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Do You Come with the Car, Honey?

My day as a Detroit auto show model! A classic from the July 1988 issue of Automobile Magazine.
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Detroit—They say that all manly conversations eventually degenerate into talk about one of two topics: women and cars. Well, that’s what [former Automobile Magazine editor] Kevin Smith told me once, and my experience says he’s probably right, as shallow as the thought may be. Women and cars. If it’s true, then men must be in hog heaven when the auto show season rolls around. For an evening, they can stow the chitchat about the stock market, chain saws, the painful itch of hemorrhoids, the lawn, and the Final Four and walk into a room where their supposed true passions coexist in forced harmony. Sports cars and spike heels. Plunging V-necks and V-12s. Big Foot trucks and beaded gowns. Is this really a dream come true for the men in the audience? What does all this mean? their wives and girlfriends wonder suspiciously. And what do the models see when they look back out at the crowd? do you come with the car honey There was only one way to find out: join the sequined ranks. It had been attempted once before, by Amanda Bennett, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. When she presented herself to Affiliated Models, a major Detroit talent booking agency for auto shows around the country, they took one look at her compact frame and red hair and said, “Definitely Jeep.” So when I made my formal request, I wasn’t expecting charity. But I took comfort in the fact that Detroit’s Cobo Hall doesn’t have room to show motorhomes. My best chance, I figured, would be if one of the car companies needed a human tree or some other kind of heavily robed and mute character for an exhibit. Chrysler was the only company brave enough to call.
My best chance, I figured, would be if one of the car companies needed a human tree or some other kind of heavily robed and mute character for an exhibit.
“Glad to have you with us,” said my old Chrysler PR pal Moon Mullins. “We’re putting you on the Premier. You need to come down and get your script and be fitted for your gown.” And, with that great leap of faith, I found myself swathed in lame and spangles and with a great big head of ratted-up hair you could see through. Models do not start out with that hair; they make it with lots of mousse, gel, and an especially tenacious hair spray called Final Net. Imagine thirty women spraying thirty spray bottles of Final Net in unison in a single room, and you have the gist of the Chrysler dressing room at Cobo Hall. There isn’t much one can do to prepare for meeting a dressing room full of models. The best idea is to be there when they arrive looking like mere mortals in sweat pants and jeans, devoid of war paint, hair in ponytails and curlers. All the Cinderella gear hangs lifeless in the wardrobe; the ear chandeliers are jumbled together in a big Ziploc bag; harmless cardboard boxes hide the Cruel Shoes within. You may think they are the most gorgeous women you have ever seen assembled in one location. But if you listen, you’ll realize that they have many problems. “Oh, God, you should have seen my hair this morning,” wailed one, backcombing and spraying. “I looked like Don King.” “I hope I’m not getting measles or something weird,” said another, her concerned face two inches from the mirror. “I’ve got these little red dots all over my face.” I was introduced as a reporter who was going to write a story about them. They stared at me, meaning at my clothes, at my hair, at my shoes, at my abused body. “What can I say?” I told them, grinning. “It’s been a bad winter.” “Oh, you don’t look that bad,” said next year’s Miss Universe, trying to help. “Just remember,” said model Ann Howard, who had just turned her thin little ponytail into a wild mane of hair that wouldn’t fit under an umbrella, “when you’ve got Final Net, you’ve got a styling tool.”

Hello, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the Detroit Auto Show, and to Eagle 1988, featuring the Eagle Medallion and Eagle Premier…

I had practiced my speech for a week, shouting it out in the car to and from work with the radio blasting to simulate Major Distractions. I didn’t sound like a model to me. I didn’t sound like a model to Affiliated, either. The agency sent in a one-woman SWAT team—local actor Sonya Avakian—to whip me into shape. So to speak. “Look, this isn’t brain surgery,” said coach Sonya. “No one is going to live or die by what happens on that turntable. All you need to do is adopt a kind of warm, brainless tone, like a female Mister Rogers.”

Eagle is the first new domestic automotive brand in nearly thirty years. Eagle represents Chrysler Motors’ commitment to developing distinctive and sophisticated automobiles.

My face hurt from smiling The Smile. I positively oozed brainless.
“No one is going to live or die by what happens on that turntable. All you need to do is adopt a kind of warm, brainless tone, like a female Mister Rogers.”
do you come with the car honey “Great,” said Sonya. “And if you project all your nervous energy straight into your eyebrows, you’ll have the look right, too. Just don’t worry about it. The people listening to you are the guys who crush beer cans on their foreheads.” How reassuring. Delivery was one thing; content was an entirely different matter. Let’s not dwell on the script for long, but I would like to point out that the models don’t write their own lines. Give that some consideration the next time you hear one say something like:

The Premier has an exceptional knack for putting the right things in the right places!

What does this mean? you might well ask. They put the pedals on the floor? They put the steering wheel in the front seat? A roomful of models is asking the same questions. This is my favorite:

The Premier was designed by Jee-o-jetty Jew-jar-o, the world’s leader in today’s automotive designs.

That is an exact transcription of the way the script read. Giorgetto (Jor-jet-o) himself couldn’t change the pronunciation once his poor bastardized name had been carefully and permanently memorized. Joie Edwards, a four-year-veteran Chrysler model, knew better. “Hey! This guy’s name isn’t Jee-o-jetty. It’s Giorgio. I remember ‘cause he designed the Isuzu Impulse. I’ll always remember it because my girlfriend had to read that script the year the car was introduced. She couldn’t say his name, so when it would get slow, she would just say her boyfriend’s name instead of Giugiaro. But one time this woman in the audience said, ‘Who did you say? I thought Giugiaro designed this car.’ She was so freaked she never did it again.” Well, I knew his name, I knew his script, and I had my outfit together. I climbed to the turntable with shaky legs and big hair. Thankfully, Elizabeth Carroll, a real model, was there to help. “Oh, God. You look great!” she said. “We’re going to have a blast! Here’s the mike.” “You could help me best by going first,” I mumbled, ever the wimp.
I assumed The Position (back to driver’s door, right hand on roof, left hand in a loose fist on left hip, left foot at right angle to right foot, leaning back into straight left leg) as Elizabeth went to work. No one except me knew when she flubbed her lines, because missing a line never fazed her. She simply told all those upturned faces what she knew about the Premier. She smiled and joked. She answered questions that weren’t covered by the script. She knew where the Premier was made. She knew the base price. She knew how much it cost loaded. She knew that there are no four-wheel-drive Eagles. She knew the horsepower numbers. She knew how to say Giorgetto Giugiaro. They loved her. My first try was a disaster. I flubbed my lines and stopped dead in mid-delivery. “Premier’s streamlined design should be viewed…” I heard Elizabeth feeding me the lines, sotto voce, as her turntable passed behind mine.

Premier’s streamlined design should be viewed not merely as a technical exercise in aerodynamics but rather as a personal expression of contemporary style and sensibility.

I picked up in midstream, crimson face clashing unfashionably with copper lame. I eventually stumbled through to the end, unplugged the mike, and joined Elizabeth on her rotating platform.
As we trundled around on our exhibit, I realized that all the nearby models in the Jeep/Eagle area had stopped to watch my debut.
“You were great,” she breathed behind The Smile, as I assumed The Position on the other side of the car. As we trundled around on our exhibit, I realized that all the nearby models in the Jeep/Eagle area had stopped to watch my debut. Upturned thumbs and pantomimed clapping dotted our circular path. God love 'em, I thought. But I was still waiting for some indignant member of the crowd, feeling cheated by this obvious impostor, to yell, “What did you do to get that job?” Some men do say very rude things to the models. do you come with the car honey “One guy asked me the EPA numbers on the Shadow concept car,” said Ann Howard later, during our break. “I told him I didn’t have that particular piece of information, and he said, ‘Well, I guess they don’t pay you to be intelligent, do they?’ I just walked to the other side of the car. I take it all with a grain of salt. It’s not a reflection on me, but on his personality.” “This guy called me ‘biscuit,’ ” said Amanda Turner, whose five years’ experience on the circuit have taught her to wear slippers every second she’s not up on the display. “‘Biscuit!’ Ha! That’s a new one. ‘Hey, biscuit!’ he said. ‘Come here, or are you too busy talking to your sugar daddy?’” I didn’t have any stories to tell, except the one about how a local high school marching band had burst through the double doors behind my exhibit, drums beating, cymbals clashing, horns blowing, right at the part where I say:

Inside, the Premier’s interior is more than roomy. It features a logical layout, sophisticated technology, and rich appointments.

I gave up, smiled, and waved my arm back and forth gracefully, like Vanna showing the Amana side-by-side refrigerator/freezer in the showcase on Wheel of Fortune. At least I hoped I looked like Vanna. (“I’ll take that Premier for $12,500, Pat. And put the rest into a gift certificate.”) Once I had my script really memorized, no one could stop me. Not even the sales rep on the floor who came over and said, “You keep telling people to check out the Premier DL, LX, and ES models. But we don’t have the DL anymore. Chrysler dropped it.” Tough luck, Jack. It was burned indelibly in my memory at that point. I was more concerned that someone would recognize me. The exact date of my appearance was a state secret; I wasn’t interested in being seen by a single soul that I knew, including my husband; anyone from Automobile Magazine; any engineers, car designers, or PR guys from the other car companies; any neighbors; any of my four brothers; or a stray cousin. But I was recognized twice.
First came the trio of advertising agency clowns whom I got rid of by ignoring. Not so easy was the guy who stared at me from every angle for twenty minutes. “I’ve got it!” he finally yelled. “You’re Linda from Automotive!” “Uh, no,” I said. I cannot tell a lie. “C’mon,” he insisted. “I fell asleep last night reading your column.” Perfect.
It seems that when you dress like a model, talk like a model, rat your hair, and wear a ton of makeup during daylight hours, people think you really are a model.
do you come with the car honey But I fooled the rest of them. It seems that when you dress like a model, talk like a model, rat your hair, and wear a ton of makeup during daylight hours, people think you really are a model. The crowd parted before me like the Red Sea before Moses when I left the platform for the dressing room. On my way up the back stairs, I passed two security guards. “Hi, guys,” said Just Jean. They were stunned. As I went around the corner, I heard one say to the other, “Wow! Cool.” Okay, I loved it. I asked the women in the dressing room how they handle this adulation. “I love wearing fancy clothes and getting attention,” answered Karyn Lynn, who is a third-year advertising student at Michigan State. “Some girls take it for granted, but I just turned twenty-two, and I figure I might as well make the most of it. My boyfriend gets real jealous, and even my parents say, ‘Don’t let it go to your head.’ But deep down, I’m really concerned about my looks. I feel terrible when I get turned down at an audition. It’s bad to be sensitive in this business.” “People are attracted to auto show models and to the idea of auto show models,” said Sarah Gorman, the Affiliated agency’s number-one auto show model. “But when you take the makeup and the fancy clothes off, it’s another story.” The problems come when adulation turns to obsession. “Sometimes it’s all pretty harmless,” said Jean Reader, a Northwest stewardess in real life. “There’s this guy in Chicago every year who sits in cars and stares, and you can tell it’s at your feet. Sometimes he’ll come over and say, ‘Those sure are pretty shoes.’ ” Sharon Coley rolled her eyes. “Right. He says, ‘You have beautiful feet. I’d love to touch them.’ ” “There’s this guy here who follows us all over,” added Ann Howard. “I’ve seen him in Cleveland, Miami, Detroit, New York, and Chicago. Once he gave me a thirty-page letter about how to dress and wear my makeup to attract the right kind of men. It closed with a Bible verse. I showed everyone, and almost all the girls had a mimeographed copy.” No one was amused by this. “And don’t forget Dr. Chan, the anesthesiologist,” added Sarah Gorman. “I’ve seen him everywhere. He only likes blondes. He weighs about forty-five pounds.” “Did I tell you about the guy who relieved himself sexually in front of me in a packed crowd?” asked Carrie Hall. Everyone in the room squealed. “I went nuts!” “God came to my display yesterday,” said Jean Reader. “He’s short, fat, black, and balding. ‘I think I’ll take you,’ he said to me. ‘I can have anything I want—I’m God.’ I told him that I had to do my speech. And then some kids crawled into my truck and started kicking on the hockey puck that was glued on the dash for a contest. They finally got it loose and stole it.” do you come with the car honey The one-hour dinner break finished, heavy beaded gowns were slid back onto raw shoulders while swollen feet were wedged into shoes designed by men. The makeup cases and the Final Net came out for a quick once-over. I hurried back to my Premier, hoping for a weirdo of my very own. All I found was a little chubby guy who held a video camera pasted to his face during my entire spiel.

Premier’s smooth body shape runs virtually uninterrupted—without sharp angles in shape or form...

Whir, whir, went the camera.

...from its sloping nose to its aerostyle side mirrors, highly sloped windshield, semiflush side windows, and integral rear bumper.

The camera panned as I strode across the stage doing my Vanna hand thing, when all of a sudden my spike heel found the tiniest hole in the platform and buried itself, stopping me dead in my tracks. The Smile never wavered. The camera never stopped. I continued, discreetly trying to tug my shoe out of the hole.

The power behind Premier is its standard 2.5-liter fuel-injected four-cylinder engine. Teamed with a convenient four-speed automatic transmission, this advanced powerplant delivers quiet, smooth performance and impressive fuel economy.

I finished, unplugged the mike, and reached down to grab my shoe and yank it from the hole. At which point the cameraman stopped. “Could you just say your name?” he asked, and slapped the camera back to his eye. Whir, whir. “Margaret,” I said, tugging mightily. “My name is Margaret.” My last interesting visitor was proof that not all wives and girlfriends stare at the models with dagger eyes. A woman in her mid-fifties stared at me during my entire presentation. She was pressed against the turntable, head craned all the way back, eyes riveted to my face. When I finished, she said, “Those long earrings are in now, aren’t they?” “Sure,” I said. Hey, I read Elle. “My son is getting married, and I bought a dress from Jacobson’s for $400—well, it was really $200; I got it half price. But, it’s red and it has a red rose right here and I was wondering…well, do you think I can wear long rhinestone earrings with it?” I told her what she wanted to hear. “As the mother of the groom, I think it’s your prerogative to outshine the bride.” The blind leading the blind. She started at me. “Do you really?” “Yes, ma’am, I really do.” “Thank you so much,” she said, and she left. Oh, yes. One guy did ask me if I came with the car. This question is asked more often than “How much does it cost?” I was carefully coached by Karyn Lynn on how to answer should the opportunity arise. “I sure do,” I said with The Smile. “And with a husband, two dogs, and a big mortgage.” He loved me.

Thank you for your attention, ladies and gentlemen. And don’t forget—please buckle up for safety on your way home.

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