The author of the most famous — and controversial — book ever penned about the automotive industry turns 82 today.
Automobile safety crusader Ralph Nader probably wouldn’t have made it to this ripe old age if the industry hadn’t made design changes and undergone cultural reforms in the wake of his scathing 1965 publication “Unsafe at Any Speed.”
That book, which laid bare design flaws and the general lack of regard for safety during the then-Big Three’s heyday, ultimately sunk the innovative ‘swing axle’ Chevrolet Corvair — or as Nader called it, “The One-Car Accident.”
His book critiqued both interior and exterior design, industry cost cutting, and a myriad of other issues, but his pointed words turned the rear-engine Corvair, which bowed in 1960 as a car that did everything differently, into a rolling pariah. Sales plummeted after the release of the book, despite design changes that eliminated the cause of those early rollover crashes.
The Corvair was cancelled in 1969, but the car-buying public now knew the value of anti-roll bars thanks to Nader.
The notoriety that “Unsafe at Any Speed” heaped on Nader was intense. He was forced to sue General Motors after the company sent investigators to spy on him in a bid to gather reputation-destroying dirt.
Stubborn and dogged as he was — and remains to this day — Nader took his case before Congress. His concerns were integrated into the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, which passed in 1966.
Today, many younger people only remember Nader as the guy whose third-party candidacy tipped the balance in the 2000 U.S. election, though many of them wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for the safety reforms he championed.
[Image: Sage Ross/Flickr]