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Books, Manuals

By Jeremy Wilson

What comes to mind when you think of automotive literature? Collected works of fiction such as The Mammoth Book of on the Road? Nonfiction such as Stirling Moss’s All But My Life? Undoubtedly it depends on your interpretation of the word literature, which has several definitions.

One definition is “written works with artistic value,” which would include the works mentioned above.

Another definition is “printed information.” That opens the door for sales brochures, owner’s manuals, advertisements, repair manuals, and much more.

The focus of this article is on literature that directly supports automobile restoration. That is, the books and manuals that will help you get the job done.

Getting Started

If you’re interested in car restoration but haven’t decided on a specific make and model, try the books on general automobile restoration. Here are a few that you might consider:

· Collector Car Restoration Bible

· The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Restoring Collector Cars

· How to Restore Your Collector Car

· How to Restore Your Muscle Car

Each of these books covers restoration topics such as body and paint, suspension, interiors, wheels, just to name a few. If you are interested in just one topic, go to our Articles contents page and select the topic. On that page you’ll find recommendations for books for that topic.

Restoration of a Specific Make and Model

If you already have a project car or at least know the make and model, check to see if any specific restoration books are available. If your target car is similar to one in our Restorations section, see the corresponding restoration page for recommendations. For example, if you plan on buying a 1950 Chevy pickup you might go to our 1946 Chevrolet 3100 Pickup page where you’ll find these recommendations:

· Chevrolet Pickups, 1946-1972: How to Identify, Select and Restore Chevrolet Collector Light Trucks

· How-to-Restore Your Chevrolet Pickup

Otherwise, you can search Amazon for a particular restoration book by clicking here.

Automobile Manufacturer Literature

For serious restoration work you will want to buy the manuals that the car dealership used for your specific make and model. As a rule, you will be buying these used. A good place to start looking is Books4Cars.com (see the related interview on this page.) You will also want to get the parts manual for your car. It should list every part for your car and will supply the associated parts numbers. If you are missing a bolt, the parts book will tell you the size you need. If you have cleaned a bucket of fasteners and aren’t sure which bolts go where, you can turn to the parts book. If you need to replace a part, the parts book will give you its name and number allowing you say precisely what you need.

Motor and Chilton Manuals

You may be familiar with Motor’s Auto Repair Manual and Chilton’s Auto Repair Manual. They are what independent shops used back when your collector car was new. For example the Motor manual for 1946 covered 1935-1946 and included chapters for the following models: American Bantam, Auburn, Austin, Buick, Cadillac, Chrysler, Cord, Crosley, DeSoto, Dodge, Ford, Graham, Hudson, Hupmobile, La Fayette, La Salle, Lincoln, Mercury, Nash, Oldsmobile, Packard, Pierce Arrow, Plymouth, Pontiac, Reo, Studebaker, Terraplane, and Willys. These are great manuals to have, especially if you are unable to get the manufacturer’s repair manuals. The downside is that their instructions can be too brief and focus on just the mechanics. For the body and frame there is Chilton’s Body and Frame Manual. As with the manufacturer shop manuals you can buy these used, also at Books4Cars.com.

Dos and Don'ts
Thumb up  DO
  • Try to find the automobile manufacturer’s shop manuals for your car
  • Take time to read up on repairs before you start your work
  • Save yourself some money by buying used books and manuals through Amazon or other online dealers

Thumb down  DON’T
  • Don’t jump into a job until you have read up on it
  • Don’t start buying expensive books and manuals without first getting expert advice. Ask a car book dealer or someone in your car club.
The Popular Restorations Feature Car
Author photo

1946 Packard: Literature

Books and Manuals



Given its age, there are a surprising number of repair manuals that apply to the Popular Restorations feature car. Initially I bought Motor’s Auto Repair Manual, Chilton’s Motor Age Flat Rate and Service Manual, and Chilton’s Motor Age Body and Frame Manual. These were the manuals I used as a service station mechanic decades ago and at the outset they seemed appropriate.

A short time later I found the The Packard Club online bookstore sells reprints of the original Packard shop and parts manuals. The 1946-1950 Shop Manual was $48 and the 1941-47 Clipper Parts Book was $30. After reading the Packard manuals I could see that Motor and Chilton used the Packard manuals as the sources for their Packard chapters.

The Packard Club also sells copies of the original service bulletins but I found that PackardInfo.com has them online along with dealer information, paint chips, wiring diagrams, owner’s manuals, tech tips, and brochures.

Nearly all the information needed for the Packard restoration were well covered.

If I were asked for advice I would recommend first checking with other people who have the same make car, either online or at your local club; then searching the web for online literature and for leads on reasonably priced books.




By Jeremy Wilson

Mordecai Altose, Assistant Manager

4850 37th Ave South
Seattle, WA 98118 USA
Phone: 206-721-3077

Books4cars stocks a huge selection of manuals and books for every make and model of car, truck, and motorcycle. You can search their website or browse the shelves in their Seattle store and warehouse.

Their book business was built up by Alex and Ruthie Voss in Detroit, Michigan and incorporated in 1997. In 2000 Alex and Ruthie decided to move back to their roots in Seattle where the store is now located. Visitors are welcome anytime.

PR: Where do you get your older repair books such as the Motor and Chilton manuals?

MA: We get the older Motor and Chilton books used. People call up and ask if we want to buy manuals or if we have a manual to trade. We buy some from dealerships that go out of business. They might call up offering 500 manuals or more. For new books there are various publishers such as MotorBooks International. We get service manuals, owner manuals, and parts manuals directly from the manufacturers.

PR: For a person planning a restoration, what books would you recommend?

MA: We have lots of restoration books, depending on the make and model. For instance, How to Restore Your Chevy Pickup or How to Restore Your 60s Corvette. For something more obscure, like a Toyota or a Honda, there’s not much restoration literature so we suggest shop manuals, troubleshooting manuals, or maybe a body repair manual, depending on the make and the books that are available.

PR: Do you have a large selection of Motor and Chilton manuals for the 1920s, 30s, and 40s?

MA: Yes, we have a lot of them sitting on our shelves. It depends on what people are looking for. We may not have every single one but we have most of them.

PR: Some people say it’s better to get a Chilton or Motor manual that’s a couple of years newer than the year or your car because the information will be more complete. Do you have any thoughts on that?

MA: No, I don’t. Usually it’s better to get the book by the manufacturer, the same books they would have had in dealerships for the mechanics to use. Motor books were more for private mechanics that weren’t affiliated with one company or another so they covered a range of makes and models.

PR: What’s the typical cost for an old Motor manual?

MA: Motor and Chilton manuals run $20 to $50.

PR: How about for the manuals the dealers used?

MA: Those run anywhere from $30 to $80, going through the 1970s and 80s. Usually the newer they get, the more expensive they get. They can run as high as $500 or $600 for some of the higher-end cars.

PR: Do you have any suggestions of what to do when buying automotive literature?

MA: I would suggest buying all of the manuals you think you might need. For instance, if you are restoring a vehicle the parts manual is useful. That way if you suddenly end up missing a screw or a bracket you can identify the needed part. Most people restoring a car will want the owner’s manual too.

PR: Anything more to add?

MA: Whenever someone comes by our store with an interesting vehicle we go out and take a picture of it and put it on our website. Look for the “Cars in Front of Our Store” link on our home page.

Click on any item below for more details at Amazon.com

Matt Joseph
Collector Car Restoration Bible: Practical Techniques for Professional Results
Krause Publications, Paperback, 2005-10-14

This book covers it all, from buying a restorable car to the finishing touches. And in between, it touches on every part of the car, from sheet metal repair to engine internals. If you were to have just one book as a guide, this would be that book. The book is photo-rich and provides both procedural details and collected wisdom from experienced restorers.

Tom Benford
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Restoring Collector Cars
Alpha, Paperback, 2004-08-03
The first 150 pages of this book are dedicated to the process of finding and deciding upon a restoration project and determining your restoration strategy. This part is covered in detail, and covered very well. The last 50 pages or so cover what to do with your car after the restoration is done, which leaves just over 100 pages to cover the actual work. For example, the chapter on engines assumes that the basic mill is in good shape, and simply covers tuning, carb adjustment, and freshening the engine bay. This is not a step by step mechanical manual - but it offers some of the best coverage on every other aspect of restoration.

Tom Brownell
How to Restore Your Collector Car
Motorbooks, Paperback, 1999-12-24

This book has a great deal of information on selecting a potential project car and setting up the workshop, plus a lot of detail on cleaning, stripping, blasting, derusting, bodywork and trim restoration, but comparatively less (just 1 chapter) on engine and mechanical restoration and 1 chapter on brakes. The book includes many nice color photos, however, and would be a good addition to a restoration library.

Greg Donahue
How to Restore Your Muscle Car
Motorbooks, Paperback, 2005-11-07

This book covers all aspects of restoration in detail, with a focus on the special issues found in 1960s and 70s muscle cars. From car selection through engine and interior restoration, this book is full of photos, illustrations, and step by step procedures. Examples are given from all domestic automakers. Reviews have been generally positive, for example (from AutoWeek): “With clean vintage muscle cars skyrocketing in price, this second edition has good timing, providing updates on parts sources and restoration techniques. We didn’t use the book to restore a muscle car, but we found it clear and concise, with user-friendly disassembly diagrams and 1,300-plus step-by-step photos, from choosing tools and which muscle car to restore, to completing the restoration.”

James M. Flammang
Standard Catalog of Imported Cars 1946-1990
Motorbooks Intl, Paperback, 1992-01
The Standard Catalog of Imported Cars provides a wealth of detailed information that collectors, investors, and restorers of imported cars will not find in any other book. It contains facts and figures on more than 130 marques of imported vehicles.

John A. Gunnnell
Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946-1975
Krause Publications, Paperback, 1987
This is the definitive source for information concerning postwar collector cars. Included are technical specifications, information on serial numbers, and production totals for all automobiles listed in the book. 2,800 photos. --This is the 1992 third edition which usually can be found for much less than subsequent editions.

Beverly R. Kimes
Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1942
Motorbooks Intl, Paperback, 1985-06
This book includes the histories of more than 5000 companies and builder of cars in the United State. Over a century of automobiles with more than 5,000 photos. Written by one of America’s most respected automotive historians.

Standard Catalog of American Light-Duty Trucks: Pickups, Panels, Vans All Models 1896-2000
Krause Publications, Paperback, 2001-04
This huge haul of truck history includes comprehensive year-by-year data and specs on all popular American-made trucks through 2000.
External Links
The Automotive Chronicles has a nice selection of automotive literature for collectors, restorers, museums, publishers, manufacturers and investors who collect and preserve automotive literature.
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