Everyone loves a good read. Immersing yourself in a decent book is a great way to pass the time, and over the years there have been some fantastic offers for oil enthusiasts.
But what are the best books on cars and motorsport? Ben Horton, of Hortons Books (www.hortonsbooks.co.uk) in Marlborough, Wiltshire, is the man to ask as he is one of the world’s foremost book-selling experts.
Ben has been around books and cars all his life, having spent his childhood attending motorsport events with his father, Michael – racing driver and team manager – collecting memorabilia along the way.
In August 1997 he went into business as Hortons Books, trading from a garden table at the back of the family home. Some 24 years later, the company has 15,000 automotive and motorsport books in stock in its warehouse and is recognized worldwide as a leader in its field.
Despite – or perhaps because of – the pandemic, Ben says the auto book industry is healthy. âPeople are definitely consuming more books,â he explains. âSince the first foreclosure we’ve seen a huge upturn in sales, including our busiest Christmas ever. There has been a resurgence of print – people are realizing that there is an advantage in not looking at a computer screen. “
We asked Ben for his thoughts on the best automotive books of all time. Some are serious investments only for affluent collectors, others are more affordable and suitable for everyone, but one thing is for sure: its selections represent the best of the best.
The best automotive biography
Enzo Ferrari: power, politics and building an automotive empire
By Luca Dal Monte
The legendary racing driver and founder of Ferrari passed away in 1988, and the time that elapses until the publication of this 954-page biography in 2018 makes it a captivating and comprehensive read.
âIt’s a really fresh take on Enzo Ferrari’s life and Ferrari as a company,â Ben says. âBy doing this so many years after Enzo’s death, you get what you’d like to think of to be the real story. Over time people are probably more honest in their opinions of the man, and I think that you will get a much truer tale [from this] than if you had read Enzo’s book on himself, or one of the early biographies of a former Ferrari employee.
The book, which cost Â£ 40 new, is currently out of print. If you can find one, it’ll probably cost around Â£ 450.
The best book dedicated to a single model
Compendium Dino 206gt, 246gt, 246gts
By Matthias Bartz
The Ferrari Dino is one of the most iconic models ever made and has inspired a book that truly does justice to its status in the form of this 396-page limited edition.
Ben says, âAs far as a one-model book is concerned, this is how they should all be produced. If you buy a book on one model, you are obviously very interested in that. You might be looking to buy one or sell one, and it has all the information you need – for example, differences in years of production, chassis numbers, which toolboxes should be there – all in beautiful color photographs and with great production values. A book is no better than that.
It cost Â£ 160 new in 2011 and is worth Â£ 2,250 today.
The book with the best photography
By Jesse Alexander
Motorsport lends itself to dramatic imagery, and Ben’s selection here is a sublime documentation of Formula 1, IndyCar, sports cars and Le Mans from the 1971 season by American photographer Alexander. The 158-page large-format book features huge color fold-out images, and many of them are, according to Ben, “breathtaking.”
But there is more to its appeal than that. He explains: âFor me, a great photographer is someone who sees beyond a single image; they see a picture that tells a story, just like an artist does. It’s in my top 10 automotive books of all time. Every time I look at it, I’m attracted to it. ”
Standard editions cost Â£ 650.
The best story of a manufacturer
Maserati – The Silver family
By Nigel Trow
âIt’s a tough question,â admits Ben. âThere are many manufacturer stories out there, but most of them are illustrated and don’t really provide the facts and figures. But Maserati – The Family Silver is a two-volume hardcover book produced in 2016 and is 872 pages long, with very few illustrations, so you can imagine the depth of the information.
Fourteen years of research have been devoted to the title, and the two volumes are divided chronologically, from 1881-1944 and 1945-2014. Only 1,000 were printed, priced at Â£ 195, and the book was a solid seller at Hortons.
The best motor sport book
My Friend Mate: The Short, Brilliant Lives of Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins
By Chris Nixon
A look back at a very different time in Formula 1 gets Ben’s vote here. My Friend Mate is a double biography of British racing drivers Hawthorn and Collins, the title referring to their nicknames for each other. âIt’s a lot of fun to read,â recalls Ben. âIt dates back to the fifties and gives you a good look at motor racing back then. It’s a fascinating story of when motorsport was extremely dangerous and many people were lost, including Collins. and Hawthorn.
The first edition was published in 1991 and now sells for around Â£ 125; reprints range from Â£ 60 to Â£ 70.
The best book on a road trip
Beijing to Paris
By Luigi Barzini
Subtitled “Prince Borghese’s Journey Across Two Continents in 1907”, this volume chronicles the success of the Italian aristocrat in an extraordinary race from China to France more than two months ago 114 years ago. The book, Ben says, is an “all-time classic” and expertly paints a fascinating picture.
âObviously, traveling was not as common as it is today, especially by car, so the cultural differences are absolutely huge,â he continues. âThese days if you suggested driving from Beijing to Paris it would be an amazing thing to do, but back then it was like going to the moon.
A first edition (published in 1908) can cost up to Â£ 1,000, but many reprints have been published over the years, and it’s possible to get your hands on one for just Â£ 10.
The best guide to automotive self-help
Almost anyone who’s ever tinkered with under the hood of a car has used – or at least heard of – Haynes manuals, and it’s that ubiquity that earns the series its recommendation here. âJohn Haynes was very young  when he produced his first book [on the Austin 7 in 1956], Ben thought. “To go from where Haynes is today is just amazing.”
And the reasons for success are simple, according to Ben. âThe original Haynes manuals are very clear, concise and easy to use, otherwise they would never have been sold as much as they did,â he says.
Although the current owner, Infopro Digital, has stated that he will no longer print new manuals, preferring digital content instead, Haynes’ status as a factory assistant by default is assured.
An underrated classic
Gilles Villeneuve, The life of a legendary racing driver
By Gerald Donaldson
The Canadian was one of Formula 1’s brightest figures in the late 1970s and early 1980s, winning six grand prix for Ferrari before his shocking death in qualifying for the Belgian GP in 1982. His life and career deserve to be revisited in this biography.
Ben reflects, âIt was a popular new book, but now it’s out of fashion and not many people ask for it. It’s a fascinating story – Donaldson knew Villeneuve incredibly well, and I would always say he was one of the greatest racing drivers of all time.
âIt’s a book that really deserves to sell more. You learn how great a guy Villeneuve was and how he lived his life to the limit. It is one of the best written automotive biographies bar none. Around Â£ 20 should guarantee a copy.
The best supercar book
Driving Ambition, the official story of the McLaren F1
By Doug Nye with Ron Dennis and Gordon Murray
The McLaren F1 roadster is one of the most legendary cars of all time, and has been endlessly documented and photographed. But if you’re a fan, this authoritative guide to its remarkable history is essential due to the access author Nye has had to some of the main protagonists of the project.
Ben says, âDoug Nye is one of the greatest automotive writers of all time, and this was produced in conjunction with Gordon Murray and Ron Dennis. With all of these people involved, it was always going to be a classic and provide the true interior story of the car. It has some interesting and good quality artwork, and it’s a nice large format.
The book cost Â£ 60 when new, but a first edition now sells for Â£ 250, although copies signed by Dennis or Murray are more expensive.
A car book to make you laugh out loud
Touch the wood and all the arms and elbows
By Duncan Hamilton and Innes Ireland
Not one but two books here, both autobiographies of 1950s racing drivers and extremely entertaining. Hamilton won at Le Mans in 1953 and Ireland won a GP in F1, but, while successful, it is their personalities that make their stories so fascinating.
âThey were two larger-than-life characters,â Ben explains. âThey were both uncompromising, did exactly what they wanted to do and there are some hilarious stories in those books. For example, Hamilton followed a young couple kissing and cuddling in the front seat of their car. He locked the bumpers with them and drove them down the street at 90 mph. Today’s world may think of it as completely anti-PC, but in the fifties it was like that!
First signed editions of either book would cost around Â£ 200, but reprints can be picked up for as little as Â£ 20.
The best book on automotive design
Jacques Saoutchik, Master Coachbuilder
By Peter Larsen and Ben Erickson
Born in Russia, Jacques Saoutchik made a name for himself in France as one of the greatest artists in the auto body industry, and this lavish celebration of his life and work is a fitting tribute to the man.
Saoutchik designed extravagant bodywork for brands such as Bugatti and Delahaye, reaching particular prominence in the 1930s, and his triumphs are described in detail in this three-volume, limited-edition book. It was released in 2014 and originally sold for Â£ 300, but now sells for up to Â£ 2,500.
âThis is the most amazing book,â says Ben. âThe content is well written and well documented with beautiful images, and the production is of very high quality. In fact, everything in the book is of high quality – it’s just a shame that the price exceeds most mortals.
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