The best car books to read this Christmas break

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What’s the best way to unwind after driving? Reading about driving. To prepare you for the festive break, we pick our favourite motoring titles

So you’ve read all the latest car news and reviews already, and it’s not even time for Christmas dinner? You need to add one of the following to your reading list.

Our writers have each chosen a tome from their personal shelves that they think is well worth your time.

A Medium-Sized Book of Boring Car Trivia – Richard Porter

96 books for christmas 2021 richard porter

Are you the sort of car nut who instantly recognised this trivia tome’s cover image as the external door handle from the Morris Marina? Richard Porter’s collection of inane, obscure and sometimes genuinely interesting car facts is filled with all kinds of automotive minutiae, so even self-confessed motor bores are sure to find at least a few things they didn’t know about our industry.

Exactly – Simon Winchester

88 books for christmas 2021 simon winchester

In his fascinating delve into the origins and applications of precision engineering and how it made the world we live in, Simon Winchester surprisingly takes in the automotive industry via the industrial revolution and space travel.

Using the Henrys (Royce and Ford) as examples, he looks at how two individuals operating at the same time but with very different goals (one to make the best car in the world, the other to make the most affordable) couldn’t have achieved anything without a meticulous attention to detail and the pursuit of perfection.

Engagingly written and extremely well researched, it also serves as a reminder that even the most humble and basic cars are mind-bogglingly sophisticated marvels of engineering that should be celebrated.

Racers – Richard Williams

95 books for christmas 2021 richard williams

Ridiculously well priced with a little online searching as a consequence of its age, Racers is a thoughtful, insightful take on how the 1996 F1 season unfolded, focusing on Damon Hill, Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve.

I’ve not read a duff book by Richard Williams on any subject, and rereading this one reminded me why we’re lucky that he loved F1, as he weaves the story of an increasingly tense season with brilliant contemporary insights into the protagonists’ personalities.

How to Keep your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot – John Muir

97 books for christmas 2021 john muir

As a compleat (sic) idiot with an old Volkswagen Beetle, I can attest that there is only so far a Haynes manual will get you. Armed with John Muir’s venerable handbook (stunningly illustrated by artist Peter Aschwanden), any Bug owner could have a crack at eliminating crank bearing end float or replacing the notorious heater cables.

I would go so far as to say you don’t even need a Volkswagen to engage with it; it’s written like a story and can be enjoyed as such. It’s the people’s book for the people’s car.

The Art and Science of Grand Prix Driving – Niki Lauda

94 books for christmas 2021 niki lauda

Although it was ghostwritten, Niki Lauda’s no-nonsense but noble outlook comes through clearly in this old manual that teaches you how to drive the 1975 Ferrari 312T f lat out. Lauda gives a technical insight into engineering and race weekend set-up that could easily come across as dry but is in fact fascinating.

He then goes into detail about how to get the best out of the V12 F1 car from behind the wheel, as well as racecraft and the most fearsome corners on the calendar. His description of Curva Two at Interlagos (taken in top gear, with the car sliding up to the guard rail so dramatically that it would take his heart rate the whole following straight to come back down) and other life-or-death bends are superb.

Epic Drives of the World – Various authors

93 books for christmas 2021 epic drives

Strictly, this isn’t a book about cars, but it does celebrate the journeys that you could only ever do with them. It highlights 50 epic road trips, with suggestions that span every continent, landscape and taste.

It’s very much about the travel, rather than the journey: the focus is on great places to visit, rather than epic roads to thread a hot hatch down. Will you ever drive most of these routes? Absolutely not, but that’s not really the point. It’s really designed to spark the imagination, to celebrate the freedom that only a car can offer. And after the past few years, I’m sure that’s something we can all enjoy.

Stirling Moss: The Authorised Biography – Robert Edwards

92 books for christmas 2021 robert edwards

So many books have been written about this most extraordinary of sportsmen, but none has come closer than this to capturing the character and humanity of the man. And don’t think that because it is authorised, it’s some soft-soap hagiography, either.

It’s not: Sir Stirling comes at you from the printed page fully formed, flaws and all. It’s the only way to do him justice. And Robert Edwards’ writing is of a calibre to make the likes of me want to crawl under my desk and wonder why on earth I bother.

The Grand Prix Book of Motor Racing Quotations – Eugene Weber

91 books for christmas 2021 eugene weber

My battered copy of Eugene Weber’s 1995 book still finds its way into my hands surprisingly often, because the quotes are so numerous and so wide-ranging that I’m always finding something new. Witness this from Nascar legend Richard Petty: “When I first started racing, it was a real redneck situation. You didn’t dare bring your wife or girlfriend, because half the people were drunk and the rest were fighting.”

But to me the most poignant in the entire book is from one of March’s founders, Robin Herd: “Winning is an anticlimax and an embarrassment. But losing really burns, and that’s what drives most sportsmen on.”

Niki Lauda: The Biography – Maurice Hamilton

90 books for christmas 2021 maurice hamilton

Apologies for the double Niki Lauda hit, but if anyone is worth two entries, it’s surely him. Mine is the well-timed Maurice Hamilton biography, released one year after Lauda’s death.

The story of ‘that accident’ in 1976 is well told, and because Hamilton knew Lauda personally, there’s some lovely detail and observation of his life. But the most interesting part of the book is post Lauda’s racing career – the time when, as both an airline boss and an F1 team advisor, the world wasn’t treated to his observations as regularly.

Because of his global presence, it was easy to think you knew Lauda. This book, though, shows a fascinating other side to him.

Watching the Wheels – Damon Hill

98 books for christmas 2021 damon hill

We ran a similar feature to this about five years ago (we do continue to have new ideas, I promise) and in it one of my colleagues picked out Damon Hill’s autobiography, which I had never read. Now I have. And what an amazing read it was.

While he’s the son of a Formula 1 champion, no privilege or leg-up found its way to his racing career – quite the opposite, in fact. It’s not rags to riches or adversity to triumph but somewhere in the middle: a genuinely interesting, inspiring tale of a real person working hard to achieve something quite remarkable, with humility, awareness and a sense of perspective for a world outside the paddock.

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