Bits of Books - Books by Title

Auto Biography

A Classic Car and 57 Years of the American Dream

Earl Swift

57 Chevy came in 3 models - basic single color 150, two-tone 210, and the luxe Bel Air with aluminium trim and gold accents.

When Albert Sloan took over GM he established brand price levels - Chevy at bottom, aimed for blue collar market, then Oldsmobile, then Pontiac, then Buick, and at very top, Cadillac. Pontiacs had a signature silver streak over the bonnet and hood. Buick had a line of portholes - 3 on the base model, 4 on the top-of-the-line Roadmaster. Oldsmobiles had chrome rockets on their hoods and wide oval mouths and small tailights high on fins.

Cars weren't really built to last - bodies rusted out fast, tires lasted less than 15,000 miles. They had to be carefully run-in and fluids and lube checked every month. A 57 Chevy had at least as much in common with cars from 50 years earlier, as it did with today's computer-controlled models. Today you can expect to drive a car for 15 years without any major repairs, and still get a good price for it. By the time a 57 Chevy was 15 years old, probably with about 80K on the clock, it was basically worthless.

That was until George Lucas's 1973 film American Graffiti, which reignited interest in the stylish cars of the 50's in comparison to the bland 70's offerings.

Found a guy named Dave Simon who had owned 284 57 Chevies. A farmer in North Dakota had 266 Edsels spread out over farm so that if a tornado came through it wouldn't take out his whole collections. A retired billionaire in Des Moines bought a 57 Bel Air convertible, and liked it so much that he went on to collect a Chevy ragtop for every year from 1912 to 1975.

The less you know about cars, the more inclined you are to get emotional about them. The more you understand cars, the more likely you are to see them as a collection of replaceable parts.

If you'd rebuilt the floorpan of a 57 Chevy in the same way as it was made, you'd have 4 pieces of sheet metal, each of which would have to be welded to separate braces. But when guys doing it today, they get a single huge piece, including the central hump down the middle, and with the braces already attached - far stronger than the original and much easier to install. Oh, and it's made in Taiwan.

IIn 2013 a 1971 Plymouth Hemi 'Cuda convertible sold for $1.2m at auction. It had been stolen and stripped for parts, but one guy found a piece of the firewall and fenders, crucially having the numbered tag that proved its pedigree. The restored car was only fractionally original, but the tag proved it was only one of 11 convertibles made that year, and the only one with Plum Crazy purple paint. Hence $1.2 mill.

Replicas everywhere - the Statue of Liberty's copper cladding was originally attached to an iron skeleton, swapped out completely for steel in the 1930's and then again with stainless steel in mid-80's. The iconic Hollywood sign, originally wood, was taken down in 1978 and completely rebuilt in steel.

More books on Cars

Books by Title

Books by Author

Books by Topic

Bits of Books To Impress