header image
Parts
Homepage. This page: Advice on choosing what car literature to collect.

Collecting motoring books, car brochures and other transport-related literature.

A Practical Guide to Carefree Motoring - 1960
Other articles relating to literature at oldclassiccar.
Automobilia freeads
Automobilia collecting
Children's books
Illustrated road maps
Motoring Humour
If collecting real cars is either too costly, too time-consuming, or just impractical, then hunting down transport-related literature, can make for a fun pastime. Publications about motoring have been printed for as long as there have been cars, so finding suitable items to collect shouldn't be too much of a problem. Most serious collectors try to focus their collecting habit on a particular subject, otherwise a collection can easily snowball into an unwieldy monster. So, first thing to consider is - 'what type of motoring-related literature should I collect?'

This will largely depend on what interests you obviously, but I'd suggest thinking about the following points:
  • What type of literature to search for?
  • And on what subject?
  • New publications or original only?
  • And finally, what era (if any) to stick to?
Taking each point in turn ...

Types of motoring literature. Collecting books is the most obvious choice, but a collection needn't be restricted to just books. How about sales catalogues or brochures, factory supplied handbooks and workshop manuals, road maps, motor racing programmes, auction catalogues, or books about motoring humour specifically? Then there is the option to hunt down transport-related ephemera - bits and pieces of paperwork that were not designed to last any time, and would normally be thrown away after a short time. Items such as bus tickets, bookmarks, adverts found in old magazines, leaflets issued by tyre or petrol companies, or postcards with a motoring theme to them are popular subjects when sourcing early ephemera. Some suggestions for old literature to collect are given further down.

Choosing a subject. Most people already know what subject(s) they'd like to source
Book about the Monte Carlo rally
literature on, but refining your focus early on can help when it comes to finding stuff.

Some will stick to cars only, whereas other enthusiasts might want to find publications about old lorries (perhaps specific to a particular manufacturer or country), agricultural machines (such as tractors and other farm implements), motorcycles (again perhaps pertaining to just one maker), military vehicles (maybe just WW1, WW2, or post-war), bicycles (and/or unicycles, tandems, motor-assisted bikes etc), buses (maybe just those used by one operator, such as the North Western Road Car Company, or Crosville for example), coaches, or less obvious subjects such as electric vehicles, or 3 wheelers & bubble cars.

If you want to avoid financial meltdown - some old publications can be seriously pricey, others less so - drawing up a shortlist of automotive subjects to stick to can be a good move! Instead of sticking to a particular type or make of vehicle, some collectors instead decide to collect as many items as possible that relate to a collecting category - such as bookmarks, dealer sales literature, and old tax discs, and buy up relevant items regardless of whether they apply to bikes, cars, vans, caravans or whatever.

New print or original only? Usually a collection contains a selection of original items, from when the vehicles were current, and a smattering of titles and items from more recent times, that look back at vehicles from a historical viewpoint. Modern books for instance often feature better quality photographs and illustrations than contemporary publications (not always the case, but often..!), whereas original books about motorcycles for example lend a period feel to the subject that new titles cannot really emulate.

Some older titles get reprinted too - sticklers for originality will prize an original in good condition, and might avoid modern reprints. The latter however can often cost a fraction of the cost of an original, so if your budget is not endless, searching for later re-issues might be a good option. In the 1950s a large number of motor racing books were printed, and in the 1960s some were re-issued by the Motoraces Book Club (MBC).

If hunting for original books, it is important to know exactly what you're looking for. Whereas an MBC issued title may be worth 10-15 or so, the original (non-MBC) first edition could be worth several times this (especially if it has its original dust jacket in good condition - an older title without a jacket can be worth much less than an example with its jacket complete, and in good condition).

A book on Veteran cars
Pick an era. Ok, so by now you've got an idea of the subject(s) & type(s) of literature that appeal most. The next point to consider is that of age - what age of cars, motorcycles, trucks or whatever really interest you? do the inter-war vehicles interest you mostly, or are you more fascinated by vehicles that you either once owned, or remember when you were growing up? Cars of the 1920s and 1930s for instance use technology that bears little resemblance to more recent cars, so if 60s and 70s Fords are your thing, then perhaps publications about a 1930s Model Y wouldn't fit in to a collection?

The thing to remember throughout though is that no collection need have strictly-adhered-to boundaries - having a few guidelines in the back of your mind can be a real help when searching extensive stock lists and catalogues, but should never stifle a collection. Sometimes owning books and other literature that relate in some way to your main interest, but wouldn't immediately fit within those boundaries, can set your main items in context. So for example, your main collection may revolve around 1960s muscle cars, but a few books on post-war hotrods of the 1940s and 1950s would provide some context and background to American performance cars in general.

Types of automotive literature to collect.

Transport Books

When talking about collecting automotive-related literature, the subject of books is the first thing most people will think of. You've already decided on a subject, and given some thought to what age of publication to hunt down. As with all book collecting, you can choose to collect all sorts of car (truck, motorcycle, bicycle or whatever) books, or maybe refine your search even further to just fiction, or non-fiction titles. Unsurprisingly, fictional works are just that - stories, books about motoring humour (such as Brockbank) and such like, whereas non-fiction books are factual, and would include factory service handbooks, restoration guides, racing driver biographies, and so on. I've started to review various books related to motoring, and they'll be featuring in the car book reviews section over time.

Car Sales Brochures/Catalogues

Original 1930s sales brochure
The beauty of this subject is that material for modern vehicles is still available free of charge, although naturally I'd never condone relieving dealerships of sales catalogues through bogus interest in their actual vehicles (!). Even sales literature from the 1970s and 1980s is still available cheaply, whether sourced online or via car boot sales and the like, and can be an excellent starting point for any collection. Brochures from the 1960s can still be bought for just a few pounds/dollars a time, so an interesting collection can be quickly built up without necessarily breaking the bank. Catalogues are usually slim affairs and take up even less room than books, which is handy if space is at a premium.

Condition is everything with brochures. They were never meant to be kept for long (as with most ephemera), and usually got chucked away, stuffed in the bottom of drawers, used to light a fire, or lost. Boxes of literature often get binned when a housemove comes along, again reducing the amount of quality items available to buy. I'd not recommend buying anything that has water damage or pages missing, unless the topic is so spectacularly rare that it warrants being saved due to its mega rarity alone. I'd happily give shelf space to 1920s Bugatti sales literature for example, even if the condition was not the best!!

Factory Handbooks & Manuals

Vauxhall 12 car handbook
Owner's handbooks were usually given out with cars when first sold, and often get lost as vehicles change hands over the years.

Factory manuals however were not given away and had to be bought. It can be quite interesting to collect old manufacturer's handbooks, although they (and especially manuals) can be quite heavy items to store once there is a large collection, and are often a bit grubby if they've been used.

Dirty examples therefore don't cost too much, and are usually easy to find for all but the rarest of cars. Mint, untouched, examples are therefore a bit harder to find and cost more as a result. It is important to draw a line between factory-issued handbooks/manuals, and the third party offerings from other companies, which are usually worth significantly less. Handbooks applying to vehicles from the 1940s onwards can still be picked up for just a few pounds, with earlier examples usually commanding a premium.

The one shown on the right was bought for me some years ago, when I had a 1930s Vauxhall car.

Motor Racing Programmes

Hunting down old programmes is big business, and is a large collecting area in its own right. Many people restrict their collecting habit to a particular type of competition (single seater, grand prix, hillclimbs, speedway karting), a specific era, and/or one particular race venue only. With the prices of early race programmes being quite high, it is a good idea to try and limit a collection in some way. Programmes from recent races needn't cost much at all, whereas surviving publications from pre-war races at Brooklands or Indianapolis for example could cost 50-100 a time, if not more for rare or really early events. A few lucky spectators collected driver autographs on their programmes, and these command a big premium, if you can find (and if possible authenticate) them! More info on collecting old race programmes can be found here, where examples of race programme from the 1930s-1960s are featured.

Auction Catalogues

This isn't something I've really immersed myself in, but I know there are people out there who specialise in hoarding the glossy publications sold by auction houses prior to an important sale. They usually have some superb images within, and can prove to be a useful reference item. Those with sale prices pencilled in are of more actual use undoubtably, but those remaining perfect and unmarked will probably be worth a bit more.

Motoring Ephemera

Various items of motoring literature from the 1950s
Rarer than many books are the disposable bits of paperwork that float around, largely un-noticed, but very relevant to whichever branch of transport interests you. With regard to cars, this could be anything from leaflets given out by a petrol station or local garage, a flyer from a local taxi company, old insurance cover notes, old-style driving licences, expired tax discs or logbooks, receipts, old invoices from motor businesses no longer in business, or giveaway promotional items (such as those that can be seen on the Motoring Miscellanea page here at oldclassiccar).

If motorsport is more your thing, then race cars, entry tickets and notes about spectator safety, are all the kinds of throwaway items that will become rare, in addition to the more obvious race programmes already mentioned.

Motoring Humour

The motorist and his steed have long been the butt of newspaper and magazine cartoonists, and as such there are some great old books out there. One of the best known motoring cartoonists, in the UK at least, was Russell Brockbank, and several books were printed that contained his wonderful artwork. Other books I've seen include "Out of Gas", an American book from 1954 by Syd Hoff (cost $2.95), and "You've Got Me Behind The Wheel", a compilation of motoring humour by several artists, published in 1957.

Magazines

1951 Mechanics magazine
Churned out in their thousands every week are motoring magazines, both general titles, and those that concentrate on either a particular marque, or type of vehicle. Some collections are formed around a particular vehicle, whereas others revolve around a subject, such as commercial vehicles, or cycling.

Storing magazines can be a bit of a headache unless you have lots of spare storage space, and a sufficiently strong floor to take the weight of a large collection! Some of my favourite motor mags are the Practical Motorists from the 1950s, partly because they contain lots of useful hands-on info, and partly because they feature lovely cover artwork. In the UK the two biggies back then were The Autocar, and The Motor, and again featured some smart cover artwork, either a general illustration or perhaps a colourful advertisement for a new car. These mags can still be picked up for just 1-2 a time, and are perhaps the biggest bargain of all when it comes to amassing transport literature.

Pre-war titles are much harder to turn up, especially in decent condition, and might cost 5-10 a time, and more for the motor racing titles. One interesting angle to use when collecting magazines is to track down the first issue of magazines. These can command quite a price for the long-established titles, but with so many titles coming and going after just a few years, it can be a worthwhile thing to do. In the UK there was a small-format magazine called Jalopy, it didn't last for long sadly but was an amusing read. Issues may not be worth a great deal, but issue 1 would no doubt have a novelty value and be a reminder of a less obvious motoring title that has now gone. More on the subject of early motoring magazines can be found here.

Maps and Tour Guides

I've already featured some great old roadmaps on oldclassiccar, so I'll not dwell on them too much here. Again they are interesting, not just from their designs, but also in many cases due to the artwork used on their covers, that often capture the era they were printed in perfectly. Art deco styling cues can often be seen on the covers of road maps of the 20s and 30s, and the years of chrome excess are regularly captured on American maps of the 1950s.

Summary.

Hopefully I've touched on some collecting areas that might be of interest, and I plan to expand on some of the collecting areas with future articles - come back soon!

Custom Search
www.oldclassiccar.co.uk (C) R. Jones. Content not to be reproduced elsewhere.
Website by ableweb.
Privacy Policy, Cookies & Disclaimers