You Say Alternator, I Say Tomahto

Making an error is not a blogger's nightmare, but being called on it is.
AI-generated anime-style poster of engine parts
Note: These are probably not parts for a 1958 Ford.

Hey, do y’all remember this post about our family’s 1958 Ford? Of course you do; it was a masterpiece of storytelling, completely accurate in every exquisite detail and able to withstand the closest scrutiny of the most skeptical and informed reader.

Unless you’re my Marshall, my better-looking, more-intelligent, but much, MUCH older cousin. (Thankfully, only one of you is, but one is plenty.)

After reading my post, Marshall sent me the following message:

Loved your stories of adventures in the ’58 Ford, but you might want to check the ‘ol memory banks re: that incident on the road back from Oklahoma. Pretty sure the alternator didn’t replace generators on cars until the ’60 Chrysler Corp models. I remember our cousin Doodle Cole bought one of the first Plymouth (Valiant, if memory serves?) models with the innovative Slant 6 & the new-fangled source of electron juice. I do remember Dad being skeptical at first as some changes from the familiar didn’t always come easily.

I realize there’s quite a bit to unpack in that paragraph, most of which I may or may not get to somewhere down the road. I will stipulate for the record that Marshall’s lineage includes a master mechanic in the form of his dad/my uncle, and while the mastery of all things related to the infernal combustion engine is not (AFAIK) hereditary, I have every reason to believe that my cousin knows his stuff when it comes to cars (and motorcycles…and woodworking…and short people who are quite excellent basketball players…and so on…).

I attempted to deflect his correction with this response:

I will never question your superior mechanical knowledge, especially in this regard, as I couldn’t explain the difference between an alternator and a generator in a car if my life depended on it. But I subscribe to the ancient Asian philosophy that a craftsman should never strive for perfection, and so leaving one flaw in every work is a sign of humility, and if there’s anything I’m proud of, it’s my overwhelming humility.

I know that, being the alert Gazette reader you are, you’re quite familiar with the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi (侘寂), one tenet of which is that subtle imperfections enhance the beauty of the creation. Of course, my reference to this philosophy in my feeble justification was not at all what its practitioners envisioned, but it’s not the first time I’ve argued from a weak position, nor will it be the last.

Anyway, a quick google confirmed Marshall’s assertion…Ford didn’t start spec’ing alternators until the early-to-mid Sixties.

Cousin Marshall’s eagle eye for detail, and subsequent issuance of a correction brought to mind that ridiculously cool scene in My Cousin Vinny where the pulchritudinous and potty-mouthed Mona Lisa Vito was voir dire‘d by Jim Trotter III, the district attorney. As you recall, Trotter was trying to disqualify Lisa as an expert witness on automobiles, and things went south for him very quickly. Here’s a clip to refresh your memory:

Now, I would never suggest a sequel entitled My Cousin Marshall could compare favorably with My Cousin Vinny…or…could it? Hmm…

Wonder if anyone makes a good screenplay writing app?

By the way, if you are like me and are not wise in the ways of automobile electrification in the pre-EV era, here’s an explainer about the differences between a generator (old and busted) and an alternator (new and hotness). I’ll be sure to let you know if Marshall finds any errors.