Book Review: James Garner’s Motoring Life
The book: James Garner’s Motoring Life
Author: Matt Stone
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James Garner, who passed away last year, was a movie and TV star. While perhaps best known for his roles in The Great Escape, Grand Prix, as well as The Maverick, and The Rockford Files TV series, many might not know that in addition to his “day job”—as an Oscar nominated; and Golden Globe and Emmy winning actor—Garner was also an Off-road Motorsports Hall of Fame racer, and for a time even owned his own racing team.
Garner may be unfairly overshadowed by Steve McQueen, and Paul Newman, but he was no less capable on screen, or on- or off-road than his contemporaries were, as James Garner’s Motoring Life: Grand Prix the Movie, Baja, The Rockford Files, and More. Automotive writer Matt Stone’s book explores his varied history with cars. Like his fellow actor, and friend, Paul Newman, Garner’s relationship with racing began when he starred in a film. In this case, it was during the filming of John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix, where the actor would take on the role of Formula 1 driver Pete Aron.
The book takes us almost chronologically through Garner’s motoring life, commencing with the filming of Grand Prix where Garner first showed a natural ability for racing. Bob Bondurant, who wrote the foreword for this book, and under whom Garner trained during filming, says that he immediately sensed that Garner, “might have enjoyed a good career as a professional racer” if the actor had started earlier.
The film crew didn’t have to tow Jim Garner’s car around the track like they did with co-star Yves Montand, or put professional driver Jackie Stewart in the car as a substitute for the actor Brian Bedford, who portrayed Garner’s teammate. Regardless, Garner caught a “bug” from filming Grand Prix, and it bit hard.
He plunged himself headfirst into both on-road and off-road motorsport, forming the AIR racing team (American International Racing) almost immediately after filming on Grand Prix was completed.
The team would enjoy some success at Daytona, and Sebring, with Garner primarily acting as owner, and manager. As a driver, though, off-road is where the actor would distinguish himself. Garner would compete in the Baja 500, amongst other events, several times, notably in a very custom Oldsmobile “Banshee”, which was based on the Cutlass, and which the actor would personally helped develop.
He would never win any of the events, but always finished, and notched up some impressive class results. The actor’s presence at off-road events helped to generate publicity, and the ensuing coverage on ABC’s Wide World of Sports helped spur off-road sports growing popularity. While Garner would wind down his AIR racing team after only two years, he kept off-roading, and in 1978 the actor was inducted to the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame. High praise indeed.
His passion for cars also came through in the book within the later chapters, where the cars his characters drove on-screen, such as the gold Pontiac Firebird Esprit in The Rockford Files, and his promotional work for General Motors, are described.
James Garner’s Motoring Life is an entertaining read for those interested to learn more about a side of the actor’s life that is not as well known as it ought to have been. Author Stone, who also wrote car guy biographies on Newman and McQueen, includes many interviews from some of Garner’s racing compatriots, and friends, and the book is filled with wonderful photos of the man with his fellow actors, and with the many cars he owned or drove in his movies, TV shows, and during his racing career.
Purchase James Garner’s Motoring Life.