Great German Cars

Great German Cars by Peter Robert’s
Published 1985 by Multimedia Publications (UK) Ltd.
96pp., hardcover

ISBN: 0 8317 3988 6

Acquired in a lot of books from a bookstore liquidation.

Recent reviews have showcased a number of books acquired from a closed bookstore. These books start to make my library a little more well-rounded, expanding to British and Italian marques, racing, and biographies of prominent figures in automotive history. Today’s book is an introduction to Great German Cars, many of which are very well known.

Off the top, this book is somewhat comparable to Jaguar: A Pictorial History and Great Marques: Ferrari. It’s oversized, same page count as the Ferrari book, and leans heavily on pictures. Rather than a chronological run of models (seen in the Jaguar book), or grouped models (Ferrari), this book comprises 20 marques arranged alphabetically.

Wait… 20? Many folks can come up with 5 German automakers, perhaps a sixth if they think hard. That’s fair, as the other 14 marques featured are generally long defunct, historic parts of the German auto industry. Certainly the lion’s share of space is devoted to Mercedes (20 pages), BMW (10), Porsche (10), Opel (8), Audi and VW (4 pages each). Everyone else gets 2 pages. And really, with each page predominantly pictures, the writing is brief throughout.

Without dragging it out too much, it’s a nice little introductory book, a quick read with some really nice photos. That’s not to say there isn’t anything to learn on these pages. For example, I knew that Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler had independently created the world’s first automobiles powered by internal combustion engines, Benz in 1885, Daimler months later in 1886. But this little book informed me that a) the two inventors worked about 60 miles from each other and b) they never met, even though after their deaths, their respective companies merged to form Daimler-Benz (now Daimler AG).

Similarly, I can’t say I was really familiar Borgward, Durkopp, Rumpler, or many of the older marques. In fact at times I forget that NSU sold a car powered by the Wankel rotary engine in its Spider. So these brief features showed me something I wasn’t aware of until I got this little book.

As this is a book about German cars, and the history of the German auto industry, it should be noted that there are references to the Nazi regime. As with everything else here, the references are brief.

Of course, there is also much missing from this little book. The Volkswagen chapter features only Beetles, with only written reference to cars like the Rabbit, Scirocco or Golf (and nothing of the Karmann Ghia, Sportback or vans). The Porsche chapter features famous racers like the 917, but only a single image of the 356. No 2002s appear for BMW and is mentioned briefly, the 507 is completely absent. And there’s no mention of the Opel GT, which is probably better known in North America. I am not sure if my North American bias enters into it, as perhaps the models I am missing were simpoly not very known or popular in Europe and Britain (Britain being where this book originates).

In the end, what does it mean? Well, the lot of books I got this in numbered 8 and I paid $5 a book. For that cost, there’s some decent information and a few good pictures. But, as you’d imagine, 20 automakers in under 100 pages means there isn’t going to be a lot to see. The Jaguar and Ferrari books were far more informative, and I thought those were fairly brief.

If you found Great German Cars in a box at a yard sale, sure, maybe grab it for a buck. Leaf through it with your grandkid, let them grow an interest in cars. But don’t expect great things from this book.

Pros: very good photos
Cons: not really much in the way of writing; short book means though photos are very good, they show a very limited selection of models
Where to find it: used books stores, Amazon, yard sales

You may also enjoy:
Motoring: The Golden Years: A Pictorial Anthology
Automobile Quarterly Volume 7, Number 1
Famous Old Cars

Auburn Cord Duesenberg

Auburn Cord Duesenberg by Don Butler
Published 1992 by Crestline Publishing
360 pp., hardcover

ISBN: 0-87938-701-7

Received from the estate of a friend and fellow auto enthusiast. Currently out of print.

My first review for this blog was Crestline Publishing’s Sixty Years of Chevrolet. It was an old book then at 42 years. One of a series of 36 automotive histories, I was lucky to acquire 5 titles in the series at once. I was so taken with the books, I started this blog because, despite their being out of print, I felt the books were something automobile enthusiasts would appreciate. Today I review Auburn Cord Duesenberg by Don Butler, which was in that first 5 I got.

In most ways, Auburn Cord Duesenberg is very similar to the Chevrolet book (and frankly, most in the ‘Crestline series’, of which I now have 7). It’s a large, heavy book, printed on heavyweight paper stock. Generally each chapter covers a single model year. There are hundreds of photos throughout, each with lengthy captions. Unfortunately, the photos are all black and white, many are dark, and they’re a little small. But the fact they are there, and display a good amount of the product offerings for that year, makes for a pretty good resource.

If you intend to read this book, be prepared. It’s dense, and it takes some concentration to absorb the content. Author Butler wrote a very comprehensive book that actually begins well before any of the Auburn, Cord or Duesenberg marques exist.

This book is well-organized, that isn’t the issue. But there is a lot of parts to follow, as Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg, though they eventually were parts of one organization, all originated seperately. Each chapter deals with Auburn (born from the Eckhart carriage concern), Duesenberg (the careers of brothers Fred and August, then the eventual company that built the cars), and Cord (early on, E. L. Cord’s beginnings in the auto industry including the other makes of cars he sold). As the years progress, other entities are also followed, including Lycoming (engine builder, and supplier to other automotive makes as well as air and sea craft), Stinson (a aircraft-building division of the Cord Corporation), and Checker Cab.

Also important to note, the nature of Duesenberg specifically make it something of an exercise to digest. While Duesenberg did offer ‘catalogue’ designs, most cars were sold as chassis and engine, with bodies designed and built by any number of coachbuilders such as Murphy, Rollston, Derham, and Hibbard and Darrin. Butler includes many pictures and sketches of various styles. In some cases, the sketches never resulted in an actual car. In others, Butler indicates how many are thought to have been built. Further, where possible the author writes of the car still existed as of publication, was scrapped, or was rebodied (something Duesenberg offered its customers, updating or accepting older chassis as trade-ins which were then rebodied by a new owner).

The small, dark pictures do make it somewhat difficult to discern details, which is a shame because there are many often subtle characteristics that define these unique coachbuilt bodies. But, there are still many very interesting cars to see. One of particular interest in this book is a 1935 Duesenberg SSJ Roadster on a shortened chassis, identified as having been Clark Gable’s car. Aside from the provenance of movie star ownership, this car is the near-twin of another owned by Gable friend and movie star Gary Cooper. Cooper’s car sold at a 2018 auction for a record $22M, the most paid for any American built automobile.

As with most Crestline books, the text of each chapter offers as complete a picture as possible for each year. Topics explained include not only information on automobile models offered for the year, but also production numbers, corporate financial status and acquisitions, information about senior management and ownership personnel, plant openings and closings. Butler also adds major racing results from the efforts of Duesenberg teams. Much information is also added in the captions for the photos, which themselves are essentially paragraphs.

I found a nice add to this book is the fact that the post-Cord Corporation history is included. As production of Auburns, Cords and Duesenbergs ceased around 1937, and the Cord Corporation began bankruptcy proceedings, certain assets were divested. Among these were the Cord automotive dies. These were acquired by Hupp motorcar company, and were used to create the Hupp Skylark. Financial troubles forced Hupp to partner with Graham-Paige, and a joint venture allowed Skylarks to be built with the almost identical Graham Hollywood (using the same Cord dies). Unfortunately, by 1941 both these automotive ventures had failed. The book also includes information on ‘replicars’, that is the later attempts to revive Duesenberg in the 1960s, as well as the fairly well-known replica versions of the Auburn Speedster and Cord 810/812 that can be found today.

A note about Don Butler, he passed away before the book was completed. The foreword is dedicated to him, and a tribute appears on the last page. An author of other Crestline books and former Senior Designer at Chrysler, he was also an artist who contributed drawings of cars to this very book for which no drawings or photos exist. Colleagues banded together to complete this edition for publication.

I really enjoy the ‘Crestline series’ of automotive books. I hope to acquire more and intend to get around to reviewing them all in due time. These are not colourful books and the reading can at times be taxing. They are fairly comprehensive. Yes it would be great if the pictures were larger and in colour, and perhaps the writing could be a little more streamlined. But there’s a ton of information contained within. Some of it is esoteric to be sure – it’s not likely you’ll ever need to know who the treasurer of Cord Corporation was. If you do, well, luckily that tidbit may be found here. Luckily, in the case of Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg, this book encompasses the complete history, and includes information about the ACD Museum, still in operation in the old headquarters. For reference, for brushing up on models and being able to compare cars across many years, for corporate information, I’m not sure there’s many books out there that can beat a Crestline. For the autophile interested in these 3 defunct but hardly forgotten marques, this is a ‘must have’.

Pros: very comprehensive history of the Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg marques; many photos.
Cons: despite being published in the early 1990s, it only contains black-and-white images; contains a lot of ‘related’ information that some may feel isn’t pertinent
Where to find it: Amazon, eBay, used bookstores

You may also enjoy…
The Packard Story: The Car and the Company
Roadsters and Runabouts: Collecting and Restoring Antique Classic and Special Interest Sports Cars
Famous Old Cars

Strange But True Tales of Car Collecting

Strange But True Tales of Car Collecting: Drowned Bugattis, Buried Belvederes, Felonious Ferraris, and Other Wild Stories of Automotive Misadventure by Keith Martin and the Editors of Sports Car Market
Published 2013 by Motorbooks
256pp., hardcover

ISBN: 978-0-7603-4400-2

Purchased new from a retail bookstore.

Old classic and collector cars have stories. Take my 1976 Grand Prix, bought from the family of the original owner, not driven very often, in great shape and I didn’t even test drive it before agreeing to buy. It’s a nice little story, one that I enjoy telling folks when chatting about the car.

And then, there are cars with stories. Perhaps owned by a notable person, or involved in commission of a crime. Maybe a storied racing career, or a significant model stowed away for years in a garage. Or sometimes, events even more unexpected. Those are the kinds of stories that comprise Strange But True Tales of Car Collecting: Drowned Bugatti’s, Buried Belvederes, Felonious Ferraris, and Other Wild Stories of Automotive Misadventure, a collection of 36 auto-related articles that in some cases really have to be read to be believed.

This book is very much like 50 Shades of Rust: Barn Finds You Wish You’d Discovered, in that we have a collection of stories with a common theme. Of course in 50 Shades of Rust, the theme is barn finds. Indeed some of Strange But True Tales of Car Collecting‘s features are also barn finds, but the theme is really the odd circumstances surrounding some of these cars, which are truly varied and some border on the wacky and almost unbelievable.

Take the story of a 1925 Bugatti Brescia Type 22, the subject of a local folk tale. It seems the car was won on a bet, but the new owner couldn’t pay taxes when he attempted to bring it home across the Swiss border. Left to local officials to dispose of, they attached a chain and rolled the Bugatti into the lake. The chain was in case the car was to be retrieved at a later date, except the chain snapped and down to the bottom went the car where it sat for decades.

Or how about the case of Prince Jefri of Brunei? He’d embezzled millions from the government and amassed, among other things, over 2000 cars. Many were Mercedes, but the collection was also comprised of Ferraris (all except one from the post-Enzo era, including rare cars like the F90 Testarossa and Mythos), Lamborghinis, McLarens and a $475M Rolls Royce. Unfortunately, the cars languished in various yards and buildings, unprotected. The mostly unused cars rotted in the South Asian humidity, some sporting interiors fuzzy with fungus and decay.

What about CSX 2136, a Shelby Le Mans Cobra replica, one of 6 built by Shelby to commemorate the Cobra Le Mans winners. CSX 2136 was raced (and crashed) by the Shelby team and privateer drivers through the 60s and 70s, until one crash left it severely damaged. Oh, and then it soon after caught fire on a trailer and burned to almost nothing. Some time later, a buyer acquired the chassis number and built a new CSX 2136. Except later still, someone else acquired the few remaining pieces of the original CSX 2136, which were incorporated into (you guessed it) a reborn CSX 2136. Could two real Shelby Cobras wear the same serial number?

Famous names appear – Steve McQueen’s Jaguar XKSS; Bill Cosby’s Super Snake Cobra; a Duesenberg Model J that Jay Leno found and eventually acquired after its long stay in a Manhattan garage. And, there’s cars you may have heard of – Miss Belvedere, the Plymouth buried in an Oklahoma time capsule that sadly rotted after its contained flooded; the inspiration for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; and the one-piece-at-a-time Cadillacs inspired by the Johnny Cash hit song.

The disappointment here is that there’s a lack of photos in some articles. There are no photos of the Duesenberg that Jay Leno tracked down (though a couple other Duesies are shown) nor of the $4.4M Bugatti Type 57S Atalante from another chapter. The story of the Chrysler Norseman includes 2 photos of the SS Andrea Doria (the ship that sunk while transporting the car) but none of the dream car itself. It is a bit of a balancing act in that more pictures might mean sacrificing stories to keep the book a reasonable number of pages. But certainly a Duesenberg, Bugatti and a concept car that was lost before ever being shown publicly would warrant a snapshot, wouldn’t they?

It’s also true there are some typos and errors, which I was surprised to find. Motorbooks is usually quite good putting out products that seem to have been well-vetted. However it’s almost a certainty there’s a couple of names that have been switched, and captions that don’t match their images. Still, the stories are strong, and the errors fairly few.

From an AMC dealership closed since the Carter administration yet still home to dealer brochures, service parts and about 250 used cars, to a 1953 Scuderia Ferrari racer shown at the Pebble Beach Concours and then left for decades in the back of a California barn, these stories of long-lost antiques, ill-gotten classics, weird contraptions and bizarre circumstances make for great reading. If cars interest you, and you’ve a taste for events out of the ordinary, grab a copy of this book, pour yourself a drink and be entertained.

Pros: well-written; most stories read like articles, meaning you can pick up and put down this book at your leisure
Cons: a disappointing lack of pictures
Where to find it: Amazon, eBay, perhaps still in bookstores

You might also enjoy…
Legendary Corvettes: ‘Vettes Made Famous on Track and Screen
50 Shades of Rust: Barn Finds You Wish You’d Discovered
Automobile Quarterly Volume 7, Number 1

The 50s of the Formula 1: Race to Race

The 50s of the Formula 1: Race to Race by Eddie Bennett

Published independently in 2021

116 pp., paperback

Purchased new from Amazon

I did it again. Amazon’s little trick of offering free shipping once your order gets over a certain dollar amount had me adding a cheap book to my cart. Influenced by recent reading (NASCAR, Jaguar, Ferrari), The 50s of the Formula One: Race to Race was my choice, at a mere $11.18 Canadian. I wasn’t expecting a lot, I mean at that price I figured I’d get a look at the beginnings of arguably the most famous race series in the world. I wish I could say I ended up happily surprised, but, no.

Now, this book is self-published. Let me say here that I applaud anyone who has an idea, does the work to create a manuscript, and then finds a way to get a physical book out into the marketplace. Kinda goes without saying that I like books and believe in publishing paper books. And I’ve said before that even at the best of times errors do occur and slip through in the final product. It’s happened to everyone. That said, I think going to the effort of self-publishing is wasted when the result is as poor as this book.

Let’s get the basics out of the way. A brief introduction describes the start of Formula 1 in 1950 as major auto racing returned to post-war Europe. Author Eddie Bennett then summarizes each season race by race. Each year ends with a summary of the final drivers’ points standings (and in 1958 and 1959, the Constructors’ Championship points standings). So to some extent, there’s some real information contained on these pages. For me though, that’s where the good news ends.

Overall, I’d say the writing isn’t very good. Yes, there’s a sort of overview of each race, usually the writing deals with the drivers competing near the top of the championship ladder. But there’s no depth in the writing. There are some brief explanations regarding some events – a team withdraws over safety concerns, a driver switches teams – but it’s cursory, a sentence or so stating the fact with little information to really explain what happened.

Then there’s the awkward writing. Almost as if the text were translated poorly from another language. Let’s take these passages from the book…

In this passage, the writing is very awkward. Ascari’s goal was to participate with Lancia, but it’s written as though it was “the erratic year whose goal was to participate with Lancia”. “Ascari had to retire” is past tense, but “now he is doing so” is present tense (though we are still talking about the 1950s). And the last race is not a place ‘where’ he wouldn’t be able to finish, but a contest ‘that’ or ‘which’ he wouldn’t finish.

Again, awkward prose and incorrect word usage. I am not sure exactly what “a very fought” is supposed to mean, except perhaps a very hard battle to be fought? And the phrasing “that got pole through Alberto Ascari” isn’t correct English, though we understand it means Ascari was able to win pole position.

“For his part” is incorrect. While both Cooper and Ferrari were people, the book refers to their teams and the chase for the Constructors’ Championship, not specifically to John Cooper or Enzo Ferrari.

Again, very awkward phrasing to say that Jack Brabham led the whole race, not allowing Stirling Moss any chance to gain in the championship. Such examples are found throughout this book, as well as other minor things such as typos and punctuation errors (again as above, there should be a comma between options and leading). Some things are straight confusing, such as in the first chapter…

“… only the best 5 drivers scored, distributing 8, 6, 4, 3, 2 and 1 points, plus an additional point for the fastest lap.”

The 50s of the Formula 1: Race to race

That’s 6 point values (not including fastest lap) – so, was it 6 drivers who scored points? Or is the table incorrect? Hard to say, but all in all, it makes the book difficult to read.

On the subject of making it a little more difficult to read, there are no page numbers in this book. Now, that could be a stylistic choice but I think convention says that most books have their pages numbered. There is also no table of contents. Again, it’s a short book, but with 10 chapters, a table of contents is generally accepted convention.

There are black and white photos throughout. Unfortunately, it’s hard to know what they are photos of as there are no captions on them (save for the final few pages which are labelled portraits of the many drivers who competed in F1 during the decade). Some of them are pretty decent shots – cars, drivers, action pictures from the various races. But with no captions, one can only assume the picture refers to a nearby paragraph. Also, the photos are not properly credited. In the first photo I added above, one can see a small ’36’ beside the right bottom of the photo, and a footnote at bottom saying ’36’. So, the credit for this photo is given to Wikipedia’s page for Spain. Most (but not all) photos are credited the same way, from various websites. I am fairly certain this is insufficient. Wikipedia and the other websites may have the rights to use the photos, but those rights are usually not immediately transferable to anyone wishing to publish the images. Nor is the website the true rights-holder, as that would be the photographer or agency the photo originates from. Further, simply saying ‘’ is extremely broad, so it would be something of a task to hop on the web and try to search for these specific photos on these various sites.

Now, I did discover something I didn’t know. It seems that in the early years of F1, the Indianapolis 500 was part of the championship then. Though points were awarded to the competitors, the fact is none of the European teams travelled to America to race. In the final tables, drivers who scored points at Indy were shown, but they’d have gained no other points. Conversely, everyone else’s points were gained in races other than Indy. In the book, the author gives brief mention to Indianapolis, and always mentions that really Indy has little bearing on the championship.

So, at the end of the day, I found little redeeming about this little book. I suppose as a quick reference it would suffice, if I wanted a short summary on various races. I know for certain there are much better books out there on the subject of F1’s beginnings, and on the drivers and constructors involved. I also know there are much better self-published books available (in fact I have one queued up for the coming months). As much as I enjoy books and having a small library of them, I have to say in this case, I’d prefer to have my 11 bucks back.

Pros: gives a brief overview of Formula 1 at the beginning
Cons: poorly written; a variety of errors; photos without captions to explain what the photos are
Where to get it: Amazon

You might also enjoy…
Great Marques: Ferrari
Wide Open: Days and Nights on the NASCAR Tour
Motoring: The Golden Years: A Pictorial Anthology

The All-American Muscle Car: The Birth, Death and Resurrection of Detroit’s Greatest Performance Cars

The All-American Muscle Car: The Birth, Death and Resurrection of Detroit’s Greatest Performance Cars by Joe Oldham, Jim Wangers, Colin Comer, David Newhardt and Randy Leffingwell
Published 2013 by Motorbooks
192pp., hardcover

ISBN: 978-0-7603-4382-1

Purchased new from a bookstore

I make no apologies for the number of books I own that focus on muscle cars. I was born at the end of the 1960s and 10 years old before my dad owned a car built in the 1970s. Magazines like Hot Rod and Car Craft had me lusting after muscle cars and pony cars. So, my library has a distinct bias to 1960s American cars, especially mid-sized and V8 powered.

I picked up The All-American Muscle Car: The Birth, Death and Resurrection of Detroit’s Greatest Performance Cars from my local big-box bookstore. It might have been a couple years old at the time. I was looking for a book that was more ‘story’ than just profiles of cars. The All-American Muscle Car contains a number of good stories from the era.

The 5 authors are a bit of a star-studded cast, well-known when it comes to muscle cars. Joe Oldham wrote for many top magazines in the 1960s, and road tested a multitude of muscle cars for his articles. Jim Wangers worked for Pontiac’s ad agency, and was heavily involved in promoting cars like the GTO and Firebird. Colin Comer is a respected restorer and collector car authority. I have reviewed books by Randy Leffingwell and David Newhardt, both are experts on automobiles who have authored a number of books.

Wangers is up first, and tells the origin story of the GTO. Though he’s regarded as ‘the godfather of the GTO’, Wangers sets the record straight – he was really just the guy who publicized the hot new Pontiac, whereas DeLorean and his engineers created it. He does, however, eventually cop to the legend that not only did he wrangle Car and Driver into a ‘test’ pitting Pontiac’s GTO against Ferrari’s 250 GTO, but he also had one test car fitted with a Pontiac 421 engine massaged by Royal Pontiac, an option that was never available in a factory GTO. It’s a great story to read after having read a number of GTO books, especially GTO: A Source Book which contains so much of the advertising for the 1960s.

The second chapter comes from Leffingwell, and discusses the Ford Mustang. I covered his book Mustang Classics, and this chapter is essentially a very condensed version of that book. From the thinking behind the Mustang’s creation, the early stages of development, through the first generation (1964-1973), Leffingwell’s chapter is a fine introduction to Ford’s ponycar. As I said in reviewing the Mustang books, it’s interesting to me to get a look at the corporate rationales behind how certain cars came to be.

Oldham is up next and I found his chapter a refreshingly frank take on the hairiest muscle cars of the day. Nostalgia and the promise of big dollar values make people’s heart race when they hear about big-block cars with exceedingly low production numbers. But as Oldham puts it, there’s only 50 or 100 of those cars because in many cases, the manufacturers couldn’t sell any more than that. Some of them sat for years on dealer lots, still ‘new’ because of high prices, finicky tuning requirements, or both. Of course many more returned in the mid- to late-70s as big cube engines and their single-digit gas mileage were incompatible with soaring gas prices and family responsibilities. Still, Oldham regales with stories of cars he tested, many of them rare, and of his own 1969 Baldwin-Motion Camaro. His recollections of weekends driving some of the hottest Detroit iron around illustrate the street scene in those years.

David Newhardt writes two chapters. Chapter 4 is a very condensed version of American Muscle Supercars, almost word for word in some cases. It was a little disappointing to me as I recently read that book, though being fair it’s a strong chapter if you hadn’t read his book. Chapter 5 is a short look at the reborn muscle of the 2000s. Touching on the retro styled Mustang, Challenger and Camaro, Newhardt admits the advantages to the modern cars though he feels they may lack the raw, primitive qualities of the original muscle cars.

Colin Comer writes the final chapter, and it’s much more contemporary. Comer explains how the muscle car market went from faded paint used cars sitting in the back lot to 6- and even 7-figure auction darlings. As with many things, there can be cycles to collectibles markets, and Comer speaks to the effects of the recession in the late 2000s, and the prospects for where he felt the market was going in the early 2010s.

Now, not every book can be everything to everyone. As I said, these authors absolutely know their stuff when it comes to American muscle. But, I have to mention I was surprised by the lack of representation for the cars of the 1980s. A number of cars of the 80s and 90s acquit themselves admirably, turning in 13s and 14s in the quarter mile. It’s a little bit of a shame they aren’t acknowledged. It’s somewhat surprising as even in the early part of the 2010s, low-mile Buick Grand Nationals and Mustang Cobras were starting to see bigger money, I’d have thought Comer may have mentioned them.

All-in-all, The All-American Muscle Car is an interesting read sharing some of the behind the scenes stories of the era. Much of its content can be found in other books, and in greater detail. It’s certainly not an essential, but it’s a fun enough read if you come across it.

Pros: written by highly knowledgeable people, including some who were directly involved during the musclecar era; lots of good period photography and advertising
Cons: a couple chapters are basically summaries of books I’ve already read and reviewed
Where to find it: perhaps still in retail bookstores, Amazon, eBay

You might also enjoy…
American Muscle Supercars
Hemi Muscle Cars
The Illustrated Directory of Muscle Cars

Great Marques: Ferrari

Great Marques: Ferrari by Godfrey Eaton
Published 1980 by Octopus Books Limited
96pp., hardcover

ISBN: 0 7064 1257 5

Acquired in a lot of books from a closing bookstore

I think among Italian carmakers, Ferrari is the godfather. Not the oldest Italian marque, but it may be the most storied, well-known and revered. Growing up, most of my automotive exposure was to American cars, but of course everyone knew about exotics like Ferrari and Lamborghini. I always favoured Ferrari, mostly because I preferred the more voluptuous curves of Tom Selleck’s 308GTS or Miami Vice’s (replica) 365 Daytona to the Countach.

I enjoyed Great Marques: Ferrari a lot, though I found it a bit of a difficult read. Admittedly, I am really not well-versed in Ferrari, and so much of the info is completely new to me. Author Godfrey Eaton provides a wealth of information, with many technical details. The oversized pages allow the dense text to be complemented by some great photography, which are set quite large. The content skews to Ferrari’s racing cars, which is of course how the company began, with the formation of Scuderia Ferrari in 1929. The foreword is provided by Jody Scheckter, who had won the Formula 1 title in 1979 for Ferrari. The first chapter dives into Enzo Ferrari‘s life, his desire to be a racing driver and eventual employment with Lancia and later Alfa Romeo. Later chapters focus on engines mostly, as Eaton covers ‘the in-line 4s’, ‘the in-line 6s and V6s’, ‘the V8s’ and ‘the V12s and boxer flat 12s’. The final chapters cover ‘specials and experimental cars’, then-‘current production cars’ (308GTB/GTS, 308GT4, 400GT and 512BB), and finally profiles of a number of Ferrari’s more famous ‘racing drivers’. Interesting to note that at the time, Gilles Villeneuve was a current member of the Scuderia (he would be killed in a crash during practice in 1982),

It’s a lot to digest as the author lists off year-to-year revisions such carburetor models and chassis alterations while also recounting various racing results… basically it’s a dense read. It’s also a little difficult determining when the author is describing race cars or road cars, though again, that may have to do more with my unfamiliarity with early Ferraris especially.

I found Great Marques: Ferrari to be somewhere between a good introductory piece and a much more advanced book as it has elements of both. As the book was published in 1980, that’s 50 years since the founding of the racing team Scuderia Ferrari. Obviously, 100 or so pages to cover 50 years means it’s difficult to cover off everything. Usually a broad selection makes for a very good overview. But, the depth of detail Eaton goes into, from chassis design and engine revisions (down to the model of carburetor in some cases), it’s a lot of information to digest. It’s a book one would likely need to read a couple times to absorb it all.

Layout-wise, a major issue was where text was laid out over photo. There are a good 3 or 4 pages where black text is set over a background of roadway – basically black on grey. At age 50+, my eyesight is still quite good but these pages would be a strain for anyone.

Ultimately, you can’t really go wrong when you’re featuring some of the most beautiful Italian sports cars ever. There really is a lot too like about Great Marques: Ferrari. A lot of very good photography, and they’re set large. I’m sure I’ll pick this book up again down the road, and now I’ve run through it once it will be quite a bit easier to read. Though not even 100 pages, this book is chock full of great information about Ferrari and whets the appetite for more.

Pros: very detailed information on Ferrari’s racing history; lots of technical info; great photos
Cons: a little dense especially for a Ferrari novice; a little murky in terms of when the author is discussing race cars versus road cars
Where to find it: Amazon, eBay, used bookstores

You might also enjoy…
Jaguar: A Pictorial History
Motoring: The Golden Years: A Pictorial Anthology
50 Shades of Rust: Barn Finds You Wish You’d Discovered

General Motors: The First 75 Years of Transportation Products

General Motors: The First 75 Years of Transportation Products by the Editors of Automobile Quarterly Magazine
Published 1983 by Automobile Quarterly Inc and General Motors Corporation
224pp., hardcover

ISBN: 0-915038-41-2

Acquired as a gift, purchased from a private seller.

I own one issue of Automobile Quarterly magazine. I reviewed it here, and I really enjoyed it. I have other publications by Automobile Quarterly Inc., including a history of Oldsmobile, which I reviewed here. And now I have recently added General Motors: The First 75 Years of Transportation Products, a joint publication of AQ and General Motors.

One thing I really liked about my magazine version of AQ was the breadth of subjects covered. There was generally 4 subjects, and multiple articles on each subject, but it ranged from auto racing in 1930s Europe, to one of the great car designers of the 1930s through 1950s, to the roots of Buick. Conversely, while I enjoyed the Oldsmobile history, covering 75 years in just over 70 pages meant it was quite brief, certainly not exhaustive. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect with General Motors: The First 75 Years.

What I found was this book is both wide ranging and at the same time brief. Again, covering many years in a manageable package of about 200 pages necessitates a certain amount of brevity. But with that said, what you’ll find in this book includes the North American car and truck divisions (Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, Cadillac, GMC), Vauxhall of Great Britain, Opel of Germany, Holden of Australia, as well as GM Electro-Motive.

It’s important to note that this book was produced with General Motors, and so things are presented with a very positive tone. Every carmaker encounters problems, and many ‘good ideas’ later are found to be not very good at all. As I approached the last chapters of this book, I noted the disparity between what I was reading and what transpired. GM took massive hits to its reputation due to quality issues, especially in the 1970s and early 1980s. Of course, I wouldn’t expect a celebration of 75 years to include the lowlights. And while through the book, the principle of ‘a car for every purse and purpose’ explains the breadth of GM’s lineup, we know that it became very difficult to differentiate how a Pontiac was different from a Buick. That ultimately led to GM’s bankruptcy restructuring and the end of many cars featured in this book. To be fair, when this book was published many of GMs problems were yet to happen.

The layout of this book is very good, arranged chronologically. Actually, the first chapter of 8 pages covers 1772 through 1895… yes, 1772 when an idea for a self-propelled carriage was first put forth by one Oliver Evans. The next chapter covers the beginnings of the companies that would form GM, and subsequent chapters tend to cover a decade each of GMs history. GM divisions are sometimes called out and profiled, especially Vauxhall, Opel, Holden and McLaughlin (which would become GM of Canada). There is mention of the many other GM divisions (ACDelco, Frigidaire, etc.), though they are not profiled.

The layout is mostly a pictorial history, with a selection of appropriate GM vehicles, and long captions that serve to inform, as opposed to paragraphs of prose. Again, the photos are representative but far from exhaustive. There are a number of experimental and concept car photos, which are great to see and are a significant part of GMs history. On the whole the photos are generally large and colourful. Also included are a few pages devoted to GM’s efforts supporting the Allied military during both World War I and World War II.

Overall, GM: The First 75 Years is a very good history of the automaker. Yes, the tone is uniformly positive, which is expected. One could quibble with the photo selections or perhaps a division or marque was given more space, but that would be nitpicking. The editors at AQ did a credible job highlighting GM’s international marques as well as the bus, coach and locomotive products the company produced. For the General Motors fan or the automobile novice, this is a book that presents a great deal of history in a very easily digested package.

Pros: a great summary of GMs history, some wonderful photos
Cons: certainly not exhaustive
Where to find it: Amazon, ebay, used bookstores

You might also enjoy…
Oldsmobile: The First Seventy-Five Years
Automobile Quarterly Volume 7, Number 1
Sixty Years of Chevrolet

Never Complain, Never Explain: The Story of Henry Ford II

Never Complain, Never Explain: The Story of Henry Ford II by Victor Lasky
Published 1981 by Richard Marek Publishers
307pp., hardcover

ISBN: 0-399-90104-3

Acquired from a bookstore close out sale.

It’s 40 years since Henry Ford II retired from his position as Chairman of the automotive giant that bears his family name. He is credited with saving the company from complete ruin in the late 1940s, and in later life was sued for allegedly using Ford Motor Company to bankroll his hard-drinking, womanizing lifestyle. He was something of a celebrity industrialist, someone the public was interested to read about.

Never Complain, Never Explain: The Story of Henry Ford II is Victor Lasky’s biography of the man known as The Deuce. A conservative, Lasky had written some books seen by some as controversial, including critical works of John F. Kennedy, Robert F.Kennedy and Jimmy Carter, as well as a book on the Watergate Scandal. He had a reputation as something of a muckraker, and considering HFII’s general liberal bent, I’m sure the public was looking forward to a hell of a salacious read.

Frankly, Never Complain, Never Explain reads much like a book version of primetime soap operas like Dallas or Dynasty. There’s family tensions, corporate intrigue and legal drama, all set in the world of the rich and famous and swirling around a well-known, successful industrialist running a multi-billion dollar corporation. You could be forgiven thinking you were reading a fictional story. In fact, it was all real life, and focused on a man running one of the largest employers in the world. Famous automotive names appear alongside actors and politicians, and I think it makes for a very interesting read. That said, I didn’t find this biography to be especially vicious. That may be because I was already familiar with the firings of Bunkie Knudsen and Lee Iacocca, and how The Deuce ruled Ford Motor Company like his own personal fiefdom.

But it’s not all melodrama or a hit job on Ford II. Lasky did a very good job hitting so many parts of The Deuce’s life. There are pages describing what Ford Motor Company looked like in the later years of Henry Ford (HFII’s grandfather) life. In fact, Lasky fills in a lot of detail on Ford I, his progressive ideas as well as his well-documented anti-Semitism, paranoia and anti-intellectualism. Now, Lasky does not go into minute detail in terms of how HFII turned the moribund FoMoCo around. In fact, this book is very much a biography on Henry Ford II, and not a history of Ford Motor Company. Certain events of the carmaker’s history feature prominently, which makes sense as HFII ran the company. But don’t go looking for much about the development of the Mustang or other stories about specific cars here.

So, as it’s a biography, one can look forward reading about events pertaining to Henry the man – whether it be HFII’s attempts to limit Iacocca’s power in the company, his legal battles over Ford with his nephew Benson Jr. and Roy Cohn (now better known as friend and mentor to Donald J. Trump), his drive to get the Renaissance Center built, or Henry’s marriages and long fought divorce from his second wife. For example, Lasky actually spent a few pages to give the background on Benson Jr., his life away from the Ford family and his lawsuit to recover what he felt he’d been denied. Lasky gives context to Benson Jr., which he also does with others who HFII either favours or ends up in battle with, such as Iacocca. In this respect, the author really puts the events of HFII’s life in context. By filling in the personalities of people like Old Henry Ford, Benson Ford Jr. and Lee Iacocca, we get a better picture of HFII’s personality, for better or worse, and understand the dynamics of his life.

Often in biographies you’ll find candid photos, news photos or even official pictures of the prominent figures. There aren’t any in this book. As this is undoubtedly an unauthorized biography, Lasky may have been unable to obtain the rights to any photos. Or it may have been an editorial choice. Not that photos are needed, the story carries itself well.

Ultimately, Henry Ford II comes off not so much as villain, but definitely a flawed character. He guided Ford Motor Company for 35 years, from the brink of ruin to an admittedly precarious position in the late 1970s. Like anyone else, his personal relationships are a mix of good and bad. For his success and an industrialist and representative for the auto industry, his personal pecadilloes, penchant for high living and capricious nature hardly made him a sympathetic character. Victor Lasky did an excellent job opening a window into the life of a major figure in the history of the American auto industry.

Pros: covers Henry Ford II’s public life; an easy to read book, interesting and detailed but very easy to digest
if one was looking for a lot of in-depth information about the corporate running of Ford Motor Company during The Deuce’s tenure, it’s not here
Where to find it:
used bookstores, Amazon, eBay

You might also enjoy…
Oldsmobile: The First Seventy-Five Years
The Complete Book of Classic Ford F-Series Pickups: Every Model from 1948-1976
American Motors Corporation: The Rise and Fall of America’s Last Independent Automaker

American Muscle Supercars

American Muscle Supercars: Ultimate Street Performance from Shelby, Baldwin-Motion, Mr. Norm and Other Legendary Tuners by David Newhardt
Published 2008 by Motorbooks
192pp., hardcover

ISBN: 978-0-7603-3294-8

The 1960s were certainly a golden age for American cars that were built fast from the factory. Manufacturers knew that winning the horsepower wars was a pretty good way to increase sales. There were plenty of hot rodders who worked for the automakers, doing their best to create the quickest, baddest cars on the road. Of course, many people who bought these cars made modifications themselves to try to better the factory’s work. But, there were also a number of dealerships and specialists who worked in the space between – modifying factory stock and then putting them out on the showroom floor for the public to snap up. Often these people were weekend racers themselves. Today, the cars that were created are rare and revered by those who know – Yenko, Tasca, Royal Bobcat, Mr. Norm – the best of the best.

American Muscle Supercars: Ultimate Street Performance from Shelby, Baldwin-Motion, Mr. Norm and Other Legendary Tuners is the story of 11 shops that upped the ante on the hottest cars coming out of Detroit to vie for supremacy on the street and racetrack. This is the third book I’ve reviewed where David Newhardt is credited, but the first where he gets the writing credit. In this book, much of the photography actually comes from other sources, including a number of images from the era out of private collections.

Newhardt does an excellent job telling the stories of these speed merchants – the origins through to the eventual (in most cases) demise. The focus is not so much on the cars, though they are certainly featured. Instead, we discover the roots of the 11 shops…

  • Jim Wangers suggests to Bunkie Knudsen they create a ‘performance’ dealer for Pontiac to cash in on public desire for hot rod parts. When the first choice, a very large dealer, says he’d think about it, Wangers talks to Royal Pontiac, a smaller dealer in Royal Oak MI, who leap at the opportunity.
  • Former Shelby employee Peyton Cramer partners with an experienced salesman to purchase a Chevy dealer, rename it Dana Chevrolet and open the separate but associated Dana Performance Center nearby. A whirlwind 18 months later, a falling out of the partners occurs and Dana Chevrolet fades.
  • A number of Chevy dealers ,including Fred Gibb, Berger and Yenko, use the COPO (Central Office Production Order) system to get specially outfitted cars (including Camaros with 427 cubic inch engines) made at the factory and delivered for sale to the dealerships.
  • Bob Tasca Sr.’s ability to sell cars and passion for racing leads to his creating one of the greatest Ford performance dealerships, as well as the Cobra Jet engine
  • Famous for their aftermarket shifters, Hurst partners with manufacturers to get their parts first into parts departments, then into factory-built cars, and finally has their name on the cars themselves – the Hurst/Olds, Hurst/SSJ Grand Prix (Pontiac), Hurst SC/Rambler (AMC) and Chrysler 300H.

Though the methods differed, the results were the same – the creation of cars designed for more performance, specialized and individualized for those who wanted a fearsome Camaro, Mustang, Dart or GTO. Interestingly, it’s quite varied as to how many cars and how much legacy has survived to today. Of course Shelby Mustangs and Hurst/Olds cars are very well-known, and COPO cars (which include Camaros, Novas and Chevelles) are also recognized as special units. Badges can often identify Royal Bobcat Pontiacs, Baldwin-Motion cars and Mr. Norm’s Grand Spaulding Darts. But likely hundreds of cars were built in the service bays of the dealership, and thousands more had packages bought from these dealers and installed in driveways across the countryside. These require documentation to prove their connection to these legendary shops. And some may likely never be identified – for example, when Dana Chevrolet was sold to another dealer, one of the former owners simply destroyed all records, making it difficult to identify what cars may have been sold, built or modified there.

It would be wrong to say that high-performance shops, even those associated directly with car dealers, ceased to exist after these shops closed down. Outfits like Saleen, Steeda, Lingenfelter, Callaway and yes, even Tasca continue to offer packages and fully-finished vehicles that hit power levels the factory doesn’t offer. But at the height of the musclecar era, these outfits made history by creating some of the hairiest beasts to ever lay rubber to pavement. They are in many ways the pinnacle of muscle supercar achievement. David Newhardt’s book is an excellent chronicle of how they came to exist.

Pros: great photos and really good information about how these high-performance shops came to be (and then faded away)
Cons: not a whole lot of tech information about the cars themselves, though to be fair, it’s doubtful any 2 cars were quite the same
Where to find it: Amazon, eBay, new book retailers

You might also enjoy…
Hemi Muscle Cars
Mustang Classics
The Illustrated Directory of Muscle Cars

The Complete Book of Mustang

The Complete Book of Mustang by The Auto Editors of Consumer Guide
Published 1989 by Publications International Limited
320pp., hardcover

ISBN: 0-88176-525-2

Probably acquired new from a retail bookstore.

The Complete Book of Mustang is a book I am quite familiar with – it’s been hanging around my shelves for over 30 years. I got it soon after the 1988 Mustang 5.0 coupe I drove in high school. I’ve mentioned my love of Mustangs, and though I had numerous magazines featuring the Ford ponycar, this was the first book I had that really dove deeply into the history of the car.

And actually, this book does a very credible job covering that history. Chapter One sets the background – the postwar era of expanding families, a growing youth market, and the introduction of cars that went beyond simply being transportation. Ford was in a competitive market, especially against the Chevy Corvair and Chevy II lines, but the Falcon wasn’t quite the success they’d hoped for. What Ford wanted was a compact car that could be anything from inexpensive, fuel-efficient transportation to a small Thunderbird, an expression of personal style that its Falcon never seemed to evolve into.

Chapter Two deals with the development of the Mustang. It includes pictures of the well-known prototypes – Mustang I, Allegro and Avventura, and recounts the stories of The Fairlane Group, the group headed by Lee Iacocca to hash out this new car. Subsequent chapters break the car out as 1965-66, 1967-68, 1969-70, 1971-73, 1974-78, 1979-1981, 1982-86, 1987-89 and finally the Shelby Mustangs. Each chapter focuses on the styling and engineering of the car, and contains many photos, including quite a few prototype and mock-up shots. Actually, the bulk of photos in the book are corporate shots, either from Ford ads or press shots from the test tracks and proving grounds. And each chapter ends with a chart setting out model year production, prices and weights, general specs and engine availability.

Now, you may recall that earlier this year, I reviewed. a book called Mustang Classics which also chronicles the development and history of the Mustang. Though there’s a lot of overlap between the two, there are significant differences. Of course, there’s the obvious – this book ending 3 years before the end of the 3rd generation Mustang, while Mustang Classics extends to just before the 5th generation debuted. But there’s bigger differences.

Mustang Classics gave a lot of attention to the people involved in developing the car. There were many quotes from engineers and stylists, and a great deal of information about Carroll Shelby’s involvement and the crossover between the Cobra, GT40 and Mustang programs. Shelby Mustangs were treated to a chapter for every couple of model years. And much of the focus is on the performance Mustangs.

The Complete Book of Mustang also discusses the people involved, but to a much lesser degree. There are fewer quotes, and almost no reference to any involvement relating the Mustang’s development to the GT40, and Shelby’s involvement is limited to the Shelby Mustangs. There is a good amount of technical info and great descriptions of various improvements over the years, but it’s not revealed through the engineers’ or designers’ quotes. Somewhat interesting is I found the most ‘insider info’ seemed to come out in the chapters relating to the third generation (Fox-body) Mustang. Perhaps that makes sense as when this book was published, the Fox Mustang was the current car.

This book features more cars that could be regarded as ‘pedestrian’ offerings. The truth is that until the late 1980s, the bread-and-butter of Mustang sales were lower-priced commuter car versions, not the high-horsepower muscle Mustangs. It’s important to remember that a huge part of Mustang’s appeal was that it offered sporty and sophisticated motoring to everyone, including those who required not much more than an economical car.

The Boss Mustangs, Mach 1s, Cobra IIs, GTs and SVOs are all given their due. There’s some lesser remembered specials also, like the California Special (though no High Country Special), the Sprint, and the Stallion package of the late 70s. The European Capri is mentioned often as it relates to planning the Mustang II, but other than a very brief mention, there is nothing about the Fox-body Mercury Capri, sistership to the Mustang that was sold in the early 1980s.

It’s always helpful to gather information from multiple sources. Even incontrovertible facts and cold, hard numbers can gain new meaning when presented in a slightly different perspective. So, it may seem repetitive or extravagant to have similar books in a library, yet really a good library will have volumes that support each other and perhaps individually contain details that paint a more whole picture.

The Complete Book of Mustang, though no longer very complete, is an excellent resource for those wishing to gain an understanding of one of the most popular automobiles in American motoring.

Note: I have another ‘The Complete Book of Mustang’, written by Mike Mueller and published by Motorbooks. Though the subject matter is obviously the same, an overview of the Mustang’s history, these books are very different. The Mueller book will be reviewed at a later date.

Pros: a great history of the Mustang; lots of official Ford photography
Cons: Fox era Mercury Capri completely ignored
Where to find it: Amazon, eBay

You might also enjoy:
Mustang Classics
The Illustrated Directory of Muscle Cars
Mustang 5.0 Performance Projects