An entertaining book of facts that includes a list of the “the 20 greatest car movies” and their stars and cars
Chapman’s Car Compendium: The Essential Book of Car Facts and Trivia. By Giles Chapman. Merrell, 187 pp., $16.95.
By Janice Harayda
This book is, quite possibly, the best literary gift for a car-lover that I have come across in more than 15 years of reviewing. It is witty, intelligent, well-written, inexpensive, and handsomely illustrated. It is also full of fascinating lore, such as its list of 25 excuses supposedly written on insurance forms after accidents. (Excuse No. 6: “I didn’t think the speed limit applied after midnight.”) And it speaks to lovers of all kinds cars — Kias and Hyundais included — unlike the overpriced coffee-table tomes that seem intended mainly for people who think you haven’t lived until you’ve owned a Maybach 62.
Much of Chapman’s Car Compendium consists of anecdotes, diagrams and lists with inspired titles like “Dictators’ cars” (“Rafael Trujillo – Chrysler Crown Imperial”) and “The cars most name-dropped in rap songs” (Mercedes is No. 1). But the book also has pithy advice on subjects such as how to wash, winterize and sell your car.
Giles Chapman notes that you, could, conceivably discover some of his material online. But that wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining as reading this book. Chapman begins his introduction to one list with the droll: “Scotland is noted for many things, but making cars isn’t one of them.” He mercifully doesn’t say whether there’s a connection between that fact and another: Scotland is known for making malt liquor.
Best line: The list of “The 20 greatest car movies and their stars.” Chapman lists the stars and the cars they drove in the films. (Be honest, boomers: Did you remember that Dustin Hoffman drove an Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider in The Graduate?) Some of his choices reflect tastes perhaps more British than American: Carry on Cabby makes the cut but Taxi Driver doesn’t. But other entries are above reproach: Goldfinger (Aston Martin DB5), Thelma and Louise (Ford Thunderbird), Driving Miss Daisy (Hudson Hornet).
Worst line: “20 celebrity car deaths.” Some deaths on this list involve disputed circumstances that beg for a fuller discussion. Chapman says Princess Grace died while driving her Rover 3500S. Wikipedia says it was a Rover P6. Chapman may be right, but what’s his source?
Published: October 2007 www.gileschapman.com.
About the author: Chapman is a London-based former editor of Classic & Sports Car (“the world’s best-selling classic car magazine,” or so he says) who appears frequently on BBC radio. He contributes to many well-known magazines and newspapers.
Furthermore: God bless public libraries. I might have missed this one if I hadn’t found it in the “New Books” section at mine.
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© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.