Here’s How General Motors Made Fifties America

Men in ties play with clay, build a country.

If you’d always dreamed of seeing Iron Man’s dad on quaaludes, explaining how cars are made, then General Motors has a video. In 1959’s Up From Clay, James E. “Bud” Goodman has a great story to tell, even if he was one of the trio that GM’s Bill Mitchell said “killed” the design of the original Camaro.

The promotional film is an in-depth look at how Old Detroit designed, tested and built cars, specifically the epochal 1959 Chevrolets from the Fisher Body studios. It’s a crazy mix of industrial brute force and the sort of assembly line work that was responsible for the rise—and fall—of the Motor City. It also provides insight into why design, body style and option choices have narrowed to nothing, as pennies became tighter and tighter. It was hand work, not mechanization, that made the entire era possible.

In no way should we go back to those lacquer-breathing days. But I wouldn’t mind just a little more personality the everyday iron, the stuff this side of a Rolls-Royce.