► Best car books
► From all areas of car culture
You don't need us to tell you that the latest Autocourse edition is out now, or that Damon Hill and Jenson Button's autobiographies are both 'well worth reading and would be well-suited for anyone with even a passing interest in cars'.
What about the hundreds of other car-related books that have been published? Most are of niche interest at best, but there are some real gems lurking in Amazon's further-flung warehouses. Here are our current favourites.
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Keep reading for a list of the best books for petrolheads.
The best car books
1. A Race with Love and Death: The Story of Richard Seaman
Richard Williams has written wonderful books vividly telling the stories of Enzo Ferrari, Damon Hill and Ayrton Senna. But this latest one tops them all for drama, insight and casting fresh light on old events. "A Race with Love and Death" is the tale of Richard Seaman, Britain's first great Grand Prix driver, as the subtitle calls him, who famously won the 1938 German GP in one of the Hitler-backed Mercedes Silver Arrows, and died in a crash in 1939.
2. Automotive Detailing in Detail: A Guide to Enhancing, Renovating and Maintaining Your Vehicle's Appearance
If you'd told me that I'd enjoy reading a book about cleaning your car, I'd not hesitate to pour cold water on your foolish notion. But you'd be right and I'd be washing my mouth out with Simoniz because this is fascinating. No, really. The authors - all hands-on practitioners - know WAY too much about different techniques for cleaning, restoring, buffing, preserving and pimping, but they manage to not get too dogmatic or uppity about it. The temptation to shout at idiots like me YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG has been heroically resisted, and instead, they offer detailed suggestions for a variety of techniques for tackling any given aspect of maintenance. It pulls off the remarkable trick of making better results seem easily achievable.
3. The Classic Car Book: The Definitive Visual History
This exquisitely detailed book examines 250 models during the mid-20th century, from the 1940s to the 1980s. From the pomp and magnificence of 1960s American automotive leviathans to the VW Kombi, to Lotus, delve into deep detail about the world's most famous car models. Furthermore, this book covers the stories of a number of marques including Ferrari, Jaguar, Fiat, Citroen, and Lancia, along with many others. This is a tremendous and hard-to-put-down book that brings you to understand how the world's great car models came to be. Solid work Giles Chapman.
4. Ayrton Senna: The Last Night
In 1980 Ayrton Senna had yet to make the leap from karts to Formula Fords, but he would soon become a household name, one whose career was cut horribly short in 1994. In this collection of photos (published by Skira), photographer Ercole Colombo tells the story of Senna's career through 100 carefully chosen images. That's it - no more, no less - and it works a treat, in a melancholy kind of way.
5. Haynes Subaru Impreza WRC Rally Car Workshop Manual
This is one of Haynes's less hands-on manuals. It's essentially a nostalgic look back at the 1993-2008 Imprezas that, for a generation, defined rallying. It's very rich in detail - covering the drivers and the teams as well as the hardware.
6. Faster, Higher, Farther: The Inside Story of the Volkswagen Scandal
Surely a book isn't the right medium for addressing an affair that's still ongoing, is it? And yet New York Times reporter Jack Ewing's book about the Dieselgate scandal works as an essential read for anyone who wants to understand how this happened. Various legal actions are still rumbling away, but none of them looks likely to undermine the relevance and accuracy of Ewing's incisive drilling into the culture of an ambitious, successful but also flawed company. He keeps his focus pretty narrow, but scandals involving other prominent companies also make a little more sense when you understand the pressure to succeed in a high-stakes business, described very vividly here in terms that don't require a grasp of business jargon. There's a follow-up book to be written before long, trying to make sense of the aspect Ewing couldn't have anticipated when he wrote this: just how well VW seems to be weathering the storm.
7. F1 Retro: 1970 by Mark Hughes
If you've enjoyed Mark Hughes's magazine work over the years, you won't need to persuade that this is worth every penny of 50 quid. It's a hefty yet always fascinating look back at the 1970 season. Whereas so much journalism and instant-book writing about F1 is done ultra-quickly, this has the benefit of nearly 50 years of hindsight. Every race, every car, every rivalry - it's all here, expertly analysed.
8. The Science of Supercars: The technology that powers the greatest cars in the world
The evolution of supercars is a path that anyone with a curious mind will find amazing. This book looks at the mid-engine species of cars and how aerodynamics, theatrical styling, hardware, software, and other such factors have influenced the supercar over the years and how the technology has changed and is changing. You get to read contributions from some of the greatest figures in the automotive world: Adrian Newey, Gordon Murray, Achim Anscheidt (Bugatti's Design Director), Horacio Pagani, Nigel Manell, and Christian von Koenigsegg.
9. Lonely Planet Epic Drives of the World
This, on the other hand, has virtually none of the nitty-gritty detail that makes Scott's book so compelling. This is 90 per cent coffee-table browsing material for dreamers who'll never do the big trip and nicely done. After all, Route 66 will still be there next year, won't it?
10. High Performance: When Britain Ruled the Roads
The British success in motorsport has been almost nothing but a string of underdogs giving the heavyweights a bloody nose. Britain's post-war generation of hooligans needed somewhere to let loose, and this wonderful book is a collection of these stories. This is a freeze-frame of Britain's golden motoring age, capturing the genius of designers such as John Cooper, Colin Chapman, and Alex Issigonis, and the subsequent world success that followed.
11. My Greatest Defeat: Stories of Hardship and Hope from Motor Racing's Finest Heroes
Great drivers discuss not only their race wins but their toughest moments - not only within the sport but in their overall lives. The late Niki Lauda, for instance, talks about the time his airline suffered a fatal plane crash, and how he fought to exonerate his pilots from blame; Ari Vatanen talks candidly about recovering from the mental trauma he suffered while recuperating from appalling injuries suffered in a crash; Mika Hakkinen talks philosophically about how much of one's self you must sacrifice to single-mindedly dedicate yourself to winning in top-level sport. The premise may seem maudlin but the book is both thought-provoking and inspiring. It shows the sport's heroes are not only human and fallible but also deep-thinking, rounded characters, upholding the author's premise that 'in racing as in life, our greatest moments can be born of our greatest defeat.'
12. How to Build a Car: The Autobiography of the World's Greatest Formula 1 Designer
One of the most successful, pioneering F1 car designers ever, Adrian Newey has become a household name - despite not being a driver. Over his 35 year career, he's designed championship-winning cars for Williams, McLaren and Red Bull - and worked with the likes of Senna, Hakkinen and Vettel. This is his autobiography; but rather than a straightforward narrative, it focuses on key cars in his career. A must-read for F1 fans and more technically minded car enthusiasts, too.
13. Haynes Road Trip Manual
It's a good book, mixing practical advice with inspiration, all conveyed in an agreeably chatty, conversational tone. Breslin has done many of these trips himself, although he's careful to make clear that he's essentially a holidaymaker, not some knife-between-the-teeth semi-feral Bear Grylls character. Again and again, he says something to the effect of 'aw shucks, if I can do it, anyone can'. The fact that some of his journeys were done in a £300 Polo (that glorious Mk2 three-door estate) rather than a Land Cruiser adds weight to his claim. He's also refreshingly un-sniffy about airport hire cars - sometimes they are by far the best option.
14. The Mechanic: The Secret World of the F1 Pitlane
Before he worked as a Sky pitlane reporter, Marc Priestley was an F1 mechanic with McLaren. And he was there at a fascinating and sometimes turbulent time, so he has many stories to tell (a veil is drawn over one or two episodes, but on the whole, it's refreshingly frank and candid). The story of Priestley's own career isn't particularly thrilling - he was good at his job; he got promoted - but as a witness to the feuding between Hamilton and Alonso he's brilliant. He's also fascinated by the good-eggness of David Coulthard, the peculiarities of working for Ron Dennis and the weirdness of Spygate. It's just a pity about the boys-will-be-boys high jinks that he insists on sharing with us (another hire car bites the dust, another hotel-room TV meets the bottom of a swimming pool).
15. Urban Outlaw: Dirt Donu2019t Slow You Down
If you renounced fashion as long ago as I did, you might need a bit of help in figuring out who Magnus Walker is and why he's written an autobiography. Turns out this bearded, long-haired, heavily tattooed gent - born in Sheffield, and now in his fifties - is a fashion designer, although to the untrained eye his fortune seems to have been built on taking some perfectly decent clothes and messing them up. Which would, of course, make you worry for the Porsche 911s that he fiddles with as a hobby.Except they're all really nice as if he gets all the lairiness out of his system with the torn jeans and applies what is clearly a very keen eye to tweaking his Porsches. Written in a no-nonsense manner, he makes it seem pretty easy to make a fortune and spend large chunks of it on cars. If only.
16. Alfa Romeo From 1910 to the present: Updated Edition
Do you know what car marque that has arguably made the greatest number of stunning cars? The marque that almost no one buys? Yes, this is the Alfa Romeo story. From Alfa Romeo's earliest models through to the Guilia Quadrifoglio and all the racing success in between, indulge in Alfa Romeo's incredible history.
17. Bond Cars: The Definitive History
The world's most prominent spy (surely an oxymoron) has seriously good taste in cars. Explore the fascinating history of 007's motors in this excellent hardback written by Jason Barlow. Featuring rare archival material and page after page detailing the elaborate stunts that went into each film, this is a must-have for any Bond fan.
18. Cars We Loved in the 1990s
It's hard to believe that the 1990s ended so long ago. Celebrate the best cars of the decade with this small book commemorating the very best. From the humble (but stylish) Vauxhall Calibra to the McLaren F1 there are cars to suit everyone. And if the 1990s aren't to your taste, there are also books covering the 1950s through to the '80s.