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BOOK REVIEW: THE AMERICAN CAR SINCE 1775

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Topics:  The American Car Since 1775

BOOK REVIEW: THE AMERICAN CAR SINCE 1775

Ed Monroe
Antique Automobile
March-April 1972


by the editors of Automobile Quarterly.  E.P. Dutton, New York, N.Y., 1971.  $17.95.

This book is a virtual encyclopedia of the American and Canadian automotive industry and the most comprehensive volume published to date.  The book incorporates two types of data, historical surveys on specialized subjects by recognized experts and statistical data compiled by known authorities.  The first of the historical surveys, Scott Bailey's account of the beginnings of the American automotive industry is most original and perhaps is the most provocative thesis ever published on this subject.  Bailey states that the American automobile was born on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, developing from the efforts of home grown inventors, thus laying to rest to his satisfaction the traditional legend that America merely adopted a European invention to the American experience and geography.  Bailey's chapter would have been stronger if it had been preceded by a short and interpretive essay on the American carriage industry.  Not only would such a chapter provide a good introduction to the volume, but there is evidence to show that at least American ingenuity developed more different types of carriages than did the Europeans in terms of style, construction and expected use of the vehicles.

Herman Smith's study of the Canadian industry covers this long neglected aspect while Hugo Pfau expertly discusses coachbuilding to which he adds a list of all masterbuilders and includes a portfolio of rare custom bodied cars.  Jan Norbye carefully outlined in 33 pages a history of the automotive industry from 1896-1971 with profuse illustrations.  Michael Sedgwick details the data with both pictures and charts on hybrid cars, those with American and foreign components, and John Montville outlines the truck saga, again a little mentioned subject.  In future editions, there should be more information on light trucks and such specialty vehicles as armored trucks.  Keith Marvin's section on license plates is one of the few expert analyses of this subject ever to see print.  Jim Bradley and Dick Langworth have contributed a calendar year production chart from 1896-1970.  Also included are lists of 5000 American and Canadian marques, a list of 165 cars announced but not actually produced as prepared by Stan Yost and a roster of American auto clubs, museums and marque registers.

The list of 5000 marques is the most detailed and accurate in a long series of such lists.  The editors have shown by use of an asterisk that a particular entry in this volume has incorporated corrections from errors on previous lists.  The editors have included a research addenda form for the use of scholarly readers who wish to submit corrections, additions or other changes to the lists.  It would serve no purpose here to specifically point out mistakes in the list, whether of fact or judgment.  The editors have candidly admitted that errors exist, hence the addenda form.  There is a continued inconsistency with models, most are listed as models of marques but some have separate entries.  These comments cannot detract from the fact that the list is the most valuable single research resource known to date.  The designer of the volume must be complimented for effective presentation of visual materials, most picture being in several shades of buff, beige and light brown.  Page layout is also excellent.

Future revisions of the book will be stronger if historical surveys are included on the following: automotive industrial design with a portfolio of photographs, show cars, foreign coach work on American bodies, the hearse and ambulance industries, and modern car developments in safety, electric and steam.  A biographical dictionary of major automotive people should also be included.  No historian of the automobile can be without this volume on his bookshelf.  No car buff, regardless of his particular interest in automobiles, should deny himself the pleasure of reading this book at least once.

H.L.A.



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