Speedier reading

By David Linklater

Five great books for a car fan to find under the Christmas tree

Steve McQueen was behind the wheel of this Mustang in the 1968 movie Bullitt. Photo / Supplied
Steve McQueen was behind the wheel of this Mustang in the 1968 movie Bullitt. Photo / Supplied

There is no such thing as the Car Book of the Year award. Perhaps there should be. A great automotive-themed publication is exactly what you need to see you though the summer holidays. Something to put you in the driver's seat and out on the road without having to actually leave your beach chair.

We've chosen five great automotive reads. They would make fantastic last-minute present choices for the car enthusiast in your family.

1001 CARS TO DREAM OF DRIVING BEFORE YOU DIE

General editor Simon Heptinstall (New Holland, $39.95)
This is normally dangerous territory for an automotive book: a large number of pages covering a large number of cars, with a very general theme. It's so often the case that in trying to reach everybody, these kinds of books please nobody.

1001 Cars does not fall into that trap. As much attention has been given to the words as the images. Heptinstall has credentials including Top Gear magazine, research for automotive television shows and editorial consultancy for car companies.

The 13 contributors are all knowledgeable motoring writers.

The cars are arranged chronologically and the words are both informative and critical. You might not agree with some of what these writers have to say - but that just makes it a more engaging read. It's certainly far beyond a book that you simply dip into when the mood takes you. It's as substantial in content as it is in size (960 pages).

One of this publication's failings is that there is not enough space for images of all cars. The big names have to be represented: there are images of the Jaguar Mark II, Porsche 911 Turbo and Mini Clubman, even though we all know those cars well. But I'd love to see what the Tatra 603, Manic GT or Chevrolet Niva look like; they (and many others) are covered in detail in the book, but not pictured.

Overall, a fantastic book that covers a staggering amount of material and offers a lot of editorial substance, for less than $40. It's a bargain.

STEVE McQUEEN: A PASSION FOR SPEED

Frederic Brun (MBI, $79.99)

Thirty-two years after his death, the passion for words and pictures about the actor and his automotive exploits - car-collecting, driving and racing - is still strong. This book is a beautifully presented account of the man's automotive film work, racing, personal garage and even fitness regime (as it relates to driving).

It's worth having for the photography alone, which is beautifully reproduced and given plenty of space to breathe. The words are not as strong, possibly because they have been translated from the original French publication.

In a purely editorial sense this book is inferior to the similarly themed, slightly bombastic but still well-executed McQueen's Machines by Matt Stone from 2007 (also published by MBI). But for presentation and picture content, A Passion For Speed is still a must-have for the bookshelf. Buy both, perhaps?

ROUND THE BEND

Jeremy Clarkson (Penguin, $22.95)

He's arguably the world's most famous motoring journalist as lead presenter of the Top Gear television programme. You might well find his on-screen persona intensely irritating.

But what many do not realise is that TV fame aside, Clarkson was and still is a very talented writer and essayist. For early a decade now his newspaper columns have been regularly collected and published in book form.

The most recent is Round the Bend, a gathering of Sunday Times pieces first published in 2011 but reprinted this year.

Even for the non-believers, Clarkson's writing is rapidly witty and hugely entertaining.

This, or any of his other collections, is well worth a look. You'll be amazed how much more you like him when he's not shouting at you from the television.

ENGINES OF CHANGE: A HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN DREAM IN FIFTEEN CARS

Paul Ingrassia (Simon and Schuster, $41.95)

Just like it says on the cover, this is unashamedly American in focus. But there is just so much fascinating material in this book: all you need to know about 1950s tail-fins, the juxtaposition of Prius and Hummer in car culture last century, and why the Chevrolet Corvair is almost as important as the Ford Model T.

Ingrassia is a highly regarded journalist and former Pulitzer Prize winner. Approach this one with your serious face - but prepare to be surprised by the entertaining style.

RED BULL RACING F1 CAR

Steve Rendle (JD Haynes and company, $40.95)

If you don't know what a Haynes Owners Workshop Manual is you're not a true car enthusiast. This book, in the style of said manuals, is about taking apart a genuine Formula 1 car - the 2010 championship-winning Red Bull RB6.

What, only a 2010 model? Well, you didn't expect the inside line on the very latest, did you? Besides, this was the car that helped make Sebastian Vettel the youngest world champion.

- NZ Herald

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