Silvio Calabi: Turning pages, not wheels: new car books
Remember books? If you’re reading this in a newspaper, you probably do. For the rest of you: words (and even pictures) are still being put on paper, so we can keep them and look at them when the WiFi goes down or the cloud explodes. Amazing!
“Steve McQueen: Full Throttle Cool” (Dwight Jon Zimmerman, Greg Scott; Motorbooks, $19.99) Steve McQueen was the Patrick Dempsey of his day—a leading-man actor who discovered he could credibly drive a race car. Or was he a racer who found out he could act? Even McQueen couldn’t say which, but by 1968, when “Bullitt” came out, he was Hollywood’s King of Cool and top earner. Lung cancer killed him in 1980, when he was just 50, but his legend has only grown. (His last Porsche, a 1976 930 with, among other add-ons, a switch to douse the taillights if he was being chased by the cops at night, brought a staggering $1.95 million at auction in July.) Naturally, there was much more to his life than just dirt bikes, fast cars and movie roles that allowed him to glare and grunt, and this 96-page graphic biography—“graphic” as in illustrated like a comic book—does a fine job of condensing it. I wasn’t surprised to learn that McQueen had been sent to reform school and then joined the Marines, or that he had a hard time saying no to the ladies, but he was also a quiet supporter of charities and he adopted and raised a slum kid.
“How to Build a Car” (Saskia Lacey, Martin Sodomka; Walter Foster, Jr., $14.95) The car industry is worried these days because teenagers don’t seem eager to put down their smartphones long enough to get driver’s licenses (and then buy cars). Maybe if we read this book to our little ones, it will plant the urge: A mouse named Eli, a sparrow, Phoebe, and Hank the frog decide to make their own car—because they can’t agree on whether a Corvette ZR1, Rolls-Royce Wraith or Jaguar C-X75 is the coolest. Over 64 pages they succeed in building something that looks like a 1963 Daimler SP250 minus the tailfins. Technically, that’s about right too, because their car has drum brakes, a carburetor, a distributor, a body that bolts to a separate frame, and even an ignition key. Your 6-year-old won’t fret about such obsolescence, and he or she should be captivated by the handsomely nuanced and colored drawings. It’s also just possible they’ll come away with an idea of how internal combustion works, not to say the energy, brainpower and cooperation it takes to create something so involved as a car.
“Lamborghini Supercars: 50 Years” (Stuart Codling, James Mann; Motorbooks, $65) This one we might think of as a comic book for grownups because, well, there’s always been something superhero-cartoonish about the look of most Lamborghinis, whether it’s the Miura of 1966 or today’s Aventador and Hurácan—not to say the Sesto Elemento, the “Sixth Element,” of which just 20 were made and immediately sold (for north of $2 million each). Even the company’s birth seems improbable. Allegedly, when around 1962 wealthy industrialist Ferruccio Lamborghini told wealthy automaker Enzo Ferrari that his products and service were, shall we say, crude, il Commendatore tossed him out on his ear—and Lamborghini went home and started his own car company. So there. On the road, however, no Lamborghini feels cartoonish, and this coffee-table volume is no comic book, either. It’s 225 pages of good journalism and fine photography, with the specs for every Lamborghini model—cars that have, over 50 years, evolved from demented to almost plausible, and money-losing to profitable. (Lamborghini is now part of the VW Group under the supervision of Audi, so it has a future.) Speaking of profits, this book must be one of the least expensive Lamborghini items available; a logo T-shirt on the company’s website lists for $93.
Silvio Calabi reviews the latest from Detroit, Munich, Yokohama, Gothenburg, Crewe, Seoul and wherever else interesting cars are born. Silvio is a member of the International Motor Press Association whose automotive reviews date back to the Reagan administration. He is the former publisher of Speedway Illustrated magazine and an author. Contact him at email@example.com.