In memory of our founder, David E. Davis, Jr., Automobile Magazine editors are choosing our ten favorite American Driver columns and will be posting one each day over the next two weeks.
In the past few years, the woods around Detroit seemed to be full of writers. First, it was the world’s least competent dope broker, Mr. John Z. De Lorean, who attracted them, then Mr. Lee Iacocca, by his own admission the most gifted executive in the history of the automobile. However, Mr. Iacocca himself wrote such a rouser of a book that several authors then decided to try their luck with books about his former employer, Mr. Henry Ford II. Now the Ford books are hitting the stands, and it’ll only be a short time before we get a new round of Iacocca books in response.
It has been a rather unattractive brouhaha, all things considered, with contending writers saying rude things about each other and friends of the subjects choosing sides. It is the sort of New York/Paris literary nastiness that seldom occurs in a smoke-stack town like Detroit, but when it does it gives a lot of folks a new lease on life.
If you grew up, as I did, in the shadow of Detroit, you grew up with all kinds of myths about the Ford Motor Company and the family that owned it. When I peddled the morning Free Press during World War II, my route was a chunk of town shaped roughly like a slice of pie--half a mile wide along Main Street, half a mile deep down Ten Mile Road, then back diagonally along the Grand Trunk Railroad tracks to Main Street and the original starting point. My bike was an ancient Sears Roebuck hand-me-down with a Musselman coaster brake that I never understood and splines in the front fork worn so badly that the bike and I almost never went where the handlebars pointed. So I walked. I can’t remember the names of all the streets I plodded along during those years, but there were eight or nine of them, and since we lived in a blue-collar town, subscribers for a morning paper were few and far between.
Sometimes customers’ houses would be a block apart, giving me plenty of time to fantasize as I folded each paper and prepared to throw it onto somebody’s roof or into their bushes. In one fantasy, I was parachuted into Germany to free my Uncle Jim who was in a prison camp there. In another, the woman who supervised our church youth group melted into my arms and resolved a number of mysteries that had been troubling me for the past couple of years.
My most reliable fantasy, however, involved Henry Ford I’s gorgeous daughter. I had no idea whether or not the old man actually had such a daughter (he didn’t), but no matter. In my fantasy she was my age, and she looked like a cross between Shirley Temple in her early prime and the woman who supervised our church youth group. This golden-haired, nubile young bud would burst out of a house on Kenilworth Avenue just east of Main Street and gaily, unwittingly, run beneath the wheels of a huge transit-mix cement truck.