Sometimes, the automotive marques we all know and love have to go bust. Such was the case of Duesenberg, Oldsmobile, Hispano-Suiza, and Talbot-Lago despite their heritage and today’s strong collector-car market for those brands. Unfortunately, in the 2000s, Rover had to join them. However, it wasn’t without a fight, as detailed in End of the Road: BMW and Rover- A Brand Too Far. The book explores BMW’s massive investment in the Rover Group throughout the 1990s and how it became disastrous for all parties involved. Through piecing together news reports about BMW and Rover during the period and conducting interviews with people involved in the sale, the book gives a hard look at the relationship between the Rover Group and BMW during the 1990s and why BMW ended up paying a large amount of money to get rid of Rover in 2000.
Society likes stories about failure. Who knows how many people have bought books about the fall of financial institutions, tech companies, sports teams, organized crime families, and politicians? People interested in the automotive industry are no exception when it comes to stories of failure. Bob Lutz never wastes any time discussing the sales flop that was the Pontiac Aztek. A movie was made about the failure of the Tucker Car Corporation. And society as a whole loves to tell jokes about the Yugo, widely thought of as among the worst cars of recent history.
“On one occasion I was called out into the yard because there had been a shooting. A guard, a line worker and a car thief had been shot. The thief had been wounded gravely by the guard and was bleeding but he had made it into the cab of the car hauler and had driven for some distance before he crashed and was caught.”
It’s that time of year, with the clock ticking on your shopping for Hanukkah/Christmas/Kwanzaa and the ease of buying books online makes them such low-hassle gifts. You want to give that special car-freak on your gift list a nice coffee-table book, but everybody’s coffee table seems to be creaking beneath the weight of books full of photos of gleaming classic/exotic cars. Boring! The solution: this book full of photos of abandoned cars!
I can’t say that I was completely surprised when, about two thirds of the way through Bob Lutz’s new book Car Guys vs Bean Counters, I caught a sideswipe at myself and The Truth About Cars, which the retired Vice-Chairman of GM describes as
a Web site that often offers anything but.
After all, TTAC and “Maximum Bob” have long been sparring partners, and were indirectly debating the fate and fortunes of General Motors well before I ever started writing about cars. What was surprising was that this passing shot at TTAC’s credibility would actually help bring us, two presumptive arch-enemies in the world of automotive ideas, to a better understanding of each other. The exchange that a single paragraph prompted taught me that, against all odds, Bob and I share a fundamental character trait: we are at our best when we’ve been goaded into action by a no-holds-barred call-out. In celebration of this shared value, let’s take off the gloves and give Car Guys the unflinching look it deserves.
A proper coffee-table car book ought to be heavy on the grainy action photos, light on the words, and include photographs of Škoda 1101 Sports and Renault 4CVs at Le Mans. Sports Car Racing In Camera, 1950-59 qualifies for inclusion in even the most crowded coffee-table real estate.
John McElroy recently quit the Automotive Press Association because they invited Steven Rattner, former head of the government’s auto industry task force, to speak. He warned, “If you want to read [his] book, DON’T BUY IT. Get it from your local library, because Steven Rattner is a rat who doesn’t deserve a dime of anyone’s money.” What he didn’t say: don’t read the book. And with good reason: it’s well-written, insightful, and definitely worth reading.
Handed out to undeserved recipients and devalued by lazy writers alike, few words are as hackneyed as iconic or legendary. If everything is an iconic legend, nothing is. Sometimes, though, the words are exactly appropriate. The Canadian American Challenge Cup racing series which ran from 1966 to 1974, more popularly known simply as Can-Am, included cars and drivers that are truly iconic and the series was genuinely the stuff of legend. Though the big block V8 engines of Can-Am last roared over 35 years ago, even today the name Can-Am resonates strongly with car enthusiasts.
Predicted by site founder Robert Farago when few people thought it could actually happen, GM’s bankruptcy is now history. So, time for the histories.
Paul Ingrassia certainly seems qualified to provide one. The Wall Street Journal’s man in Detroit for years, he won a Pulitzer (with Joseph White) for his coverage of the auto industry’s early 1990’s brush with disaster and subsequent recovery. That coverage provided the basis for 1994’s Comeback: the Fall and Rise of the American Automobile Industry, a definitive account of that period.
Does Crash Course: the American Automobile Industry’s Road from Glory to Disaster similarly deserve a place on your bookshelf?
Well, it depends. Did you know:
Gestalten, a German publishing house specializing in books on design, has published an intriguing book on a subject that surprisingly has previously only been addressed tangentially but is sure to appeal to most auto enthusiasts: the graphic designs of race cars.
While the shape of racing cars has been the subject of endless technical and aesthetic discussion, Voelker points out that the history of the colors and liveries that have been applied over those shapes has not been particularly well documented. Considering the emotional and aesthetic impact of the colors and graphics used, this is surprising. As Voelker says, who would want to watch a plain white Ferrari race?
At the start of the 21st century, Motor Sport, the UK racing magazine, looked back and asked an expert panel to rank the most important people in Formula One history. Behind F1 majordomo Bernie Ecclestone and Enzo Ferrari, third on the list of 99 was Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman, aka Chunky, founder of Lotus (that’s where the ACBC on the Lotus logo comes from – where the name Lotus comes from is somewhat shrouded in legend and myth).
Of the remaining 96 people, at least 7 were employees or close associates of Chapman. Graham Hill started out building transmissions at Lotus. Mike Costin and Keith Duckworth (i.e. Cosworth) were also early employees. Along with Hill, the drivers who raced for Chapman make up a veritable Hall of Fame: The aforementioned Hill, Jimmy Clark, Mario Andretti, Jochen Rindt, Ronnie Petersen, and Nigel Mansell are just a few. Sir Jackie Stewart drove for him in Formula 2.
To say that the auto industry has had a rough several years would be an understatement of epic proportions. The bailouts of GM and Chrysler dragged many of the industry’s challenges into the open, and the dramatic rescue effort brought an unprecedented level of public awareness of long-festering problems with Detroit’s business model. Here at TTAC, these troubles have provided much grist for our discussions, which tend to focus on the product, business and customer care factors. But behind the decades of Detroit’s weak products and poor business practices, lies a political-economic narrative that tends to be left out of the discussion. In End of a Dream or The Great Auto Crash: An Inside Story, economist William Vukson fits the great sweep of macroeconomic policy since Richard Nixon into a slim volume, and explains Detroit’s dramatic collapse in terms of trade and fiscal policy rather than, say, Detroit’s “Deadly Sins”.
[Editor’s note: Please join us today at 3pm Eastern (noon Pacific) for a livechat with the authors of Carjacked: The Culture Of The Automobile And Its Effects On Our Lives]
Over the last several weeks, the Toyota recall scandal has reopened the national discussion about car ownership, raising new questions about the role of personal responsibility in our relationships with automobiles. Here at TTAC, we’ve argued passionately that a major lesson of the Toyota recall is that consumers can not rely on brand reputation or the assumption that cars will always work as we expect them to in order to protect ourselves and our families. But responsible car ownership doesn’t end there. To maintain a functioning relationship with our cars, it’s important that motorists understand that the vehicles we cherish come with high costs. And anyone who thinks that the awesome power of the private automobile doesn’t come with great responsibilities would do well to read through the relentless documentation of these costs that makes up the book Carjacked: The Culture of the Automobile and Its Effect On Our Lives.