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Sajeev
Community Manager

Community Question: who is the most influential person in automotive history?

Our Community Question this time centers around the people behind the automobiles. We are talking about the Henry Fords, the Alfred P. Sloans, maybe even the Preston Tuckers of the world.

 

Or maybe car designers like Harley Earl or Sergio Pininfarina? Or engineers like Zora Arkus-Duntov? Or specialty tuners like Shelby, Saleen, Callaway, Lingenfelter, etc.? 

 

Or maybe it's this guy? 

By Duncan.Hull - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=86942501By Duncan.Hull - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=86942501

Let's face it, the world is a bigger place today than it ever was, and nobody has the pull of Elon Musk. 

 

No matter, who do YOU think is the most influential person in automotive history!

45 REPLIES 45
hyperv6
Collector

Hell no!

 

Henry Ford may have had more influence as to how cars are built, priced and sold more than anyone. No one even comes close. 

‘’Many others contributed but nearly everything we do today is based on the foundation Ford laid. This is coming from a GM guy. 

Now later in he about went off the rails for not changing but Edsel save it for a while. 

Earl influence design, Duntov performance, Ferrari Racing etc. each played a part of the big picture but if HF had not brought the car to the  masses in the 20’s America and the world would have grown at a slower pace. it affected all parts of society.

The only thing Musk did was show people would pay higher prices for an EV car when most others were trying to build one for $35K.  He just got the order of development right but he had no choice as being a start up company they could never do the cheaper car first and survived. 

 

tigercat
Detailer

Agree, At one time ford model T's especially the trucks dominated the world. First really affordable mass production vehicle that could be bought by most. Made people ship materials to him in crates of specific size to break down for floorboards in keeping costs down and invented the modern assembly line. That is just a few of the many innovations and foundations that are a model all manufacturing goes by today.

Rayfelins
Pit Crew

Ransom E. Olds had the first American automotive assembly line. Oldsmobiles were not inexpensive. Ford improved on the idea and made inexpensive cars for the masses. The idea of cheap cars for the masses was his contribution and made him the most influential figure in automotive history.

DUB6
Racer

I'm willing to wager that Elon is using at least a few techniques that were first implemented by Henry.  Even today, the groundwork laid by the Ford production lines influences not only how cars are built, but many other items as well (not only machines, either).  It's pretty difficult to distill everything down to one influencer out of the many, but Henry Ford wins on points, in my book.

DaveA
Instructor

Wasn’t Henry’s production line technique influenced by watching how a local slaughter house operated?

hyperv6
Collector

Yes but it was never used in industry.

 

He also controlled his suppliers. He had his own ore mines, ships yo haul it, plants yo make the steel. He used the boxes to make floor boards. He even mad Kingsford charcoal from remaining material. 

Much of what he did drove how cars were designed, built and changed America if not the world by putting everyone on wheels. 

Sure Porsche did the Beetle but it just copied the model T formula.

cem
Pit Crew

If Porsche was only known for the Beetle, that would be true. Ferdinand Porsche left his footprint in many countries, companies, in racing, manufacturing, design, technology as well. 

Snailish
Engineer

I think Heinz Co did it before Ford?

CT-car-guy
Intermediate Driver

Actually Eli Whitney and Samuel Colt (CT) pioneered the idea of assembly lines and interchangeability long before Henry Ford.

DUB6
Racer

Yeah, but the question isn't who was the most influential in the assembly line or hog slaughtering businesses, it was specifically about the automotive industry.  Ford took those techniques and adopted them into the car-making biz.  So unless I'm unaware of those Colt, Heinz and Whitney automobile companies, I'm holding fast on my vote for Henry!

4RenT
Instructor

J. C. Whitney?

B^)

DUB6
Racer

Hmmm - a style point for you @4RenTRenT!!! 😁

DaveA
Instructor

I think Giorgetto Giugiaro of ItalDesign should get an honorable mention. That man is responsible for a wide range of automobile designs.

cem
Pit Crew

I second that - Giorgetto had an impact on design but also engineering, usability... Not Ford but a huge footprint in automotive history. 

TG
Gearhead

Eli Whitney

Inline8OD
Technician

Terrific point, TG, but probably one lost on most rabid "car guys" here gathered unable to see the big picture, make the "Connections,"  to borrow from the wonderful James Burke.

61Rampy
Instructor

I gave you a like for mentioning James Burke. You could love him just for his hair style. "Connections" was an utterly amazing show! You can still find episodes on YouTube.

Snailish
Engineer

Bertha Benz. 

97Cobra
Detailer

Henry Ford but you are partial to Chevy's

bobrad20
New Driver

Without a doubt, Henry Ford.  He designed the modern auto industry.

Tomboy
Pit Crew

My vote is for Charles Kettering, being credited for the electric starter.   Eli Whitney did the interchangeable parts, and Henry Ford did the assembly line - but those can in-door tasks.  The electric starter made it possible to sit inside the car and wonder why it doesn't start versus standing in the rain and other elements, hand-cranking the engine - - and wondering why the car doesn't start.

Oldimpala
Detailer

I could agree with this, too... Kettering was a genius. 

CT-car-guy
Intermediate Driver

And Kettering invented/designed the ignition system that was used for 100 years... The ignition coil, points, and condenser. The earlier system used on cars like the Model T was not as reliable.

61Rampy
Instructor

Don't forget designing the modern hi-compression engine- 49 Olds and Cadillac. And his assistant, Tom Midgely, who invented R12 refrigerant and lead in gasoline. (Granted, both those discoveries weren't environmentally friendly, but who knew back then)?

SpartyFan
New Driver

Ferdinand Porsche for the VW Beetle.

Oldimpala
Detailer

The vehicle he lost a patent lawsuit on to Andre Citroën (he was dead, the company at that point) post WWII?

 

Germans borrowed the concept, likeness, and even much of the driveline. European courts agreed, and gave the French a decent settlement. 

 

 

Snailish
Engineer

Tatra has to be mentioned too.

FloridaMarty
Instructor

Porsche or Ford. Although both were anti-semites, and neither would qualify for any humanitarian awards. Ford did way more for the everyone car, and way sooner. Porsche obviously did more for performance.  I did not forget the bug, it just came way later.

Oldimpala
Detailer

Gotta choose two. You know, the guys who invented the thing.

 

Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz. 

 

Elon builds trash cars that are disposable, look on CoPart for how many Model 3s with minor damage are rotting in CA because they refuse to sell bumper covers and glass.

 

Even Daimler/Benz's progeny still build quality vehicles. 

Snailish
Engineer

Apparently patent law at the time prevented Bertha getting her due on Karl Benz's work.  She paid for it. She proved to the public it had a purpose beyond eccentric tinkerers showing off in little in-town runs. She did this with a mind to business.

 

Karl's genius may have been lost to history without her? Lots of people tried (and some succeeded) at motorizing a carriage after all.

Bunka
Detailer

I agree 100%.  We have to get over the mindset that cars are an American invention.  The first car was, arguably, either made in Germany, Scotland, or France.  The one made is Scotland was an electric powered vehicle. 

Markafss
New Driver

Henry Ford

Tinkerah
Engineer

Maybe not the MOST influential but I think Nicolaus Otto should at least be in the running.

CharlieB3
Intermediate Driver

"Never call him Henry"

Henry Ford followed Ransom Eli Olds in formation of mass production/assembly but it was Henry who really put the whole ball of wax (the auto industry) together - even if he lost his marbles during his final years.   charlie b

 

Inline8OD
Technician

The idea of a single most influential person in any field;  manufacturing, classical or pop music, art,  cinematography, architecture, literature is ridiculous, as with top 10 or best lists.

  Much, even most of what credited Henry Ford were the efforts of his chief engineer, C(hilde) H(arold) Wills (his mother loved Lord Byron's poetry),  the assembly line and interchangeable parts long in play before one of Ford's lieutenants noted the overhead conveyors in Chicago meat packing plants.  See TG's comment above, the ninth posted.

 

   It was widely said in the day that there were two men in Detroit who could single-handedly build an automobile, Henry Ford and Walter Percy Chrysler.   Ford brought affordable wheels to the masses,  but Walter P. Chrysler brought them affordable engineering.

 

  Meanwhile, this "most" or "best" rubbish underscores our myopic, untutored  nationalism.  Louis Renault and a couple dozen others from England and Europe,  as well as Soichiro Honda,  had massive, lasting influence.

 

   Like to see Hagerty skip the CliffNotes and tender some articles for adult autoholics.

drhino
Technician

Hard to argue with what has been said already. My initial thoughts were Ford and Porsche. Wanted to throw a couple of other names in the mix for fun:

 

Ferrari: Incredible racing success, iconic personality, built a brand that is likely one of the most recognized in the world— even beyond the automotive fold. 

 

Bob Lutz: My choice for a modern exec with great impact. Through many tours with different companies; there are significant products that bear his influence. 

Raymond Loewy: The ‘53 Starliner had an incredible effect on the direction of packaging and styling. Until…


Alec Issigonis: The “two box” Mini really changed the packaging dynamic; impossible to overstate the impact it has had. 

That’s enough from me— just trying to stimulate the conversation.  Great topic, by the way. 

 

 

espo70
Instructor

Hard to say, there's so many. I guess I lean more towards the design and engineering end than the manufacturing.

Guigario, Bill Mitchell, DeLorean, Shinoda, Shelby, Iacocca?

LarryD
Intermediate Driver

Has to be Henry Ford

Jblock
New Driver

Bob Lutz. O

No executive in automotive history ever rolled a car on purpose to show the engineers, regularly drove on public roads over 150mph, could operate a CNC machine, could design, knew manufacturing, or was fluent in 6 languages. The top guys were always terrified of his capabilities (to make them look inept). And he loves cars!

majorbob
Intermediate Driver

Ransom E Olds was an important person in American automotive history.  He was the inventor of the first production automobile in the United States, which was the Oldsmobile Motor Company founded in 1897, approximately three and a half years before Ford in 1901.  After he sold the Oldsmobile Motor Company to GM he founded another car line which was called REO.  While REO didn’t last long it was Mr. R. E. Olds that started the wheels rolling in the USA. 

HumbleHumber
Pit Crew

Despite his undeniable accomplishments in the early days of the auto industry, I think it is worth learning more about Henry Ford before recognizing and celebrating his legacy:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dearborn_Independent

https://www.cnbc.com/2019/02/04/mayors-bid-to-censor-article-on-henry-fords-anti-semitism-goes-viral...

 

To its credit, the Ford Motor Company later completely made amends for this dark side of Henry Ford.  His grandson Henry Ford II disavowed himself and the Ford family of his grandfather's anti-semitic views.  And the Ford Motor Company was the first (and I believe still only) US automaker to appoint a Jewish President and CEO (Mark Fields, in 2014).  My grandfather would never have purchased a Ford.  I own four.  Let's celebrate the company, they have made (and still make) incredible cars.  I cannot celebrate its founder.

Zboy
Pit Crew

Even though I'm a die hard Chevy guy I'd have to say Henry Ford. He revolutionized the auto industry with his production techniques. 

hunternicholas
Advanced Driver

I think Henry Ford certainly may be the most influential in automotive history because his developments reached into all ends from automotive building, including amazing developments that were originals as there hadn't been a forerunner to go by.   One noteworthy example is Kingsford Charcoal.  And Edsel Ford was no slouch either.

 

However, there is another incredibly significant man in this area, often forgotten because he passed away in 1940 at age 65.  That being, Walter Chrysler.

What he accomplished with his company in roughly eleven years, 1925-1936 when he retired, is completely mind boggling.  Like Henry Ford, his influence had stretched into areas outside of the automotive.

I don't think Walter Chrysler receives nearly the credits he's due, particularly in our time, as Chrysler Corporation's automobiles have been teeming with problems for the past thirty-five years.  However, for about a fifty-year period 1926-1976, a Chrysler and an Imperial by Chrysler, were the best cars one could buy.

 

I'm not sure if I answered the question very well but these men stand out in my mind.

Courtney1964
New Driver

Elon Musk? The most subsidized person, in the history of America? I think the "Community Pool", requires "shocking", Sajeev. 

DavidJ
Pit Crew

Nicolaus Otto.