I’ve been stuck into a treat of a read this month. It’s all about the earliest pioneers of the motorcar, and it’s been a real eye-opener.
It all begins when the first engineers adapted the newest technology of the time – steam, electric or gasoline – to power the first horseless carriages, but the general focus is on two gents, one of whom is a household name, the other largely unheard of: Henry Ford and George Selden. Selden was the chap who patented the motorised horseless carriage – even though he’d never actually built one – and very nearly queered Fords pitch for him.
It’s an engrossing tale about a period in history when technology and capability seemed to increase exponentially overnight. It’s a story that has real Victorian engineers, beavering away in workshops, visionaries, daredevil racers and long-distance pioneers pushing boundaries on one side, while on the other there are the financiers, the lawyers, the fat-cats, the chancers, the charlatans and the outright crooks, all out to make a fast buck from this new craze.
The author also has plenty to say about Ford himself, which you won’t read in many other places. He asserts that most contemporary Ford biographies were approved, ghost written or possibly outright dictated by Ford himself, and therefore not as accurate as they might be. There’s no love lost for Ford, but there’s certainly a grudging admiration, making out that he was canny enough to surround himself with people who would make him great, then Zuckerberging them as soon as they’d outlived their usefulness. It seems that what Henry Ford was best at building was reputation, and what he was best at selling was Henry Ford…
I am only about three quarters of the way through this book, but I daren’t put it down! It’s not a lightweight read, certainly not a poolside flick-through for your summer beach holiday, but neither is it a weighty, dry historical reference. It’s readable, fascinating and enjoyable, and I’ll probably have finished it just as this mag goes to press. I’m still yet to reach the big face-off between Ford and Selden, though, so please don’t tell me how it ends… although as nobody has ever heard of Selden and the Ford family are still churning out the odd car or two, I suspect I can guess the outcome.
Drive! Henry Ford, George Selden, And The Race To Invent The Auto Age, by Lawrence Goldstone, is published in hardback by Ballantine Books, with a RRP of £19.99.