Cooking the Books



I AM NOT a lover of repair manuals, although I can empathise – and sympathise – with people who collect them. But a repair manual for me always seems a utilitarian tool, rather than an object of interest in its own right. I love that people collect them – along with service books, owners handbooks and sales brochures. But they arouse little passion in me.

Instead I am an enthusiast for a decent reference library, and I adore those coffee table arthouse glorifications of marques, not to forget the personal accounts of a life in historic motoring from various luminaries.

Any half decent secondhand bookshop is worth checking out for some ignored relic, with yellowing stained pages revealing secrets long forgotten. What could be more fun than digesting advice about using long obsolete techniques on what are now ancient machine tools to achieve remarkable results?

Want advice on fabric covered wooden frames? Or how to create that beaded edge compound curved mudguard for your classic?

You need a soldering iron, flux, a wooden buck and some panel dollies – and a sturdy leather apron, young man. Forget MIG or TIG – not even invented.

My favourite? Around when I was born, Richard Wheatley and Brian Morgan wrote The Restoration of Vintage & Thoroughbred Cars, a bible of nearly 200 pages covering every skill and technique required back in the 1950s to keep pre-WW2 cars on the road. Apart from the advice that an electric brace is the ideal way to drill holes, it is an invaluable resource.

And then there is the family of books pouring out of publishers’ warehouses that promise to be the bees knees in guiding the restorer and enthusiast owner to absolute correctness. When did the MG TC spot light change from a fluted to a rounded bracket? And did the wire go to the left or the right of the bumper bar irons? What type of clip was used? How were the radiator hoses retained? When did the Falcon dip stick go from grey to silver? Which year saw the Jaguar air filter sticker swap from the left side to the right side? What were the factory optional mirrors for a RHD Mustang? And were they fixed with screws with Phillips heads or slotted? Domed heads or panhead? Enough to keep you awake all night.

Paradoxically, as local manufacturing shuts down, Australian authors are cranking up the stories about our local industry. Several great books have been released lately, and no doubt there are more to come.

Toby Hagon and Bruce Newton have collaborated on Kings of the Road – 50 Cars That Drove Australia. Brabhams, Hartnetts, the Sandman, the P76… they are all there. They also feature star cars from films like Mad Max and Malcolm, and concept cars too. Great fun.

Pick of the crop though is an example of what is often disparagingly and patronisingly described as ‘vanity publishing’ – a dismissive term used when someone wants to tell a story so much that they write and produce their own book, way beyond what would be commercially viable.

I have recently met veteran Australian car designer Paul Beranger. After 45 years in car design, he has done us all a favour and written a stunning coffee table style book about his chosen profession. After starting with GM-H he also worked extensively with Nissan – including running their race programme – and then Toyota. His new book Crayon to CAD – A History of Post War Automotive Design in Australia is magnificent, inspiring, eye-opening and invaluable.

Over more than 300 pages, lavishly illustrated, mostly in full colour, it tells how we created cars in our country for our conditions. It explains the design techniques as well as the creative inspiration, and all in the context of the commercial realities.

Many of the illustrations have come from the factory and studio archives, and I suspect have never been seen before. There are personal stories of individual designers most responsible for decades of car making in a unique niche market of a rapidly globalising industry.

At $95, available from it is the perfect Fathers Day, birthday or Christmas present for the car nut. Who does not want a better understanding of our motoring history, our market and our ongoing efforts to stay involved in the future of global manufacturing? As the factories shut the business of recording our history cranks up. How sad.