Motoring literature and movies

Motoring literature and movies

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Many great works of literature have been inspired by cars and the road. Here are some to delve into.

How to Build a Car

Adrian Newey, 2017

Newey is one of the most well-renowned F1 car designers ever. Throughout his 35-year career he has worked on championship winners for Williams, McLaren and Red Bull, working with drivers such as Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost as well as Mika Hakkinen and Mario Andretti. This is Newey’s biography, told through the lens of the cars he has designed through the years, from his first sketches at 12 years old, as well as the drivers he’s worked with and the races he was involved in. Featuring never-before-seen drawings, How to Build a Car is a must have for any Formula 1 fan.

Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile

Ralph Nader, 1965

Rarely does a book change the world. But Unsafe at Any Speed did just that. Nader (who is perhaps best remembered for his unsuccessful 2000 Presidential campaign) wrote a scathing report on the safety of American cars at the time (the 1960s). One of the most infamous (and widely disputed) examples is on the rear-engined Chevrolet Corvair. Unlike the Corvette and most American cars at the time, the Corvair had a unique swing-axle design that Nader said made the car more prone to roll over. The book is thought to have helped bring an end to this unique car. Nader also criticised the emissions of cars at the time, mainly with regard to California and the smog that they caused. This book even helped make the PRND format for automatics the norm, something we never think about.

Jackie Stewart’s Principles of Performance Driving

Jackie Stewart, 1986

The Flying Scotsman is one of the most successful Grand Prix drivers ever, winning the F1 world championship three times. Stewart was also instrumental in campaigning for safety in the sport, sometimes refusing to race if conditions were not safe enough. In this book he lays out a manual on driving techniques for both the road and the race track. You don’t have to be Lewis Hamilton to benefit from the advice given here.

The London Taxi

G.N. Georgano, 1985

We see them every day in London. Black cabs (along with the Routemaster bus) are the automotive equivalent of Big Ben or the Shard, an image of London recognised the world over. It is the only vehicle on earth specifically designed to work inside cities, and a number of different breeds of black cabs have worked in London. The London Taxi follows its development over time and how it has served us.

The Bugatti Queen

Miranda Seymour, 2004

While racing has always been a bit of a boys’ club, a number of women have made names for themselves as great racers. Born Helene Delangle in 1900 in a little French village, Helle Nice worked as a dancer and stripper before catching the attention of Ettore Bugatti. She would go on to have a career in Grand Prix, becoming the only woman at the time to race the American speedbowls in the 1930s, setting land speed records in the process.

There have been great documentaries like Senna and true stories like Rush. But here are some works of fiction on the big screen where cars were also the stars. 

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)

Will Ferrell has given us some of the best comedies of our time including Anchorman and The Campaign. Here he plays Ricky Bobby, a delusional and psychotic southern NASCAR driver. The movie chronicles the rise and fall of a racing champion, his rivalry with other drivers as well as his relationships both on and off the track. You don’t have to be a NASCAR fan to appreciate its over-the-top action.

Christine (1983)

Stephen King’s classic horror novel was brought to the big screen by John Carpenter. A shy and nerdy teen buys a 1958 Plymouth Fury (a 4-door in the book and a 2-door in the film) and finds his personality completely changes. He becomes more aggressive and ruthless. The “bad to the bone” car has to be the reason. The book and movie have done to possessed car stories what Jurassic Park would do to cloned dinosaur stories. It may not have been the first but it is certainly the one you think of.

The Car (1977)

This 1977 classic did, however, predate Christine by half a decade. A large black car terrorises a small town. Not every movie has to be Citizen Kane or The Godfather. And The Car never tries to be. It is a classic 1970s horror with all the laughably ridiculous tropes horror flicks of that era are known for. And it, along with Christine, helped to inspire one of the best Futurama episodes ever: The Honking, where the robot Bender becomes a ‘werecar.’

The Fast and Furious franchise (2001-ongoing)

These movies are ostensibly about street racing, heists, and spies. But their most memorable characters are not played by Vin Diesel or Paul Walker. They are portrayed by a Nissan Skyline, a Dodge Charger, and a Toyota Supra. They pushed the modified tuner scene into the mainstream and, along with the Gran Turismo game series, helped bring the Nissan Skyline, a car only ever sold in Japan, to the attention of western petrolheads. It’s hard to say for sure if the R35 GT-R would ever have been sold here if not for these movies but it’s a safe assumption.

Bullit, Gone in Sixty Seconds, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, Two Lane Blacktop, Thelma & Louise, Vanishing Point, Mad Max, The Italian Job, Taxi

It’s hard to pick just one of these to include here but it would be wrong to leave a single one of them out. From Steve McQueen’s Mustang to Michael Caine’s Mini, the cars are as much the stars as the A-listers who drove them. Watch them all if you can!

Compiled & edited by Fahad Redha

Image : Lothar Spurzem

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