These Books Were Our Favorite Reads In April
The idea of “books” and what they can do is so large as to almost lose any meaning in definition. They can be about anything, and even those treading the same ground are unique. They can be fictive or factual, abstract or instructional, rigorous or relaxed, but our favorites are those about cars. That needs no explanation, but it is worth elaborating on the theme behind this month’s selection. Though just a pair of books, and as mentioned, thematically linked to some degree, it may seem like a small and homogenous list, but that’s only at the surface level. There’s a saying about not judging things by their outward appearance that escapes me at the moment…
Anyways, the shared thread between these books is one of comprehensiveness, of a thorough and admirable job well done in documenting pieces of our automotive world worth preserving. The differences abound between these two beyond that. With one covering the expansive and detail-ridden story of Italy’s coachbuilders (not the country’s greatest, just, Italy’s—all of Italy’s) from the past and present and the other hyper-focused on the British race car engineering and production company, Lola. Both books have a level of passion for the subject at hand that can’t be faked, and those looking for a guiding voice on these topics have a good option in these offerings.
The Encyclopedia of Italian Coachbuilders
Author: Alessandro Sannia
Publisher: Società Editrice Il Cammello
Format: Two-Volume Hardcover, 664 pages
Coach-built cars are rarities in the wider world, though in this two-volume encyclopedia you won’t find much else. Alessandro Sannia led a life enthralled by the art of the Italian carrozzieri—preferring the bespoke quality and unalloyed dedication to form more than whatever happened to be the contemporary supercar that was sucking up so much attention in the moment. And while a large number of the wide breadth of entrants into the industry have fizzled and faded since, their stories are illuminated and shared, saved from obscurity. Understand that the paragons of design—houses like Bertone and Zagato—are given proportionately more attention than the smaller outfits, but this is to be expected. What is not however, is the level of scope and scrutiny and sheer hard work that’s so evident in this collection. All aspects of the craft are represented, every tiny shop that lasted for one year is in here.
Whether you want to dive into the details of the giants like Pininfarina, or you’re seeking to be surprised by the rarities, oddities, and frankly a few monstrosities (looking at you, late 1990s…), this is the source for all of it. It’s a definitive work on a topic that gives itself over well to the encyclopedic about of information: it’s a lot to take in as a whole, but pulled off the shelf every now and then for a few random page flips/history lessons, the vast amount of people, companies, and cars that comprise the story of Italian coachbuilding keep things bite-sized and digestible. It’s like a huge bag of candy that you can pick at or gorge on.
With a topic as ambitious as this one handled as well as it is here, there is no question whether these volumes have the information you seek, but what about the aesthetics? After all, it’s about Italian design, and so should be reflective of that high standard. And it is. With a wonderfully written forward by Leonardo Fioravanti of Pininfarina and Ferrari fame paired at the start with a thoughtful and thought-provoking essay on the unique medium of car design from Italian novelist Umberto Eco, the beautiful language is accounted for (and Sannia carries an equally high standard throughout his reportage and essays on the history as a whole that serves as the introduction).
On the other side of things, the visual responsibilities prompted by such a topic as this are somehow surpassed. I have no idea, nor do I want to go about forming one, how long it must have taken to compile the thousands and thousands of period photos and press releases and advertisements that inhabit the thick, glossy pages that squeak in their traction against one another in that tactile way that underlies the value in owning physical books.
Of note as well is the offering of a limited Collectors Edition of the two volumes. While the styled slipcase of the regular edition is certifiably cool with its wind tunnel-esque flowing pinstripes and car profiles, the author-signed and red-canvas-bound books of the Collectors Edition do go a long way toward turning a bookshelf into a gallery. 50 copies of the limited run will be printed in English, and 50 will be in Italian. You can view further details here. There is no (realistic) limitation on the run of the standard encyclopedia.
Lola: The Illustrated History 1957 to 1977
Author: John Starkey and Ken Wells
Publisher: Veloce Publishing
Format: Two-Volume Hardcover, 664 pages
Going about as far in the other direction as possible, Lola: The Illustrated History does not study an industry across an entire country known for said industry like in Coachbuilders, but instead is a piece of work with severe tunnel vision. But if you’re screaming through said tunnel in a Lola T70, I think it’s easy to forgive the focus. There are stacks of definitive histories on the big glitzy marques like Ferrari and Porsche, and those are great stories that have garnered the companies with their earned reputations, but at times even your favorite song gets a little worn out. Lola is one of those racing car companies whose legacy is treated more like a B-side than a single, but this shouldn’t really be the case.
Eric Broadly’s English company produced its first true car in 1958 and went quickly on from there to become a ubiquitous sight among the world’s many locations for, and types of, motor racing. Though better known as a song title (still British at least), “Lola” could be seen on cars competing in everything from Can Am to Formula 1 to IMSA, and they were always contenders for victory, of which many were earned over the more than 50 years of Lola’s operation.
This book is a reprinted anthology by John Starkey and Ken Wells, which covers Eric Broadly’s inception of the company and the three decades that followed. The intriguing story behind this race-cars-only enterprise is replete with the level of detail that doesn’t so much take you back in time as it does erase the need to do so: everything you’d want to know is right here in these pages. The development of racing cars is chronicled in utmost detail of the likes of who drove which chassis number on which test day at which track. The informative text is complemented by a trove of in-period images of the cars at every stage. It’s like being a fly on the wall reading this book: you become privy to not just what happened, but the hows and whys of it, the aspects that you can’t get from a Google search.