Famous Old Cars: An Album of Automobile Classics by Hank Wieand Bowman
published 1978 by Arco Publishing Company, Inc.
96 pages, softcover
Acquired from the estate of a friend and fellow ‘car guy’. Currently out of print.
Let’s start with an important note here… my edition of Famous Old Cars is actually a fourth printing, and the book was originally published in 1957. And it’s in this context the book must be taken. Bowman’s focus is almost exclusively pre-WWII, cars the Classic Car Club of America would call Classics. Automobiles that are known and revered, even if the companies that created them have long faded into history.
The difference between the classic automobile and the automobile classic, or famous old car, may sound like so much double talk, but a definite distinction does exist.
Famous Old Cars
That distinction would seem to be the difference between a Ford Model A and a Lincoln Model K, or a Plymouth and a Packard. The automobile classic embodies style, performance and is recognizable as among the best of its time.
So what cars does the author feature? Eight chapters present the pre-1940 cars of eight marques: Auburn, Cadillac and LaSalle, Chrysler, Cord, Duesenberg, Lincoln, Packard and Pierce-Arrow. Truly these are some of the best-known and greatest automobiles of the era. Though each chapter only spans about 8 pages, it’s packed with information ranging from pricing, styling, mechanical specifications, performance and options through the years, as well as background information about the companies themselves. The final 2 chapters cover off 12 further American manufacturers and 14 European brands in a more brief fashion, including Stutz, Mercer, Locomobile, Rolls-Royce, Lancia, Delahaye, Mercedes-Benz and more.
I really enjoyed this book. Bowman does an excellent job describing what are among the most revered motorcars created… V16 Cadillacs and Duesenberg Js and Cord 810s and Chrysler Imperial Eights.
But one must remember to read this work in context. The pictures are fairly clear but they are in black and white only. The writing style is definitely dated, very much out of the 1950s, as the following might illustrate…
Maybe the Auburns weren’t very costly in their day, but if you think
they were all floss and appearance, just try to stick with a blown Speedster
some day on a super highway with your new Detroit job.”
Keep in mind that the ‘new Detroit job’ would be something along the lines of cars now defined as among the most recognizable of classic cars, perhaps a 1957 Bel Air or a 1955 Chrysler C-300. In fact, the author speaks to the point that, in 1957 ‘production line cars take on more and more similarity of appearance and mechanical design’. The author may not completely dismiss the new cars of his time, but there is a definite sense that for his buck, the latest offerings will never approach the style or stature of the true Classics. It’s a lament often heard today. Despite this book being very ‘1950s’, in many ways it shows the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Still, at the end of the day this is a great little book that provides a great overview of some Classics that few of us actually encounter in the wild. And there’s an added benefit, as we get a glimpse of one facet of the car collecting hobby as it was 60 years ago, when these famous old cars were still relatively young.
Pros: lots of pictures, lots of varied information including pricing and engineering facts
Cons: only black-and-white photos, reads as a little dated, somewhat condensed European section
Where to find it: used bookstores, private collections, estate sales, eBay, Amazon
You may also enjoy…
Cadillac Style, Volume I
The Story of Pierce-Arrow: A Photographic Trip Through the Pierce-Arrow Factory Showing the Uncommon Methods Which Distinguish the Building of America’s Finest Motor Car
Roadsters and Runabouts: Collecting and Restoring Antique, Classic and Special Interest Sports Cars