10th April 2024

Collecting Classic Car Books

Whether you have enough space for your desired car or not, or want to fill a spot in the motoring cave, classic car books are the perfect addition to any garage or study. They don’t take up much room, they’re easy to store, and books offer an invaluable reference whatever type of classic vehicle tickles your fancy.

Many classic car fans will already have a small collection of books related to the cars they are interested in. It could be a particular make, model, type, era, or form of motorsport. The good thing is, no matter how obscure your taste in automotive, there’s almost certainly someone else out there with a similar liking who has written a book about the subject.

Some will say why bother with a printed book when we can all look up the internet and find pages of information in a matter of milliseconds, but this is missing the point of classic car tomes. While you might quickly scroll through a few websites to check how to fit a new part, spending time reading the history and development of a car or company is an indulgence. It’s a luxury just like owning a classic car itself – nobody has to have one, but it feels so good. Sitting down with a cuppa and a book is the perfect way to keep your enthusiasm fed in the long winter months or when on holiday, and the opportunity to learn more about your chosen topic.

Open Classic Car Book on Desk

If you’re new to the world of classic car books, there can be a bewildering number to choose from. Best place to start is what interests you. Have a look online and check out the various classic car book specialists. Not only do they have a huge stock, but they will also be able to give advice on which books will be best suited to you.

One of the many joys of books is they inevitably lead you down other avenues for exploration. If you start out wanting to know more about the MGB’s history, it’s only natural you then gravitate to books about MG as a whole, then BMC and British Leyland, and the many characters who steered these companies. The more you read around a topic, the more you have a rounded view and can chat with fellow owners and other enthusiasts. Congratulations, you are now on the way to becoming an expert.

This is why you want to collect classic car books, but how do you go about it? Aside from the specialist shops, which mostly have useful websites, it’s good to have a rummage around second-hand bookshops to see what turns up. Charity shops are another source of low-cost, unexpected gems, and it’s the same with eBay, though most sellers nowadays have a good idea of what they have and its value.

For someone starting out on building a classic car library, you would do well to seek out a copy of GN Georgano’s "Encyclopedia of Motorcars" that can be found in good condition from as little as £25 depending on the edition. As the name suggests, it lists virtually every car maker ever to exist and is one of those books you will come back to time and again when every other resource comes up blank.

A few other good A to Z of car makers from relevant periods are always handy as a wider reference. You don’t have to buy these new as second-hand copies are often much cheaper and in very good condition. You might also have to go down the used book route if the desired tome is no longer in print. If it’s something rare or produced in very limited numbers, you can expect to pay accordingly.

As an example, one book about Shelsley Walsh Specials changes hands for £200 thanks to its detail and subject matter yet some thick, glossy histories of Porsche struggle to sell for more than the postage cost. That’s supply and demand for you.

However, it’s best not to see this as a way to make money. Just as with classic cars themselves, collect what you love and you’ll never be disappointed or left out of pocket. Happily, there are plenty of books that can be picked up online or at autojumbles for a fiver or less, so you don’t have to spend a fortune to expand your reading circle.

Classic car shows are another great place to seek out the right books to satiate your thirst for knowledge. Have a good look at the trade stalls and chat with owners of cars you’re interested in – often they can make good suggestions for further reading and point you in the direction of a good copy at a keen price.

As well as books, period magazines can be another source of enlightening materials, though it can be easy for magazine collecting to tip over into hording and take over much more space. This is because magazines are generally much cheaper to buy second-hand, and you can often pick up large bundles of them for very little money. That’s ideal if you just want to read classic car mags, but not so good for storage options – remember they can soon add up to a considerable amount of weight pressing down on your home’s floorboards.

With a little self-restraint and focus, you can create anything from a shelf to room full of fascinating, factual, entertaining books. Just like classic cars, no two book collections will ever be the same as they reflect an individual’s passions and interests. Just remember to leave enough space for the car in the garage.