Greatest Automotive Books
No, I’m not talking about Hayes manuals here. While manuals can help get you back on the road, sometimes reading for pleasure is an enjoyable way to kill time. Make it better with these ten books any gearhead would love.
Horatio’s Drive: America’s First Road Trip
Even the longest road trips are easy, but it wasn’t always that way. Physician Horatio Nelson Jackson decides on a whim to drive across the country to prove the utility and capability of the automobile. With mechanic Sewall Crocker and their dog Bud, the trio have endless adventures in the pre-interstate days. Horatio’s Drive is old time-y, but it is an amusing look at the era’s disheartening lack of infrastructure, and the unbelievable crappyness of early cars.
The World According to Clarkson by Jeremy Clarkson
While it’s less automotive-centric than the earlier Clarkson on Cars, this book is much funnier. Comprised of several years’ worth of newspaper clippings, The World is the cranky former Top Gear host ranting about anything and everything stupid (including cars), to his occasional humorous raves for the eccentric or clever design or engineering. And yes, it reads in his gravelly, self-depreciating voice.
Top Gear: The Cool 500: The Coolest Cars Ever Made by Matt Master
More Top Gear, this time newer and with more cars. This 300 page coffee table book features every awesome car ever made, and a bit of history and spec on each of them. The photography is fantastic, the writing is informative without being boring (Master is a TG writer), and with 500 vehicles, everyone’s favorite gets some page time. This is one that’s great to read, and show off on the shelf.
Cosmic Motors by Daniel Simon and Syd Mead
This one is also not strictly a car piece, but is an amazing visual art book nonetheless. Cosmic Motors is an automotive designer’s look at the far future of design. Freed from simple concerns like fuel economy and cup holders, Simon and Mead’s imaginations build everything from ice trucks to racecars, just a thousand years more advanced than today. Picture Star Wars, Speed Racer, and F-Zero rolled into one, and you’re close.
100 Things for Every Gearhead to Do Before They Die By Jason Fogelson
Looking to get someone into car culture? 100 Things is your answer, as it is part travel guide, part thoughtful inspiration, with tons of interesting stuff to go out and do. There’s road trips, car museums, unbelievable collections to tour, stunt driving lessons, dirt track racing, demo derbies and factory tours. Documented with passion and humor, 100 Things will leave you looking for your next adventure.
American Auto Legends: Classics of Style and Design by Michael Furman and Tracy Powell
Had enough of the Brits? Cover over 100 years of American icons, from the horseless carriage era, to todays overpowered beasts, with American Auto Legends. This is another coffee table book, with absolutely incredible pictures. Furman took the pics too, and has outdoor and garage scenes, but the unexpected studio shots and close-ups are what make this more of an art experience than a book.
Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City by Greg Grandin
While not about cars per se, this book looks at Ford’s manufacturing style and political leadership. Fordlandia seems to be a forgotten story. Back in the ‘20s, Henry Ford bought a giant chink of the Amazon, had it razed, and built a miniature USA. The goal was cheap rubber, with a secondary goal of exporting American values, and both ideas failed spectacularly. Slow, but well researched and written, Fordlandia is worth your time.
Life is a Highway: A Century of Great Automotive Writing by various authors
If you enjoy any feature articles in the major automotive magazines, or Jay Leno’s guest writing in Popular Mechanics, this is the book for you. Life combines celebrated writing on the automobile from the late 1800s on, mixed with the humor and personalities of the excellent writers. The book is stuffed with big names like Hunter S Thompson, and Stephen King, and industry insiders like Alfred P Sloan and Peter De Lorenzo. Each section is a different story, so this one is easy to put down, then pick up again anytime it’s convenient.
Ultimate Speed Secrets: The Complete Guide to High-Performance and Race Driving by Ross Bentley
It’s a little on the technical and nerdy side, but Ultimate Speed Secrets is a great read for most gearheads. As the title suggests, the book covers a lot of ground about what you need to know to go faster, whether on PS4 or on the real world street or road course. Sections cover mental preparation, choosing lines, how to adjust to driving conditions, and understanding suspension adjustments. Think you already know this stuff? Bentley won the 24 Hours of Daytona. Shut up and take notes.
Can-Am Cars in Detail: Machines and Minds Racing Unrestrained by Pete Lyons
If you haven’t noticed, I love big books with excellent photography. I also love Can-Am cars. This book covers a bonkers era in sports car racing, and offers fascinating details along with a big rig’s worth of artistically shot, but incredibly detailed studio pictures. The engineering and innovation on display made this (arguably) the pinnacle racing format to race, build for, or even just view as a spectator. “Epic” is overused and cliché, but check out this book for an accurate use of the word.
That’s my 10 favorite automotive books. Whether a holiday gift for a gearhead, or a just because gift for yourself, you really can’t go wrong with any of these books. Feel free to let us know your favorites.