Muscle Car Memories

By Mark Maynard

September 21, 2016 7 min read

If V-8-powered, rear-wheel-drive American muscle cars make you smile, then here are two new coffee-table books to fuel some memories. Remember the words of Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band's tune "Racing in the Street": "I got a '69 Chevy with a 396/ Fuelie heads and a Hurst on the floor."

"Wide-Open Muscle: The Rarest Muscle Car Convertibles,” by Randy Leffingwell; photography by Tom Loeser; Motorbooks; hardcover; 224 pages; $50.

Topless muscle cars are a fun view into the almost obscene segment of completely overpowered, but lusted-after boulevard bruisers. Leffingwell and Loeser also tap the muscle-car knowledge of San Diego-based author-photographers Robert Genat and David Newhardt.

This big book will become a favorite because of the large photos and presentation. Loeser uses a light-painting process (first used and perfected by Leffingwell) to create a result that is just saturated in color and depth.

The book features 30 cars from one collection -- the best of the more notorious examples from Chrysler, Ford and GM. The authors also uncovered some gold, such as a 1967 Camaro Cherokee. There are plenty of street Hemis. And what enthusiast doesn't stop to admire a 1965 Ford Galaxie 500XL R-Code 427?

"American Muscle Cars: A Full-Throttle History,” by Darwin Holmstrom; photography by Tom Glatch; Motorbooks; hardcover; 224 pages; $50.

Burnouts, back-seat bingo and overboard engines were the pride of baby boomers in the mid-1960s and 1970s. Holmstrom and Glatch churn up the memories with some great factory-archive information and no shortage of photographs, including some vintage drag racing shots. Although, ideally there'd be larger photos and less text.

Order these books online at

*Tucker's Travails

"Preston Tucker and His Battle to Build the Car of Tomorrow," by Steve Lehto; foreword by Jay Leno; Chicago Review Press; hardcover; 288 pages; $28.

If I could have dinner with a famous person in history, this week it would be Preston Tucker. This salesman savior was the motivator behind the 1949 Tucker, which was an early disruptor in the car industry, though it would later fail.

For a company that built just 51 cars, people have been fascinated with what worked and what did not -- mostly what did not -- for decades. Still, the launch of the so-called "Tin Goose" in 1947 was a radical endeavor. The car's engine was in the rear. It was a rear-wheel drive vehicle. It had a unique passenger safety chamber, a center headlight that turned with the steering wheel and aerodynamic aircraft body styling. And these are just a few of Tucker's innovations.

He was a visionary. Many of his innovations are being applied to car architecture today. But his success may have been a case of too much, too soon mixed with bravado.

Car companies were once led by bold leaders who could say: "Do this. Don't do that. And do it my way." Today, the process is run by committee (and stockholders) to deflect finger-pointing and outright firing for failures. In "Preston Tucker," Lehto handily stitches together the history, the lawsuits, the family and foes of the man who defined the best of times and the worst of times, complete with 70 color photos.

As Jay Leno says in the foreword, "Preston Tucker's legacy is that of the ultimate underdog, the everyman whose optimism would allow him to triumph against great odds. He almost made it, but in the end ... well, Tucker's company did not survive. But so many of the Tucker cars did. And that certainly stands for something."

*How to Drive

Driving is one of the most pleasurable things most people do on a daily basis, but it's also the most dangerous, writes Ben Collins in his book "How to Drive: Real World Instruction and Advice from Hollywood's Top Driver" (Chronicle Books; Softcover; 280 pages; $23).

Collins' name and face may not be well-known, but his approach to safety and skills are worth learning. You may have seen him on BBC's "Top Gear" as the mysterious race driver Stig. He has also made James Bond look good behind the wheel, and his handiwork has been seen other films including "Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation" and "Fast and Furious 6." He has earned the track cred as a winning Formula 3 racer.

His book begins with the chapter "How Not to Drive." He hits readers with the compelling story of his "blood highway" experience. He would exercise his modified Toyota Supra on a favorite back road. He knew the various twists and turns and had a braking plan for each. But there was that "one day" that put him in the hospital. "The sound of 14 tons of metal colliding is almost deafening when you're right next to it," he writes. That sound was his Supra at 80 mph meeting an immovable object -- a large Volvo truck -- head-on at 80 mph. Despite all his exit plans, "there were no more choices, only consequences." At that moment, he knew "it was time to take the hit."

Given the book's title, I expected to learn about how to perform stunts like sliding into a parallel parking space (Page 252), but three-quarters of the book is about how not to be stupid on the road.

This book should be a gift to teen drivers preparing to get their learner's permit. But it's an engaging read for anyone who wants to be a better driver, and a great gift for someone you think could be a better driver.

I've often said (from experience) that the only follow-up driver training most drivers receive is attending traffic school. Collins says that even a Starbucks barista receives 24 hours of training before being handed the keys to an espresso machine.

Among the topics Collins covers are:

--How you should test-drive a car.

--Practicing for a couple hours on a weekend can improve anyone's driving.

--How to save money and the environment through smarter, safer driving.

--Driver's education: How to teach your teen to drive right the first time.

And the readers' reward for learning more about safe driving is the chapter on stunt driving.

Mark Maynard's weekly column, "Maynard's Garage," can be found at

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