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Automobile Year: books that celebrate our love of the car

It is not recorded that any caveman ever looked out at his roadless plains and said: “if only I had a car.”

The combined intelligence of the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Indians and Arabs, even the geniuses of the Renaissance and the brightest minds who led the Industrial Revolution could not come up with a practical means of personal propulsion, a vehicle to get them to the shops and back.

The timeline of invention

It is difficult to draw a precise map of development of that desirable vehicle.

Automobile Year This Magnificent Life

In Europe and America, towards the end of the 19th century, many contenders were crafting and circling, experimenting with different methods of steering, braking and suspension and obviously propulsion, including steam and electricity.

But most agree the first rig we would now recognise as a car, a steerable, wheeled vehicle with a gasoline engine, was the motorwagen, patented in 1886 by Karl Benz of Germany. In 1899 he produced over 500 units.

Automobile Year This Magnificent Life

By the early 1900s American Henry Ford made it his business through mass production to ensure that many folks could get their mitts on a sturdy, fairly reliable beast that would take them from A to B … the Model T Ford.

From there the industry bloomed.

If you think about it, not many of man’s inventions have covered the world with such variety and interest.

In every country, adults and kids can rattle off lists of makes and models, affordable and fanciful, and hotly debate their attributes and pecking order.

The story of the automobile

Depending on when you were born, the word ‘automobile’ may bring different pictures to your mind.

You may think of the car your parents owned, the first car you drove, the glittering star of a modern Motor Show, or the restored beauty you are lusting after at the moment.

All of these vehicles have been evolving rapidly for just over a century. Today the vast majority are practical transportation with features that improve year by year. But in amongst them are fantastic machines with capabilities way above normal day to day needs.

But never beyond dreams.

Automobile This Magnificent Life
A magnificent chronicle of the car

A significant milestone in the history of the car came in 1953 with the publication of the first issue of Automobile Year. It began life in Lausanne in Switzerland appearing in French, German and English. Initial contributors were some of the leading writers about motor racing, car design and production. It called itself The Annual for Car Enthusiasts.

Automobile This Magnificent LifeWith a couple of hundred pages, skillfully written and fabulously illustrated by many drawings and photographs, this publication has presented the best of the automobile for over sixty years. Successive editions sum up each season for motorsport, open wheelers, sports cars, rallying and touring … F1, Le Mans, CART, NASCAR are covered in detail.

They also take a close look at the street-ready models for public consumption that made their debut at shows during the year and discuss the developing design and culture of the automobile.

The last edition in English appeared in 2015; from #63 (2015-16) the publication is only in French.

A collection could be yours

One of the best collections still in private hands is coming up for auction in Sydney Australia on Saturday 8th December at Sydney Rare Book Auctions. See more here

Automobile Year This Magnificent Life
Edition 1

It features in fine condition the rare Edition #1 (1953/4) in softcover and the even rarer #2 (1954/5) with only 800 copies published. The majority of the later books are in their original wrappers, unopened and unread. This collection only goes to #59, but the latest four to complete a perfect set in English are readily available.

Automobile Year This Magnificent Life
Edition 2

A treasure trove indeed!

You can see more details of this magnificent set of car history at Hortons Books or Auto Moto Bookshop and typing automobile year into the search bar. Or Google automobile year and read all about it on Wiki.

Automobile This Magnificent LifeSydney Rare Books say this is their best ever auction. Other choice pieces in the sale include many volumes of Wisden, the cricketer’s bible. There are first editions of Henry Lawson and Dorothea McKellar, rare May Gibson comics, Marin Sharp screenprints, Captain Cook maps and engravings and some extensive collections of maps and books of Tasmania and stacks of collectable equestrian volumes.

Much more to see at Sydney Rare Book Auctions



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Ian MacTavish

Mr MacTavish is a celebrated writer and one of Australia's more respected Wine reviewers, appearing regularly in national magazines, in print and on line. So far, he has never been heard to say 'no' to a wee dram.

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