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Something Old, Something New

by | March 2015

Automobile Design: Great Designers and Their Work

This book first appeared in 1970, published by Robert Bentley. It provides excellent profiles of 11 of automotive history’s greatest design engineers. It is produced by some of the finest historians at the time, including the legendary Jacques Ickx writing about Amédée Bollée and his sons, exceptional innovators starting as early as 1873; Cadillac’s Henry Leland; the unusual Tatra and its genius father Hans Ledwinka, profiled by Jerrold Sloniger; Hispano Suiza’s Marc Birkigt; Volkswagen inventor Ferdinand Porsche; American racing innovator Harry Miller by Griffith Borgeson; and it continues up through Colin Chapman, father of the Lotus, by Philip Turner. Drawings and period photographs flesh out each chapter. Editors Ronald Barker and Anthony Harding selected and assembled the subjects and their biographers.

This book – in 374 pages – is an excellent airplane read at about 6.5 x 10 inches and it is organized in easily-handled chapters on each designer. It used to be a bit difficult to find but fortunately the Society of Automotive Engineers, SAE, acquired the rights from Bentley and reissued and expanded the book into a second edition in 1992 by adding 37 pages to reach 411, adding Fiat’s Dante Giacosa.

The current title is Automobile Design: Twelve Great Designers and Their Work. If you admire automotive engineering – not the body design but what makes these vehicles stop and go and turn – and if you’re curious about the sometimes prickly and always uncompromising individuals whose ideas influence virtually every automobile on the road today, this book is an essential background and a very interesting read.

Available on Amazon.com.

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Porsche 917 Archive and Works Catalog 1968-1975

Walter Näher first published this immense project in 2009 through Edition Porsche Museum in collaboration with Delius-Klasing Verlag. It was in German only and those strictly English speakers in love with these racecars dutifully acquired a copy and either struggled with their German-English dictionary or simply reveled in the photos. A long, patient wait ended in mid-2014 when Näher, the Porsche museum, and D-K released the English-language edition. At 576 pages, it mimics perfectly its German sibling.

There are dozens of books that discuss Porsche’s all-conquering 917 among other Porsche racing triumphs, and quite a few dedicated solely to this single Typ. But few other authors are so uniquely qualified to delve into and explain the car’s history and developments as Näher. As a freshly-graduated mechanical engineer, he started in Porsche Testing Department in September 1969. Working alongside engineering colleagues and mechanics, and meeting racing drivers – even as he worked on other projects – he literally lived the development of the cars.

After decades of work on other Porsche racers such as 956s and 962s, Näher retired but got interested in the Gordian Knots of 917 history back in 2001. That led to this book project, enabled first by now retired archives head Klaus Parr and then pushed to maturity with current chief Dieter Landenberger who suggested Näher’s efforts should become a “works catalog”.

The book opens with 15 two-pages spreads of technical drawings of each configuration of 917. They are addicting in themselves. Then follows a chassis-by-chassis inventory of accomplishments. It is in chapter two where the book goes from inventory to history as Näher stepped beyond his goal of “short factual description” into story-teller, recounting the birth of the car, its engineering development, its races and evolution.

Throughout there are details – lap-by-lap testing notes, for example – and wonderful photographs. Yes, some are familiar – it’s hard not to use and re-use them. Some are as legendary as the cars and their accomplishments. But others, hundreds of others, reflect equal hundreds of hours sitting beside photo archivist Jens Torner capturing unfamiliar glimpses of history.

This book is a near-perfect blend of 917 history. Näher’s writing style is engineer-crisp, precise, and dispassionate. That passion is what the photos are for. All that is missing is a sound track (but perhaps that is why you acquire the film Le Mans.)

Porsche 917 Archive and Works Catalog 1968-1975 is available at Amazon.com.

book-review

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