It’s sad to think that future generations may not turn to books and magazines for their automotive fix. Today’s petrolheads are just as likely to use a smartphone app than to wander down to Waterstones when the latest concept cars are unveiled at Geneva. Yes, it’s progress and yes, we’ve never had it so good. But for me, you can’t replace a good book or a magazine. They just feel more compelling. They also represent a moment in time that a smartphone app or website simply cannot replicate.
Take Tony Lewin’s A-Z of 21st Century Cars. It’s billed as ‘the most comprehensive guide available to the international automobile industry of the first decade of the twenty-first century’, which despite being quite a mouthful, is actually a rather good description of the book’s content. There are over 500 pages, 300 entries and 1,500 photographs, all presented within a handy A-Z format. But then you may have guessed this from the title.
But rather than a predictable ‘Observer’s Book’ style A-Z of cars, this publication provides a much greater depth of information. Yes, the book dedicates a page to each of the key models currently on sale today. But they are preceded by an introduction that provides the history and background of the make behind the model. Crucially, Lewin’s narrative appears to be based on a high degree of knowledge and personal interest. As a former editor of What Car? and co-author of the Car Design Yearbook, he’s more than qualified to provide an opinion.
He’s quick to bemoan the Nissan Leaf’s ‘disappointingly unadventurous’ styling and Renault’s ‘floundering design’ of the last decade, with the Laguna, Twingo, Mégane and Scenic coming in for some stick. He also criticises Volkswagen for ‘neglecting’ the Polo and Golf in favour of niche products. It’s clear that Lewin also has a thing for classics claiming, quite rightly, that the Volvo C30 comes nowhere ‘near to the elegance of the 1800 ES’. It’s the personal opinions that give this book the edge over similar titles and encourage you to read it in the same way you would a novel.
The excellent sections on the world’s pre-eminent car designers are less personal, but no less interesting. From the lesser known likes of Anne Asensio through to arguably the most famous of them all, Giorgetto Giugiaro, the book provides a good overview of the designers’ best work and influences. It’s a real pleasure to see Giugiaro’s Alfasud, Golf, Delta, Panda and M1 on the same page. His influence is clear to see.
For some, this book will be too brief an overview of each given subject. Car design experts I’m sure will find it too broad and there’ll be no surprises for those with an encyclopedic knowledge of the car. But I am neither of these and so I therefore found it to be an excellent read. It’s the kind of book you’ll put on the shelf and find yourself returning back to time and time again. It’s also the kind of book that your dinner party guests will reach for after the biscuits and cheese have been served.
Aside from Lewin’s personal opinions, much of the information will be available online should you have the time to research it and find out who the trusted sources are. But that’s not the point. The beauty of books like this is the snapshot in time that they provide. No sooner had the book rolled off the press, then it was out of date. Had it been printed just a few months later, then Saab may have not have made the final cut. Indeed, the final paragraph in Saab’s entry speaks of a ‘beacon of hope for Saab’s loyalists’. A sad reminder that we’ve since lost the great marque and a subtle hint at the ever changing nature of the global car industry.
Any lingering doubt that this book deserves a place on your coffee table should be put to bed by the fact that the Citroën C6 gets an entire page to itself. The entry concludes with a reference to the car’s ‘sensational shape’.
That’ll do for me.
The A-Z of 21st Century Cars is priced at £24.95 and is available now. Support your local book shop or buy online from Merrell.