When we can’t play with our cars, most of us are still thinking about cars, researching cars, or being entertained by stories about cars. This week for the Hagerty community question we want to hear who your favorite automotive author is.
The automotive section of your favorite bookstore has a significant range—research, entertainment, a mixture of both. Sometimes it is a carefully crafted story that blends in the perfect automotive element. James Bond comes to mind in that regard. Books from the likes of Clive Cussler also integrated a gearhead element to many of his tales, always a delight to find for those in the know.
So tell us the automotive author you just can’t put down once you open the cover. We will compile the top suggestions into a list for other gearheads to use as a to-do list in the coming weeks.
In a review I once did of the 1961-63 Lincoln Continental, featuring a matched set, 1962 turquoise sedan and convertible, I included some more of Uncle Tom's metaphors:
Tom McCahill of Mechanix Illustrated wrote that the 1961 Continental was "one of the plushest wolftraps on the road. It's as quiet as the love life of a bass, and it rides as smooth as spilt fudge on a canted stove. [Its] looks will equal any car's in the nation and, in the opinion of some of my arty friends, will trim all others six ways from the post and twice on Sunday."
And... (looks around) my boss, Larry Webster.
Don't forget that rascal Sam Smith, the fellow they call "today's Peter Egan". Wouldn't it be great if he would come work for me? Wouldn't it be even better if he started two weeks from today?
Peter Egan. I love Peter's writing for the same reason I love the Hagerty Community - it's not fluff about new car appliances. It's the love of the car and great automotive marques. Peter isn't afraid to get grease under his nails and then tell us about his triumphs and his failures. He knows what it's like to have to bang on a MGB electric fuel pump through the battery box while you are driving. Peter has an uncanny ability to relate to our love of cars with humor and emotion. It doesn't hurt that he can do the same for motorcycles and garage bands too........
Paul Frere and Brock Yates, for their "been there, done that" view of things.
Tom Cotter for his barn find books. My wife get me his new book every year for Christmas.
Last but not least, Peter Egan. An excellent mix of technical knowledge and an "everyman" style of writing.
When I wrote my first reply mentioning Peter Egan, I had forgotten about Tom McCahill. I always read Popular Mechanix every month and enjoyed every one of his columns. He had a writing style that no one has ever matched. He really liked the big Chrysler 300s, as I did and had a number of good articles on them. I have an original copy of his review of the 1966 Ford Bronco, which I keep with my Bronco memorabilia (I have a 66 Bronco I have owned since new). Of course, there are lots of others great writers mentioned such as Brock Yates and David Davis. I don't think anyone has mentioned Sam Posey. Sam has written nearly as much but he is really talented. He is somewhat of an acquired taste, but is a multi-talented individual whose writing is really good.
I'll start by tell you who isn't.
The current online "zines" contain a lot of automotive writing that is largely garbage. Especially the lists of 5 or 10 Good/Bad cars which have a two-sentence discussion that provides no useful information. They are so illiterate that sometimes they are incomprehensible. It's really sad to know that there are those who take it seriously.
Most magazines do a reasonably good job of describing the technical and driving experiences of the cars under discussion. Those stories resemble each other, and few actually stand out. Of somewhat greater interest are those that discuss the people who own and build the cars. It's the people who actually have stories to share more than the cars.
For looking for creativity and great sense of humor, added to the technical and personal side of things, Bruce McCall is my all-time favorite. His discussions of the Denbeigh (fictional) archetypical British car, and especially the Super Chauvinist model still rank among my favorite and timeless contributions to automotive journalism.
I am also a fan of the late WRC Shedenhelm, who wrote for Sports Car Graphic back in the 60's. His wry comments on the vagaries of the cars of the time (the discussion of the 8-cylinder Mini - one engine in front and one in back) was downright wonderful!
For current but largely unrecognized automotive writers, I'd suggest Jeff Zurschmided of Tillamook, Oregon. He has written short reviews, a couple of books (the one on restoring an early Miata and another on how to hotrod Subarus) suggest that unlike many, he spends considerable time wrenching on the cars he writes about. His stories on driving adventures -- he's done the Al-Can rally (or whatever it's called now) twice -- suggest a broad experience with many different car-related activities. His command of the language is excellent, and now and again his humor sneaks through to great enjoyment.
I am an automotive write on a small scale (Hemmings and Eckler's). But I in no wise compare myself to those who can demonstrate a far greater competence and creativity with the genre than I can.
Favoritism is largely idiosyncratic, and those who have been mentioned elsewhere are all good too.
I have several but one of my top favorites is Karl Ludvigsen. My interests in automotive history and design and Corvette racing were also is his journalistic focus. Younger subscribers may not have read his works but would do well to seek them out.
Rob Siegal. If you are ever in the position of resurrecting a "ran when parked" barn find, Rob's books are a godsend. Great advice on how to bring it back to life. Plus he has more technical books on vintage air conditioning, electronics and ignition. I stumbled across his book Memoirs of a Hack Mechanic and have since purchased every book he's written. Bringing a 1976 Bradley GT/1970 VW that was last driven in 1983. His books and my dusty old dwell meter are coming in handy.
Michael Lamm. I used to look forward to his "Used Cars" columns in Motor Trend when I was 12 years old. I learned to keep a record book in my car to record gas and repairs from my first car to my current three.
It was a treat to meet him at AeroBooks/AutoBooks in Burbank where he was signing his book about the 1955 Chevrolet. He is definitely an unsung hero of automotive writing.
So many good names already mentioned.
Pat Ganahl is probably more familiar to most as a magazine editor, but has also done books.
Jack Baruth's columns are some of my favourite automotive reading.
I'm a big fan of Elana Scherr's writing. When her gig allows for long-form articles her talent comes forth (rather than when doing snippets about a new car road test, though she does those well too).
I met Peter Egan once at The Rock Store in the Malibu mountains. Great writer and really nice guy. Kevin Cameron (motorcycles) takes you inside the various components of the vehicle and paints word pictures of flame propagation, oil film, bearing action, and the uses of finite element analysis. You can actually know what's happening under you as you move down the road. Ralph Stein's voluminous knowledge of - and experience with - a wide range of the great marques fed my lifelong love of classic cars.
Peter Egan and Brock Yates introduced me to the wonderful world of british sports that were built before I was born and I now own and drive. B.S. Levy has to be on this list for his great novels set in the 1950’s and 1960’s car scene. Very entertaining for those stuck at home and for those, like myself, who wished they’d lived through though special times.
The current automotive landscape has a ton of quality writers. From a non-fiction perspective, I love the work of A.J. Baime.
The list of automotive journalists I can't wait to read is not short, which I think is fantastic. I've always admired the style and attitude of Jack Baruth, and I look forward to each edition of Car and Driver mainly to see what Ezra Dyer has come up with for his latest column or review. I think Hannah Elliot and Brett Berk are fantastic writers who cover the automotive scene from a different angle.
But I have to say Sam Smith is at the top of my current list. I always find him to be funny, genuine, and knowledgable. Anyone who can educate and make you laugh in the same article is a winner in my book.
So many good ones including Peter Egan... but s a fellow BMXer I have to go with current Hagerty contributor Jack Baruth! Not only does he give great car reviews and descriptions, but encourages the rest of us that we can have fun without the latest and greatest! As much as I love the latest and greatest, many of us can truly only afford 7 years old hand me downs without financing (sometimes creative financing at that)
Speaking of latest and greatest... I'm having Dutch Bikes build a park 20" for my 10-year-old son at tremendous expense and effort. I asked him which color he wants... he can have anything from over 6,000 Prismatic Powder colors.
He responded. "I don't want something shiny like your bikes. I want Flat black, like the GOOD riders." 🙂
Oh dear... at least convince him to get colored accents so it doesn't get lost in the crowd! Prismatic has some other great matte colors that will make it stand out but still be the new cool.
Tom McCahill was great in his era, but that is going way back.
Not quite so far back, David E. Davis was very good. His contemporary, Pat Bedard, was one I also enjoyed, along with Don Sherman. John Lamm produced a lot of good work for a long time. Michael Lamm spanned a long, long time and still contributes the occasional piece to Hemmings today. He practically invented the term "special-interest automobile" and ran the magazine by that name for much of its existence.
I found Henry Manney amusing and interesting. The roster of columnists in Car and Driver in the '60s and '70s were often simply excellent - Leon Mandel, Charles Fox, Bruce McCall, Jean Shepherd, and of course Brock Yates. But I found Yates a bit much in terms of his style of writing at times (as opposed to what he was saying) when he made too-frequent references to himself and his lifestyle. The same issue applies today in spades to Baruth, unfortunately. I may be unique but I always found LJK Setright's columns unfathomable.
We've brought Pat back for a few and will continue to bring him back, as long as he's willing to make the time.
For someone who is kind of my polar opposite and who just gives the facts without the drama, check out our fellow, Bozi Tatarevic!
In reply to Greg_B: I 100% agree with all of your faves. But let's not forget one of the funniest car guys out there, (aside from Bruce McCall), P.J. O'Rourke. And I agree that LJKS was almost like trying to decipher Hieroglyphics.
There has been many since, but Brock Yates is responsible for attracting me to reading about cars from the very start. He captured me with his style back in the 70's. He was the first to write articles, that I actually remembered the name of the author. So, because of that, he gets my vote as favorite.
This may seem like a stretch but my answer is Clive Cussler. He incorporated a car into his Dirk Pitt novels and I learned about new cars each time I read one. Big fun and he was a collector himself!
Interesting choice of book in the picture. Drumming up sales for Hagerty? I found that book easy to put down when I was reading the "what car for your last drive" and got to the Michelle Obama's Presidential limo answer. Threw up in my mouth a little and wondered why Hagerty would publish something that would so completely turn off half their readers.
Agreed. Kind of like the article on the EPA in the latest mag edition. Kind of funny that the BBC version of Top Gear talked about how ridiculous American emission standards are.
In years past Mark Donahue, Paul Van Valkenburg, Smokey Yunick. I like the historic and tech side.
To today Tom Cotter, Matt Stone and Lance Lambert. These are great for today’s writers. Lance is less known but tells a good tale.
I have a lot of automotive books on my shelf. I am pretty sure the only one I never finished was one of the "... In The Barn" books by Tom Cotter that I made made the mistake of buying. It was just so disappointing. It read like a collection of anecdotes, not actual book-writing, copied verbatim from emails (often ones that were poorly written) that he received in response to a call-out. I don't know if all in that series are like that or if I got a bad one. I was not motivated to find out by buying any others.
Yeah, that would give me a moment of pause as well. I called out one of my favorite Mopar tech. editors for an inflammatory claim that the points to electronics conversion kits were so inferior due to how they fit over the cam and caused erratic timing. I also backed that claim up with three different cars with the same conversion, checked the timing under various temperatures from cold to normal operating Temps as well as sitting for 20 minutes after bring driven for an hour to let heat soak in, as well as plotting graphs for timing curves marked at 100 rpm intervals.
No response. I always try and remember that journalists are just that whether automotive, or otherwise. And that those big claims sell magazines, etc. as so many people take their opinions as facts. Much like so many people do with newspapers, the internet, social media, etc.
I can only speculate, but would hazard a guess that the author I am referring to probably tried to get some free swag from them using his "media creds" as weight and got told he would have to pay for it like the rest of us.