Like Father, Like Son

June 11, 2013

Sunday, June 16th, is Father’s Day. In the spirit of the holiday, the Historical Vehicle Association looks at five famous father/son partnerships in the automotive world.

Auto Manufacturing: Henry and Edsel Ford

Henry Ford and Edsel Ford

By all accounts, being the son of Henry Ford wasn’t easy. In 1893, Ford’s wife Clara gave birth to the couple’s only son. Edsel Ford had an artistic bent; “gentle” is the adjective most often used to describe the boy, who enjoyed painting and photography in addition to tinkering with cars.

Historians now believe that Ford’s move to give corporate control to his 25-year-old son in 1919 was merely a ploy to dilute the value of Ford stock, thus allowing Ford to buy out small minority stockholders and assume total control. Good proof of this lies in the fact that Ford never relinquished power and routinely overruled, harassed and humiliated his son, who long advocated the introduction of a more modern automobile to replace the Model T and, thereby, help the company to remain competitive.

Edsel did manage to make a few changes to the company before his early death from cancer in 1943. He founded and named the Mercury division, was largely responsible for the Lincoln Zephyr and Lincoln Continental, and was instrumental in strengthening Ford Motors' overseas production.

Racing: Lee and Richard Petty

Lee Petty and Richard Petty

The sport of auto racing has seen many famous father/son duos over the years: Mario Andretti and his sons Michael and Jeff; Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and his sons Dale Jr. and Kerry; Al Unser, Sr. and his son Al Unser, Jr.

Lee Petty was one of NASCAR’s early superstars. He captured three championships in the mid-to-late 1950s before the sport captured America’s attention. Petty’s son, Richard, went on to top his father by becoming NASCAR's all-time race winner. Richard won seven drivers' championships over a 13-year time frame (1967-1979). He retired from the sport in 1992 after having won a record 200 races. Both Lee and Richard Petty are in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Daredevils: Evel and Robbie Knievel

Evel Knievel and Robbie Knievel

From 1965 to 1980, Evel Knievel attempted over 75 ramp-to-ramp motorcycle jumps, including a failed jump across the Snake River Canyon in 1974 on a steam-powered rocket. He suffered more than 433 broken bones during his career, earning him an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records as the survivor of "most bones broken in a lifetime."

His son, Robbie Knievel, began riding motorcycles at age eight and in four years began performing in pre-jump shows while touring the country with his father. In addition to setting 20 world records, Robbie has completed over 350 jumps during his career, including many of his father’s stunts (such as Evel's 1967 Caesar’s Palace crash).

Customizers: George and Brett Barris

George Barris and Brett Barris

George Barris has produced many of the most memorable cars in television and Hollywood history: the original Batmobile; Munster Koach; the Beverly Hillbillies’ 1921 Olds Touring Car; and KITT from Nightrider, just to name a few. Through his business, Barris Custom, Barris builds many novelty vehicles and hot rods for celebrities and private collectors.

His son, Brett, is currently a partner in the business. A graphic design major, Brett worked in the entertainment industry and as an art photographer before becoming the marketing director of Barris Custom. Brett has also taken up the job of promoting and preserving George Barris’ legacy as “The King of Kustomizers.”

Motorcycle Men: William A., William H. and Willie G. Davidson

William A. Davidson, William H. Davidson, Willie G. Davidson

William A. Davidson quit his regular paying job with the Milwaukee Road railroad in 1903 to get into the business of making motorcycles. Together with his younger brothers and a man named William Harley, “Old Bill” Davidson was one of the original founders of Harley-Davidson Motor Company. His son, William Herbert Davidson, was born in 1905 and started working on the shop floor of the family business in 1928 after attending the University of Wisconsin. When he wasn’t winning motorcycle races, William Herbert worked his way up through the company, becoming a foreman, manager of many departments, and finally president of Harley-Davidson in 1942.

In 1963, William Herbert brought in his son William G. Davidson (Willie G.) to head up the styling department of the company. Willie G. would end up creating some of the company’s most popular designs, including the legendary Low Rider and the Super Glide. Inspired by the ideas of customizers, Willie G.’s unique designs helped revolutionize the image of Harley-Davidson. He was also instrumental in helping guide the company back to financial health after joining together with other executives and buying the troubled company back from American Machine and Foundry (AMF) in 1981.



  1. Paul Seattle

    Um... Not to be picky, but seems like a rather odd omission: Dr. Ferdinand Porsche and son Ferry Porsche. Then there's grandson Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, the designer of the 911.

  2. daryl judd spokane, washington

    I thought it interesting you did not mention Lee Petty's & Richard's brother Maurice who was a major contributor in Richard's wins as he was head engine builder during that period. Most of the 200 winning engines used by Richard were built by Maurice Petty.

  3. Jim Memphis, TN

    Good Article but a couple of errors/omissions. Jeff Andretti is the son of Aldo Andretti, Mario's twin brother. Kyle Petty continued the Petty legacy as a third generation and then Adam Petty, Kyle's son raced until tragically killed in a crash at the Louden Motor Speedway in New Hampshire. The Petty's are the only four generation racing family in NASCAR.