Sixteen Books Every Auto Enthusiast Should Read ""

By | July 3, 2017
Sixteen Books Every Auto Enthusiast Should Read

We’ve previously profiled ­occasional C/D contributor P.J. O’Rourke’s Driving Like Crazy: 30 Years of Vehicular Hellbending, but that doesn’t mean you don’t still need it.

A list of “bests” is always temporary, but these books will add weight to anyone’s corpus of knowledge for cars, racing, and race drivers. Our list includes recent titles as well as some oldies that deserve reacquaintance. And nobody’s automotive library is complete without Sir Stirling Moss’s All but My Life: Face to Face with Ken Purdy, Purdy’s The Kings of the Road, Denis Jenkinson’s The Racing Driver: The Theory and Practice of Fast Driving, and The Reckoning by the late David Halber­stam on the parallels of the American and Japanese car industries.

Total Competition: Lessons in Strategy from Formula One
Total Competition: Lessons in Strategy from Formula One
Ross Brawn and Adam Parr; Simon & Schuster

A valuable peek behind the veil at the politics of Formula 1 and the sport’s economics over the past 20 years. Includes portraits of Bernie Ecclestone, Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, designer Adrian Newey, and the Jaguar, Ferrari, Honda, and Benetton teams where Brawn held sway as technical director and team principal. The account is marred by the tendency of the authors to fall back on simple self-help mantras and overly weighty references to classical texts such as Carl von Clausewitz’s On War and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Still, a winner.

Corvette: America’s Star-Spangled Sports Car, the Complete History
Karl Ludvigsen; Bentley Publishers

The best book on Corvettes: comprehensive, informative, easy to read, and not overly technical. It’s no surprise, as Ludvigsen’s Excellence Was Expected remains the canonical work on Porsche.

Klemantaski: Master Motorsports Photographer
Klemantaski: Master Motorsports Photographer
Paul Parker, photography by Louis Klemantaski; Motorbooks

Hands down, the most evocative photos of cars at speed—of the phenomenon of speed itself—ever produced. It should be remembered that Klemantaski, old-fashioned Leica in hand, worked at a time when track photographers had such close access they could get within feet of cars sliding by at barrier-less venues like the Nürburgring and Spa-Francorchamps.
-Photography as high art, even by Avedon or Cartier-Bresson standards.

Going Faster! Mastering the Art of Race Driving
Going Faster! Mastering the Art of Race Driving
Carl Lopez; Bentley Publishers

The go-to manual by the Skip Barber School’s emeritus instructor, a man who knows how to drive and how to teach.

Black Noon: The Year They Stopped the Indy 500
Art Garner; Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press

Writing a book is hard, especially when the book in question is based on meticulous research that surfaces as page-turning prose. This is such a page turner on the 1964 Indy 500, which incinerated Eddie Sachs and rookie Dave MacDonald on the second lap and left the racing world aching.

The Unfair Advantage
The Unfair Advantage
Mark Donohue with Paul Van Valkenburgh; Bentley Publishers

Written shortly before the death of the great Mark Donohue and recently reissued, this book does something very few racing memoirs manage to pull off: make readable the infinitely boring but indispensable business of setting up a car to win. Being at Donohue’s side as he prepares his Indy, Trans-Am, and Can-Am mounts, we see the all-consuming passion that carried this man to championships, including the Indy 500.

Can-Am 50th Anniversary: Flat Out with North America’s Greatest Race Series, 1966–74
Can-Am 50th Anniversary: Flat Out with North America’s Greatest Race Series, 1966–74
George Levy, photography by Pete Biro; Quarto Publishing

The best account we have of the fierce, open-spec Can-Am series, which lasted eight years and featured almost all the world’s greatest drivers, many of whom Levy personally interviewed for his fine text.

Driving with the Devil: Southern Moonshine, Detroit Wheels, and the Birth of NASCAR
Driving with the Devil: Southern Moonshine, Detroit Wheels, and the Birth of NASCAR
Neal Thompson; Three Rivers Press/Crown Publishing

Thompson chronicles NASCAR’s moonshiner origins in the Depression-wracked South: divorces, drunks, knife fights, and back-road wrecks galore, as well as the “good ol’ boys” (including the then young and not-so-kempt Bill France) who made American stock-car racing into the gold mine it is today.

The Limit: Life and Death on the 1961 Grand Prix Circuit
Michael Cannell; Twelve/Grand Central Publishing

A chilling account of the Phil Hill/Wolfgang von Trips duel for the 1961 Formula 1 Championship. The portrait of Hill, who cooperated with the author, gives us a close-up of this oddly introspective man who played the classical organ, was afflicted with ulcers, and suffered from bad nerves before every race.

Jesse Alexander; David Bull Publishing

As the title suggests, this is a book of portraits, some posed, some candid, of the most important racers of the ’60s and ’70s. There’s Innes Ireland cracking his wonderfully raffish smile; a wasted Jimmy Clark just after winning at Spa; and a recently retired, grinning Dan Gurney with wife Evi, happy to have survived a lifetime of racing during which, he once explained to us, he’d lain awake in bed one night, counting the number of colleagues who’d perished in racing cars until he had to stop at 28. They’re all here, all the faces, all revealed as, above all, human.

The Cruel Sport: Grand Prix Racing 1959–1967
The Cruel Sport: Grand Prix Racing 1959–1967
Robert Daley; Motorbooks

When Dan Gurney crashed into the crowd at the Dutch Grand Prix in 1960 and killed a young spectator, he commented to author Daley, “This is a cruel sport.” That’s how close Daley was to the action, and it shows in his incandescent portrait of Grand Prix racing during the sport’s dangerous glory years. The author was a deputy commissioner of the New York City Police Department and has written scads of crime novels. It’s no surprise, then, that there’s a Hemingwavian muscularity here that gives this book a no-bullshit quality that’s rare in sports writing, whether it’s about the NFL, NBA, or driving at the limit in open-wheel cars at a time when drivers wore T-shirts and flimsy cork-lined Cromwell crash hats.

Shelby Cobra: The Snake that Captured the World
Colin Comer; Motorbooks

From the early 260 Cobras to the Ferrari-beating Daytona Coupes, from Ken Miles to Bob Bondurant, and, of course, the garrulous, limelight-loving Shelby himself, this book by Road & Track contributing editor Comer gives the complete history, including the SoCal hot-rodding scene from which the Cobra coiled forth.

A French Kiss with Death: Steve McQueen and the Making of Le Mans
A French Kiss with Death: Steve McQueen and the Making of Le Mans
Michael Keyser; Bentley Publishers

Replete with photos, this is a chronicle of McQueen’s passionate drive to make the ultimate racing movie, which cost the star his marriage and nearly his career. Unlike many racing authors, Keyser knows a thing or two about racing. His familiarity and understanding of the world makes French Kiss a particular pleasure.

Automotive Handbook—9th Edition
Automotive Handbook—9th Edition
Robert Bosch; Bentley Publishers

A handy 1500-page encyclopedia of everything automotive; chockablock with info, diagrams, pictures, tables, and charts.

Side Glances, Volume 3: 1998–2002
Peter Egan; Brooklands Books

Another from the Road & Track crew, this time a collection of easily digested columns from the magazine. Because Egan’s a Midwest boy through and through, his writing calls to mind the folksy easiness and sunny wisdom of Garrison Keillor, which is certainly no bad thing.

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