Max’s Monthly Column: Time to talk about Ford
Welcome to Max’s Monthly Column. I do hope you’re enjoying your summer holiday, if you’re on a summer holiday that is. Just as I would have been, had I not been asked to join the BBC as a runner on Crimewatch, which I have, so I am not. If that makes sense? Because of this, I am writing this in my hotel room in the north, while my family enjoy the Devonshire seaside sunshine.
This month I’ve been thinking a lot about Ford. They are, no questions asked, one of the most famous car makers in the history of anything, ever. And it all began with one man: Henry Ford. He was quite a bloke. He was a businessman, but more importantly, an industrialist.
A brief history lesson
Henry Ford is commonly mistaken as the inventor of the motorcar, which he is not. In fact, a certain Karl Benz had already claimed that title (although not officially) in 1885. Henry Ford began working on his first automobile a little while after this, whilst also working as an engineer at the Edison Illuminating Company in Detroit (yes, the people who brought us artificial light) assisted by a small team of friends.
The year was 1896, and finally Ford completed his first ever car – the Ford Quadricyle Runabout. This was his very first attempt at a gasoline powered machine, built with the intention of moving people around. It had a 2-speed manual gearbox, and offered up a humble, yet feisty for the time, four horse powers. Laughable by today’s standards, but the alternative was a living, breathing, excreting single horse power in the form of an actual horse, which required sleep, care and high quantities of hay.
But as almost anyone might admit, the Quadricycle Runabout is not the car that springs to mind when we think of Henry Ford. Oh no. Surely, it would be the Model T. Possibly best known for its confusion with “the world’s first car”, the Model T was released in 1908 – by which time, the odd lucky soul had already been driving around in a car-like machine for years. But that’s exactly what the Model T changed. The Model T made automotive travel possible for a much larger demographic than ever before.
Suddenly, a far greater number of middle class American’s could get their hands on a car. And it was a car, with a roof, doors, seats and steering wheel. Henry Ford is, or rather should, actually be best known for his game changer – assembly lines. His assembly lines were a fantastic alternative to slow, outdated, individually hand-crafted automobiles.
My review of the new fourth generation Mondeo
That’s enough history lessons for now, as, like I say: I’ve been driving around the north (admittedly ladened with camera equipment), in the new, fourth generation Ford Mondeo. It’s not an overly exciting car – but it was never going to be. For the very reason the BBC use a fleet of the things when out filming – they’re made for work. And the first thing to report is, being the impeccably sensible estate version, there’s room in the boot for two TV cameras, two large tripods, a box of GoPro kit, three people’s luggage, and a massive bag of snacks. So incase you were wondering – now you know.
The one I’ve been driving has a 120bhp diesel engine, which frankly could do with a dose of steroids in the lower gears. That being said, it picks up nicely on the motorway, with fifth gear offering a decent pull before you sit back into sixth. Not helped by the enormous slabs of rubber around the wheel rims, the ride is comfortable, but also a little soggy, like an undercooked brioche dipped in milk.
There are other issues too. The passenger-side footwell is shallower than a lake in the Sahara – causing either your feet or your arse to go numb on long journeys. The steering’s a little undefined, the whole car is too long for most modern parking spaces, and there are more bongs than you’d find in Snoop Dogg’s front room. Seriously, whatever you might do, the car sounds a chime to let you know you’ve just done it – opening the door, turning on the ignition, smashing your face on the steering wheel in anger, etcetera. But there are, some genuinely genius ideas.
The sun visors are wonderfully thought out – incorporating a simple, but frankly revolutionary slider design, allowing you to move the visor further when you’ve got it parallel with the side window. Why have I never seen this before? The thing is well built too, with a nice collection of plastics and metals surrounding you on the interior as you drive around. And then there’s its appearance. Being an estate it was never going to win Rear Of The Year. But, like with almost all of Ford’s latest releases (especially the new Focus which I think is a bit of a stunner), it’s a decent looking thing, with some edges and angles for passers by to notice.
But you know, the thing I’ve found I notice more than anything during my time in the north, is its family’s popularity. Fords are everywhere. They are. Hundreds of thousands of the things – and it’s only since I’ve been driving one that I’ve noticed it. Fiestas, Focuses, Kugas, C Maxs – they are everywhere.
Just have a quick count next time you’re on the road. And let’s not forget they’re also to thank for the world’s second most popular van, the Transit. I mean what would tradesman otherwise have used to carry their tools and bits of two-by-four with, whilst simultaneously tailgating pensioners on the motorway?
There’s clearly something about Ford that people like and trust, something that other manufacturers simply don’t offer. What is it? Well, if I’m honest, during my time with Mondeo I haven’t had anything glaringly obvious arise to answer that. But what I will say, is they cater for everyone. Needing a first car for your 17-year-old millennial? Get them a Ford KA. Wanting a hot hatch daily runner? Grab yourself a Focus RS. A supercar to compliment your midlife crisis? A lovely Ford GT.
Ford really are starting to nail the aesthetics.
As you may have noticed whilst reading that last paragraph, there’s one thing recently Ford have been nailing. Aesthetics. Goodness me are they in the groove right now.. The new for 2019 Focus is a cracking looking thing, and I know it is, because I actually saw one – on the road. I think that’s always a good sign, and I’ve come to the conclusion you really need to see any car in the flesh before you can make a final decision on whether it’s a munter or not.
My first glimpse of the new Focus was actually of it’s rear end on a stretch of delicious Devon B-road. I was instantly interested to see a bit more, and the praise continued. I can’t really put my finger on it – it’s just very nicely balanced aesthetically; nothing is too large or too small. But more than that, it’s got presence – something so many manufacturers fail to inject into mass market competitors.
The nose, for example, is chiselled and trim, with interesting winglet-type features on either side above the fog lamps. which give you something to stare at intently as you tilt your head inquisitively. Ford’s designers have clearly been busy with their pencils, but not so busy that it’s in anyway overworked or hypercomplex. It’s a bit more upmarket than its predecessor, like it’s thrown away it’s Asda own-brand suit and instead delved into the Ted Baker collection.
2019 Ford Focus
2019 Ford Kuga
And it seems Ford’s beautifying capabilities have been transferable, as with the new Kuga. Now regular readers of this column (if you’re out there) will know my issue with SUVs, but the Kuga goes against the grain in two critical ways. One, it’s available in four-wheel drive – so it’s not necessarily just an oversized, underachieving, feckless hatchback in need of a diet. And two, as with the Focus – it’s got something to offer to those blessed with the sense of sight. Once again, it’s a looker.
The previous generation wasn’t bad at all, but Ford appear to have rather more prominently sculpted it this time, with it’s new, more melted vibe. As a design technique, this usually is a disaster, but with the Kuga, it isn’t. Again, it’s a pretty exterior, with curves connecting straight edges and LED running lights which, frankly look excellent. There’s something (dare I say it) Alfa Romeo-ish about its curvature, and no one’s complaining about that. It’s like they took the rather more juvenile previous body and popped it in the microwave for a couple of seconds, taking the sting out of any fiercely angular edges.
But, as I outlined in my June 2019 column in the case of Volvo, looks are more important to a car than your average person might suggest. Because we’re human and incredibly shallow. The physical appearance of anything – whether it be houses, chicken nuggets or even another person; is the very first thing we utilise to make an opinion on that subject. And cars are no exception – more so if anything, as we’ll always get a glimpse of one before we get behind the wheel of them. And in the case of cars, if the physical appearance wasn’t enough food for thought, chances are we’ll never bother having a drive anyway. So as far as I can see, looks make sales, and I’ve no doubt this theory will be illuminated with Fords visually tasty new offerings I’ve mentioned.
Ford are, and I hadn’t fully comprehended it before this month’s column; unlike any other automotive manufacturer on the planet. And to bring this back to my history lesson at the start, the Model T was the first ever car to hit 15 million units sold. In fact, it’s thought that by 1914, 9 in every 10 cars in the entire world were Fords. Good work, Henry.