How the car nudged the horse off the road


How the car nudged the horse off the road! Author reveals Ford contributed to the decline of relying on animals for transport as he delves into automotive history

  • Award-winning Sunday Times journalist Bryan Appleyard delves into cars
  • His new book, The Car, explores the 150 history of cars and their cultural impact
  • He notes the fondness of American companies for French names like Cadillac

HISTORY

THE CAR

by Bryan Appleyard (Weidenfeld £22, 320pp)

‘The horse is DONE!’ Henry Ford once wrote with great emphasis in his notebooks. The motor manufacturer really d­isliked horses. 

As Bryan Appleyard records, in one of the many revealing details which enliven this history of the car, the young Ford was on one occasion thrown by a horse; his foot caught in the stirrup and he was dragged all the way home. It’s enough to force anyone to explore alternative means of travel. 

Ford went on to become one of the main forces behind the decline of the horse and its replacement by the car. 

American automobile engineer and manufacturer Henry Ford poses in the driver’s sea of his latest model, outside the Ford factory in Detroit, Michigan. Bryan Appleyard’s new book explores how Ford went on to become one of the main forces behind the decline of the horse and its replacement by the car

In 1906, about 25,000 cars were produced in America; in 1923 the number was 3.1million, of which 1.8million were Ford Model Ts. 

Ford’s great rival was General Motors, run in its early days by the flamboyant Billy Durant. Between 1908 and 1910, Durant bought control of at least one car manufacturer or parts maker every 30 days. 

He even tried to buy Ford, but was unable to raise the asking price of $8million in cash. 

Appleyard’s story takes in many other inspired manufacturers, from Ferdinand Porsche, the Nazi-supporting creator of the VW Beetle, to Elon Musk and his Tesla Model S (‘­conceptually… a big iPad with a car attached’). 

He notes the fondness of U.S. firms for French names. Cadillac was an 18th-century explorer; Louis Chevrolet was ‘a large Swiss-Frenchman with an enormous moustache’ and a suicidally risk-­taking racing driver who worked for Durant. 

He introduces us to lesser known vehicles, such as the Chinese Dongfeng (meaning ‘east wind’ in a reference to a speech by Mao), and to unsung heroes like the impressively named Sylvanus Freelove Bowser, inventor of the Self-Measuring Gasoline Storage Pump. 

Appleyard¿s story takes in many other inspired manufacturers, from Ferdinand Porsche, the Nazi-supporting creator of the VW Beetle, to Elon Musk (pictured) and his Tesla Model S

Appleyard’s story takes in many other inspired manufacturers, from Ferdinand Porsche, the Nazi-supporting creator of the VW Beetle, to Elon Musk (pictured) and his Tesla Model S

There is a definitive description of the ill-fated Ford Edsel, launched in 1957 and named after Henry Ford’s only son. Possessed of a distinctive grille that critics said looked like a toilet seat, it also had an unexpected button at the centre of the steering wheel which changed gears. Drivers found themselves doing so when all they wanted was to sound the horn. 

Unsurprisingly, the Edsel lost the company $350million. Appleyard, an unashamed petrol-head, rightly celebrates the pleasures of driving and the freedoms that the automobile has brought us. 

THE CAR by Bryan Appleyard (Weidenfeld £22, 320pp)

THE CAR by Bryan Appleyard (Weidenfeld £22, 320pp)

However, he’s not slow to point out its dangers. 

In August 1896, Bridget Driscoll, walking in the grounds of the Crystal Palace, became Britain’s first automotive fatality when she was knocked over by an entrant in a motoring exhibition. Mrs Driscoll reportedly looked ‘bewildered’ as the car headed, out of control, towards her. It may have been the first one she had ever seen. 

The coroner at her inquest hoped it would be the last such death. His hope was a vain one. Traffic accidents today kill more than a million people worldwide every year. 

And, as we grow increasingly aware of the combustion engine’s threats to the planet’s health, its days are clearly numbered. 

Perhaps the car as we have known it, like the horse in Ford’s time, is done. If so, Appleyard has provided it with an immensely readable obituary.

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