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Of Cars and Cigars

Gary Cowger diverted his dreams of baseball diamond greatness to another field: automobile making.
Paul A. Eisenstein
From the Print Edition:
Edgar Bronfman Jr., Mar/Apr 03

(continued from page 2)

It's been a perfect pairing of two men "who can attend each other's meetings and never miss a beat" says Lutz who is clearly fond of his new partner. "It's a great combination. We never have to argue about who does what. So we have a great working relationship -- and a lot of fun personally as well."

There are moments when it might be hard to believe there can actually be time for fun laughs Cowger. Blame Henry Ford perhaps the former farmer who helped shape the auto industry in his own early-rising image. Meetings in Detroit usually begin no later than 7 a.m. So to get his daily four-mile run in Cowger is usually up and ready by 4:30. A run might start his morning but for "dessert" at the end of the day Cowger will often light up a cigar. It's a treat he first learned on assignment in Mexico where "it is a part of that culture." He's also had several skilled mentors back home including former GM advertising chief Phil Guarascio and the legendary Lutz who is seldom seen without a cigar. (Both men have been subjects of prior profiles in Cigar Aficionado. -- Ed.)

"It's the flavor and taste I enjoy" Cowger says with a broad grin. "After a great meal a little Cognac a great cigar."

Cowger's taste is eclectic and he concedes with a wink that he "always looks at those ratings in Cigar Aficionado." He'll most often light up a Fuente Fuente Opus X a Davidoff or a C.A.O. which he proudly points out discovering while on assignment in Mexico "long before they became so popular up here. It tastes as good to me as anything I ever had." Cowger has also developed an interest in collecting rare cigars including pre-Castro Cubans. He stores them in a collection of humidors at home as well as in his office at the Detroit Renaissance Center along the riverfront.

To complement the flavor he has his collection of Cognacs along with an assortment of fine French reds and "super" Tuscans as well as Pinot Grigios.

The time to enjoy those cigars and wine seems to come later in the day with each new assignment especially as Cowger adds more civic chores to his list. He's on a variety of boards' including those of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Kettering University (formerly General Motors Institute) and Focus: HOPE an inner-city organization that helps train the supposedly unemployable.

But whether he's hitching a ride in the fighter jet owned by Lutz or simply taking a long drive in one of his own cars Cowger insists on having fun with his life. He's a little vague when asked exactly how many cars sit in his garage perhaps because he's not sure. There's a 50th anniversary Corvette a two-seat Buick Reatta a Cadillac Escalade andÖthe voice tapers off for a moment...there's also room for a 57 Chevy. Robin's egg blue. Just like the Bel Air his father gave him. But it's going to have the floor-mounted Hurst shifter that the insurance agent back in Kansas City made him take out.

Cowger's life may have taken a few unexpected turns but he hasn't abandoned the past. He's still got a mean fastball which he's proved at the fantasy camp run by the Detroit Tigers at their Lakeland Florida winter base. They even offered him a contract though at a penny Cowger is probably better off keeping his day job.

"He enjoys having a good time. He knows how to have fun" says David Cole director of the Center for Automotive Research and a longtime Cowger friend. But don't mistake Cowger's wry sense of humor for being laid-back. "He's ambitious and I've told him this won't be his last job." Indeed word around town suggests that Gary Cowger still has a few more challenges ahead of him as he aims to help General Motors regain the glory it had when he was a kid growing up in sight of its smokestacks.

Paul A. Eisenstein publishes an auto magazine on the Internet at

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