Car manufacturers have always been keen to build a good reputation. The Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost famously became ‘The best car in the World’, labelled so by the Autocar in 1907. Although a Rolls-Royce historian suggests that this tagline developed from their own marketing propaganda in a 1906 advert ‘Not one of the best – the best in the world’. Whatever the truth of the matter, a reputation was started which was to last.
Ford, producing cars at Trafford Park from 1911 until 1931, began to develop a different reputation as a no-frills car. The Punch magazine, famous for its comical satire, found multiple uses for both the Ford car and Henry Ford in their one-line joke column. Here is just a small selection:
“Luxury has no fascination for Mr. Henry Ford we read. Much the same seems to apply to the purchasers of his cars.” January 1924
“’Henry Ford has made the cheap motor-car what it is to-day,’ declares a contemporary. It seems hardly fair to lay all the blame on one man.” May 1927
“It is said that the Ford motor works are now turning out a car every six and a-half seconds. We suppose it is the painting that accounts for most of this time.” August 1921
“Employees of the Ford Motor Company have asked permission to use the works to make cars for themselves during the slack period. Employees at the British Mint are wondering when a favourable opportunity like this going to come along.” January 1921
“In view of a lay mission-worker’s disclosure that inhabitants of Tristan da Cunha still doubt the existence of motor-cars, our fear is that Mr. Henry Ford may feel it his duty to convince them.” March 1930
“Henry Ford says he has made the new Ford so that nobody will ever want another. We should never have dared to say that.” April 1928
For many companies it can be difficult to recover once a bad reputation spreads, I am thinking of the much more recent reputations of Saab or Peugeot.
Popular references to Ford and Rolls-Royce are numerous and a reputation can be judged based on the ample references we have. It becomes harder to judge the reputation of other Manchester firms such as Belsize, Crossley Motors or Horsfall and Bickham who appear very little in the popular press. What were the reputation of these firms and their cars? At the moment many of these companies have been judged by historians by the technical qualities and prices of their cars; criteria a lot easier to judge than a cars reputation.