In Engines of Change, Paul Ingrassia offers âa history of modern America in fifteen cars.â Each chapter examines how a particular piece of sheet metal and rubber helped to shape an era. He expects that youâll quibble with his listâthereâs no â57 Chevy Bel Air, no mid-â70s Gremlinâbut donât question the worthiness of the project itself. âAs far as I know,â he said recently, âno one writes songs about computers.â
The Ford Model T (colloquially known as the Tin Lizzie, T?Model Ford, or T) is an automobile that was produced by Henry Ford's Ford Motor Company from September 1908 to October 1927. It is generally regarded as the first affordable automobile, the car that opened travel to the common middle-class American. The Ford Model T was named the world's most influential car of the 20th century in an international poll.
General Motorsâ La Salle was âthe first mass-market designer car.â After its debut in 1927, the population tilted toward cities and nightlife, and âcars became vehicles for personal expression,â Ingrassia writes.
The Ford F-Series was a work vehicle when it debuted in the 1940s; then it became a vessel for country style, authentic and otherwise. Since 1978 it has been the bestselling vehicle in America.
The Chevrolet Corvette âsaved the great American sports car,â inspiring pop songs and television shows, Ingrassia argues. Its marketing team bypassed the head, selling to the heartânot to mention points further south.
The 1959 Cadillac Eldorado was longer than a prep-school sailboat and had tail fins nearly as tall as the roof. It represented the unlimited ethos of the era, after three stagnant decades of Depression and war.
The original Volkswagen Beetle was known in Germany as the âBaby Hitler,â the car of the Nazi Party. It became a â60s-era best-seller in American thanks to a slightly different group: American hippies. Score one for the ad guys.
Volkswagen Micobus became such a hippie hit it made its sibling the Beetle seem posh. âIt is all right to take a Microbus to the surplus store,â noted Playboyâs 1964 âSnobs Guide to Status Cars.â âItâs not alright to take a Microbus to Bloomingdales.â Still, itâs cultural impact canât be discounted: Steve Jobs sold his Microbus to launch what became Apple Computer.
The 1959 Chevrolet Corvair "helped make George W. Bush president," Ingrassia writes. How? Ralph Nader gained national prominence arguing that the car was Unsafe at Any Speed; three decades later he ran for the White House, siphoning off enough Democratic votes to hand Republicans the election.
The Ford Mustang became the perfect vehicle for unbridled post-â50s (but pre-Vietnam) America. We took âa school librarianâ and turned her into âa sexpot,â explained one Ford executive in 1964.
The Pontiac GTO was street-corner rebellion made into metal. âGod loveâem,â announced Car and Driver magazine in 1964, Pontiac âwent the hairy-chested route.â
The Honda Accord outsold all American models at home in 1989, a first for a foreign car. Itâs on the list, however, because of the companyâs decision to build the cars in Ohio, which blurred the distinction between foreign and domestic, Ingrassia argues.
The Chrysler minivan looked like a refrigerator on wheels, Ingrassia writes, but it sold out when it debuted in 1985. âSoccer momsâ seemed to be an underserved market.
The BMW 3-Series was on the market for decades before âyoung urban professionals,â better known as yuppies, made it a hit. By the end of the 1980s, it was a prop in the culture wars, the car of arugula-eating America.
The Jeep debuted as a gold-accented upscale model in 1987 and became a hit with millions of suburbanites. Two years later, SUV was an entry in Merrian-Webster, and Americaâs âsports utilityâ boom was on
The Toyota Prius is Ingrassiaâs last entry. Itâs âthe first practical mass-market hybrid,â he argues, a car responsible for an âautomotive-propulsion revolution,â including the new all-electric Nissan Leaf, and Chevroletâs critical hit, the Volt. source