At its heart, the story of Lifemobile focuses on a young man, his father and a car. Not just any car, though. It’s a Chevy Corvair, the sporty car singled out as especially unsafe by Ralph Nadar in his 1965 book, Unsafe at Any Speed. Nadar’s specific accusation was that the car rolled over more frequently than the average car and, because of that claim, the Corvair became a symbol of dangerous cars. In 1969, Chevrolet produced the last of this line and even a 1972 government study that refuted Nadar’s charge didn’t change the reputation of this model.
Fast forwarding to late 2009, Jonathan thought about buying a Corvair. “My father was a real fan and owned two of them,” he says, “so I decided to buy one on eBay, a 1965 Corsa. My son J.B., who has Asperger Syndrome, wasn’t happy about the purchase. He’s very unsentimental and practical and wants to focus only on facts. The facts, as he knew them at the time were that Corvairs didn’t have good gas mileage, weren’t safe and required lots of maintenance.”
Jonathan bought the car, anyhow.
Change of heart leads to the writing of Lifemobile
At that time, J.B., an honors student, was applying to college. “Independent living was going to be a huge challenge,” Jonathan explains, “and he didn’t get into the program that would have offered support. He was devastated. He decided there was no place for him in this world and that he had no future. He wasn’t even getting out of bed.”
Jonathan tried to get J.B. interested in life again, so he talked to his son about the government studies that showed the Corvair as either safe or safer than comparable cars on the road today. “The scales,” Jonathan remembers, “just fell from his eyes. He said, ‘So the car isn’t defective. It’s just different like me.’ When he said that, my heart broke.”
The conversation did the trick, though, and the car became a huge passion of J.B.’s and he soon wouldn’t ride in anything else. “He lectured people on its safety,” Jonathan recalls, “telling them it is the greatest car ever.”
Jonathan, on the other hand, had a more balanced approach to the car, happy about the positives, but not so thrilled about the negatives, including when the car “stalled all over town.”
The father-son duo began to join car clubs, attend local events and otherwise steep themselves into the Corvair culture. Jonathan, a professional writer with three decades of experience, also began writing a memoir with this as its central theme. “It turned into a novel,” he explains, “as I added characters that my son didn’t actually cross paths with in real life.”
The result was Lifemobile, with Robert Bianco, television critic for USA saying this about the book: In this lovely first novel from Jonathan Rintels, what begins, literally and figuratively, as a reclamation project for the much maligned Corvair grows into a sweet, moving celebration of the bond between fathers and sons – the way their flaws can magnify each other and their virtues can save each other.
Jonathan also started a non-profit agency
He serves as the executive director of the Center for Creative Voices in Media, which is dedicated to preserving free speech and expression, and encouraging diversity in the media’s creative voices. Board members have included Warren Beatty, Steven Bochco, Peggy Charren, Blake Edwards, Sissy Spacek and other professionals who have won an Oscar, Emmy or Tony Award.
Editor’s note: Be sure to watch for other author interviews in this series. In the meantime, check out Advance Auto Parts for the best in savings, service and selection.