“Although I began my career as a writer about current events in the car world,” said Society of Automotive Historians honorary member Karl Ludvigsen when accepting the Friend of Automotive History Award, “I was always interested in what had gone before. I stood, as they say, on the shoulders of the men – and they were chiefly men – who had taken the trouble to research that history. Two who stand out are Griff Borgeson and Laurence Pomeroy. Since then I’ve seldom discarded anything I found to do with cars, which is why I had to move my house to the country!”
Combining a proclivity for math and science with his artistic talent, Ludvigsen set his sites on studying mechanical engineering at MIT. Exeter “over-prepared me for MIT,” he admits. “I coasted through my first year but it was a mixed blessing.”
After two years Ludvigsen left to pursue industrial design studies at Pratt Institute in New York City. He started his automobile industry career in 1956 as a stylist for General Motors, working on an early prototype of a front-wheel-drive car. He later held public relations, governmental affairs and other executive positions at General Motors, Fiat and Ford.
In addition to his motor industry activities, Karl Ludvigsen has been active for over 50 years as an author and historian. As an author, co-author or editor he has some four dozen books to his credit. Needless to say, they are all about cars and the motor industry, Karl’s life-long passion.
Since 1997 Ludvigsen has been drawing on the photographic resources of the Ludvigsen Library to write and illustrate books on the great racing drivers. His first title in this series was Stirling Moss – Racing with the Maestro. He followed this with Jackie Stewart – Triple-Crowned King of Speed and Juan Manuel Fangio – Motor Racing’s Grand Master. Fourth in this series for Haynes Publishing was Dan Gurney – The Ultimate Racer and fifth was Alberto Ascari – Ferrari’s First Double Champion. Next came Bruce McLaren – Life and Legend of Excellence and Emerson Fittipaldi — Heart of a Racer.
Also in the field of motor sports Karl Ludvigsen has written about road racing in America, the cars of the Can-Am series, the AAR Eagle racing cars, the GT40 Fords and Prime Movers, the story of Britain’s Ilmor Engineering. His introduction to At Speed, a book of Jesse Alexander’s racing photography, won the Ken W. Purdy Award for Excellence in Automotive Journalism.
Other motors-sports titles include Classic Grand Prix Cars, a history of the front-engined G.P. racer, and Classic Racing Engines, Karl’s personal selection of 50 notable power units. Ludvigsen has written the story of BRM’s ill-fated Formula 1 V16 and the saga of the great 200 horsepower Benz racers, two of which were nicknamed “Blitzen Benz.”
Four of Karl Ludvigsen’s books concern the Chevrolet Corvette, one of them an industry best-seller. He has written three times about Mercedes-Benz, twice about its racing cars. His books on the latter subject have won the Montagu Trophy (once) and the Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot Award (twice), both recognising outstanding automotive historical writing.
In 2001 Karl again received the Cugnot award from the Society of Automotive Historians for his book about the early years of the Volkswagen and its controversial factory, Battle for the Beetle, a Robert Bentley publication. In 2002 the Society gave him its highest accolade, Friend of Automotive History.
Karl Ludvigsen is also the author of the definitive histories of Porsche and Opel. His Porsche history, Excellence was Expected, is considered by many to be a model of the researching and writing of the history of an auto company. He has updated it in three volumes for Bentley Publishers for the new Millennium. A further update for 2008 is in preparation.
At the request of Ernst Piëch, a grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, Ludvigsen has researched the early life and work of that great engineer. The result, a book titled Porsche — Genesis of Genius, is published by Bentley in 2008. It has won both the Montagu Trophy and the Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot Award. An accompanying book, titled Sublime Creations, describes cars in Mr. Piëch’s personal collection.
In 1997 Ludvigsen researched and wrote the catalogue for a special exhibition of Ferrari technological innovations on the occasion of the company’s 50th anniversary and contributed a major section to the company’s official 50-year history. For Ferrari’s 60th anniversary he was commissioned by them to research and write a major over-arching history of Ferrari’s technical innovations.
Ludvigsen’s understanding of the Ferrari world combined with his Library’s holding of the Rodolfo Mailander photo archive to produce Ferrari by Mailander in 2005, a Dalton Watson publication. Its launch was accompanied by major exhibitions in Turin and Pebble Beach of selected photos from the book.
In 2008 Haynes published Ludvigsen’s history of the battles between Ferrari and Maserati from the 1940s to the 1960s, titled Red-Hot Rivals. Ludvigsen is also the author of a series of monographs on great Maserati cars.
In co-operation with publisher Iconografix, Ludvigsen has established the Ludvigsen Library Series of 128-page books drawing on the holdings of the Ludvigsen Library. The series now numbers 19 titles, including books on Indy racing cars of 1911 to 1939, the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, the Indy Novis, Chevrolet’s Corvair and Corvette, Jaguar XK120, XK140 and XK150, the Mercedes-Benz 300SL of 1952 and 1954-1964, the 300SLR of 1955, two books on Porsche Spyders, the Porsche 917, the Ferrari factory and American sports-racers: the Cunninghams, Chaparrals and Can-Am racing cars.
Karl’s Ludvigsen Library is also active in the provision of photographs and research material for authors, publishers of books and periodicals, and collectors and enthusiasts. It holds extensive original negatives and transparencies from the 1950s forward with special strengths in motor sports, American cars and sports cars. As well it holds original photos and glass negatives from the dawn of the automotive era.
On motor-industry topics Karl Ludvigsen has written books about high-performance engines, the Wankel rotary engine and the histories of American auto makers. His latest book on power units is The V12 Engine, published by Haynes in 2005. He was editor of The Future of the Automobile, the report of the 1981-1984 study of the world auto industry by M.I.T. This was named one of the best business books of the year by Business Week.
In 1996 publishers in Britain and the United States launched Karl Ludvigsen’s book on motor industry management, Creating the Customer-Driven Car Company. It draws on his industry experience and in-depth research to advise industry personnel on customer-pleasing best practice.
From 1989 to 1998 Karl Ludvigsen edited and contributed to numerous studies published by Euromotor Reports Limited, a leading researcher of special reports and studies about the European motor industry and market. Resident in England since 1980, Mr Ludvigsen is respected as a close and knowledgeable observer of, and participant in, the world motor industry.
Leading periodicals also publish Karl Ludvigsen’s writings. He is a former technical editor of Sports Cars Illustrated (1956-57), editor of Car and Driver (1960-1962) and east coast editor of Motor Trend (1970s). His articles about cars, companies and motoring personalities are published in America by Automobile Quarterly, among others, while in Europe he writes frequently for The Automobile. He is a regular writer and columnist for Hemmings Sports & Exotic Cars, 911 & Porsche World and Just-Auto.com.
Karl’s automotive tastes are fascinating. Like any self-respecting enthusiast of his era, he started with an MG TC, followed by a Triumph TR2. But when shipped to Germany on Military Service he bought a new three-speed Renault Dauphine, due to the high fuel costs. The plan was to buy an Alfa Romeo to take home, but his moonlight writing while in the services enabled him to buy a used Mercedes-Benz Gullwing 300SL. He even convinced the Gullwing’s owner to take the Dauphine in trade for his wife. Once home, New York City placed limitations on the 300SL so to complement the Gullwing, a Citroën 2CV provided transportation from 0 to 50 mph, with the Gullwing filling the 50 mph to 150 mph slot. When rust prompted the sale of the Mercedes-Benz, the rust resistant wooden structure justified the purchase of a Morgan while employed by GM. After being rear-ended by a truck, the Morgan bowed to a Chevrolet Nova SS. Currently the Ludvigsen stable includes a Riley and a Cord.