‘The Betsy’: Smaller ‘Wheels’, quicker start

Angelo Perino, a retired race car driver, is hired by “Number One,” Loren Hardeman, to design and build a totally new automobile to be called The Betsy after his granddaughter.

Engineer's drawing of sporty car with BETSY on its license plate
Drawing showing the Betsy’s hood.

Although 91 and confined to a wheelchair, Number One is prepared to commit his entire personal and corporate fortune to the project, as is independently wealthy Perino.

There’s a catch: the entire project must be kept secret until the first Betsy rolls off the production line.

Bethlehem Motors, founded in the days of Henry Ford, diversified under Hardeman’s son and grandson. In 1969, CEO “Loren 3” is looking for an opportunity to unload the auto business, keeping only Bethlehem’s more profitable product lines such as washing machines.

The Betsy gets off to a lusty start with the male lead in bed with a auto racing groupie, and keeps up the supercharged sex to the end.

Unlike the whole-industry approach of Arthur Hailey’s Wheels, Harold Robbins’ focus on a single company makes for easier storytelling, although Robbins indulges in frequent and distracting flashbacks.

The main story is mildly interesting, scattered with intriguing bits of information, but it not sufficiently interesting that the dramatic end to the automobile project will be regretted by readers.

The Betsy by Harrold Robbins
Trident Press, ©1971, 502 pages
1971 bestseller #5. My grade: C

Reviewer’s note: the art is from the cover of the First Charnwood Edition of The Betsy, published in 1984 in Great Britain.

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Hailey’s Wheels is flat.

In Airport, novelist Arthur Hailey used a single fictional airport to put in the infrastructure needs of American’s airports in human perspective.

Black dust jacket of wheels has only tiny figures of people standing around a car.
Not a very racy cover for a book about cars.

In Wheels he attempts to tell the behind-the-scenes story of the entire auto industry. He can’t squeeze it all into an average-length novel.

Wheels has three main stories: The marriage of Adam Trenton, who is head of General Motor’s newest product launch, and his sexually under-served wife, Erica; the relationship of GM product designer Brett DeLosanto and Barbara Zaleski, an ad agency creative working for auto industry clients; and Rollie Knight, a black ex-con who gets a job at GM through an employment program aimed at Detroit’s home-grown underclass.

Those three stories would be plenty for a novel, but Hailey brings in two others to give a rounded picture of the industry. In the process, he lets the air out of the main stories.

In its own way, each of the three stories’ endings is as unsatisfactory as a Monday-built automobile.

Hailey’s allusions to current events probably kept 1970’s readers attention, but they they won’t gain much traction with 2018 readers: Today Hailey would need to give free car washes to every reader who finishes the novel.

Wheels by Arthur Hailey
Doubleday, 1971. 374 p.
1971 bestseller #1. My grade: B-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni