended. After the war, it was saved by a British army officer who fell in love with the car and got the factory going again. American GIs drove Beetles, they brought them back, and it just sort of took off slowly, and more and more people bought it. What really happened, though, the intervening thing that happened here was that in the America of the '50s when, you know, the big tail-fin era, the Beetle was a way to show your disdain for that American conspicuous consumption culture.