RETURN TO GLORY
The Story of Ford’s Revival and Victory at the Toughest Race in the World
By Matthew DeBord
Illustrated. 226 pp. Atlantic Monthly Press. $26.
One day, Silicon Valley pooh-bahs may persuade the safe-space generation to completely abandon personal driving. Until that time, the car will persist as a symbol of freedom and the American automotive industry will endure as a major economic player.
A decade ago, Detroit was nearly brought to its knees without the help of socially detached app-masters. The financial crisis did a fine job of that, leading to the rescues of General Motors and Chrysler via an $80 billion jolt of taxpayer-funded defibrillation. But one Detroit giant, Ford, avoided corporate welfare thanks to the prescience of its C.E.O., a former Boeing executive named Alan Mulally. Mulally, sensing the impending meltdown, refinanced the company’s debt through private lenders. His foresight and adroit management gave Ford an edge during the years leading to recovery. By the time 2016 rolled around, it was time for a little fun, as Matthew DeBord shows in “Return to Glory,” a page-turning synthesis of business book and adventure saga. For car people like DeBord, there’s no greater kick than pushing the limits of speed and endurance.
American carmakers’ relationship with racing has, at times, been ambivalent. While luxury marques such as Duesenberg and Stutz always understood the value of proving their products at the track, during the early days fusty G.M. forbade its engineers and salespeople from having anything to do with a sport bluenoses viewed as borderline criminal.
Priggish and reactionary as Henry Ford may have been in other regards, he understood a simple truth: Demonstrate that your cars go faster than someone else’s and consumer demand will rise. Always happy to claim credit for the accomplishments of others, he even portrayed himself as a racecar driver. DeBord points out that Ford did, in fact, win a 1901 competition when the only other car putt-putting around the oval conked out before the finish.