Will you love me when my spark plugs, they have rusted

And my tail lights dim, will you shed bitter tears?

Will you love me when my tires need recappin’

And my inner tubes have lost their self-respect

When my radiator’s leakin’

And my fenders are a-squeakin’

Will you love me when my flivver is a wreck?

Flivver Song, by Del Wood

Flivver: n [origin unknown] (1910) : a small cheap usu. old automobile
— Merriam-Webster’s

Flivver n. U.S. slang. E20. [Origin unkn.] A cheap motor car or airplane; a “banger”. — The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary

Furious (below): 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

Revving its engine at a four-way intersection of history, sports, business, and pop culture, “The American Automobile from Flivver to Furious,” existing in manuscript, is my story of developments, human and mechanical, starting in 1893 with the Duryea brothers of Massachusetts. This unprecedented, continuous narrative (compact at 55,000 words) describes how automobiles progressed from that starting point of buggies with gas, electric, or steam power plants, and it leads to the Very Light Car of 2010. A liquid-fueled aero-flivver created by Oliver Kuttner’s team at Edison2, in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Very Light Car stole the Automotive X Prize from battery-powered competitors.

“Gas wins (again),” Automobile Magazine proclaimed.

“You can snark all you want, but this is physics,” said the Very Light Car’s aerodynamicist, Barnaby Wainfan. “What the X Prize did is force us to take another look at the physics.”

And then, less than two years later, I took a look at the Tesla plant in Fremont, California, reporting for Automobile on the initial production of the porcine Model S and driving that Very Heavy Car on a too-short demonstration route.

Chemistry over physics? Media day at the Tesla farm in Fremont, Calif., June 22, 2012.

Beyond the bodywork and mechanical specifications of the cars, “The American Automobile from Flivver to Furious” reveals the sacrifice, the suffering, and the successes of automotive pioneers.

Straightaway, we answer basic questions. Where did General Motors come from? How did automotive design develop? Who invented the Jeep? What–ooh, la, la!–did Chevrolet’s general manager say in 1964 when he drove the Ford Mustang? 

Presentation of proof includes fresh archival material, but please also expect movie lines, literary quotations, print ads, TV spots, and the furiosity of my own coverage of automotive culture for The New York Times. 

Through this compound lens, “The American Automobile from Flivver to Furious” concerns leadership, innovation and design, the vital Los Angeles-Detroit nexus, and product drama such as controversy over the Chevy Corvair. 

All of it arrived to me coming from a Ford family.