9 Essential Car Books You Should Read

Car Culture / 6 Comments

These are some of the most engrossing stories to come out of the automotive industry.

If you really want to dive deep into automotive subjects, forget YouTube, podcasts, automotive websites, and magazines. There are over a hundred years' worth of car books to read, so we've whittled the list down to what we consider to be the essential reads. If you prefer to listen rather than read, many of these stories are also available as audiobooks. To count as essential on this list, we consider them the definite works on their subjects, whether that's history, car culture, racing, autobiographies, or the bizarre history of an automotive brand.


1. Go Like Hell - A.J. Baime

Ford v Ferrari is a great movie, but it's a Hollywood production that takes liberties to tell a story that will appeal to the masses. It's also just a couple of hours long, which means there is a lot of detail missed, characters left out, and insane parts of the story left untold. Seriously, the full story is extraordinary, and more than a few people lost their lives between the moment Enzo Ferrari snubbed Ford in 1963, and the moment the GT40 dominated at Le Mans and humiliated the Ferrari race team.

Go Like Hell is the full story covering all the people that played a part and also tells Ferrari's side of the story. It all happened at a time when the safety of the drivers wasn't even a secondary concern when it came to going faster, and engineers were working from pen and paper and trailblazing the technology we take for granted today. A.J. Baime paces the story perfectly and captures the feelings and excitement of one of automotive history's great stories in the golden age of car racing.

Mariner Books 20th Century Fox

2. Driven: Inside BMW, The Most Admired Car Company In The World - David Kiley

The start of Driven sounds like a long advertisement for BMW, in particular the 5 Series, and is full of cliches. But then it becomes one of the best automotive books we've read. Suddenly, it's as if a different author took over and starts telling the full story of BMW. It's as if David Kiley figured BMW would read the intro and the first chapter and be happy so he could get into the meat of the story. There are some fascinating chapters on the thinking behind the cars, the ups and downs of the brand, the innovation and successes, and the struggles to maintain an identity. However, the story of the family that has owned BMW since the 1950s, the Quandts, stands out. It's an epic story and almost a book in itself that doesn't hold back in talking about the family's entire Nazi period, which is eye-opening.


3. How To Drive - Ben Collins

One of the best car books an enthusiast can read is How To Drive: The Ultimate Guide, From The Man Who Was The Stig, by Ben Collins. He might have pulled a questionable move that got him fired from Top Gear, but the man can wheel a car. Collins has been racing at a high level since 1994 and has gigs as a writer, TV presenter, and precision driver for movies. No matter how experienced you are, you always learn something when you re-read, while Collins also manages to be inspirational, instructive, and entertaining.

Chronicle Books

4. Memoirs Of A Hack Mechanic - Rob Siegel

During business hours, Rob Siegel is a geophysicist. For the rest of the time, he is a man obsessed with owning, fixing, and driving cars. The book is a spin on Siegel's The Hack Mechanic column for BMW Car Club of America's magazine, Roundel. Memoirs Of A Hack Mechanic blends advice, stories, cautionary tales, history, and irreverent humor into one neat book and will hit home with car enthusiasts of any age. To us, any person that has managed to own 25 BMW 2002s while not getting divorced or spending the kid's college money is somebody worth listening to.

Bentley Publishers

5. Cannonball! - Brock Yates

Brock Yates was a legend and a maverick in automotive journalism. If you haven't heard of him, then strap in. He was a longtime executive editor of Car and Driver, wrote a string of great books, co-wrote the movie Smokey And The Bandit II with stunt driver Hal Needham, and came up with the Cannonball Ball run with fellow editor Steve Smith.

It was an unsanctioned speed record drive from Los Angeles to Darien, Connecticut, born out of a love for America's highway system and as a middle finger to the highway laws being imposed at the beginning of the 1970s. Then he wrote the screenplay for the movie, The Cannonball Run, starring Burt Reynolds again. The movie hasn't aged well in so many ways, but the initial record is still being improved upon. The book is more grounded, but still crazy, and gives an inside look at how coast-to-coast racing became national news and a car culture fixture. It's a book about cars that should be in every enthusiast's collection.


6. How To Build A Car - Adrian Newey

If you're into books about how cars work and Formula 1, then How To Build A Car by Adrian Newey is a must-read. While the name isn't as famous as Bruce McLaren, Colin Chapman, or Gordon Murray, Newey is responsible for more Constructor Championship titles than all of them. He's one of the UK's most outstanding engineers, and How To Build A Car covers a lifetime of experience that started with drawing cars at age 12. The book gets into the nuts and bolts of how a car works with entertaining and engaging detail.


7. And On That Bombshell - Richard Porter

If you've ever wondered if Top Gear under Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May was the same behind the scenes as it was in front, then this is the book to read. Richard Porter came in when rebooting Top Gear was an idea being put into motion by Clarkson and producer Andy Wilman. His title was Script Editor on a show that won awards for being an unscripted show, which sets the tone perfectly. Porter is a brilliant writer and a funny one, which shows through Top Gear, his satirical website that got him hired, and the book And On That Bombshell, which charts the rise and fall of Top Gear hosted by the trio that made it a worldwide success. It includes the highs and lows with plenty of insight and stories nobody could make up, like being the script editor and accepting an award for Best Unscripted Show. We would file this one under good car books for adults.

Top Gear

8. Engines of Change - Paul Ingrassia

One of the best automotive books that will satisfy the general public and enthusiasts alike is Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars by Paul Ingrassia. It's also one of the best classic car books anyone can pick up, read, and enjoy as he gets into the culture and the people that shaped the car industry - not just the American car industry. Each subject focuses on one car, but in cases like the Corvette, it gets into the story behind them. Highlights include the Corvette and the incredible story of Zora Arkus-Duntov, the rise of Harley Earl and the weird and wonderful period of automotive history that was the war of the giant fins, and the unlikely rise of the Prius. It's as entertaining as it is insightful and educational on American car culture.

Simon & Schuster

9. Electric Cars - James Taylor

James Taylor has been writing about cars since the 1970s, and his book Electric Cars is the latest entry on this list. There aren't many great books about electric cars, but we love this one as it charts the history of the electric car, which predates the development of the internal combustion engine. It's a comprehensive history that brings us up to date as the book was released in 2022. If you want to understand the electric car and its journey before EVs fully take over from ICE cars, this is well worth a look.

Shire Library

The Best Of The Rest

We could write a book about all the great car books out there, but you should go read them. If you're into biographies and Formula One or racing in general, check out Aussie Grit: My Formula One Journey by Mark Webber and Life to the Limit by Jenson Button.

A deeply engrossing book on Formula 1 is Racing with Rich Energy: How a Rogue Sponsor Took Formula One for a Ride by Alanis King and Elizabeth Blackstock. In fact, if you're into Formula 1, that's a recent book that should be required reading. If you like your race car driver autobiographies to mainly drive in circles, there's Swerve or Die: Life at My Speed in the First Family of NASCAR Racing by Kyle Petty and Ellis Henican.

If you're interested in the second golden age of the American automotive industry, there's Car Guys Vs. Bean Counters by one of America's larger-than-life automotive CEOs, Bob Lutz, and Iacocca: An Autobiography by Lee Iacocca and William Novak. If we've missed any must-read car books, let us know in the comments.

Jenson Button/Facebook

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