In the golden era of motoring, American families would crisscross the country by family car on their family vacations. Roads like Route 66 gained legendary status it spawned its own destinations on route. These pieces of automotive art were called roadside attractions.
One common sight were giants. From hand-painted signs, to fiberglass sculptures of whales and ketchup bottles. These motorway monsters could be seen from miles away, giving drivers time to slam on their drum brakes and stop to look at the curiosity.
There were hundreds of “Muffler Men” back in the day. Giant promotional statues that stood outside auto shops (some holding a car muffler to attract customers). International Fiberglass Co. in Venice, CA built a statue of fabled lumberjack Paul Bunyan in 1962, and used the mold to make other curbside giants by swapping out faces and chest plates to creating astronauts, cowboys and other characters. Muffler men ruled the roadsides in the 1960s to the early 1970s.
It’s hard to know what’s the right ‘balance’ between cultural sensitivity and political correctness gone too far. Case in point is The Big Chief; a massive fiberglass statue that’s watched over San Antonio for 40 years.
The San Antonio statue was created in the 1960s, originally placed in front of Superior Pontiac – “Home of the Big Chief” – a dealership in downtown San Antonio. In 1977, the Pontiac dealership and “Big Chief” moved to Loop 410, where its stood for since. The Pontiac brand (named after the native Odawa war chief) was culled by GM in 2009, and the dealership changed hands, becoming a Hyundai dealership. Sadly, Red McCombs Hyundai has decided to remove the roadside attraction and local landmark because it is not part of the “…Hyundai experience…” whatever that means.
Member of the Native American community see The Big Chief as an unwelcome sight; an offensive caricature. Just like the NFL Washington Redskins changed names to the Commanders, and the MLB Cleveland Indians eliminated Chief Wahoo and rebranded as the Cleveland Guardians, the Hyundai dealership does not want to be associated with the old-fashioned statue, or its negative connotation. They with biz-speak to antiseptically say Big Chief no longer falls within Hyundai’s guidelines.
McCombs Enterprises should either have the guts to embrace a regions past warts and all or say racist leftovers from a bye-gone era have no place today. Instead, the dealership claims the removal is only due to renovation and is being moved to a new location…yet to be determined. How weak.