Cars Mattered When New York Held A World's Fair

Welcome to Must Read, where we single out the best stories from around the automotive universe and beyond. Today, we have reports from The New York Times Reuters and Priceonomics.

When Cars Ruled the World's FairThe New York Times

An interesting look back.

From its humble origins as a Queens garbage dump — inspiration for the valley of ashes in "The Great Gatsby" — Flushing Meadows Corona Park emerged as the site of two world's fairs, in 1939-40 and 1964-65.

The first fair laid out a glorious vision for the automobile: General Motors' Futurama exhibition, designed by Norman Bel Geddes, depicted the multilane highways of the future. The second fair arrived with that vision mostly realized — and the automobile near the pinnacle of its power and prestige.

Insight: Deadly GM ignition switches started with 2003 Saturn IonReuters

Read for the insight into GM's culture in the early 2000s. When it was launched, I saw the potential in the Ion. It was weird, but some of its ideas were interesting. If only they were given the resources to be properly done.

The Ion was one of the first products developed under the watch of industry veteran Bob Lutz, who rejoined GM in September 2001 as vice chairman in charge of product development and was sometimes compared by insiders with the tough-talking judge who is the title character in Elmore Leonard's novel, Maximum Bob. Then-Chairman Rick Wagoner had lured Lutz to the automaker to revitalize its tired vehicles, as well as its product development organization.

There is no evidence that Lutz played any role in the switch decision or knew about its problems. But Twelve years ago, corporate pressure to keep the 2003 Ion on schedule was intense, former GM executives told Reuters.

"Would you want to be the guy who told 'Maximum Bob' that his baby was going to be late?" asked a retired GM purchasing manager familiar with the small-car program.

Can You Buy A License to Speed?Priceonomics

These things are still around?

A number of the frames read "CHP 11-99 Foundation," which is the full name of a charitable organization that supports California Highway Patrol officers and their families in times of crisis. Donors receive one license plate as part of a $2,500 "Classic" level donation, or two as part of a bronze, silver, or gold level donation of $5,000, $10,000, or $25,000.

Rumor has it, however, that the license plate frames come with a lucrative return on investment. With a frame announcing that the driver has contributed a substantial amount of money to a fund that benefits highway patrol officers, donors believe that cops won't give them speeding tickets.

Photo: AP