ONE OF THE reasons the United States is having trouble selling cars to Japan is that U.S. cars are too big. Another is that the Japanese, like the British, drive cars with the steering wheel on the right side. (Also like the British -- and American Virgin Islanders -- they drive on the left side of the road.)
But let's pretend it's 1950. The Japanese, still recovering from war's devastation, aren't doing a whole lot of driving. Those with lots of yen are driving Toyotas and Nissans. (Hondas are to come much later.) It's real mark of status in Japan to drive a lefthanded-steering American car.
Let's pretend further that we invite a high-level Japanese delegation, including the prime minister, to Baltimore for a kitten's purr of a test drive of some of the finest models Detroit has to offer.
A good place to start is Penn Brothers at 4101 Reisterstown Road. Sol Penn is only too happy to take the Japanese for a spin in a brand new DeSoto.
From there, it's only a quick trip over to Bob Fleigh's Studebaker, at 242 W. 29th.
Then for a look at the Hudson, it's over to Bankert's at Howard and 25th.
For the Nash, Kernan, at 1217 Maryland Ave.
For the Packard, Zell, at 11 E. Mt. Royal Ave.
For the Willys, Abell Motors at 5213 Reisterstown Road.
In each case, the visiting Japanese are assured of red-carpet treatment.
Glimpses guarantees that after feasting on the looks of, and experiencing the road-hugging glory of these 1950 lovelies, the Japanese will be humbled.
Which would you rather own -- a 1992 Suburu or a new 1950 Packard?
So the next time you see any of these cars gliding through the mists of your memories, think about how history might have been turned on its head -- if only the timing had been different, if only we had gotten Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa behind the wheel of a 1950 Studebaker, tooling out of Bob Fleigh's showroom on West 29th Street.
He might have had some sweeter things to say about America and American workers.
Sayonara and beep-beep!