The thesis of Paul Ingrassia's recent book Engines of Change (2012) is the symbiotic relationship between American culture and sucessful automobile design.
Ingrassia selects fifteen automobiles as representative subjects of his study. As he describes the origins and histories of the auto manufacturers, entrepreneurs, and design engineers behind these fifteen automobiles, Ingrassia takes us from Henry Ford (and his Model T) to Hiroshi Okuda of Toyota (who pushed for the development of a revolutionary gas-electric hybrid which we now know as the Prius).
Among the fifteen automobiles Ingrassia selects are the Ford Mustang, the Pontiac GTO, the 1959 Caddie (with its massive tail fins), the WV Beetle, the Honda Accord (and Civic), the Ford F-150, the Jeep, the Dodge Caravan, and the Chevrolet Corvair. The latter Ingrassia ranks as the second most important car in American history after the Model-T--precisely because the Corvair was as innovative as it was terribly flawed. The Corvair not only greatly influenced Detroit's philosophy of auto design (in the early 1960's), but ironically gave birth to the contemporary consumer right's movement which has provided jobs for a entire generation of liability attorneys.
As a repeat Ford Mustang owner (I've owned the 1979 TRX Fox body, and now the 06 GT), I did not know that the 1964 1/2 Mustang was built on the 1963 Ford Falcon chassis almost as an afterthought. I'm glad the 2005 model reintroduction started from scratch. I'd hate to think my GT was a glorified Taurus.
I also did not know the story behind Honda building its large factories in Ohio (a point of great interest to me since one of my sons now works in advanced product planning at Honda in So Cal).
Ingrassia includes the story of the tail-fins war in the late 50s, the history of the discombobulated mess of a German motor company which is now BMW, as well as an interesting historical connection drawn by Ingrassia from the Corvair, to Ralph Nader, to the election of George W. Bush in 2000. Along the way, Ingassia describes the innovative genius and the flaws of men like John Delorean, Henry Ford, Harley Earl, Hiroyuki Yoshino (of Honda), and Lee Iacocca.
Nothing terribly profound or earth-shattering here. But this is a well-written, entertaining, and informative book. If you love cars, or are simply interested in American culture, and if you want an enjoyable and engaging read, you'll enjoy Engines of Change