SpeedReaders presents authoritative reviews of transportation books and media. Reviewers include Sabu Advani, Frank Barrett, Kevin Clemens, Helen Hutchings, and David M. Woodhouse. The reviews are candid, well written, informative—a very useful reference for the historian and enthusiast alike. There are so many great book reviews on SpeedReaders that it was very difficult deciding on a few excerpts to include in this post.
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Of Firebirds and Moonmen
by Norman J. James
If you were a newly-minted designer in the 1950s, the place you would want to go to work would be General Motors. Legendary Harley Earl ran his design division as his own private fiefdom, and his Knight’s Errant were his designers. Assuming you were lucky and talented enough to become a part of Earl’s design staff, what could be better than to be chosen to create a gas turbine-powered concept car for the General Motors Motorama? That was the position Norman James found himself in when the 25 year-old designer was put in charge of the Firebird III project in 1957. More…
Century of Automotive Style
by Michael Lamm and Dave Holls
(I have a copy of this book signed by Dave Holls and Michael Lamm. It is a treasure and a serious resource—Gary). On the chance that this is the first you’ve known about this book—that it’s all brand new news to you—you may not be familiar with the co-authors. Dave Holls was a professional designer, employed his entire 39-year career at General Motors. At the time of his retirement, he had risen to the number two man at GM Design with the official title Director of Design. But more than merely a working designer, Holls was a life-long student of design, maintaining voluminous personal files and photos on design and design history. Mike Lamm, co-founder and first editor of Special Interest Autos, is the author of many books. He is known and respected for his carefully researched and very readable prose. Together Lamm and Holls covered in detail, that amazed even the most knowledgeable, the story and history of the automobile in America in their seminal work A Century of Automotive Style; 100 Years of American Car Design. More…
Sports Cars of the Future
by Strother MacMinn
(Dean’s Garage featured a post on this book.) First impression is this is a modest little book (especially if comparing it to some of the multi-pound coffee table picture books). But once read, especially if reading now in the 21st century, it is virtually impossible to forget. It is more than what is printed on the pages of Sports Cars of the Future. It is the realization of when it was written—in the latter part of the 1950s—and by whom, that simply stuns the thinking reader today.
The prescience of MacMinn’s writings is startling. Ostensibly the book is about sports cars. But the cars, those real as well as those he hypothesizes for the future, are the ones that are today, a half century later, the most revered. Thus it is the principles beyond the specific, individual cars that form the overriding value of the book; design and engineering concepts that have been proven timeless due in part to the respect they demonstrate for the unchanging realities of nature’s laws. More…
Porsche Rennsport: The Definitive Photographic Record of the Racing Sports Cars of Porsche 1949–2004
by Jeffrey R Zwart
This is one of those books that will make you break out in a sweat—hot, cold, who cares—but you absolutely must have dry hands to handle this book so as to avoid getting sticky fingerprints all over the glossy pages. If you have an excitable bone in your body, if you are even a little bit of a visual person, the photos in this book are eyeball-warping sensory overload. From their sheer size (open the book is 30″ wide) to their sharpness, the photos are so in-your-face you’ll end up wanting to hold the
book at arm’s length. So there. More…
Ford in the Service of America: Mass Production for the Military during the World Wars
by Timothy J. O’Callaghan
World War Two now lies approximately two-thirds of a century in the past. It must be incomprehensible to those not alive then, that there was a time when virtually all the resources of our domestic life were directed towards a single goal; victory over clearly identified enemies.
Preparedness for the eventual conflict began slowly in 1940. There was fear even before Pearl Harbor of a German air attack from hidden bases in countries south of the US and from enemy planes operating from aircraft carriers off the coastlines. Even though Henry Ford was anti-war (after all, there were Ford plants and facilities in England, Germany, and seven other European countries under Hitler’s control), he became fully engaged in rearming for national defense. The story of the Ford Motor Company’s contributions to the war effort 1940-45 is the theme of Ford in the Service of America. More…
Hot Rods and Custom Cars, Los Angeles and the Dry Lakes: The Early Years
by Ken Gross and Robert Ames featuring period photos by Strother MacMinn
I like this book despite a few oversights, errors, and uncorrected typos And while I’m not all that knowledgeable about the dry lakes, to me those pages look very much like a black-and-white Tom Fritz treatise. (For readers who do not recognize the names of either Fritz or reviewer Lord—both are accomplished fine artists and members of AFAS, the Automotive Fine Arts Society. Much of Fritz’s art shows iconic dry lake and hot rod scenes, while the subjects of Lord’s work are more open wheel race-oriented.) I reacted to the images esthetically rather than to what was hot rodded or run at the dry lakes. There are some great machines—hot rods, customs and dry lakes runners which include many with those wonderful belly tank bodies—that were thankfully recorded for us to see today because Strother MacMinn was exploring in and around the LA area during the 40s and 50s, composing beautiful shots. More…
The Art of Dexter Brown
by Robert Edwards
Brown’s renditions of speed and noise and light are not just those of an observant spectator but are informed by his own experience running a heavily modified, cobbled-together Jaguar XK120 in sprints and hill-climbs. In Brown’s signature racing scenes not just the speeding car but the entire canvas is disjointed—foreground, background, everything—as if all the molecules that hold the universe together have become unhinged by the assault of a ferocious racecar ripping the fabric of time. (Just like Pointillism might tempt a viewer to grumble “Anyone could do that!” try doing Brown’s sparse, purposeful style yourself and realize that using “fewer strokes” makes it harder, not easier.)
The Alphabet and The Automobile
by Murray L. Smith. Illustrations by Charles W. Queener
Queener’s brush strokes do more than merely put watercolor to paper—they sing, they talk—and others recognize this too for his paintings hang in some pretty prestigious collections. He’s well steeped in all-things automotive having raced for a short time, and instructed others to drive competitively as a Jim Russell Racing School instructor. Before moving east, as he describes it, he “got involved with the Ferrari Owner’s Club and this evolved into my founding Cavallino”. Plus he’s held staff positions at publications like Road & Track, Motor Trend, and Ski. There’s more, but you get the idea. More…
by Bruce McCall
(I have this book and never tire looking though it—Gary). McCall’s 1982 book, Zany Afternoons, presents a collection of brief articles about an imaginary society from the 1920s to the 1950s, often populated by uber-wealthy and spoiled sophisticates who enjoyed such diversions as autogiro jousts, wing dining, zeppelin shoots (“they fell so much more gracefully than grouse”), and tank polo. You’ll learn about such delightful spoof devices as the RMS Tyrannic and the 1934 Airdreme Nabob V-16 Sleekster. The “Somewhere East of Laramie” automotive ad parodies are as accurate as they are funny, matched by the 1958 Bulgemobile sales brochure (think bejeweled Buicks on heavy doses of steroids). Text appears in the form of fanciful captions describing the action in McCall’s amazingly-detailed, large-format paintings, which perfectly capture the ambience of both subject and period. More…
Porsche 917 – The Heroes, the Victories, the Myth
by Thomas Födisch, Jost Neßhöver, Rainer Roßbach, Harold Schwarz
(German/English side by side) This is an expanded second edition of a book first published in 2006. That edition had won quick acclaim and sold out just as quick. What distinguishes this large-format book from the many others on this model is its approach. While the car and its history are described in all pertinent detail, it is first and foremost an appraisal, or, better, an appreciation of the car, written by the very people who knew it best, warts and all—the engineers and drivers. Where other books reduce such commentary to excerpts and pithy one-liners, often all the more pithy by being stripped of their context, here you have pages-long insights from the primary sources in a first-person voice. Another unique dimension of this book is that it is published by German photojournalist Reinhard Klein’s company, which means it takes its photography seriously. The first edition already contained previously unseen photos; here there are more still! Expanded by three chapters/24 pages the book now adds the reminiscences of Vic Elford and David Piper on the driving side and Helmut Flegl, Norbert Singer, and Herbert Linge on the engineering/management side. Not everyone experienced the car the same way and by encircling its subject in this manner there is naturally some overlap and also some discrepancy in these accounts. More…
Avanti: The Complete Story
by John Hull
There have been a number of books that have attempted to chronicle the history and lineage of the Avanti. But until now few have given accurate or chronological details. Some on my bookshelf are merely pages and pages of already published magazine articles, while others simply gloss over the highlights and report nothing news.
Hull does mention that the title of his book is a bit presumptuous, as a truly complete history could take up multiple volumes. Within the 128-page limitation of this book, he presents an accurate overview of the “evolution of this incredible automobile and the cast of owners, characters, and fanatics it has attracted.” The eight chapters trace the car’s history beginning with Sherwood Egbert and Raymond Loewy’s first conversations and rough sketches. Anecdotes that only an Avanti insider would have known are told, and rarely seen original promotional photographs and factory advertisements are included. More…
The Cobra-Ferrari Wars, 1963-1965, Second Edition
by Michael L Shoen
First published twenty-five years after the “war”, Michael Shoen’s account, is still considered the definitive work on what is one of America’s greatest motorsports accomplishments of the sixties.
This book takes us to all events, large and small, and tells us what we missed. Happily, in both words and pictures, it also tells us about Ferrari’s most successful racing GT, the glorious GTO and the men who drove it, factory racers and privateers who raced well and yet still lost to the Cobras.
The Cobra-Ferrari Wars is reflective, in many ways, of the cars it celebrates. It is Ferrari, elegant and thoroughly European, in its pictures and the settings they depict. It is more Cobra, rough hewn and determined, in its story and candid shots. The pictures are wonderful; several are gorgeous. Justifiably so, as many were taken by the famed photographer, Bernard Cahier. More…