An historic episode
The advent of the new Ford Fiesta has caused a great stir. Already rivals whose sales it threatens are arming against it. Peugeot and Volkswagen have issued full-page newspaper advertisements proclaiming, politely but pointedly, the facts as they see them. Peugeot quote the 104GL’s alloy o.h.c. engine, i.r.s., and its five doors, and are subtle enough to include a table of performance figures that favour Fiesta. Volkswagen content themselves with saying, succinctly, of the Fiesta, that “Underneath, it’s still a Ford, underneath (the Polo) is still a Volkswagen”.
This recalls the fear in which the invasion of low-priced American cars into this country was regarded before the First World War by the British Motor Industry and importers of foreign cars thinly disguised as of British make. It led to one of the most daring attacks on those who were anxious to stop this flood of automobiles from the USA by every means possible, boycott, criticism, and tariffs, if necessary. This attack took the form of a big, well-produced book called “The American Invasion”, which poked fun at everyone involved, from prominent Industry personalities, leading manufacturers from Rolls-Royce and Daimler downwards, to the Motoring Organisations and the motoring Press. It contained long verse, on the lines of Macaulay’s “Lays of Ancient Rome”, backed up by some scurrilous, fictitious advertisements which made snide and pungent remarks about cars of American ancestry which posed here as fine British products. Even with the milder libel laws prevailing at the time, its perpetuators were exceedingly brave.
Motor Sport seems to have been the only journal so far to refer to this remarkable and now-historic document. I referred to it in some detail in the issue of August 1967 and some of our more erudite readers had fun trying to de-code the disguised makes in the more obtuse of the book’s fictitious ads., some of which we reproduced.
As far as I can ascertain, copies of this book appeared anonymously on every stand on the opening day of the Olympia Show, in, I think, 1913. Those attacked were furious, and litigation was sought. But unfortunately for them, they were never able to discover who was the instigator of this courageous defence of the cheap American invaders.
I thought that I might both, only person to remember this episode from pre-1914 history and to actually possess a copy of “The American Invasion”. But the other day I was lunching with a gentleman who grew up with the Motor Trade in this country from the pioneer days and whose memory remains very clear. He, too, had kept a copy of the mysterious book and he fold me that it was the work of Percival (later Baron) Perry, who founded the British Ford Motor Company. Looking at the lavish publication again this seems to fall into line. Those seeking retribution for the scorn, contempt and exceedingly snide exposures which it poured upon them—Jarrott & Letts, in particular, came in for very heavy criticism—must have turned hastily to pages 20-21, whereon, the book’s foreword said, would be seen a “Portrait and short Biographical Sketch of the Author”—only to discover that the page numbering of this fearful book jumped from 19 to 22!
But page 23 carried a fictitious ad., for “The Famous 4d Car”, which it said was “Made in Thousands, Sold in Millions—You See Them Before They Are Gone”, etc. It was done in the well-known Ford script, to de-code it for anyone who had not already worked out that “4d” equalled Four-D, i.e. FORD. The placing of this ad, was no doubt Perry’s personal joke, hinting that he might have compiled the whole book. But it was not sufficient evidence in itself to bring him into the Dock. Ford did not exhibit at Olympia, to he would not have had to undergo the strain of trying to keep a straight face, or out of sight, while the full impact of his unwelcome book hit those who, led by the Daily Express, were currently attacking the new American models, while selling other cars, such as the Daimler with its American Knight engine, as all-British. As the book made some very snide remarks about the then-current motoring Press and its avid desire to make as much money as posible, it is not surprising that the motor papers of the day seem completely to have ignored the episode.
Certainly this book was extremely outspoken, and as Motor Sport prides itself on having set the fashion in honest, fearless reporting, as distinct from being purposely rude or resorting to unsubstantiated stories, which some of those who have copied us have discovered to be to their detriment, I naturally feel much sympathy for the person who thought up this method of dealing with the original American invasion. Incidentally, not all the disguised makes were unravelled by our readers. My present informant has, however, cleared up one of these—”The Kitchener” was the Overland, although I confess I cannot see the connection. If Percival Perry used someone to write the book for him, mightn’t this have been a well-known journalist who was very friendly with him when he imported his first model N Fords into England in 1907 and who afterwards edited the Ford Times from 1931 to 1947? I wonder whether anyone has any further thoughts on the matter?