An ode to Lee Iacocca

There are certain sights in life that are recognized omens of good luck no matter what culture you live in. A penny on the ground, a red sunset, and the arrival of the first Robin come to mind. This morning I saw such a sign on my drive to work. Heading down 35W through downtown Minneapolis I came upon a sight that can only be a harbinger of good luck. I saw a creature more rare than the Eastern Mountain Lion, but nearly as awe inspiring. A light blue early 80’s Dodge Omni.

1111dodge omni

Like the American Bison these cars once roamed the roads of North America in great herds before nearly succumbing to extinction. I don’t think I’ve seen one in the ten + years since Mrs. 20 Prospect’s grandpa passed away. Grandpa lived in the woods outside Spooner Wisconsin, and drove that car to the corner café and back well into his 90’s. Even back then it was a rare sight. One of the first attempts by Detroit to make a fuel efficient, lightweight compact car they weren’t exactly built to last. Put too much salt on your fries at the McDonald’s drive through and your car was in danger of rusting out before you finished your Big Mac.

It’s hard to imagine a more iconic auto from my teen years. Whenever I see one of those things I am transported back to the dark malaise of the late 70’s, and such cheery events as the Iranian Hostage Crisis, Three Mile Island, and Love Canal. Nothing said austerity like a Chrysler Compact car. I’m not certain but I believe Jimmy Carter actually drove one. While the 20Prospect clan never owned an Omni, we did pick up a used 1983 Plymouth Turismo in the late 80’s for Dad to drive to and from work. The Turismo was just a sportier looking version of the Omni, with a coupe body. Man I loved that car with it’s “sporty” rear window louver.


As my friends and I entered our own years of college tuition induced austerity in the late 80’s, these cheaply built American compact cars became as much a part of college life as empty milk crates, rugby shirts, and Spud McKenzie posters. Everyone had one. Chris had his family’s old K-car which he somehow managed to keep running through the duration of his Doctorate program at the U of M.


My roommate Scott had a white Pontiac “J” car.


Even my lovely wife had an Oldsmobile Omega that may just have been the least reliable car ever built.


only rivaled in futility by the Chevy Citation. A car that was aptly named after a traffic violation.


Most of these tin cans were long since defunct by the turn of the millennium, and by then we had moved on to better built, and more reliable means of transportation. Like bicycles. But there’s a part of me that will always be nostalgic for these relics of my youth. I wonder why Gen X’ers haven’t begun restoring these things the way that Boomer’s rebuild their 57 Chevy’s? Perhaps we’re a less nostalgic bunch. More likely there just aren’t any left to restore. Or maybe we just took Lee up on his offer… “If you can find a better car. Buy it!”

No friends, putting nostalgia aside, there are several things that I think we can all admit are better today than they were then. Beer, cars, and sex. Not necessarily in that order, but still among the most holy trinity of pursuits.


3 thoughts on “An ode to Lee Iacocca

  1. Tom: As you know I live in Laguna Beach, CA. Lee’s grand kids live here and I see him at Little league once in while. He is a very happy man.

    I am a little older than You, so I drove in College a 73′ Pinto. Give me your email and I will ship you a pic. You can really have fun with that one.

    • My Uncle Corky had an early 70’s Pinto, and my wife learned to drive in a Bobcat. There is no shortage of horrible American 70’s compacts to ridicule. Remember the Pacer? It looked like a soap bobble on wheels. Ahh… memories

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