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Six books for your holiday wish list

17 December 2018 | by Karl Smith

The holidays are upon us, and if you are like most designers, you are difficult to shop for. But books are always a good gift, as is a subscription to the finest automotive design news site in the world (hint, hint).  There were so many good books published over the last year or so, it is difficult to choose favourites. So we have included a variety of topics, the common denominator of which is the quality of the stories and the storytelling. Collect them all so you don’t have to choose...

Fins: Harley Earl The Rise of General Motors, and the Glory Days of Detroit

William Knoedelseder


Books have been previously written about Harley Earl, but most just touched on the man himself, while concentrating on his automotive designs. This book is much more of a biography, extensively discussing the career of the man, with less on the cars themselves – not that the cars are neglected, but the focus is story of the man behind them.

It covers his work at his family’s coachworks in Hollywood and at General Motors, establishing the first styling department, and creating a design empire – one that extended beyond GM to his own private practice.

Almost every designer in the industry from 1930 to 1960 worked for Harley Earl at one time or another. The design culture and required work ethic he created was legendary. He hired brilliant designers, including some of the first women to work in a design studio. He was also mercurial and could terminate a career with a word. He ran his studio with an iron fist and tolerated no organisational or design dissent.


He had an unerring eye for design and details, remarkable for a man who did not draw. He built the very model of a design studio structure and produced some iconic designs, but also was a man of his times, and at the moment of his greatest success, was forced to retire to GM policy. His post-GM career was an anticlimax, and health issues dogged him the last years of his life.

A well-researched and entertaining read, perhaps a bit light on his career at its zenith, but then those years could fill a book by themselves. Overall, though, a great read – especially if combined with Streamliners, reviewed below.

Streamliner: Raymond Loewy and Image-Making in the Age of American Industrial Design

John Wall
Johns Hopkins Press


A contemporary of Harley Earl, Raymond Loewy, along with Norman Bel Geddes, Henry Dreyfuss, and Walter Dorwin Teague, defined industrial design in mid-century America. Like Earl, there has been much written about Loewy and a few surveys of his work. Loewy also wrote books about design, so there is much more available material on the French/American designer than most automotive or industrial designers.

Loewy was a master of the artificial and self-serving narrative about his projects and himself. He was an excellent gatekeeper of his own legend, an inventor of the personal brand long before such a thing existed. The author acknowledges this and on occasion punctures the myth surrounding a project. Also revealed are the business and administrative partners in Loewy’s practice, rarely acknowledged by Loewy himself but absolutely critical to his success.


Loewy consulted with all manner of automotive, industrial and aerospace firms, and did some impressive work. Or, more precisely, he hired talented designers to do the work and took credit for their efforts. Though Loewy could draw and design, his true gift, like Earl’s, was curatorial; he had an uncanny sense of what looked right and what would sell, the very essence of his MAYA (Most Advanced, Yet Acceptable) philosophy.

An excellent, well researched book, and an even better read in conjunction with Fins, reviewed above.

The Cars You Promised Yourself

Steve Saxty
Porter Press International

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This book is an epic survey of Ford design from the 1970s through the 1990s and includes over 500 images of design development drawings and renderings, models and prototypes, most of which have never been published before.

The book includes extensive coverage of the developments of the Capri, the Escort, the Sierra and other cars.


There are essays by Bob Lutz, Patrick le Quément, and Rod Mansfield, Ford’s leader of Special Vehicle Engineering.

All in all, a wonderful history of some special Ford projects, with massive archival research and visuals. A labour of love, and it shows.

See a preview of it in the YouTube video above.


Lies de Mol and Bart Lenaerts
WAFT Publishingwww.WAFT.be

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The husband and wife team of Bart Lenaerts (words) and Lies de Mol (photographs), assisted by their daughter, Lien, and a cat named Mouse, publish premium quality books about unique cars and car culture.

Over the last decade, their peripatetic lifestyle has taken them some 275,000 kilometres across America, Europe and Japan searching for – and finding – great stories and great cars. These are lavishly told in a series of excellent books that can be found in the libraries of automotive design directors around the world.

WAFT 5 is the latest log book of their travels, and includes stories about McLaren P1 and P1 GTR, Porsche 911 Safari, Ferrari 488 Spider, Bonneville Speed Week, Renault Trezor, J Mays, Zootopia, Syd Mead, and Laurens Van Acker, among others.

An epic trip in an epic volume from a couple whose life we all want to live.

Alfa Romeo Giulietta

Matteo Licata
Amazon Publishing


Any good list of automotive books should include a biography of a car, and this story of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Type 116 is an extensive and meticulously researched volume about an under-appreciated (and, to American enthusiasts, little remembered) wedge-like sedan built between 1977 and 1985.

Designed by Ermanno Cressoni, the cab-rearward architecture, crisp lines and architectural massing of Giulietta seem fresh even after forty years.


The book gives a bit of Alfa Romeo history, along with a more detailed history of the Giulietta’s predecessors. There is a detailed account of the aesthetic and technical development of the Giulietta, as well as a good survey of its three generations and interesting limited-edition variants.

If you need further persuading, we had the author himself share some insight on the backstory of the car, and the book itself.

The Current

Paul D’Orleans


The Current is a survey of electric vehicles of all types, from e-scooters and e-bicycles to motorcycles to hypercars. While many are in the conceptual stage of development, this seems to the add to the value of the survey, as does the range of vehicles and the vast number of images contained in a volume that is an approachable format and size.

There are lots of motorcycles profiled and a few electric concept cars, from Porsche, Lamborghini, Bollinger, and Morgan plus a few radical cars from Ruiter and United Nude. There is a good essay about the history electric cars that opens the book and gives the material some context.

The book is a great volume to have on your shelf, or in the studio, as inspiration for design in the emerging era of electric mobility.