Late each spring, all sorts of "summer reading lists" are published. The idea is that people have time in the summer months to read books that they don't have time to read the rest of the year. Sometimes, these lists are called "beach reads," presumably because everyone flocks to the beach and instead of swimming or playing beach volleyball or simply oogling from behind their sunglasses, they sit on beach chairs and read books.
Personally, I don't think I've ever taken a book to a beach in my life. But, hey, we're car guys (and gals), and we spend our summer months behind the wheel, cruising and going to shows. If we're going to take the time to read a book, it's probably going to be when the weather keeps us and our classic cars in the garage, and it's probably going to be a book about cars.
With that in mind, and with the holidays coming, I offer this list of "bench reads," books for car guys (and gals) with which we can curl up in the garage:
Merchants of Speed: The Men Who Built America's Performance Industry, by Paul D. Smith (Motorbooks, $40)
It's been said that Detroit and their overseas competitors produce canvases on which the rest of us create our own vehicles, using wrenches and aftermarket parts to go faster and to look better much as artists use paint and clay. Paul Smith's book tells the stories of many of the pioneers of the automotive aftermarket -- the Edelbrocks and Cranes and Hilborns and Iskenderians and Offenhausers and many, many more. He tells their stories and shares their personal photos and carries us back to a bygone era of the dry lakes, the first street rods, the birth of drag strips and to a time when all the racetracks weren't paved. It's a wonderful journey.
The Complete Book of Shelby Automobiles: Cobras, Mustangs and Super Snakes, by Colin Comer (Motorbooks, $45)
If your Shelby Cobra needs restoration, Colin's Classic Automobiles of Milwaukee is a good place to go. But Colin Comer doesn't just work on classic cars, he also writes about them, and with a passion born of his first-hand knowledge of the vehicles and those who created them. In this case, all the cars were created by Carroll Shelby, and Comer includes not only the Cobras, Mustangs and Super Snakes, but the Sunbeam Tigers and Ford GT40s and Dodge Vipers and even the Dodge Omni GLH (which got its name from Shelby's insistence that the car would "go like hell"). By the way, the photography in the book is as wonderful as the writing.
Legendary Race Cars, by Basem Wasef (Motorbooks, $35)
This book will heat up your hot stove debates. The book features 25 legendary racecars, and you can argue for hours whether all of these cars should be included or if there are others that are more deserving of such recognition. Among those included are the STP turbine cars that raced at Indy, the Ferraris driven by Michael Schumacher, the 1911 Marmon Wasp, Parnelli Jones' Big Oly off-road racer, the Ford GT40s, Carroll Shelby's Daytona coupe, the Mercedes-Benz "Silver Arrows," the Lotus 49 and 79, and Richard Petty's SuperBird. "Gentlemen: Start your debate!
Snake vs. Mongoose: How a Rivalry Changed Drag Racing Forever. By Tom Madigan (Motorbooks, $35)
It was the Snake vs. the Mongoose, and even those of who may have cared little about drag racing cared very much about Snake vs. Mongoose. After all, there was the Saturday morning television cartoon show, the Hot Wheels cars and the drag racing sets. Girls had their Barbie dolls, and in a stroke of genius, the Mattel Toy Company found in Snake vs. Mongoose a line of toys that was just as appealing to boys. The Snake, of course, was drag racer Don Prudhomme and the Mongoose was his arch-rival Tom McEwen. Tom Madigan details how their rivalry blossomed into drag racing's first big non-automotive sponsorship deal.
The Vincent in the Barn: Great Stories of Motorcycle Archaeology, by Tom Cotter (Motorbooks, $26)
This is the third in Tom Cotter's barn-find series. After The Cobra in the Barn and The Hemi in the Barn, Cotter turns his attention to barn-found motorcycles and motorcycle collectors.
Hot Rod Garages, by Peter Vincent (Motorbooks, $40)
You've heard that you can't tell a book by its cover. This book is the exception, because the cover is a photograph of a garage door, with its 16 windows cut out so you can see what's happening inside the garage. That's what veteran photographer Peter Vincent does; he takes us inside a dozen and a half of the top hot rod shops, including Steve Moal's and Roy Brizio's. Some of the shops are immaculate. Others are grubby. But all have one thing in common – building amazing vehicles.
Motion Performance: Tales of a Muscle Car Builder, by Martyn L. Schorr (Motorbooks, $35)
If you grew up in Chicago, you knew Nickey Chevrolet (with the backward k) and Grand Spaulding Dodge, and everyone everywhere knew about Shelby Mustangs, Yenko Chevys and Tasca Fords. But some may not have known about Baldwin Chevrolet or Motion Performance or their combined efforts. Former car magazine editor and photographer Martyn Schorr remedies that with this book of words and wonderful vintage photography that details such Motion vehicles as the '63 split-window Skunk, Ko-Motion, the Royal Bobcat GTO, ThunderBug, and, of course, the Shelbys and Camaros.
Asphalt and Politics: A History of the American Highway System, by Thomas L. Karnes (McFarland, $35)
McFarland publishes "scholarly" books, many of which end up being required reading for some college class. This one should be required reading for anyone who drives on, works on or legislates the rules governing our highways. Karnes traces the history of American road building, the states vs. federal fight over road building (and funding), and how not only politics but the military has played a role in where highways were built. A current key to road building is the North American Free Trade Act and the increase in commerce among Canada, Mexico and the United States. By the way, expect to pay more tolls as you drive, and wait until you learn where that money goes!
Keith Martin's Guide to Car Collecting: Your Complete Resource for Buying, Selling, and Enjoying All Types of Collector Cars. Second Edition. By Keith Martin (Motorbooks, $21.95)
If, like me, you were not aware there were vertical, horizontal, implied horizontal, thematic, nostalgic and relational strategies involved in car collecting, then this second edition of Keith Martin's Guide to Car Collecting may be a little over your head, though you'll still enjoy all the classic car sales and vehicle value information and such entertaining chapters as "Nine Exotics You Can Afford," "Four Fun Collectible Cars Under $25,000," "Eight Italian Sports Cars for the First-Time Collector," "Nine Muscle Car Sleepers," "Eight Corvettes to Run Away From," and "Seven Ways to Make Your British Car More Reliable."
Click here for more articles by Larry Edsall.