While I was busy at a recent carseat check event in Mount Vernon, Washington, my husband wandered down the road to a street fair, locating a little bookstore along his way.  Being an old movie fan, “The Groucho Marx Letters” caught his eye.  The next day, as we drove 900 miles between California and Canada, we found a kindred spirit in Groucho.

TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE CHRYSLER CORPORATION

December 1, 1954

Dear Mr. Colbert:

My mother always told me that if I had anything of importance to discuss, to go to the top.

Each year the motor manufacturers hammer home the idea of more horsepower.  I realize a reasonable amount of power is necessary, but I think it would be much smarter if emphasis were placed on safety rather than on additional speed.  Perhaps the ads next year should read, “prettier, faster and safe.”  I also think that if a device could be installed on the carburetor (I understand there are such things) that would eliminate the belching of carbon monoxide through the city streets, the Chrysler Corporation could create an enormous amount of good will, particularly in big cities where the carbon monoxide problem is especially acute.

Every morning the front page reports of people killed in auto accidents.  A good percentage of these fatalities could be eliminated if the motorist had a reasonable amount of protection.  The average car driver in a modern automobile is a sitting duck.  There is nothing to protect him.  The records show he would be far safer on a battlefield.

Your new cars look good, but the fact of the matter is that all the new cars look good, and I firmly believe that the first automobile company that starts stressing safety instead of speed will win far more than its share of the business.

Sincerely yours,

Groucho Marx

Groucho in a Volvo three-point belt

Groucho in a Volvo three-point belt

Volvo first produced a vehicle with three-point seatbelts in 1959–5 years after Groucho’s letter to Chrysler.  Yet they were not required in all seating positions until 2007–53 years after Groucho’s letter.

Chevrolet first tested airbags in consumer vehicles in 1973, but they were only fitted in government fleet vehicles.  This was almost 20 years after Groucho’s letter.  Passive supplementary restraints were still not required in vehicles for another 15 years on passenger vehicles, and an additional 6 years (21 total) for light trucks.

Honda’s Insight, the first mass-production hybrid vehicle, was first made available in 1999; Or 45 years after Groucho’s letter.

According to the CDC, motor vehicle collisions are the #1 cause of death among individuals aged 1-34.  According to Edmunds.com, “the average car in the U.S. spews out 10,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from its tailpipe each year”.  It’s 2010–56 years since Groucho’s letter to Chrysler.

Sources:

The Library of Congress.  “Grouchy.” The Groucho Letters: Letters from and to Groucho Marx. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967. 170-71. Print.