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See the USA in Your Chevrolet in 1964

Pop pulled the sky-blue 1963 Chevy Impala out of the driveway in Wayne, Michigan.  With Mom and three kids along for what our family would call our 9,000-mile trip, he jogged a block to Michigan Avenue, which, as US 12, always beckoned West to Chicago and, beyond that, to California.  The kids: Johnny, nine; Caroline, eight; Eddie, six.  At Ypsilanti we entered the new Interstate 94, one of the gleaming “freeways” Ike built based on the autobahns he saw in prostrate Germany, but which would slice apart American cities like a column of Sherman tanks.

In June 1964, travel still was cheap for a middle-class family whose parents learned to save in the Great Depression and live off U.S. Army rations in France or ration coupons on the home front.  The Impala cost $2,000, stock with no air conditioning.  Even poor people drove American-made “gas-guzzling dinosaurs,” as our governor, George Romney, had called them when he was drumming up business for the small cars made by his previous employer, American Motors.  Except for the occasional Mercedes, the only foreign cars seen were VW bugs or buses.  Gas was 30 cents per gallon.

The first impressive sites along the way were the huge factories and steel mills of Gary, Indiana, and South Chicago.  Being from Detroit, we were used to smokestacks spewing out prosperity, especially at Ford’s...

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