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Wear a Disguise

My Big Three rescue

Bob Martin

is a former Inquirer writer and editor

At first, they seemed to be random acts of roadway rudeness: A motorist wouldn't let me slip into the exit lane, another tailgated me, a third raced in front as our two lanes narrowed to one.

But a closer look betrayed a pattern among my adversaries: The first drove a Mercedes-Benz, the second a Lexus, and the third a Subaru Outback. I drive a Chevy Cavalier.

The conclusion was inescapable: This was not just ordinary thoughtlessness, but rather automotive elitism. While the Big Three American automakers have been holding out their collective tin cup in Washington, my General Motors car has become an object of scorn and humiliation.

Forget respect; these days, I can't even get the right-of-way.

OK, I'm at fault for buying a GM product, but I blame that on my childhood.

I grew up in an age when President Dwight Eisenhower's secretary of defense was immortalized for saying that what's good for General Motors was good for the nation. The No. 4 hit tune during my senior year of high school was Ronny and the Daytonas' "Little GTO," which glorified a Pontiac that had a V-8, 325-horsepower engine, went six to eight miles on a gallon of gas, and was dubbed a "muscle car."

In an allusion to the sexual symbolism of the powerful American car, a joke of the era defined a double date as "four on the floor and a fifth under the seat." These days, however, domestic car users might retreat to the floor to escape public view, not to make out.

How long must we live with this stigma? If the government can bail out the Big Three, why can't it assist their longtime customers, too?

To that end, I offer the following four-point plan not only to help loyal buyers of American cars, but also to stimulate critical sectors of the economy:

No motorist left behind.

The proposed federal car czar could establish anti-bullying support groups across the nation and staff them with psychologists.

Motorists belittled by owners of foreign cars could share their woes in a sympathetic atmosphere. They could learn not to be intimidated by vehicles that stand on their own four wheels without a government-rescue plan.

Logo eradication.

In what would be a bonanza for auto-body shops, the government could provide vouchers to the owners of Big Three cars entitling them to free removal of any symbol or verbiage suggesting that their vehicles were manufactured by General Motors, Ford or Chrysler.

Ashamed owners could keep their cars' origins anonymous, much like Internal Revenue Service and Central Intelligence Agency employees who say they work "for the government."

Viagra for the gas tank.

If American pharmaceutical companies can find a cure for erectile dysfunction, then resourceful chemists, aided by government research grants, should be able to develop a biofuel that will put a tiger in the domestics' tanks (to borrow another line from the 1960s).

Such a fuel-injection stimulant would give new accelerative powers to American cars. And its four hours of potency would make it longer-lasting than the electric charge of the $40,000 Chevy Volt due out in 2010.

Buyback program.

Any owner still dissatisfied after the first three measures could sell his car for book value to the federal government, which would become the largest used-car dealer in the nation.

Instead of hiring salesmen from the general population, though, the government could initiate a massive work-release program for white-collar criminals - especicially convicted politicians.

Gifted in selling people a bill of goods, and deft at advancing themselves at the expense of a trusting public, they could work off their sentences by meeting sales quotas.

Ultimately, the government could not only resell formerly unwanted cars, but also find a far more respectable line of work for disgraced politicians.