"Ford"

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By Booton Herndon. 408 pp. 9 in. x 5 3/4 in. (Cassell & Co. Ltd., 35 Red Lion Square, London, WC1. £3.00)

There have been a great many books about Henry Ford and Ford cars. This one breaks new ground by being “an unconventional biography of the two Henry Fords”, to quote its dust jacket. Because it deals with the personality, particularly, of Henry Ford II, or “Mister Ford”, the very remarkable man who controls the destiny of the Ford empire as now constituted, it is essentially readable, by those who enjoy a human story and are not put off by journalese. Only an American, surely, could have written Herndon’s long-winded pompous dedication to his wife Bonnie, which should perhaps have warned of what was to follow. Herndon paints a very complete word-picture of Henry Ford II, even down to his marriages, how his daughters regard him and other intimate domestic details, even to his love-making.

As a contribution to motoring history the book is less effective, although providing some items of much interest about a Company which, in my opinion, more than any other, the bigger GM organisation not excluded, sells the most effective transport to the greatest number of people around the world. Henry Ford II’s love of motoring sport comes over well—his long hours in his “box” at Le Mans awaiting the GT40 victories, his desire for Ford to have a four-speed gearbox in American productions, realised in the Mustang, his liking for visible road-wheels and vivid colours and his driving ability, whether at the wheel of his personal maroon 4-speed Cougar with dark leather upholstery, or driving a prototype Cortina fast round Montlhéry track.

Of the snatches of motoring interest, let me quote the story about Henry Ford II having to be reminded of what a Lotus Elan is and of the complexity of the American Ford range of models, to the extent that top executives carry charts to enable them to remember and identify the different models, with one official defeated by an XL convertible parked outside Ford’s Central Office Building.

Ford’s contempt for Nadar (Henry Ford II dealt direct with Ralph Nader whereas GM used underhand tactics and had to apologise) and his safety fetishes and for the Japanese no-imports policy is well covered. We are reminded of old Henry Ford’s anti-Semitism and how Henry II seems to be still fighting to erase the memory of it (do Jews drive Fords?), are told how new Ford models are evolved for Henry II’s approval or rejection (the Maverick had to prove itself over six-months’ sales in two-door form before he would sanction a four-door version) and are told again of Iacocca’s instant-success with the Mustang, the Ford answer to GM’s Monza which Ford had failed to match with modified Falcons, and of how he conceived the Lincoln Continental Mk. III by blending a Rolls-Royce “hood” with “The short deck of the old Continental”, and of the unfortunate Edsel episode.

The book tells of Henry Ford contemptuously referring to a friend Pat Doyle’s Volvo as “that Volkswagen”, of how the Ford Mustang and Cougar won back owners from General Motors, and of how Ford ran into difficulties when attempting to manufacture the sub-compact Cardinal in America. The book compares the two Henry Fords in a fascinating manner but is written in popular, quick-fire style, so that one cannot be sure of the integrity of all the anecdotes it reveals. We are told that when he asked for a Cortina Henry Ford II was sent “the only all-black one”, as a joke; but a day after reading the book I saw a black Cortina! And did the new Model-A Ford really “pass everything on the road” in 1927, for example? However, the book is a contribution to Ford history and legend which cannot be altogether denied and it does much to enhance the great Ford reputation—an organisation which may have failed to buy Nordhoff or Ferrari into its way of life but which “has ten US-based aeroplanes, including five jets, and a Ford hangar at Detroit bigger than the terminal buildings at many airports”, according to the non-technical, Plymouth and MG-owning author of “Ford”, who produced his prolific book after personal interviews with top Ford personnel, including Henry II himself.—W.B.

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