Giants of the industry

As a rule, inventors don't build industrial empires. If we want to know who was behind our country becoming a huge car park, we have to move on from the early pioneers such as Karl Benz, and look at the visionaries and risk-takers of the Twenties and Thirties. These were single-minded men (it was always men) who dominated their factories, sometimes in ruthless fashion.

Henry Ford 1863-1947

Son of a farmer, grandson of an Irish immigrant, Ford showed the early interest in all things mechanical that's typical of many of the motor pioneers. After some time working for motor repairers he built his first car in 1899 and started the Ford Motor Company in 1903. He had an irresistible combination of qualities - engineering know-how, a nose for what the customer wanted, and an understanding of the importance of a loyal and well-paid workforce. To Ford, the industry owed the principles of assembly-line production, standardised components, control of parts suppliers, franchised dealerships. His Model T was exactly the basic, sturdy, reliable, cheap vehicle the world was waiting for. Ford plants were built across the world - the Dagenham plant opened in 1932 and closed for car production earlier this year.

Sir William Lyons 1901-1985

Founder of Jaguar, Lyons built his success, like Ford, on a combination of engineering skill and understanding of the market. He learnt from his early work making sporty looking motorcycle sidecars (Swallow Sidecars) that customers would pay for "added value" that didn't cost a great deal to provide. So he began by building rakish bodies on quite ordinary cars, such as the Austin Seven and the small Standards. As the Thirties progressed he started building his own cars, but the distinguishing feature of Jaguars, both before the war and after, was that they offered the appearance and performance of cars such as Ferrari and Bugatti at half the cost.

William Morris (Lord Nuffield) 1877-1963

Morris left school at 15 working his way up from repairing bicycles and motorcycles in Oxford to making motor cars. The first Morris Oxford of 1913 made the company's reputation, which continued to grow right into post-war years with the Morris Minor of 1948 reviving the name from the Thirties model. In common with other industrial leaders, his strengths eventually became weaknesses as the world changed. He depended on his intuition, didn't put much faith in graduate engineers, and failed to build the strong management structure that led to the success of, for example, Mercedes Benz. Consequently, Morris Motors was a victim of the post-war swathe of reorganisation that eventually saw the almost complete demise of the UK-based motor industry.

Sir Alec Issigonis 1906-1988

Issigonis was born in what is now Izmir in Turkey, coming to England first as a student when he was 16. Though not a captain of industry, his main work was done as chief engineer at the then British Motor Company (combined Austin-Morris), Issigonis influenced a generation of cars by the way he approached the design of small cars. Before the Mini, most small British cars had been built like big ones. Issigonis saw that the the packaging had to be different, and his Mini had very small wheels pushed out to the corners of the car, and the engine mounted sideways driving the front wheels. As a result, he created a genuine four seater car only 10 feet long. Most small cars since have followed the same layout.

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