Magazine article The Spectator

Popular Ford

Magazine article The Spectator

Popular Ford

Article excerpt

My first car was a £40 Ford, a 1955 perpendicular Popular with the 1172cc side-valve engine and three gears. It would jump out of second on hills or under power, but you could hold it in with your left knee. The vacuum-powered windscreen wipers slowed when you needed them most - on hills and under power. But it was a good model in its day and kept the impecunious on the roads for many years after. I later owned a Mark 2 Cortina, which was adequate apart from the backache-inducing seats; a Fiesta, which was good; and an old Transit, which was splendid. If they had never made another vehicle, Ford would deserve a place in the motoring hall of fame for that universal workhorse, in all its variety. But, until this day, The Spectator has never reviewed a Ford. Why not?

My own record shows I'm not against them. I even wrote a book about a man called Ford (albeit one who never drove and was no relation to Henry). Nor is there any evidence that Spectator readers disdain the products of the Ford Motor Company; it's likely that a significant number own them. And we have reviewed plenty of other mass-market models - fiats, Renaults, Toyotas, Hondas, VWs, and so on. Is it a question of perception: might I have thought that Spectator readers would think that Fords are - in that vanishing phrase - Non-U?

Many Spectator readers are well heeled, most are choosy and some own exotic sets of wheels. Rightly or wrongly, it's easy to assume that they prefer to read about smarter, more expensive cars such as Lexus, Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Range Rover, Jaguar or Bentley. In other words, aspirational cars, which Ford's are not.

Ford is the victim of its own success. It produced the world's first true mass-market car, the Model T, and time and again through the rest of the 20th century it came up with innovative, trend-setting market leaders. You have to have been there to appreciate how revolutionary the Mark 1 Cortina seemed in this country, compared with its 1962 rivals. Fords were reasonably priced and cheap to maintain; as the car-buying public increased, more and more bought them. But less so wealthier drivers, who went for more expensive cars thought (not always rightly) to be more solid, longer lasting and classier (and which then included Rover, R.I.P., but no Japanese). As car buyers became not only more numerous but also generally much richer, so more of them began to aspire to the more exclusive marques. Those whose parents might once have considered a Ford Consul or Granada went for the BMW 5 Series or Mercedes E Class. …

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