BOOK REVIEW:

Ford In Britain Centenary File

by David Finlay (17 October 2011)

Ford of Britain is celebrating its centenary in 2011, and there could hardly be a better person to set down its achievements than the journalist and author Eric Dymock. That's not just because he has been an industry observer for more than fifty years (though he has), nor that he is very good at it (though he is). It's also because, to mark Ford Motor Company's centennial back in 2003, he compiled a similar volume, of which this is a revised version.

Ford In Britain Centenary File."Revised" in this case does not simply mean "republished with a few extra chapters to bring it up to date". This is far from being the Dymock way. For example, although the introductions to each volume follow broadly similar lines, there has been a great deal of rewriting. And even where more or less the same material is used to describe the same model, there is often some polishing, as if Eric no longer feels that what he wrote in 2003 is the best he could do. As a fellow writer, I can only admire this attention to detail.

Even the pictures are different in many cases, though it would surely have been easier not to have bothered about this. To take one example, the publicity shot of Kylie Minogue and the Ford Streetka is not the same as the one used in the earlier volume. This time round she appears considerably more sultry, and I have to say I can't find any reason to object to this.

Although the book describes a century of production, the cars to which individual pages are devoted cover a greater period of time. The first is the 1908 Model T, built three years before the UK factory was opened, and it makes sense to include it as a prelude to discussion of several later Ts. And the final cars is the Focus ST, which won't go on sale until 2012.

Absolutely every other Ford you have ever been able to buy in Britain (and indeed several you never could, such as the World Rally cars or the Lotus 49 F1 car with the Ford-branded Cosworth engine) gets its moment of honour. Almost no relevant fact is allowed to escape: to take some examples from the page that happens to be open in front of, the 1968 Escort 1100 de luxe had a rubber- rather than carpet-covered floor, its compression ratio was 9.0:1 and it cost £635.48 including tax, though if you wanted metallic paint you would have to pay an extra £6.

Very importantly, that kind of information is kept separate from the main text, which is authoritative but not heavy-going, and frequently makes use of the author's own personal experience. (Not in the case of the Model T, obviously.)

My favourite parts, because this is the sort of person I am, are the unexpected pieces of trivia, many of them challenging what most people regard as common knowledge. For example, you know Henry Ford's famous comment about the Model T being available in any colour as long as it was black? In the introduction we find this deflating sentence: "Nobody was ever sure that he actually said it."

And then, in the very next paragraph, just as you were congratulating yourself for knowing that Ford invented the moving production line . . . wait for it: "Ford did not invent the moving production line." Ah. "Instead it combined two well-established American technologies, the interchangeable components developed in the gun-making industry and the conveyor belts used in Chicago's meat trade warehouses."

I would prefer not to end with the reviewer's cliché that this is "a must for all Ford fans", but I don't see how I can avoid it.

The Ford In Britain Centenary File, by Eric Dymock, is published at £27.50 by Dove Publishing. ISBN 978 0 9554909 3 4. More details at www.dovepublishing.co.uk.

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