A Design Book You Must Own

One of the real benefits of auto shows for designers is the opportunity to see a vast array of vehicles in one place.

One of the real benefits of auto shows for designers is the opportunity to see a vast array of vehicles in one place. Although seeing the cars, trucks, SUVs, crossovers, and concepts, in three dimensions is certainly a plus. But an expo hall isn’t their actual environment, which does detract a bit. In addition to which, there are all of those people who seem hell-bent on trying to walk off with any bits of trim they can get their mitts on, or who spend an inordinate amount of time inside the vehicles, as though they’ve decided to Occupy the space.

But auto shows happen only once a year in any given locale, and last year’s cars—to say nothing of those even earlier—are not always remembered with the fidelity that one would like.

And this is why A-Z of 21st Century Cars by Tony Lewin is such a fantastic book. The title is a bit of a misnomer because the 540-page tome (and a tome it is, on heavy stock that is wonderful for the ~1,500 photos and which makes hefting the book a bicep builder) is not just about cars from the last 11 years, but also devotes space to 48 designers or design studios (from Alfonso Albaisa to Zagato) and 102 marques (from Abarth to Zil). (While he was able to pull off the A to Z for the designers and marques, he doesn’t quite make it with the cars, as they go from the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione to the Volvo XC60.)

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Sure, it’s not like being with a particular car. But in some ways—given the range of cars covered and the detailed information and illustration—better. (At least for purposes of reference, that is.)

Lewin, automotive journalist and co-author of How To Design Cars Like a Pro, is a knowledgeable and refreshingly opinionated guide in this examination of cars, companies, and designers. For example, consider this from his examination of the 2009 Ford Mustang: “The wildfire success of the 1960s Mustangs has been well documented. So, to, have the miseries of the interim generations and how these dragged the model’s reputation into the gutter.” Or this about the 2003-06 Porsche Carrera GT: “If it is possible to have a mid-engined supercar with an exotic brand name, ten cylinders, 600-plus horsepower and a top speed of more than 200 mph, but precious little aesthetic emotion, then the Porsche Carrera GT is it.”

This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an unengaged examination of what is a passionate subject for those who care about cars. (Even those who don’t care all that much on a visceral level about sheet metal would undoubtedly find just paging through the book an interesting experience, given all of the wonderful pictures that are included.)

A-Z of 21st Century Cars is a book that doesn’t belong on your bookshelf. It is a book that belongs on your desk or bedside table (although the aforementioned heft might cause some bruising were you to nod off while perusing it in bed). It is simply a great compendium of contemporary car design.