The American Auto: Over 100 Years by the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide
Published 2010 by Publications International Limited
Purchased new from a retail bookstore.
Many of the books that I’ve reviewed are basically chronicles. Some such as Chevy Classics 1955 1956 1957 are quite detailed, telling the story of one car line over 3 model years. Others such as Auburn Cord Duesenberg are many pages and less detailed as it spans many decades and 3 marques. And others are much more an overview. The American Auto: Over 100 Years from the auto editors at Consumer Guide is one such book. A very good chronicle, it covers a lot of ground in its 700 pages.
Sixteen chapters cover the almost 120 years of history. The chapter breakouts are uneven, though tied somewhat to significant events, so 1930-41 (the Great Depression and pre-WWII) is a chapter, 1942-45 (the war years) another, 1964-71 (the muscle car era), and so on. Each chapter begins with a 1 page overview of the included years, as pertains to auto production, sales, government mandates, etc. That’s followed by a series of pictures, arranged year by year and alphabetically – so the 1950-52 chapter begins with a couple of 1950 Buicks, a 1950 Cadillac, then a couple 1950 Chevys, then Chrysler, DeSoto, etc. on through Studebaker and Willys, followed by 1951 Buicks, Cadillacs, Chevy, and so on. The bottom part of the pages often have a yellow box with point form facts about each year in the auto industry. There are also tables with each year’s car sales totals for what are considered the major constructors.
My preferred system for this book was to read the 1 page chapter introduction, and then the captions with each photo. Upon reaching the end of the chapter, I’d then go back to read the boxed summaries at page bottom. Because there are so many images, it would take a little while to cover a chapter (1953-59 for example is 70 pages), so the point form boxes provide a great recap, from production numbers to new (or discontinued) models to significant new features and innovations.
Without doubt, this book is informative and a good read. With more than 4000 pictures (and accompanying captions), there’s so many little facts, and many of the images are quite large and in colour. As a quick reference volume, it’s really a great book. It’s not a quick read, to be sure. And it’s not supposed to be. Presented as it is, one gets a very good sense of what was available to the consumer in a given year, and how much the choices changed (or didn’t) in subsequent years.
As good a book as this is, there are some points to criticize. There are a few errors, a caption or 2 on the wrong image or a minor typo, though not many considering the number of pages. A bigger criticism might be the selection of featured vehicles. Yes a chronicle this broad would certainly necessitate choices be made as it would be impossible to feature everything. However, I found some things notable by their absence. As examples, there are a number of years where a singular Cadillac car is shown; the Mercury Cougar, introduced in 1967, doesn’t appear until the 1969 model; and many of the 1960s years seem light on full size models in favour of muscle cars. Indeed, I felt some of the less interesting vehicles of the 1980s and 1990s feature too often. For example, in earlier chapters, a Cadillac may feature then not return in pictures for 3 years, due to the subsequent cars being similar to the first feature (ie., little redesign). However in some of the later chapters, another car such as the Chevrolet Lumina may appear in 3 of 4 years, even though subsequent models are also very similar to the first. Certainly, the editors are the arbiters of what is to be shown, and maybe my bias to earlier cars shows, but I found the choice noticeable and a little disappointing.
There’s are almost no trucks or utility vehicles, until the final couple chapters. By the mid-1980s, minivans and some SUVs begin to appear, in the 1990s trucks begin to show up in the images. In fact light trucks had begun to outsell cars by that time. In this respect, it’s a difficult decision where this book should have gone, as trucks can be seen as separate from cars yet the lines between them have been less defined since as early as the late 1950s. Still, many trucks sold well over the years and some, such as the Ford F-series and the Chevy-GMC pickups of the 1970s and 1980s were known as regular everyday vehicles. My opinion is they could easily have been included in this volume.
Ultimately, I enjoyed The American Auto: Over 100 Years. It is far from a comprehensive volume, but there is a ton of information contained within, and really that’s what a chronicle is supposed to be – an overview. It was fascinating to see the progression in styling, the trends in the types of cars manufacturers were building. I was also intrigued to see the yearly production totals, watching Chevrolet and Ford dominate the top 2 spots while the rest shuffled below. Also interesting is to see how some marques declined, and quickly, into non-existence. The photos are wonderful in this book, and for the sheer number this book is a great resource, an easily browsed collection that allows one to take in so many models quickly. This is a book that will spur you to seek out other books, as it presents the history of the American auto industry in an easy to follow format, with enough information that you’ll want to know more. It’s great as a quick reference, essentially an encyclopedia for the American automobile.
Pros: so many great photos; an easy to ready, easy to follow format for so much information
Cons: minor quibbles with some featured selections and some omissions
Where to find it: Amazon, retail bookstores
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