There is a lovably oddball character to the British motor industry that is epitomized by Aston Martin. Aston Martin DB4While their American cousins quickly produced automobiles in mass manufacture, starting with Ransom E. Olds before the turn of the last century, the British seemed perfectly satisfied to approach car building as a cottage industry. Hammer out a few here, put together a few there, and perhaps build a little bit of earnings into the enterprise. This was the ourlin for many British car builders, from Morgan to Jaguar to MG to Triumph to Aston Martin.

Marking its name

The original Aston Martin partners,  Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford, completed the first car in 1914, didn’t register it with the British government until 1915 and didn’t assemble a second car until 1920. Bamford was an engineer and Martin was a driving enthusiast, and both men competed fairly triumphantly in hill climbs, including a famous event at Aston Clinton, which would ultimately give the marque half its name. After campaigning Singers, Bamford & Martin Ltd, as their leisurely automotive enterprise was called, decided to Read more . . .

Citroen is  commonly acclaimed for introducing the first front-wheel-drive production automobile. That would be quite a difference, but the fact is it’s not true. Citroen Traction Avant BerlineCord, Ruxton and Gardner all  proposed production front-wheel-drive automobiles several years before Citroen joined the party. The importance of Citroen’s involvement  is not that it was first with front-wheel-drive, but that it was the first company to make front-wheel-drive a true success. Unfortunately, that victory came almost simultaneously with Andre Citroen’s death, so the legendary French auto magnate never got to enjoy the fruits of his gamble.

Henry Ford of France

By the way, there is no doubt,  that Andre Citroen was a gambling man. The son of a Dutch diamond broker, Citroen was born in 1878 and by the time he reached the age of 25, he was a force to be taken seriously in French industry. After graduating from technical college, he obtained a license for a Russian process of machining gear teeth and, license in hand, set up a machine works. The gears rapidly gained a reputation for silence and strength, and Citroen’s business, which he manage with great vigor, became very profitable. Soon the prominent French automobile producer Mors asked him for technical assistance, his first foray into the car industry. Read more . . .

The story of the Cadillac V-16 is the saga of not one but two colossal engines. Cadillac V-16The irony of the story is that these two luxury car powerplants, among the most remarkable the world has ever produced, were spawned during the world’s most far-reaching and destructive economic collapse.

Of course, during the heady days of the Twenties, when speculators in the stock market gave no thought to “how high is up,” the concept of a 16-cylinder engine for the ultimate in luxury machines seemed quite rational. The millionaires of the bathtub gin decade seemed more than willing to exhibit their wealth, and there were lots of car companies, in the United States and abroad, that were perfectly willing to help them in the endeavor.

So it seemed just another step in the advancement of the luxury car to assemble a 16-cylinder engine. After all, if eight cylinders were good, then 16 cylinders must be twice as good. It was as effortless as adding eight plus eight.

Mammoth multi-cylinder engines were nothing new in the aircraft business. Spurred on by the momentum of the Great War, Ettore Bugatti designed a 16-cylinder engine for aircraft use in 1917.   Before the war’s end, Read more . . .

 

Imagine inventing not just a product, but an industry, and then imagine the disappointment of failing to harvest the benefits of your enormous achievement.Duryea Motor Wagon So,  it was with the Duryea brothers, J. Frank and Charles E.  The two brothers were, arguably at least, the first Americans to build a successful automobile, and there is less argument that they were the first to incorporate an American industry for the expressed goal of building automobiles for sale to the public. Further, Frank drove a car they planned and built to victory in the first automobile race ever held in America. Yet, when all is said and done, the two brothers are but an vague footnote in the history of the auto industry they created.

Head by ambition

Though, if the Duryeas are a footnote,  it is certainly a widely colorful, varied,  and, ultimately tragic footnote. The brothers Read more . . .

Hypothetically, the sequel is never as good as the original; and that is definitely true of the Continental Mark II. Continental Mark IIThe original Lincoln Continental, produced as a one-off by Bob Gregorie and his design staff for the personal use of Edsel Ford, was, with little argument, the best American auto design of the 1940’s. Mildly production-ized and sold as a series into the late Forties, it was a masterpiece. Ford Motor Company attempted  to re-create the same magic some 15 years later with the Mark II, but to re-create magic is a tougher task than the first time.Though the Mark II lacked the essential rightness of the original’s proportions, still,  it was a car to be reckoned with. By sheer presence, sheer mass, sheer price,  it was a vehicle that epitomized 1950’s America.

Simply like Lincoln, but not quite

If you are known by the company you keep, then the Mark II warrants high marks. A wide swath of the rich and famous in the 1950’s owned one, including Elvis Presley, Dwight Eisenhower, Nelson Rockefeller, Barry Goldwater,  Frank Sinatra, Louie Prima, Spike Jones,  Henry J. Kaiser, Howard Johnson and the Shah of Iran. Read more . . .