We sometimes forget that cars are not just machines to be used for our convenience; they are also works of art. The melding of style, form, function, and utility must be perfectly balanced in a vehicle in order to truly make it something that can inspire the viewer. Finding that balance requires both an aesthetic eye and engineering genius. We’re looking to celebrate both the beauty of cars and their prowess with these books devoted to things every gas-breather loves. We’re looking at more than just pretty collections, but obvious honorariums to the cars of yesterday and today.
If you want a technical manual, you’ve come to the wrong place. We’re unabashedly exonerating car books that are good for light browsing rather than heavy reading. Meant to be conversation pieces, each of these tomes takes a unique perspective on cars. Like all art, these are meant to be challenging, stimulating, and foster contention as much as be enjoyable to thumb through on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Here are the 15 best automotive books for giving the humble car its just desserts.
Speed, Style, and Beauty: Cars from the Ralph Lauren Collection
Master Class: Purely for those who live for design, this collection of cars was selected by Ralph Lauren, a style guru of the highest order. Aston Martin, Bugatti, Alfa Romero, and other swooping, powerful automobiles are cast into light that flatters their figures and expresses their personalities.
Barn Find Road Trip
Hidden Gems: Put an archaeologist, a car collector, and a photographer in a vehicle for two weeks, and this is what turns up. Tom Cotter, Brian Barr, and Michael Alan Ross set out to see forgotten cars in their natural habitat. They beat the bushes, and here’s the bounty from their trip.
Car: The Definitive Visual History of the Automobile
Hype Man: The name’s a little grandiose, but this book truly does capture all of the iterations that the simple car has undergone. It looks at every horseless carriage, right up to modern pieces that set the style for the future. It walks through a garden of past automobiles, showing the passage of the world as seen through cars.
Top Gear: The Cool 500: The Coolest Cars Ever Made
Contender: Top Gear might be fighting controversy these days, but the team still knows more about cars than your average shade tree mechanic. There’s nothing outside of the title you need to know: It’s 500 of the coolest cars ever. Just look at it.
Mustang: Fifty Years: Celebrating America’s Only True Pony Car
American Hero: The Mustang is one of the few cars that looks and feels like it’s 100% Grade A, Prime Choice, USDA select American. It’s a four-seater muscle car that began as little more than a re-jiggered Ford Falcon, and is now practically a brand unto itself.
The DeLorean Story: The car, the people, the scandal
Fail Big: The car that would become famous for running long enough to be in the Back to the Future movies was also one of the most unusual stories in automotive history. Written by a manager at the ill-fated DeLorean company, this is food for thought more than a feast for the eyes.
70s Concept Cars: Yesterday’s Dreams of the Future
Aftermath: The 70’s were a very progressive time, with the summer of love setting free everyone’s minds. During the 70’s people had some strange ideas about the future, all celebrated in this look back at those who made tastes, and those who made surrealist nightmares on wheels. So retro, it needs its own platform shoes.
Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!: The Bonhams Guide to Classic Race and Sports Cars
The One Percent: Bonhams is the first auction house of note when it comes to rare sports cars and race cars from the early days of roadsters; when a 5-point harness wasn’t even a thing you used on those horrid flying contraptions. Fans of early racing, history, or just gas-breathing will find something worth salivating over.
Lamborghini: 100 Years of Innovation in Half the Time
Mess with the Bull: Lamborghini is one of the few brands who could name one of their cars the Diablo and have the name somehow still not convey the pure wickedness of that vehicle. Hard lines, hard curves, and low clearance, this is a festival of slick street runners from the people who tried to re-invent veloce.
Giorgetto Giugiaro: The Genius of Design
The Maker: In 1999, one man was given the distinction of being named Car Designer of the Century. The Genius of Design is a monograph that celebrates that man, who crafted so many of the most famous car bodies ever seen. Lamborghini and Ferrari are just a few of the names he has made distinctive over the years.
Porsche 911 Book: 50th Anniversary Edition
Sport, Redefined: Porsche made a different kind of car: fast, but also small and nimble. The Walther PPK of sport cars, this celebrates their most famous speedster, the 911. After 50 years, the name is still synonymous with impeccable handling, incredible agility, and a body that has only gotten better with time.
The Ferrari Book
Pony Up: Gunther Raupp is the name of the photographer behind these pictures. He not only shows what each of these Ferraris are, he captures them where they thrive. Nimbly weaving through streets, or running flat out on a sea of dunes, no matter how much Ferrari you think you’ve seen, this will surprise you.
The Bentley Book
Complicated: Bentley once produced a luxury limousine and a car that won Le Mans in the same year. The brand is respected by pit crews and the elite alike for their ability to make fast cars that are also luxurious, and the other way around. As this book proves, they also make cars that are breathtaking.
Can-Am Cars in Detail: Machines and Minds Racing Unrestrained
Believe the Legend: Cam-Am racing lasted for a scant 8.5 seasons, which is barely a full heat as far as we’re concerned. Whether you know about the world of unbridled speed that was Can-Am or not, this overture to racing of all stripes is for anyone who longs to go fast.
The Impossible Collection of Cars
Truth in Advertising: For the price of this book, we agree that it is truly impossible. It is also gorgeous. It has the most stunning 100 cars of the 20th century, photographed in a style that captures their essence as much as their lines and curves. Even if you believe no book is worth the money, this might change your mind. A collector’s must.