PASADENA — It looked like a spectacle that would shock Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca: Ten 1985 Plymouth Turismos, their price stickers still intact, sat grounded outside the Rose Bowl on Thursday with defective parts. And just when Chrysler's image was making a comeback.
Actually, the mass breakdown had been prearranged by Chrysler and the Automobile Club of Southern California, which were sponsoring--and judging--a competition for 20 of the region's best high school automotive technology students.
Or what used to be known as grease monkeys. These days, they have to be computer monkeys, too.
Each Turismo was saddled with the same six malfunctions, and the object was to see which two-man team could demonstrate the most speed of wrench in bringing its $8,650 hunk of metal to smooth-running life.
All the race lacked was an announcer to declare at the outset, "Gentlemen, try to start your engines."
Employing a variation of the Le Mans race, the 10 teams sprinted from their toolboxes to the disabled vehicles, raising 10 hoods in unison. Soon the Rose Bowl was filled with the unfamiliar sounds of gasping engines, cries of "Stop!...OK, try it again," activated buzzers (as doors were left ajar), and an occasional inadvertent horn.
"They're not hitting all the cylinders," said judge Glen Werdon, wrinkling his nose and gesturing to Apple Valley High's sputtering model nearby. "It's throwing out a lot of exhaust."
After 12 minutes, Mike Carr of Ramona High succeeded in starting his Plymouth. A television crew sprinted over. The other mechanics looked up anxiously. Though Ramona had additional adjustments to make, the pressure was building.
"Stupid car," muttered an Atascadero High mechanic at his coughing chariot.
Vista High's Erik Groscup put a fuel filter in his mouth and blew to make sure it was unclogged. "He's sacrificing taste for time," observed judge David Abajian.
Rubidoux's Paul Farnum yelped as he touched an ignition coil wire. "That's one way to test it," said judge Werdon.
A second goal of the organizers--besides getting the cars started--was to encourage students to become mechanics. Conspicuously absent were students from Los Angeles public schools.
"I don't think auto mechanics are emphasized enough in the local schools," said judge Robert Meyers. "It's too bad because there are all kinds of job possibilities for mechanics these days."
After 34 minutes, Farnum and Todd Engert of Rubidoux slammed the lid down on their healed Turismo and cruised over to the judging stand to nab the winners' trophy. The Ramona team looked surprised.
Two other teams claimed they were slowed down because they found defects in addition to the purposely placed malfunctions. Nevertheless, the cars were all started within two hours, loaded onto a car trailer and hauled away.
"They'll be on sale this afternoon," said judge Joseph Hill.