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Automotive Literature

Car Books You Should Read!

Part 1

By Jeff Zurschmeide

There are many ways to enjoy your collector car. Some of them are obvious, like driving around on a beautiful day or taking your pride and joy to a car show to bask in the adulation of your fellow enthusiasts. Many of us take particular pleasure in doing our own mechanical and detailing work - pride in a job well done. Keeping track of the rising value of our automotive investment is a big deal to some of us, while for others simply the sentimental value of a particular car is worth more than any cash.

But you can also enjoy your car - or more precisely, the car hobby - from the comfort of your favorite easy chair or on your bedside table, in the form of a good car book.

Some of the best writing of the 20th century concerned the Automobile and its effects on culture and society. The automobile and its trappings shrank the world and enlarged the individual in ways never before known in human history - and this change has been reflected in our art and literature.

That all sounds like something out of a graduate student’s thesis paper - the reality is that there are some great novels and short stories out there with a good classic car as the centerpiece of the story. Some are funny, some are sad, but all have the potential to enhance your enjoyment of your ride.

There are several compilations of short stories that every enthusiast should own. Starting with the least expensive, consider When Engines Roar, edited by William F. Nolan and Charles Beaumont. This is the original and still-potent gathering of 19 classic racing and motoring stories from the first 50 years of the automobile age. Particularly important in this collection is the classic account “With Moss at the Mille Miglia” by the legendary Denis Jenkinson. The story describes Jenkinson and Moss’ victory in the 1953 Mille Miglia road race in the original Mercedes-Benz 300SLR.

Another favorite collection is Road Trips, Head Trips, and other Car-Crazed Writings, edited by the famous editor of Automobile Magazine, Jean Lindamood Jennings. This compilation includes stories and commentaries on the automobile from authors ranging from Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck to Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Hunter S. Thompson. Each of them describes what the automobile has meant in his own life - or a look at the effect of the car on the lives of others.

Other worthy collections include The Mammoth Book of On The Road edited by Maxim Jakubowski and the scholarly The World on Wheels edited by R. S. Baker and P.L. Van Osdol. For a feminine perspective, Elinor Nauen has edited a compilation of automotive stories by women writers titled Ladies, Start Your Engines: Women Writers on Cars and the Road, featuring works by writers as unexpected as Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor, and even - believe this - Emily Post.

Many times you’ll find the best stories are duplicated in several anthologies, but each book offers at least a few stories you’re unlikely to find anywhere else.

Some automotive books fall squarely into the realm of adventure fantasy. You can usually tell these by their titles - virtually always prefigured with death and flaming terror. But with the proper grain of salt, these can be fun to read on a rainy day. This over-the-top kind of book finds its most perfect expression in the world of auto racing. Examples include Of Men and Cars -Tales of Men Who Raced with Time and Death edited by John Christy, Rough Road to Glory by William Campbell Gault, or Rally to the Death by Douglas Rutherford.

Auto-related books by prolific author Henry Gregor Felsen include Hot Rod, Street Rod, and Crash Club. Felsen’s stories always include a stern and heavy-handed moral, but are fun reads nonetheless. The Red Car, published in 1954 by Don Stanford, has influenced several generations of MG enthusiasts with its wholesome and exciting story.

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Road Trips, Head Trips, and Other Car-Crazed Writings
Atlantic Monthly Press, Paperback, 1998-07-29
Featuring contributions by Dave Barry, Calvin Trillin, Allen Ginsberg, David Halberstam, Jim Harrison, Jack Kerouac, Joyce Carol Oates, S.J. Perelman, Hunter S. Thompson, and a wealth of others, this book comprises a riotous anthology that fully explores the American love affair with the automobile.

The Mammoth Book of on the Road
Robinson Publishing, Paperback, 2002-11-14
This collection features journeys along trails carved through dense jungle, or six-lane superhighways, with cops and criminals barrelling down midnight boulevards, summer vacation trips gone wildly wrong, sentimental journeys bringing hope or despair, wandering wise men and post-apocalyptic road warriors.

Ladies, Start Your Engines: Women Writers on Cars and the Road
Faber & Faber, Hardcover, 1997-01
Some of the twentieth century’s most famous women writers share their thoughts on the automobile in a collection that includes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry by Gertrude Stein, Joyce Carol Oates, Jan Kerouac, Denise Levertov, Meg Swenson, and other notable contributors.

Henry Gregor Felsen
Hot Rod
Bantam Books, Paperback, 1963
Henry Gregor Felsen titles include Hot Rod, Street Rod, and Crash Club. Felsen’s stories always include a stern and heavy-handed moral, but are fun reads nonetheless.

Henry Gregor Felsen
Street Rod
Bantam Books, Mass Market Paperback, 1963

See the comment for this series above.


Henry Gregor Felsen
Crash Club
Bantam Books, Mass Market Paperback, 1960

See the comment for this series above.


Don Stanford
The Red Car
Buccaneer Books, Hardcover, 2000-01
The Red Car, published in 1954 by Don Stanford, has influenced several generations of MG enthusiasts with its wholesome and exciting story.
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