A Pulitzer Prize–winning automotive reporter's cultural history of 15 cars that helped shape American life.
Car nut and Reuters deputy editor in chief Ingrassia (Crash Course: The American Automobile Industry’s Road from Glory to Disaster, 2010) makes it clear that he's not writing about the best cars in American history, but the ones that have had the most impact on American culture (which also doesn't always mean American-made cars). Beginning with the most obvious choice, Henry Ford's Model T, Ingrassia proceeds to make his case for the cultural relevancy of Cadillac tail fins, the Honda Accord, BMWs, the Volkswagen Beetle, the Chrysler Minivan and more. Some of his more entertaining and informative stories are about automotive failures—e.g., hipster car-industry kingpin John DeLorean and his once-promising career at Pontiac, a tenure that ended with ugly, impractical cars and a botched cocaine deal. Ingrassia plays up the colossal technical flop that was the dangerous, rear-engine Chevy Corvair as the second-most influential car of all time, considering its unintended role as the car that sparked huge legal reforms in the automobile industry and launched Ralph Nader's career. Perhaps the book's most interesting section examines the improbable metamorphosis in public perception of the Volkswagen Beetle, which went from Hitler's favorite ride to a 1960s hippie-chic countercultural statement on wheels. The same kind of socially conscious symbolic value resurfaced decades later in the form of the hybrid Toyota Prius, the ride of choice for left-leaning, eco-friendly affluence. Ingrassia succeeds in fashioning well-researched, swift-paced narratives around each of these 15 select automobiles. Using colorful detail, he effectively recasts these significant driving machines in their respective cultural contexts and brings to life the eras they influenced.
An intelligent and accessible mix of car-worship and cultural studies.