Symbolism in Automobile Creation

Posted: October 17th, 2013





Symbolism in Automobile Creation

The automobile has a history that is quite decorated. From the first automobile created to present day world class machines the brains behind these marvelous machines have demonstrated their love for the work in many different ways. One particular instance that shows this connection with the maker is Henry Ford’s creation of the Edsel. Ford showed this connection by naming the vehicle after his son (Gunn, paragraph 3). This symbolized his great affection for the Edsel. It was however a disappointing creation for the Ford corporation. In an interview with NPR staff about his book Engines of Change, Paul Ingrassia illustrates the symbols represented by certain vehicles. From Ford to Ingrassia vehicles were used to show some symbolism. Automobiles were sometimes taken to represent many things a factor, which affected in a great way people’s cultures and lifestyle.

In an article on Newsday writer Malcolm Gunn analyzes the performance of the Edsel. According to Gunn, this line of cars was a perfect example of a failed creation. The Edsel, created about fifty years ago, took the Ford foundation approximately two years to produce and cost them millions of dollars. It was named after Ford’s son Edsel (Gunn paragraph 3). The corporation had expected the car to be a major success in the market since it was manufactured at a time when the automobile industry was experiencing a manufacturing boom. It was conceived at a time when Ford had very few credible competitors such as Volkswagen so it was bound to make an impact on the automobile market. Ford had decided to introduce this model to satisfy the ever-increasing demand for automobiles. It was supposed to be attractive in order to appeal to buyers. From advertisements and leaks from the press, potential customers were geared towards something extraordinarily different from the usual Ford cars. When the car was finally released, it became an object of mockery from both the media and the people. The subject of mockery was the grille that hung among the fenders (Gunn paragraph 5). Because of the grille, the Ford foundation was unable to make their anticipated sales even after Ford tried to make major alterations to its design. The Edsel named after Ford’s son, became a subject of humor for a very long time afterwards.

In an interview with NPR’s Scott Simon, Paul Ingrassia the author of Engines of Change, a book that analyzes fifteen historical cars and what they represented during their time, talks about the symbolism attached to cars. In the book, Ingrassia demonstrates how the automotive industry has affected the American culture and ways of life. Ingrassia says in the interview that the fifteen cars he chose were the most influential on the American citizen (NPR paragraph 3). Ingrassia says that aspects of the American culture and history can be captured by different automobiles. In the interview, he cites several examples; his first example is the Chevy Corvette. Ingrassia says that since this car was introduced in 1953, when Elvis Presley recorded music, Hugh Hefner founded the Playboy and the Korean War ended it was thus a symbol of peace and freedom (NPR paragraph 6). He also says that the Volkswagen beetle was a symbol of peace, love and since it introduced during the 1950’s the American people bought it as a sign of their distaste to the extravagant behavior of American consumers. About the Mustang, Ingrassia says it had a major influence on American culture. It symbolized the introduction of a sporty cheap vehicle. This was significant because it encouraged American families to own two cars. Ingrassia mentions the Prius and says it was symbolic because of its shape. He says that it was a technological masterpiece. This attribute and its shape made it a household name in America during its time (NPR paragraph 10). At the end of the interview, Ingrassia says that the automobile industry has great potential and there was still a lot of chance that it may churn out similarly influential vehicles.


From the above articles and the examples given, vehicles have been used as symbols in many different ways throughout the history of the automobile industry. The symbolism can be viewed from the manufacturer’s perspective (Ford) and from the customer’s perspective (Ingrassia). From the manufacturer’s perspective, the car represented something they cherished and therefore influenced his mind from the onset. From Ford’s example, the Edsel was a project that he held close to his heart. He had named it after his son and thus had high expectations on its performance. The fact that Edsel represented someone he really loved cannot be disputed. Ford injected a lot of money and work force into this project because he did not want it to fail. Even when all indications showed that the line of cars was failing, he still tried to salvage it my making more changes. The failure of the Edsel can also be largely attributed to the way the media used the grille in their mockery. The grille had different names tagged on it for instance among some circle it was called “an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon” (Gunn, paragraph 6). Perhaps such names that symbolized outdated automotives were reasons why the Edsel never picked up. This is an example of how this symbolism affected culture and people’s way of life.

This symbolism can also be seen from the Ingrassia depiction of what historical cars symbolized. The American citizenry view cars according to what event or part of their life particular cars captured. This symbolism affected largely the kind of cars they bought and why they bought them. As illustrated by Ingrassia, people sometimes bought cars to pass a message, as was the case of the Volkswagen beetle. This symbolism in the automobile industry had and still has a great impact in the way people behave and cars are still symbols of culture and lifestyle.


Works Cited

Gunn, Malcolm. “Ford Edsel: Shiny grille Derailed a Sure Success.” Newsday, Feb 11. 2013. Web. Feb 23. 2013.

Staff, NPR. “In ‘Engines’, A History of America Through Cars.” NPR Books, May 01. 2012. Web. Feb 23. 2013.

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