Under The Hood

A few of our favorite books

Call us old dogs, but a couple of us on the Old Cars Weekly staff still love paper more than someone in the 21st century should. Sure, the Internet is handy, but give us a stuffy old book or freshly minted magazine and we’ll be lost for hours.

It’s with this attitude that we have much appreciation for Automobile Magazine’s recently published list of the staff’s favorite reference books. Our reverence goes past the fact that the staff included our own “Standard Catalog” series — the list simply struck a chord with the OCW staff. I’ve thought long of posting a list of my favorite references on this blog, and with inspiration from AM, I’ll finally do so here:

Best resources:
Automobile Quarterly: Fortunately, the OCW’s archives includes a set of AQ’s back to day one, but even more handily, the library also contains an index to break down the vast volumes of automotive history covered by AQ in its nearly 50 years. Complete sets seem to fetch about $1,250 and up (the price of a good parts car), but they’re worth every penny. Just be sure to get the indexes to swallow all that history.

Ward’s Automotive Yearbooks: An invaluable asset when determining production numbers and other noteworthy events in an automaker’s history. Like a full set of AQ, a full set of hardbound “Ward’s Automotive Yearbooks” is heavy so prepare to reinforce your floor.

Standard Catalogs: Year-by-year historical data, options, prices, model break down and much more make these books our first-stop tool when verifying information in the stories that appear in OCW.

Crestline books: Want to verify the difference between a Bel Air and a Biscayne? A Commander and a Champion? Here’s your quick source. The black-and-white pages between this series of hardbound books’ covers generally include photos of every model an automaker built. Also included is year-by-year information, but there’s a price to this knowledge since the books are out of print and highly coveted. As an added bonus, they look great on a shelf so the woman in your life may not mind looking at them in your living room or den.

Catalog of American Car ID Numbers:
This series from Cars & Parts magazine is broken down by decade (1950-‘59, 1960-‘69, etc.) and is the first stop to deciphering a vehicle’s trim tag. I suggest picking up this book before writing a big check for that red 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air fuelie convertible that actually started life as a green One-Fifty two-door sedan with a six.

Other favorites:
Here are a few books that I warm up to in the dead of winter. Some are great resources, but all are simply fun to flip through, regardless of the weather. Most are out of print, but don’t let that stop  you from hunting them at Amazon, eBay or your favorite swap meets.

Duesenberg: Pursuit of Perfection
Even if you don’t like this marque of car, every hobbyist would love to see a book of this type on their favorite make or model of car. Author Fred Roe pictures nearly every known Duesenberg, whether or not it still exists, and identifies its serial number, engine number and a bit of the specific car’s history, or at least that of its origins (body builder, number built, interesting features, etc.). Sure, a volume of this scope on Chevrolet or even broken down to Corvette would be a huge and unreachable undertaking that would fill the Library of Congress, but wouldn’t it be great? Simply the single-most important resource on Duesenbergs, just one half hour with Roe’s book and you’ll be hooked on Duesenbergs. Like me.

The American Custom Car

If the Hirohata Merc on the cover isn’t the first hint you’ll love this book, then keep on walking. Author Pat Ganahl covers many of the history-making customs of the 1930s and up with a mix of period and recent photography. The individual stories of many customs are highlighted (one of the keys to a great book), down to the individual builders.

Hot Rod: An American Original

Published at or around the same time as “The American Custom Car,” “Hot Rod: An American Custom Car” follows the same formula with the same success. And like “The American Custom Car,” you can find this book on the secondary market in the $20 range.

Packard: A History of the Motor Car and the Company
I don’t know where it started, but around the office, Beverly Rae Kimes’ book “A History of the Motor Car and the Company” is referred to as “Bev’s brick,” thanks to its weight and the color of its hardbound covers. Certainly one of the most definitive books on Packard, it’s the type of book that you can read one chapter and feel as though you’ve read one book.  Definitely required reading for fans of the red hex.

Bugatti 57-The Last French Bugatti
For the very same reason Fred Roe’s Duesenberg book is entertaining, Barrie Price’s book “Bugatti 57-The Last French Bugatti” is a pleasure to read. Of course, drooling over the fantastic images of coachbuilt bodies draping Type 57 Bugatti chassis is fun at any time. There are lots of photos (both historic and contemporary) with thoughtful captions to help the reader identify individual cars and body styles. Publisher Veloce still carries this and other books on other Bugatti models (Types 46/50, Types 44/49 and Type 40), and the Bugattist need not be without a one of them.


Cadillac at 100: Legacy of Leadership 1902 – 2006

Love Cadillac as much as I do? Then Maurice Hendry’s book “Cadillac at 100: Legacy of Leadership 1902 – 2006” will keep you buried in facts, history and pictures for days, if not weeks. The book was originally published in five editions as “Cadillac: Standard of the World,” and then updated to be this updated, hundred-year perspective. And, it’s still in print.

Lost and Found
I know I’m biased, but from what they told me, a lot of readers loved the stories in “Lost and Found,” a compilation of “lost car” stories from OCW‘s pages. I know this book was a lot of fun to assemble, and I still go back and pass through its pages.

I am sure I could go on for pages and pages, but here’s a start. Once you get through these picks, maybe I’ll throw a few more your way!

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