8 automotive book ideas for last-minute Christmas shopping

by Antony Ingram
19 December 2023 5 min read
8 automotive book ideas for last-minute Christmas shopping

Isn’t modern shipping brilliant? It has allowed the indecisive among us, or perhaps those with less foresight, to get surprisingly close to Christmas before ordering things and still mostly have them arrive in time for the big day. Well, we are now surprisingly close to Christmas…

Books are an evergreen gift and each year we pick a selection you might like to find under the tree. Assuming you read this in time, you should be able to get all but a few of these in short order (and one of the ones you can’t isn’t actually out yet), and they cover a range of budgets appropriate for everything from a stocking filler to a book you’ll be reading and referring to for years.

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BMW Behind the Scenes, Steve Saxty (£244.95)

You’ll have to consider this more an IOU rather than one to read beside the fire on a full stomach, as Steve Saxty’s latest book isn’t out until January. But based on Saxty’s previous Ford books, we’re fairly safe in expecting BMW Behind the Scenes, a three-book set focusing on the German brand’s design, to be among the best books we’ll read next year.

Saxty knew what he was doing picking BMW, too, surely one of this century’s most polarising brands from a design perspective. The first book, BMW by Design, draws from talks with the brand’s designers; the second book, BMW’s Hidden Gems, is full of unpublished photos and artwork (including some by the famous Paul Bracq), and the final of the trio, BMW Art by Design, was written after working closely with current design chief Adrian van Hooydonk. We can’t wait to read it.

The Atlas of Car Design, Jason Barlow (from £75)

Yep, another design-focused book, but this one covers far more than just BMW. In fact, journalist and presenter Jason Barlow’s latest work covers more than 650 cars, and as the word ‘Atlas’ in the title suggests, the cars and companies featured are grouped first geographically and then chronologically.

If it has made a visual impact on the world, it’s probably in this book, and every car gets plenty of space; there are nearly as many pages as there are cars. It’s all illustrated with a mix of period photographs and advertisements, studio and manufacturer shots, and more. The tasteful cover means you shouldn’t need to be embarrassed to leave it lying out on the coffee table after Christmas, either…

Boring Car Trivia 4, Richard Porter (£6.99)

We’re not quite sure how he does it, but Richard Porter has managed to fill a fourth book with automotive trivia. The title says it’s boring, but if you’re anything like us, then just like the three previous books it’s the kind of thing you’ll end up glued to for the entire afternoon – and end up blasting through before the turkey’s even gone cold.

We’re quite drawn in by the cover alone, with a fabulous sketch of a Renault 4 (which is probably far too interesting for a book with “boring” in its name), but if you’ve ever wanted to know who designed the BMW M logo or why Jaguar engineers kept crashing Honda S2000s, then you know where to find this kind of information.

Variable Valve Timings: Memoirs of a Car Tragic, Chris Harris (from £16)

To a large part of the public, Chris Harris is simply the less famous, more car-nerdy one from (the now sadly on-ice) Top Gear television series. But if you’ve been interested in cars for a while, then you’ll be more familiar with him from his long history as an automotive journalist, working for the likes of Autocar and Evo magazines.

These memoirs go behind the scenes on his career in cars, from the things that inspired him as a kid to working for the world’s biggest motoring show, and everything in between. It’s amazing it has taken him this long to get around to a book, really, as he’s clearly got plenty of stories to tell and isn’t just one of the best in the business himself, but has worked with plenty of other automotive industry greats too. Well worth a read.

All-American Ads of the ’60s, Steven Heller (from £24)

Not strictly a car book, but if you’re into classic cars, particularly American ones, and Americana, and design, and burying yourself in 1960s nostalgia, then All-American Ads of the ’60s is probably about as good as it gets.

This one really keeps thing simple: It’s mainly just page after page of adverts for everything from enormous, sleek muscle cars, to televisions, Tupperware, Coca-Cola, clothing, whisky… pretty much anything from the period, all beautifully rendered in that iconic style of advertising that instantly marks out the period. It’s an ode to one of the best decades for optimistic consumerism from the world’s consumerist superpower.

Autocar Archive, Autocar (from £34.99)

Not strictly a book… well, not even slightly a book, but given that a subscription to the world’s oldest car magazine doesn’t just get you new mags these days but also old ones, it’s hard to resist putting it on our list of Christmas reads.

Subscribe to the mag and it’s now possible to digitally access the publication’s entire history of back issues, all the way back to 1895. Almost, anyway – we’ve noticed quite a few missing weeks, while some of the scans are pretty wonky too, but it’s still an impressive effort considering the thousands of issues. Searching can be a bit hit and miss, but the price doesn’t look bad compared to picking up mouldy, dog-eared issues on eBay.

Honda/Acura NSX: Honda’s Original Supercar, Brian Long (£90)

The third edition of prolific automotive author Brian Long’s book on Honda’s supercar, the NSX, is on sale – though if you need any more motivation to pick it up soon, beyond a last-minute Christmas present, then publisher Veloce says there are only 200 copies left of the 500-copy run.

The book covers both the original NSX and the 2015-on model, and if the price looks a bit steep (you can only buy it directly from Veloce, incidentally), then the thorough research makes it worth it. Long has spoken directly to many of those involved in both cars, including original NSX (and S2000) engineer Shigeru Uehara, so it’s as accurate as you’re likely to find.

Goldie, John Mayhead (£20)

The story of Goldie Gardner should be better known than it is among automotive and racing enthusiasts. One of Britain’s true pioneers of speed, Gardner set numerous records both prior to and after the Second World War, predominantly in MGs, before sadly succumbing in 1958 to an injury he sustained on a record attempt at Bonneville in 1952.

John Mayhead – the editor of the Hagerty UK price guide – has written unequivocally the most detailed and evocative account of Gardner’s life, and he really puts you in the driving seat of many of the records, built up from Gardner’s own diaries, plus interviews with family members and racing coverage from the period. If you’re at all interested in other British racing and speed personalities, from Malcolm Campbell to Stirling Moss, you need to add Goldie to your collection.

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