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Casey Williams: 10 books every automobile enthusiast should read

Casey Williams, Tribune News Service on

Published in Business News

I have a deep library at home that I’ve accumulated over decades to feed my interest in all things automotive. From personal memoirs of rock stars to accounts of industry-changing research, safety advocacy, giant-slaying upstarts, epic marketing mistakes, and even mid-century style, here are 10 books I treasure and recommend for true automotive enthusiasts.

—"Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile" by Ralph Nader (Grossman, 1965)

Seatbelts were rarely worn. Airbags and crash avoidance systems yet undreamed of. There were no federal crash standards. This was the state of automotive safety in 1965 when a young lawyer leveraged Chevy Corvair rollovers to gain the attention of GM and Detroit.

“Auto companies weren’t interested in safety,” Nader told me in 2015. “They were selling style and horsepower. I did the most I could with the least amount of public information. That’s why nobody wrote a book like that — they didn’t know how to marshal the evidence like a lawyer.”

How important was this book to American society? There were 5.3 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles in 1965. By 2022 that figure had declined to 1.35 in 2022 — a 75% reduction. Nader's book was key to inspiring a safety ethos among government regulators and car manufacturers alike.

—"Rockers and Rollers: A Full-Throttle Memoir" by Brian Johnson (It Books, 2011)

 

He called it “scribblings of a mad man,” but AC/DC’s Brian Johnson wrote a humorous book about personal experiences for automotive enthusiasts.

“Some things go together: Strawberries and cream, motors and music,” Johnson said in 2014. “I remember when I was young seeing Elvis, seeing fantastic American cars that we thought were from a different planet.”

Chapter titles include “The E-Type Penis Extension” and “Citroen DS: Right, I’m Up and I’m Staying Up Until I Get a Shag.” The chapter “Car Porn” highlights Johnson's favorites like the Chrysler Dual Cowl Phaeton, Duesenberg SJ and Facel Vega. The guy knows cars as well as he knows music.

—"Disaster in Dearborn: The Story of the Edsel" by Thomas E. Bonsall (Stanford University Press, 2002)

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