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Automobile Dictionary with Lagniappe by Ben Jordan

Automobile Dictionary with Lagniappe by Ben Jordan
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Book review by Richard Parks, photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz


Ben Jordan has written a dictionary especially for the car enthusiast. Driven by a love for all things automotive, Jordan has created a book that is fun to read and user friendly. The complete name of the book is Ben Jordan’s Automotive Jargon for the Car Owner; from the Shade Tree Mechanic’s Automobile Dictionary with Lagniappe. It is a soft cover 8 ½ by 11 inch book with 416 pages and is a full one-inch thick. The publisher is Windmill Jouster Books, in Denver, Colorado and it was printed by Clements Printing, copyrighted in 1995. The Library of Congress number is 95-90447. There are few photos, mostly on the covers, but there are some very fine drawings by Bill Ballas. Jordan includes a lagniappe, which is an addendum built into the book, and he encourages readers of the book to send new automotive words and descriptions, as well as corrections, to the publisher to be added to future editions. The dictionary is alphabetical, just like Webster’s, with the exception that Jordan adds an iconoclastic and decidedly conservative broadside every now and then. He does not hold back from his deep-set convictions about the car culture and a government often at odds with it. The dictionary covers terms used by all segments of the automotive world.  On page 279, for example, are the words Quattoporte, quenching, quick change and quick charger. There are many terms that I’ve never heard of and the dictionary that Jordan created will serve a need among mechanics and automotive enthusiasts.

The author was born in 1916, in Georgia, and placed in an orphanage at age seven. This toughened his resolve and he graduated from high school and went on to college, where he earned his degree in mechanical engineering at Clemson University. He spent one year with Bucky Fuller on the Dymaxion automobile. He began flying in 1932 and served in WWII as a pilot and spent the next 42 years in the Air Force on active and reserve status. Jordan’s life has been dedicated to speed and his struggle has honed his strong opinions. As an engineer he has advocated the use of hydrogen as a fuel for cars and for our space program. He built his first hydrogen-powered engine in 1932, as a sixteen-year-old young man, the same year he learned to fly. He flew a B-57 Canberra Jet hydrogen-powered bomber in 1956. In 1981, Jordan converted a landspeed car to hydrogen and is the first to drive such a car at the Bonneville Salt Flats, in Western Utah. He converted a 1924 Model T Ford Depot Hack into a hydrogen- fueled, turbocharged driven car, before donating the car to the San Diego Automotive Museum in 1995. He built his landspeed streamliner, called the Bockscar, and set seven records at Bonneville. Jordan is a proponent of educational literacy in our schools and believes that technology can solve our societal ills. He also includes short histories and stories pertaining to the automobile. 

One story explains that Otto Benz is not the inventor of the internal combustion engine and the father of the automobile in 1885. He says that honor goes to a Swiss engineer, Isaac de Rivaz, whose patent in 1805 is duly recorded. De Rivaz’s Grand Char Mechanique reached speeds of 3 miles per hour and climbed a 12-degree hill on October 18, 1813. Jordan also gives a little history on automotive engines, with the biggest engine over 6840 cubic inches and the smallest engine only one (1) cubic inch in size. That one cubic inch engine powered a streamliner to a speed of 62 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats. He devotes another page to the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) and their influence on the automobile. Jordan proposes a new way to tax fuel and automobile usage, based on the type of fuel used and its environmental impact. He rails against government bureaucracy and policies that forestall the type of research needed to solve our energy crisis. He views all fossil fuels as wasteful and inefficient and shows how much of the gasoline that we use is not burned in the engine but lost through the exhaust back into the atmosphere as pollution. He is an unabashedly proud proponent of the hydrogen-powered vehicle. He forecasts that eventually the automotive and fuel industries will have to evolve, pulling a stodgy and rebelling political structure along with it into the modern age of hydrogen power. Jordan also rails against the term “accidents happen.” He states there are no accidents and that government and the auto and gas industries are to blame for poor engineering of our highways and vehicles. Whatever view you hold, one has to admire Ben Jordan for fighting for his beliefs. There are no indexes or chapter headings, but that doesn’t detract from the book, because it is basically a dictionary with added sidelights. The reader just has to hunt for these gems and find them. Otherwise, the definitions are all in alphabetical order. This is a fine book to add to the serious hot-rodders library.

Pick one up today online at or have your local book store order one for you.