Writing about the human side of the car business is great fun for Maureen McDonald, a 20-year freelance writer, former managing editor of Ward’s Automotive Yearbook and co-author of a soon to be published book, Sirens of Chrome, the Enduring Allure of the Auto Show Models.
McDonald spent the last three years attending auto shows, interviewing historians and rummaging the great stacks of the National Automotive History Collection at the Detroit Public Library gaining insight on the hundred years of shows and the beautiful people that flank the cars. Most enduring jokes? “Do you come with the car?” or “Nice headlights and I don’t mean the car.”
There are tales of models marrying millionaires, a BMW model mauled by a lion, journalists masquerading as show models and human hood ornaments performing tricks for the crowds.
“It is intriguing to combine pop culture, fashion and car marketing into one picture book, to see the impact of car shows on the nation at large,” says McDonald, a 30 year veteran of journalism and other writing endeavors. She fell in love with autos when her cousin (no, not Cary Grant) picked her up in grade school in his new BMW Isetta and all the kids on the playground salivated. She could taste life twice, once in a driver or passenger seat, once again telling others about the experience.
Soon after college graduation she wrote 10-day sales stories as a stringer for the New York Times, finding how the financial world often drives itself by numbers and output. But writing about shiny vehicles, sales numbers and variable speeds got boring. Mark Cocroft, a General Motors PR guy in the Eighties, said too much car concentration could give you narcolepsy. What’s revitalizing? Writing about water cisterns on a new car dealer lot, boutique Beetle restorers, magazine launch parties in a Land Rover showroom and auto manufacturers’ landfills made into shopping plazas or poplar farms. Ways that cars interface with daily living.
In her spare time, McDonald crusades for the continuity of newspapers, a product she’s been reading as long as she’s been dreaming of owning an Isetta. She despises the flash and blast of Internet ads that cause momentary blindness and unbalance the brain. Even more aberrant is the “pretty poop” stories that say nothing lest it potentially offend someone that might one day advertise.
Whenever she teaches journalism in colleges and universities she insists students read newspapers, put the papers in hand, smell the ink and paper, let the eyes wander around varied articles and pick up the essence of real stories, real handiwork by talented journalists. Then again webs have “unique visitors” and newspapers have readers. “God bless them, they keep us in paychecks, however meager,” McDonald says. Look for a website soon.