During the summer of 1992, I was 15 years old. One would think that my fondest memories would involve first or second loves and long days hanging out with my neighborhood pals, but I was a slightly awkward teenager; and as a result, my mind’s eye now focuses on happy memories of driver’s education class. I may have been the only one who truly enjoyed it. The teacher showed endless, ancient 16mm films that had been endlessly spliced. The warm, gentle ticking of the projector lulled many of my classmates into a peaceful slumber, but my focus was glued on the endless variety of antique cars that populated each new gem. Unfortunately, my instructor never introduced us to the simple logic of the Smith System, which I discovered on my own much later.
According to an article I found online from The Chicago Tribune, Harold Smith devised his straightforward system during World War II. After copyrighting it in the early 1950s, he became known as the “Father of Driver’s Education,” eventually being hired by Ford Motor Company to pass on his techniques to the company’s drivers and many others around the country. Here, Mr. Smith introduces his system in a video titled The Smith System of No-Accident Driving, a video I found on YouTube while searching for, what else, old driver’s education videos. Yes, my life may not be that exciting, but it’s mine.
The Big Three produced many driver’s education videos, and this one is no exception. Although one is never too old to refresh oneself on the fundamentals of safe driving, the real reason to watch this Ford Motor Company video from roughly 1963 is the cars. But first, let us review the Smith System.
Mr. Smith himself is one of the stars of this film, and throughout much of it, he drives a 1963 Galaxie 500, one of many new Ford products roaming the streets of greater Dearborn, MI, during this eight-minute video. The Smith System involves five easy steps, shown above. The genius of this system is that it’s easy to remember, logical, and intuitive. The only drawback is that it requires complete focus on the task at hand – driving – and that is something with which many of us on American roads struggle.
Most of the films in my driver’s education class took pains to differentiate between rural and urban driving. In a rural scene of our featured film, this ’62 pickup looks right at home; in a later city scene, it and the driver look fearfully out of place.
See what I mean? Is Ford guilty of some subtle ageism?
Equally at home on rural roads is this horse-drawn wagon. My dad would remark, “There’s some horsepower, Aaron.” Good one, Dad. This scene shows that city drivers can feel out of place on rural roads – “it goes both ways.”
Mr. Smith’s ride, the Galaxie, shows up with several drivers behind the wheel. Here is an example of why “aim[ing] high in steering” is important – it centers the car in the lane.
In this scene, a potentially hazardous situation is playing out ahead. The narrator advises us to “get the big picture,” but I’m too busy concentrating on the Breezeway Mercury ahead. I test drove a rusty example in my younger days.
The narrator advocates using the horn and lights to alert other drivers to your presence when passing, but these days there are far too many concealed carry permits out there for me to feel comfortable with that line of thinking. Nevertheless, it’s always a good idea to watch another driver’s body language when approaching an intersection, but all I can see is the Thunderbird Sports Roadster parked at the curb. It will show up again later, as will the Mercury Meteor at the intersection.
This short video isn’t simply an advertisement for Ford Motor Company products; after all, the filmmakers had to show some city driving scenes. Here, I see numerous products from crosstown rival General Motors, including a ’62 Oldsmobile and a couple ’59 models.
As I referenced earlier, here’s a rare sighting indeed – a Mercury Meteor. It shows up on this video more often than I’ve seen one for real.
Easily the most spectacular machine in the film is this beautiful ’63 Thunderbird Sports Roadster, a rare model in its final year of production. As the owner of a ’63 hardtop myself, I had to pause the video several times to check it out, as its appearances are few and short.
Here it goes, flashing by Mr. Smith, who is undoubtedly disappointed in the Bird owner’s apparent hurry.
Here is a lightly traveled expressway, maybe the Southfield Freeway in Dearborn, where a ’63 Comet convertible and what looks like a ’63 Falcon Futura are approaching in the center lane, with Mr. Smith’s Galaxie not far behind. You can guarantee, however, that he’s following at a safe distance and leaving himself an out. You can also guarantee that this freeway is far more crowded today.
Yes, a lot of nerdy fun is packed into roughly eight minutes and eleven seconds here. I’ve attached the video below, courtesy of a channel that is appropriately titled “US Auto Industry”; the still images are taken from this video. Watch it and learn something, or at least travel back to a time when a cool T-Bird sighting happened more than once in one day.