As Simon has pointed out in his excellent introduction, there was a time when information did not exist at your fingertips. Back then, you had to go out and find it or, if you wanted it to come to you, you needed to invest in as much printed reference material as you could afford. As an 11 year old, I had not yet discovered the world of motoring books, and it’s unlikely that my pocket money could have supported such an addiction, so what I knew of cars was what I picked up from a knowledgeable friend of my parents who was restoring a Bentley 3 Litre (the sort of thing that people did in their garages back then) who loaned me about ten years back issues of Motor Sport and what I read in the pages of Autocar, which came through the letterbox once a week.
Auto & Design is not quite a book, but it is printed matter and it’s not an advertisement**.
For anyone interested in getting some (but not much) insight into the car design process, you can take out a subscription to Auto & Design, one of two long-running automotive design journals. This one hails from Italy and is written in both English and Italian. The other is Car Design, which is Japanese and slightly more technical and academic in its style. Continue reading “Theme: Books – Auto And Design”
Having run out of James Bond books (see earlier post), I read this book as a teenager. It’s a well written adventure thriller, but with a narrative that’s very much of its time, presumably with an eye on the then burgeoning Ian Fleming / Len Deighton / John Le Carré market. Gavin Lyall was a crime and spy thriller writer and the husband of the excellent Katharine Whitehorn. He was known for his meticulous research.
My credentials to write about the cars of Ian Fleming are mixed.
In my favour, I had read the entire canon of 14 James Bond books by the time I was 14 and I am, more or less, the same age as the very first Bond book. Against that I’ve never read them since, and that was a long time ago, though it’s a sad reflection on the state of my mind how much I still remember. Ian Fleming was an accomplished writer of children’s stories. Some people forget that he wrote Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, but his best kid’s stories were the ones featuring Commander James Bond of the Secret Intelligence Service. At 14, I was so seduced that I anticipated a life of breakfasting on scrambled eggs, ham and plenty of strong, black coffee following on with a day’s light indulgence in cold-blooded violence, rounding off with lobster thermidor, a ‘49 Montrachet chilled to 37 degrees, fresh alpine strawberries and, later on …….
Can you use a car brand convincingly in a novel without merely leaching off its existing image? Iain Banks shows the answer is yes and no.
Placing cars in books is a specialised version of the use of brands generally. Iain Banks often referred to or even used specific cars as elements of his plots (Bristol is name-checked in his novel The Bridge). In this Banks shares something with Ian Fleming, another story-teller in the traditional mould. There are two specific instances where Banks did this which I would like to discuss. One case succeeded very well, since the reference resonated with the character and story involved. The other instance seemed to me to definitively indicate the entire novel in question had not itself worked. Continue reading “Theme: Books – Iain Banks”
The Art of American Car Design: The Profession and Personalities by C. Edson Armi.
Armi’s book (now out of print) rewards repeated reading. Few books seem to be able to find a language to discuss the process of car design. This one does. In giving a vocabulary to the process it becomes instantly more comprehensible and concrete. The interviews with GM designers such as Bill Mitchell and Bill Porter are encrusted with Continue reading “Theme: Books – The Art of American Car Design”
Not very many books on cars demand as much as LJK Setright’s social history of the motor car. It offers a lot in return though.
To be very honest, there are very few motoring writers who can write well. And there seems only to have been one who could write outstandingly well. LJK Setright was that one. This fine book is quite probably unique because it’s a towering monument to a rich understanding of motor vehicles showing most clearly why an intelligent, cultured person might find them a worthy object of contemplation. Continue reading “Theme: Books – Drive On!”
In a previous time, before an age where any jaded old hack and a few opinionated dilettantes could open a website at the flick of a keyboard, a knowledge of motoring history relied on the prodigious memory of chaps like Bill Boddy, piles of magazines in the attic and, of course, lots of books. Once, should I wish to know more about the ill-conceived Lotus 30 (147,000,000 results in Google) it would have meant, at least, a phone call to Motor Books or one of the other specialist shops or mail-order suppliers who dealt with motoring matters. Then, if there wasn’t actually a volume helpfully entitled ‘The Lotus 30′, one would hope that the person on the other end of the phone was knowledgeable enough, as was often the case, to say “there’s a couple of paragraphs in the 1965 publication The World Compendium Of Lethal Racing Cars, which unfortunately is out of print, and I think Denis Jenkinson might be writing something on the subject”. Then would follow a lengthy spell of phone calls and letter writing until, at last, a dog-eared third-hand volume of The World Compendium, etc was in your hands. I can’t begin to tell you what an enormously satisfying procedure that was.