The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews by clicking on the Books category on the right side bar.
Auto Biography: A Classic Car, An Outlaw Motorhead, And 57 Years Of The American Dream, by journalist Earl Swift, shows the importance of the automobile to American life. The author takes the reader on a journey telling how this car affected the life of its fourteen owners over a span of fifty-seven years, ending on August 1st of this year.
Swift told blackfive.net he believes the ’57 Chevy is one of the most beloved cars ever and it’s usually ranked among the best-looking vehicles. This classic car is a four door, six-passenger station wagon, and a family workhorse. Swift is hoping the book appeals to car enthusiasts, but wants to emphasize that it is also a people story. “I did not set out to tell the story of a ’57 Chevy. There were a number of criteria needed in order for me to write the story: a cool car owned by a succession of interesting people, and the people had to be old enough to tell a story. After all this car had 128,000 miles that is part of the American dream.”
The plot includes a piece of history as he traces the shifting dreams and fortunes of those who owned it from a retired boilermaker; cash strapped single mother, a gay couple, and a born again Christian garbage man. It is a portrait of middle class America from the mid-fifties to the present day. Swift noted to blackfive.net, “I wanted to describe how America has changed since 1957. Where we live, how we live, where we work. This was all impacted by the car.”
But the book also describes how an auto restorer is similar to an art restorer, the need to recreate it to the original condition as attention is paid to the detail. They must eliminate the effects of time and wear. A good auto restorer must be an expert painter. This car appears to be doomed to the scrap heap until it is rescued by Tommy Arney who sees it not as junk but as a piece of history. Seen as an unlikely restorer, Arney is described by Swift as a “rough customer, a 5th grade dropout, a felon who curses like an sailor; yet, he is intelligent, funny, and as hard a worker as I have ever seen.” The car’s lifeline is dependent on this man, as he is determined to save himself by saving the car. The renovations include rescuing it from its wretched shape: the sun-bleached paint with an interior stripped to bare and rotting steel, floorboards chewed away, and birds using the driver’s seat as a nest back to its classic form.
Auto Biography: A Classic Car, An Outlaw Motorhead, And 57 Years Of The American Dream tells the story of a man’ quest, a classic machine, and its many owners. It is the tale of an American automobile and through its owners’ readers will learn a portrait of the US that covers a span of five decades.