Best Car Books: Page Turners

Top 8 Best Car Books

best car books page turners

We’ve one more Christmas gift idea for the gearhead in your life before we break for the next few days. Not all presents given to car lovers have to be in the shape of a new socket set or some parts to a Mustang GT, though those are surely appreciated.

This time, we’re suggesting a few good reads. Some will argue that a full bookshelf is nearly as important as a full toolbox, though such a thing may be less than helpful when you’re elbows deep into a clutch job on your failing Miata. Well, except for one book on this list. Best to keep that particular one within close reach.

And, in a turn from most other lists of this ilk, your author owns every single item here. These recommendations and their attendant approvals come straight from my gas tank of a brain. Enjoy.

Table of Contents

1. Editor’s Choice: God Wants You to Roll!

Despite the presence of the Lawd Almighty in its title, this ain’t no religious tome. It is a tale of the $21 million "Miracle Car" Scam, about how two teenagers fleeced America's churchgoers by selling them non-existent cars. The boys conned thousands of customers from Los Angeles to New York into buying bargain-priced cars from the estate of Gomez's deceased millionaire father. The cars cost just a few thousand dollars apiece as Dad's dying gift to his fellow Bible believers.

But there were no cars. And there is still no trace of $8.7 million of the $21 million stolen by the now-convicted Gomez and Nichols. It is a tremendous book written by the incomparable John Phillips III (who has recently and unfathomably vanished from the pages of Car and Driver), who attended a month’s worth of courtroom trials to assemble a book that reads in proper timeline sequence.

Pros

  • Excellent prose, captivating story

Cons

  • The book eventually ends

Despite the presence of the Lawd Almighty in its title, this ain’t no religious tome. It is a tale of the $21 million "Miracle Car" Scam, about how two teenagers fleeced America's churchgoers by selling them non-existent cars. The boys conned thousands of customers from Los Angeles to New York into buying bargain-priced cars from the estate of Gomez's deceased millionaire father. The cars cost just a few thousand dollars apiece as Dad's dying gift to his fellow Bible believers.

But there were no cars. And there is still no trace of $8.7 million of the $21 million stolen by the now-convicted Gomez and Nichols. It is a tremendous book written by the incomparable John Phillips III (who has recently and unfathomably vanished from the pages of Car and Driver), who attended a month’s worth of courtroom trials to assemble a book that reads in proper timeline sequence.

2. My Dad Had That Car: A Nostalgic Look at the American Automobile

Not every book on this list is a written story with a beginning, middle, and end. This giant volume shows an exhaustive list of vehicles from approximately the last century, assembling them by make and calendar year. The just-right level of detail provides some pricing and notes about specific models. Don’t expect an exhaustive history of each car. The pages dedicated to Lincoln’s line for '88-89, for example, show the Town Car and Continental for those years, plus the glorious Mark VII. Some pages have interior shots; all of them have images crammed in at sometimes wild angles. It’s a great walk down memory lane.

Pros

  • Lovely detail, your dad will definitely have owned something on these pages

Cons

  • Dangerous nostalgia could lead to an unwise purchase of an actual car

Not every book on this list is a written story with a beginning, middle, and end. This giant volume shows an exhaustive list of vehicles from approximately the last century, assembling them by make and calendar year. The just-right level of detail provides some pricing and notes about specific models. Don’t expect an exhaustive history of each car. The pages dedicated to Lincoln’s line for '88-89, for example, show the Town Car and Continental for those years, plus the glorious Mark VII. Some pages have interior shots; all of them have images crammed in at sometimes wild angles. It’s a great walk down memory lane.

3. Chilton Repair Manuals

It’s impossible to have a list of car book recommendations without including some sort of repair manual in the series. Sure, most of this stuff is online these days - not to mention the umpteen hours of descriptive YouTube videos on every repair imaginable - but there is something about having the security blanket of a printed manual.

Ages ago, local car part retailers used to stock these things on their shelves. In this pre-internet era, it was common to visit the store, read what you needed to know, and leave again. The shop eventually got wise, first moving the book behind a service counter and later wrapping them in plastic. Naturally, I selected a squarebody Chev for today’s hero picture.

Pros

  • Books exist for just about every North American car ever made

Cons

  • Some douche will insist Haynes manuals are better

It’s impossible to have a list of car book recommendations without including some sort of repair manual in the series. Sure, most of this stuff is online these days - not to mention the umpteen hours of descriptive YouTube videos on every repair imaginable - but there is something about having the security blanket of a printed manual.

Ages ago, local car part retailers used to stock these things on their shelves. In this pre-internet era, it was common to visit the store, read what you needed to know, and leave again. The shop eventually got wise, first moving the book behind a service counter and later wrapping them in plastic. Naturally, I selected a squarebody Chev for today’s hero picture.

4. A Savage Factory: An Eyewitness Account of the Auto Industry's Self-Destruction

This behind-the-scenes look at life inside a Ford transmission plant during the bad-old-days of the 1970s captivates from page one. Its author smartly released it in early 2009, right at the zeitgeist of the Detroit bankruptcies. Even though Ford didn’t go under like GM and Chrysler, it was still an appropriate moment in which to reflect on what brought the industry to that point.

Stories of management hauling the doors off bathroom stalls so the hourly couldn’t nap? You got it. Tales of quantity over quality? In spades. Detail of how the great coffee pot war almost brought the Blue Oval to its knees? Right this way, please.

Pros

  • Great storytelling, riveting inside-job tales

Cons

  • The stories will stick with you the next time you’re negotiating on a new car

This behind-the-scenes look at life inside a Ford transmission plant during the bad-old-days of the 1970s captivates from page one. Its author smartly released it in early 2009, right at the zeitgeist of the Detroit bankruptcies. Even though Ford didn’t go under like GM and Chrysler, it was still an appropriate moment in which to reflect on what brought the industry to that point.

Stories of management hauling the doors off bathroom stalls so the hourly couldn’t nap? You got it. Tales of quantity over quality? In spades. Detail of how the great coffee pot war almost brought the Blue Oval to its knees? Right this way, please.

5. Sowerby's Road: Adventures Of A Driven Mind

Garry Sowerby holds multiple world records for long-distance driving, including feats of traveling around the world in a then-new Volvo wagon. This is a fun book about is many road trips - most of them grueling, some involving dodging bullets in far-flung countries.

Since the 1970's, Sowerby has been taking these trips and this book chronicles many of his adventures along with the people he meets and the bizarre situations he gets himself into and out of. With a dash of irreverence and a good bit of intrigue, this book doles out tales in bite-sized column-length stories that are easy to digest.

Pros

  • Wild stories of world car-related travel

Cons

  • The book doesn’t actually bring you to Africa in a 1984 GMC truck

Garry Sowerby holds multiple world records for long-distance driving, including feats of traveling around the world in a then-new Volvo wagon. This is a fun book about is many road trips - most of them grueling, some involving dodging bullets in far-flung countries.

Since the 1970's, Sowerby has been taking these trips and this book chronicles many of his adventures along with the people he meets and the bizarre situations he gets himself into and out of. With a dash of irreverence and a good bit of intrigue, this book doles out tales in bite-sized column-length stories that are easy to digest.

6. Driving Like Crazy: Thirty Years of Vehicular Hell-Bending

Like him or not, P.J. O’Rourke is one hell of a writer. It helps that his own off-beat brand of crazy involves a good dose of commentary on cars and the people who drive them. In the book, O’Rourke recounts events like a 1978 cross-country dash in a then 22-year-old Buick. Hilarity ensued.

Also in the book is his take on the ill-fated C/D trip to Baja in 1983, plus a column titled “How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink.” Perhaps save that one for last. It’s a funny book, all 288 pages of it.

Pros

  • Written in a voice that can only be projected by P.J. himself

Cons

  • Be sure to hide a couple of chapters from impressionable young gearheads

Like him or not, P.J. O’Rourke is one hell of a writer. It helps that his own off-beat brand of crazy involves a good dose of commentary on cars and the people who drive them. In the book, O’Rourke recounts events like a 1978 cross-country dash in a then 22-year-old Buick. Hilarity ensued.

Also in the book is his take on the ill-fated C/D trip to Baja in 1983, plus a column titled “How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink.” Perhaps save that one for last. It’s a funny book, all 288 pages of it.

7. Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business

If you’re looking for the inside dirt on some of this industry’s biggest companies, the ever-colorful Bob Lutz is sure to have a shovel-full. In typical Lutz style, he doesn’t pull any punches and doesn’t just leave no stone unturned - he picks them all up and tosses them into the sea.

In between skewering more than a few industry types and explaining how the Pontiac Solstice ended up with its cupholders placed behind its driver and passenger, Lutz doles out some management and business advice.

Pros

  • Lutz tells it like it is

Cons

  • Surely there’s enough material for Volume 2 .. and 3 ... and 4

If you’re looking for the inside dirt on some of this industry’s biggest companies, the ever-colorful Bob Lutz is sure to have a shovel-full. In typical Lutz style, he doesn’t pull any punches and doesn’t just leave no stone unturned - he picks them all up and tosses them into the sea.

In between skewering more than a few industry types and explaining how the Pontiac Solstice ended up with its cupholders placed behind its driver and passenger, Lutz doles out some management and business advice.

8. Iacocca: An Autobiography

Yes, this one is older than the hills but it is culturally significant. Remember that it was written at a time when Chrysler was riding high on K-Car success and Iacocca was appearing on television telling American that if they could find a better car, they should buy it.

In fact, such was the fervor that more than one voice was not-so-quietly suggesting that Iacocca should run for office. Imagine for a minute that Iacocca’s name was on the ticket in 1984 - do you really think the American auto market would have seen the shrinking Detroit market share that came to define the rest of the ‘80s? Not bloody likely.

Pros

  • Fascinating window into the industry of that time

Cons

  • It is from a different era

Yes, this one is older than the hills but it is culturally significant. Remember that it was written at a time when Chrysler was riding high on K-Car success and Iacocca was appearing on television telling American that if they could find a better car, they should buy it.

In fact, such was the fervor that more than one voice was not-so-quietly suggesting that Iacocca should run for office. Imagine for a minute that Iacocca’s name was on the ticket in 1984 - do you really think the American auto market would have seen the shrinking Detroit market share that came to define the rest of the ‘80s? Not bloody likely.

From time to time, TTAC will highlight automotive products we think may be of interest to our community. Plus, posts like this help to keep the lights on around here. Learn more about how this works.

(Editor’s note: This post is meant to both help you be an informed shopper for automotive products but also to pay for our ‘90s sedan shopping habits operating expenses. Some of you don’t find these posts fun, but they help pay for Junkyard Finds, Rare Rides, Piston Slaps, and whatever else. Thanks for reading.)

[Main photo credit: Atstock Productions / ShutterStock.com. Product images provided by the manufacturer.]

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  • Ferrari Ferrari on Sep 29, 2020

    Cool selection of books. I did not know about such before. The first I will read about repairs, because it is very useful and the more I study at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and I need knowledge. In addition, I need to write a term paper soon, and I plan to do it myself, so I'm collecting information. Perhaps if there are any difficulties, I will order it from the specialists which I found on PickTheWriter But I'm not sure. I think it will be useful to expand my knowledge about cars and do the task myself, especially if I read all these books.

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