Being born and raised in the Motor City, I have seen this country’s Industrial Might first hand. I have worked in dozens of GM, Ford, and Chrysler factories. I’ve worked on huge transfer lines that take an engine block casting from raw form, and spit it out at the end fully machined and cleaned, and ready for assembly. The city I live in was once the manufacturing capital of the world. There were hundreds of industrial complexes, filled with machine shops, automation builders, mold makers, fabricators – and an endless array of talented men and women capable of building ANYTHING. I had the privilege of working with engineers (on drafting boards!) who in their younger days had designed machinery that supported the war effort in the ‘40’s. This town is about as “Made in USA” as you can get. Or rather, it was a “Made in USA” town.
Now that I have prefaced my connection with this passionate saying, I can set about explaining what that phrase means to me, and why I so adamantly defend it. It is kind of unfortunate to be writing this column for The Horse. Unfortunate, because the demographics of this magazine’s readership are probably some of the most patriotic people left in America. The custom motorcycle industry has a customer base that will seek out domestic manufacturers on a much higher percentage than most other industries, and believe me – those of us in this business are very grateful for that. I would be better served blowing this horn in a magazine read by consumers who care little where their goods are made. It wouldn’t likely change a single mind, but I am not deterred.
As I write this, the Big Three are still in the midst of trying to secure a loan from the government, to help them get through a difficult turn in the economy. They have managed to remain relatively pro table, while employing hundreds of thousands of people, and complying with regulators that would make trying to build a bicycle difficult: OSHA, the EPA, CAFE etc. So, they’re begging a bunch of elected officials who are grilling them like a piece of flank steak – who THEMSELVES have run this country into a debt of HUNDREDS OF TRILLIONS – who are un-accountable for it (apparently), and who couldn’t run a newspaper route and make a pro t. I don’t want to get into a democrat vs. republican rant here – that’s not the point. There’ve been plenty of each party involved in the mess we’re in, and none of them seem too ambitious about getting us out of it.
We have elected officials who are wined, dined, and lobbied by foreign lobbyists on a regular basis, and they continue to find ways to creatively shuffle money out of our hands and into foreign pockets. What can we do? We’re not going to change the crooked way these spin-doctors operate. We need to take matters into our own hands. We need to support our own, ON OUR OWN. We don’t need a “government regulation” to stop us from buying imported items. We don’t need a tariff to steer our hard earned dollars into companies that are employing us, supporting us, and trying to remain loyal to the way of life that made this country the best on the planet. We just need to do it.
“But why? Why should I buy a Ford, and not a Toyota? Toyota has several plants here, employing Americans”.
Yes – this is one of the grey areas. I have customers that make their living in some foreign plants built here as a way of side-stepping what little taxation we put on imports. And, GM is sub-contracting parts for its American cars in plants on foreign soil. The biggest difference, are the dollars you spend with Ford, GM, or Chrysler are far more likely to stay circulating here in our country, making it stronger.
I know: it is much more complicated than that – there’s the quality issue: “But Mr. Toyuki is so much smarter than Mr. GM. That’s why his cars are better”. That’s not very far off. Mr. Toyuki is not stupid. History has proven him a genius at taking something that was designed, prototyped, re-machined, re-prototyped, and finally brought to market here, dissecting it, improving it slightly, and making it his own.
We all know what “affirmative action” is. Well, isn’t “buying only American” just like that? I mean – if the only reason I am buying it is because it is American, and not because it is a quality product, isn’t that “affirmative action”? YES! And thousands of brave men have given their life so we don’t have to live a socialistic lifestyle, without the freedom to choose whatever car we want, from wherever we want to buy it from. Competition is healthy for us. It insures that we will have better products to choose from, and if that competition comes from foreign soil – so be it. In the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s, our domestic auto industry got a little sloppy. Tighter pollution regs had car makers scrambling for ways to keep cars rolling down the assembly lines and meet regulations. Bodies got thinner in an effort to make cars lighter, and thinner steels were used before proper coatings were developed to keep the bodies intact in our rust belt states. We were caught with our pants down. Foreign competition arrived on the scene, and started taking market share. “These Foreign cars are much better” folks claimed. I don’t know – I didn’t own one. Maybe I am the only one around who’s been driving American cars his whole life, and never
had a real lemon? The first new car I ever purchased was an ’81 Z28. That was one of the first years that GM used onboard computers to help control timing and carb adjustments (yes – on carburetors, not fuel injection). It didn’t always idle smoothly, and stuttered on occasion. (I know it didn’t have anything to do with a 19 year old kid thrashing that 4 speed small block all day long). So, the general public has been reading “Consumer Reports” for the last 20 years, and now the persona of import’s superiority to domestics is burned into our minds. Foreign cars are better? I just don’t see it. Foreign cars get better fuel economy? Do a search, and find out which auto- maker builds the most number of cars that get over 30mpg.
This is getting a little off course. How does this all apply to our industry: the custom motorcycle industry? How many catalog parts do you see or even use on your bike, that are “almost exact copies” of an American product, but much cheaper? Oh boy – where do we start! Since THBC has recently paid for some testing on domestic vs. import transmissions, lets start there. Bert Baker was the first guy to design, build, test, re-design, re-test, and finally bring to market a six speed transmission for American V-twins. If he wasn’t the first, he certainly was a pioneer.
Now, there are any number of offshore brands that have STOLEN his designs (I used the word “stolen” because “copied” doesn’t really describe it) and build them out of scrap material they buy from us, and labor that they don’t. Then they’re imported and marketed here at a cost advantage. So you buy one, and send even MORE of your dollars out of this country helping to build a stronger economy over there and fuel the mindset of stealing more technology from us.
A local customer decided he wanted a six speed for his Softail. He stopped in and asked me for the best price I could get him one for. After I quoted the price, he immediately told me he could buy one on-line for 40 percent less. This guy owns his own heating and cooling business. I asked him what the likelihood that he would ever sell and install a furnace to the guy building the imported tranny was. “Haahaa” he says, “it isn’t likely that I will sell one to Bert Baker either”. Oh really? “No. Baker is almost 90 miles away from here. I don’t advertise that far.” Hmmmm. Baker is 90 miles away, and you only advertise in what, a 40 mile radius? “Yeah, that’s about it.” Well, I am sure that several BAKER EMPLOYEES live within that 40-mile radius. So, the likelihood that you will one day service one of their homes is much more likely than servicing a Taiwanese home (to say the least). Now factor in normal “business networking,” like when I tell the story to the Baker salesman about “the local furnace guy buying a Baker over an import.” The possibility that you may service a Baker employee’s furnace just jumped exponentially. A possibility to have one hand wash the other. A possibility that doesn’t exist when you buy an import copy.
I am sure that many of you are in a similar situation, and don’t realize the impact that a domestic purchase will make – to your own well being.
Most of you know Dennis Goodson, or at least his beautiful “Goodson Air Cleaners”. Dennis is first and foremost a biker, who has been in the business a long time. He isn’t a wealthy man, but he lives for motorcycles and loves what he does. He designed a beautiful air cleaner, and has it cast, machined and polished from various vendors in Colorado. He has several styles, all with slight variations. They are the kind of part that you can hold in your hand, and if you didn’t know better, you would think it was made with all the same quality and character that a 1940’s part would have. Like what often happens, this air cleaner was SO cool that some snake decided that he could take one, steal the design, and have it made overseas – then import it back here and sell it for 20 bucks less than Dennis. Why? Just to LINE HIS ALMIGHTY POCKETS. That’s right folks – a copy of the air cleaner that Dennis makes here (that he can’t even sell on a wholesale level because there isn’t that much pro t in it) is being marketed to us for a few dollars less than Dennis sells them for, while screwing us royally from the huge pro t he’s making on it. Here is the real kick in the balls – this snake applies for a patent on the same design that Dennis already has, AND HE GETS IT! Well, the part is a small percentage different than Dennis’s. I will tell you that without holding it in my hand, I can’t tell them apart. So, where do you want to send your money? Buy American, or buy from some snake who is just trying to screw you out of some cash? If you buy from snakeboy, are you buying a better product? No! You are just buying from someone who is just in it to make a buck off guys like you or me that may not know the difference, or may not care. What does snakeboy see when he looks in his mirror? I would love to know.
Is it still possible to build a bike from scratch using (almost) 100 percent American made parts? Yes – of course. It isn’t that easy, and may not be totally practical – but it can be done. You can certainly modify your existing bike with all American parts. There are enough advertisers in this magazine alone to get you just about whatever you want or need to build the bike of your dreams. Paul of Bare Knuckle Choppers feeds his family off the work he does in his St. Louis shop. It is high quality work, and affordable. His reward is more than monetary. His reward is the satisfaction of providing parts to folks that are the best of their kind available anywhere, at any price. He may or may not be monetarily wealthy, but he is a millionaire in this business. Respected, trusted, with a golden reputation. So is Led Sled. So is Shamrock Fabrication. So is Crime Scene Chopper’s Joe McGlynn. Joe is a victim of having some of his designs stolen and manufactured overseas. Joe’s parts are used on some of the most famous show bikes in the world, and are made 100 percent in the USA, at prices that the builder of an everyday custom can afford. Joe loves the creativity he’s afforded in designing as well as the satisfaction of manufacturing his parts here. He is a smart guy, and I bet he could find a lot more pro table ways to make his living, right Joe?
Preaching to the choir isn’t going to change much. I appreciate you reading what I just got off my chest (even though you may or may not agree with it). Just remember: the next time you consider buying a foreign copy of a USA made part, think about the guy making that foreign part. Think of the joy he had, by stealing the American design. Think of his laughter as he sells that poor copy back to you, effectively forcing you to cheat your fellow countryman (the guy who designed the part in the first place) out of his own livelihood. Think of your fellow countryman, who soon may not be able to afford the service you provide, that feeds your own family.