When walking around the LA car show, communicating with the dead is not normally uppermost in anyone's mind. Getting the phone number of the dark-haired beauty on the Ferrari stand is a more likely desire than speaking to those who have passed over. But when you encounter the show's diamond-encrusted underbelly, see the million-dollar rims that have been fashioned for the million-dollar Phantom, or witness the popularity of Bentleys with blinged-up hip-hop artists, then you do begin to wonder whether Sir Henry Royce and W.O. Bentley are spinning in their graves like a couple of, well, wheel spinners.
Royce set up his first company in 1884, with 70 of capital, which can't have been that much money even then. The fact that wheels covered in diamonds and sapphires are made for a car that bears his name he would surely find mind-blowing. But, of course, even that term hadn't been coined in his day. Though he did once say: "Whatsoever is rightly done, however humble, is noble." Royce was a guy who liked things to be absolutely right. I'd love to know his reaction to the universally reviled Camargue.
I'm not the only person to have had this idea. Rumor has it that in 1949, an Italian Rolls-Royce owner was planning to modify his car and decided to hold a seance, hoping to receive guidance from the spirit of Sir Henry. Apparently, the answer from beyond the veil was: "See your authorized distributor."
Unlike Royce, Walter Owen Bentley came from a privileged background and his cars have always been associated with the young, the rich and the flash. So perhaps he'd see someone like P. Diddy in a GTC as a logical step. But it would be good to know his thoughts. I have an idea that both he and Royce would be dismayed by the demise of the gentleman. A Bentley or a Rolls-Royce driver would have a Purdey rifle instead of an Uzi semi-automatic.
Mini designer Sir Alex Issigonis died in 1988, before the Smart car came into existence, which I think he would have liked. I also can't help thinking that although he'd rate the new Mini as a fun car, he'd be somewhat disappointed with the lack of innovative thought that characterized his original creation. At least he didn't have to sit through the remake of The Italian Job.
If Ferdinand Porsche and Enzo Ferrari are looking down on the businesses that bear their names, I bet they wish they were still here, getting involved. Because they could be having an awful lot of fun at the moment: Porsche in his Carrera GT and Ferrari in his Enzo. Those cars sure beat a harp and wings any day. And I can imagine Enzo would love his eponymous car as it's so race-oriented. He was always sniffy about the road cars.
Consider these quotes:
"If you think you can, you can. If you think you can't, you're right."
"The only history worth a damn is the history we make today."
This message of self-belief and being fully in the moment is the message of countless self-help books. Know who said them? Henry Ford. It looks like Ford would have made an impact in any time. He saw consumerism as the key to peace. He would admire Toyota's 'just in time' approach to manufacturing, and who knows what he would have done with the Internet?
I guess the great thing is that we still have things to remember these men by. They've left legacies. Who's around today that might do the same? This is not the age of the individual. This is the corporate age. Accountants and lawyers don't have vision. They're too greedy, unimaginative and scared to make a decision. Most car manufacturers have become bloated and unwieldy. Nothing can be done without focus groups, market research and project managers.
And what does market research get us? Boring cars that try to please everybody and end up pleasing nobody. Progress was never made by consensus. It's always done by the man (or woman) who stands apart.
As the founder of Lotus, Colin Chapman's philosophy was to keep cars streamlined and lightweight. So what would he make of another LA show exhibit: a pick-up with a huge TV screen and multi-speaker sound system behind the cab and the rest of the cargo area given over to a massive BBQ grill? He'd probably say a truck is a truck is a truck. At least someone had the idea to do something different with it. My feeling is that, sure, it's great for watching the Super Bowl while feeding your friends, but how do you keep the fat from splashing onto the screen?