Miniature cars
Charlotte Birchall

Charlotte Birchall

Charlotte is a marketing specialist and a writing genius. She has a distinct and hilarious way with words and a fine eye for the best topics to cover. In Charlotte's hands we know you'll be both entertained and informed.

Read time of 7 minutes.

Four of the most influential men who shaped the way we drive today.

From Ford to Porsche, we pick the movers and shakers of the motor world who influenced our driving experience 

You don’t need me to tell you that the automotive industry is big business both here and all over the world. In 2018 alone, the automotive manufacturing sector in the UK alone turned over £82 million. 

It is estimated that an excess of £18.6 billion per year is generated for the British economy by the motor industry with around 168,000 people directly employed in manufacturing and a further 823,000 employed in supply, retail, and servicing.

It is no exaggeration to say that the introduction of personal transport some 126 years ago to the UK has revolutionised the way we live and work.

But how much do you know about where it all began?

Group of people sitting in a vintage car

We decided to delve into the archives and pick four of the most important figures in the development of the industry who we think are worth celebrating.

1.    Henry Ford

Ford Model T

Born in 1863 in Springwells Township, Michigan, Ford is probably the most recognisable of all automotive forefathers.

Ford is credited with inventing the assembly line method of vehicle production, which allowed greater volumes of vehicles to be produced at a cheaper price. This, in turn meant they were much more accessible for middle class families – a move which altered the landscape of the world.

He pioneered ‘Fordism’ which is defined as the mass production of inexpensive goods with higher wages for workers. His vision was rooted in consumerism, and he was behind some of the most influential advancements in automotive retail – including the now common franchise system of dealerships.

Ford credited his interest in vehicles to an incident in 1875 when, just aged 12, he witnessed the operation of a Nichols and Shepard road engine – the first non-horse drawn vehicle he’d seen.

Fascinated, he set about building his own steam powered tractor and car on the family farm, but he concluded that a steam engine was too dangerous for a light vehicle.

By 1892, he had built a fully functioning two cylinder, four horsepower motor. He connected it to a countershaft with a belt and the rear wheel with a chain. The belt shifted with a clutch lever and was enhanced by a throttle.

All sounding slightly familiar, isn’t it?

By 1901, he had successfully built and raced a new 26 horsepower automobile and as a result received financial backing from stakeholders in the Detroit Motor Company to set up the Henry Ford Company in November of that year.

He had many successes in production and racing in the years to come but none more so than the infamous Model T. 

Released on 1st October 1908, it was the first vehicle to incorporate a steering wheel on the left-hand side and the engine and transmission were fully enclosed. It was cheap to manufacture and buy – so much so that by 1920, practically every American had learned to drive in a Model T.

His commitment to fair working conditions was equally revolutionary, with Ford being the first company to introduce the five-day working week. Meaning Henry is entirely responsible for that delicious Friday feeling!

The motoring legacy of Ford from then on in needs little explanation. It is one of the world’s most successful, affordable brands with hundreds of thousands of units selling globally every month. Ford’s position in the automotive hall of fame is uncontestable.

2.    Herbert Austin

Austin 7

It may come as a surprise that one of the founders of the British motor industry began his career as an engineer developing sheep shearing machines but that is exactly how Herbert Austin started. Born in Buckinghamshire in November 1866 to a farming family, Austin was inspired by a visit from his maternal uncle to move to Australia.

He settled in Melbourne, where he worked for various firms as an engineer. In 1887, he accepted the position of manager in an engineering firm where his first task was to refine the new sheep shearing machine designed by inventor Fredrick York Wolseley.

His efforts were well received and after three months he was asked to join the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Machine Company. In a shrewd move, he used his name to patent the improvements he made and subsequently sold the patents to Wolseley in exchange or shares in the company.

In 1889, Wolseley transferred the ownership of his company to a London based firm and by the turn of the century, Austin was back on home soil. Sheep shearing was a seasonal pursuit, so Austin decided to expand into motor car manufacturing.

The Wolseley Company could see no value in this, so in 1905, Austin resigned, rallied some of the senior staff and set up on his own at the now infamous Longbridge plant. Within three years, Austin were producing seven different models but the First World War put paid to their efforts. They switched to munitions productions – a practice that continued during both conflicts and earned Austin a knighthood.

Recovery post WW1 was slow and the company was on the verge of bankruptcy by 1921. Undeterred, Austin continued with his vision and the Baby Austin was launched in 1922. It sold for £225 (around £12,000 today) making it easily within budget for families who had never owned a car.

It was a roaring success and by 1925, their output was some 25,000 units annually. Every year the cost of the vehicle went down, meaning Austin really did bring mobility to the British public like no other.

3.    Enzo Ferrari

Vintage Ferrari on a road

Synonymous with all things supercar, Enzo Ferrari was born in Modena, Italy in February 1898. His journey to become one of the most recognised names in F1 and the luxury car industry began at the age of 10. He attended the 1908 Circuito di Bologna and witnessed the triumphant win of Felice Nazzaro. It was the beginning of a lifelong love affair and Enzo knew then that he wanted to race.

By the early 1920s, Ferrari had realised his dreams and, by his own admission had embarked on a half-hearted racing career. What he had developed though was a strong interest in the organisational aspects of Grand Prix racing. By 1932, he had retired to focus on the management and development of factory Alpha cars. He spent the next few years building up a race team of superstar drivers including Guiseppe Campari and Tazio Nuvolari under the Scuderia Ferrari.

The outbreak of World War 2 forced Ferrari to diversify into war production for Mussolini’s government but after his factory in Modena was bombed by allied forces, he took the opportunity to move his factory to Maranello. Here, he made cars bearing his own name under the marque Ferrari S.p.A.

As a manufacturer in his own right, Ferrari secured his first racing victory in the 24 hours at Le Mans race in 1949. They won their first championship in 1951 at Silverstone. To fund his Formula 1 ambitions, Enzo sold his sports cars and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

4.    Ferdinand Porsche

Porsche 365 Cabriolet

Hardly in need of an introduction, Ferdinand Porsche has a great deal more feathers in his cap than just the creation of one of the world’s most coveted luxury car brands. Admittedly, yes, he is behind the iconic vehicle manufacturer but throughout his career, he also contributed to some brands that might just surprise you.

Porsche was born in what is now the Czech Republic on 3rd September 1875 and in addition to his namesake brand, he is best known for creating the world’s first gasoline-electric hybrid. Known as the Lohner-Porsche, it was first developed in 1900 and was a two-wheel drive, battery-powered vehicle with two front-wheel hub-mounted motors.

From a young age, Ferdinand Porsche showed an aptitude for engineering and technology and began a career at the age of eighteen with the Bela-Egger & Co. Electrical Company. At 22, he took up a position with Jakob Lohner and between 1897 and 1931 he made invaluable contributions both here and with future employer Austro-Daimler.

Porsche was also responsible for designing the VK4501 tank – nicknamed the ‘Ferdinand’ – which was driven by an electric power train. Porsche continued to consult for VW and was heavily involved in the design of the Renault 4CV and the Type 360 Cisitalia for Grand Prix racing.

Alongside this, the family were developing the Porsche 365 – the first vehicle to bear their name. Only 49 cars were made, but they were done so entirely by hand.

In December 1945, Porsche was arrested in France for his part in the Nazi war effort and was only released when his family were able to raise 1 million francs. In 1949, they returned to Stuttgart with the aim of continuing production of the Porsche 365. To raise funds, Porsche’s son Ferry took the design to Volkswagen dealers and asked them to pay in advance for ordered cars. The move paid off and in the following 17 years, more than 78,000 365s were made.

Porsche himself suffered a stroke and died in 1951 but his legacy was undeniable. He was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1996 and in 1999 was named Car Engineer of the Century.