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When it comes to books about cars, I’m usually very cautious as to what is available. This is because I'm not into stock cars, race cars, sports cars or exotic cars and if you have ever visited "Bargain Books," stores you can find tons of books about these latter styles - and usually the books are out of date or are re-published with little more than a couple of newer photos of existing photos done at a different angle! Usually if a book is entirely written and additionally illustrated, it presents an overall view of the car in question, the design, the components and so on but seldom a balanced view judged from an outside view is given especially when most are written by enthusiasts and can appear one-sided.
Being born in the 1970’s then, my generation witnessed the difference between good, premium priced cars and general crap, most of which was churned out by British Leyland and a few other manufacturers who bought in cheaper metal and tried to fob off the motorist and consumer with false advertising and optimistic hope such as Fiat and Lancia. Frankly there are very few books which qualify light reading about cars in general unless they are made up of statistics and endless drivel from motoring pundits who really should know better other than try and sell off glorified prose designed around the Trump cards of cars.
The Product, The Price & The Promise
In terms of content it’s a typical coffee table book (18cm by 15cm with a depth of just over 1cm - hardly likely to take up much space) or one suitable for, if you’re the kind of home owner who likes a good read whilst on the throne of enlightenment, or the crap house as most would term it... *
I found my copy of Crap Cars in a private card shop siting this book near gifts for fathers on impending Father’s Day in 2007 as well as being placed handily near the gifts which are suitable generally for men. It originally cost £9-99 but Amazon.co.uk list it currently at £7-69 (2012). It is worth seeking out for any car fan who loves cars from which we can now generally call “Classic," or "Retro" from the 1960's to the 1990's.
The prices may seem expensive but then again this is a book which features both colour and black and white photos of cars which you can seldom find anywhere in another book in a book store, unless taking another “Top Gear” sponsored book or the internet into additional consideration.
Two versions of this book exist, the original hard back book like mine featuring a Volvo 262C on the front cover, and another soft book featuring a Yugo 45 soft top (yes, I remember those, I once survived a 12 hour drive in the normal hard roof version from Glasgow to London!)
Content and Design
Looking very much like a large print children’s book, “Crap Cars,” is a glossy hard back book with pictures on one page and writing on the other. Children may well enjoy reading this book, if you have teenagers in the home but anyone under 14 years of age may not quite get the style of this book since it is written for adults with the kind of language it uses. That’s not to say that whilst there are many expletives in this book, there is mild profanity, use of irony and use of sexual wording which can be deemed unsuitable for young eyes.
Written by Richard Porter who turns out to be the script editor for the Top Gear programme as well as a contributing editor for the same named magazine, he is also a columnist for car magazine, “Evo,” the book is published by BBC Books and appears to have the seal of approval
Pictures of Crap Cars - Richard Porter
Crap Cars - Richard Porter - the 2nd version book with a Yugo soft top on the front.
by Top Gear. So if there is anyone who is worth their salt in commenting on cars, it is perhaps someone like Porter…
But this is not a factual book based on the “oohs” and “aahs” of a misled history of false hope, or perhaps a misled childhood but rather, the bare bones of cars which consumers often bought for the sheer loyalty rather than realising the worth and design input (sometimes the lack of it) companies put into the cars before putting them out to pasture for sale.
Typically with Top Gear’s emblem on this book, it does appear to convey its strong desire of outlining its piss take quality and as such for those with a true love in cars regardless of their faults; this may not be the book for you. If however you are prepared to compromise with most things in life as well as be able to reflect with some realism and being prepared to accept harsh reality by a man who does have some influence in the motoring publication trade, this book may well appeal. I adore it and fell in love with it the moment I picked it up and gave it a few flicks in the shop!
Cars In Question (Cover your eyes if yours appears here!)
1. Lancia Monte Carlo 2. Porsche 924 3. Ford Scorpio 4. Cadillac STS 5. Renault Safrane 6. Jaguar XJ40 7. Ford Escort mark IV 8. Yugo Sana 9. Mitsubishi 3000 GT 10. Rover 800 11. Volvo 340 12. Delorean DMC-12 13. Vauxhall Belmont 14. Triumph TR7 15. Rolls Royce Carmargue 16. Talbot Tagora 17. Suzuki Wagon R 18. Volvo 262C 19. Subaru XT 20. Nissan Sunny Coupe 21. Skoda Estelle 22. Renault 9 23. Maserati BiTurbo 24. Daihatsu Move 25. Alfa Romeo ARNA 26. Hyundai Pony 27. Fiat Strada 28. Subaru Justy 29. Austin Maestro 30. Toyota Space Cruiser 31. Fiat 126 32. Daihatsu Applause 33. Ferrari 400 34. Austin Ambassador 35. Yugo 45 36. Datsun Sunny 120Y 37. Aston Martin Lagonda 38. Suzuki SJ 39. FSO Polonez 40. Seat Marbella 41. MGB 42. Trabant 43. Reliant Robin 44. Bond Bug 45. Nissan Serena 46. Lada Riva 47. Morris Marina 48. Suzuki X90 49. Austin Allegro 50. Volkswagen Beetle
General Style of Info & Writing
True to form that whilst some of these cars may well have featured on endless episodes of Top Gear, the series on television and the cars which feature have been the endless butt of many jokes, this book is quite a handy and worthwhile illustrated book to have, not only perhaps taking you down memory lane but wondering what happened to crud like cars such as the Subaru XT or the horrible Nissan Sunny Coupe? I make no apologies if you have ever owned either car; I’ve known real life owners of both cars whose thoughts and memories reflect very similar findings to the short blasts of knowledge written on each car featured in this book.
In reality whilst there are many who have different opinions as to what can be termed as crap or credible, there is more to this book than meets the eye. Sure there are plenty of one liners, ironical and hysterical sections to read and often I found I couldn’t put the book down even though one car photo and biog usually takes up two pages at times as opposed to standard format of one car per page. The vibrant colours of retro shades, pastels, and tacky borders – oh you’ll find them all in this book – not to mention the larger print set which is suitable for most with bad eyesight!
That’s the key to why despite owning this book for several years, I’m always ready to read another page for Porter’s brutal honesty and opinion, in some cases backed up with official company data or marketing. At times I’ve often cried with laughter reading some of the car’s histories in this book and at times the cars existence I have questioned through my life are met in this book with sheer and utter dismay; you can’t help but wonder sometimes who was trying to rip off who…all those many years ago.
Take the aforementioned Subaru XT for example; made in the 1970’s I remember our local Doctor had one and looked like a flash git in it even though no one in their right mind knew what it was because it looked so odd. I had forgotten what he drove until I read this book! Meanwhile the Doctor had a knack for buying Japanese cars (it was replaced in the 1980’s with a 4x4 Mazda 626 import) which had permanent or part time 4x4. And some consumers moan about SUV cars NOW?! We’ve had them since the 1970’s even though most cars haven’t been so user friendly and kitted out for the lifestyle parents and owners wishing they could go rambling in a low riding estate which has part time 4x4 applications.
Perhaps the biggest amount of info I gleamed from this book regarding the XT isn’t the fact that it’s supposed to be a 2 door coupe but that the part time 4x4 mechanism could only be applied if and only when the front windscreen wipers were switched on!! Utter madness but Subaru convinced some of the general public to buy this car and I wonder who in their right mind needed to use such an impractical car on a hill or on rough ground with the sun shining brightly and no rain in the distance, just to feel the control of 4x4 technology with the windscreen wipers on!
It gets weirder in the form of many Fiats to my lovable Volvo 340 series which I’ve often preferred over Ladas and other rubbish that your Granny’s best friend Ethel often wished she could drive let alone purchase. I don’t care what this book says about my old Volvo and Porter certainly doesn’t add damage to the general reputation this Volvo incurred. My 340 never let me down when I owned it and had many happy memories of loading up and going on cheap holidays with it. I do agree however that the Dutch must have been "smoking something strange," when they considered producing a car as awkward as the 340 since the original design looked very Audi like, but that’s another story for another day…
One of the more frank reflections is that of the Renault Safrane, my knowledge of this car is perhaps more than the book states here, although at the time of design Renault were about to merge with Volvo and had licensed their 2.5 5 cylinder engine to be used in the Safrane. Not that this gets any mention in the short review Porter gives but rather a reflection of personal taste, citing that the car was purely built to transport Ministers and comfortable enough to flit between meetings and mistresses! And frankly when I remember visiting France I can recall this country had more Safrane models than I ever saw in the UK!
There are even a few revelations of other manufacturers products which appear here from such brands like Rolls Royce, Porsche and even Ferrari; three very expensive Premium names who each systematically pride themselves on their reputation, cost and exclusivity. Porter writes with short, honest opinion probably not based on his own experience of driving each car, but at times has probably tried or tested through other worded reviews and opinions from fellow colleagues in the trade.
British Patriots may not appreciate this book because there are a few British manufacturers (sadly most are now defunct) whose products are also featured in this book, from Reliant to then British owned Jaguar, to Triumph and British Leyland. Of course in hindsight it perhaps makes no apology that most of the cars featured here are from the stables of Austin Rover and British Leyland; from the horrible Princess restyled Ambassador to the poor Allegro (my granny loved them!), Morris Marina and the Austin Maestro.
Another slight downside is that despite the book’s age of publication the cars displayed here are very old by today’s standards and whilst I feel that there are still quite a few crap cars on sale, brand new, the most recent car featured here is the Cadillac STS saloon – hardly a car which has sold in its massed before Cadillac pulled the plug on it and ceased sending it to the UK. Cars which I thought could have been put in for example are re-hashed Japanese designs being built in other Asian countries, such as Perodua but that's just me!
You won’t buy "Crap Cars" for its newest revelations of newest cars on the market; Top Gear in both its magazine and car programme slate newer cars anyway. This book features cars which have gone on before at a time when poor metal replaced good industrial strength steel, when car designers got a bit big headed and when money ran out, what the consumers got was something a little less than they deserved.
As such I’m never pushed to feel as if I have to agree with what the writer says, but each page has a fun factor and great humour that adds up to a bargain book full of little antidotes and one-liners, often not far from the truth of some cars who’s reputation went before their false designs of exclusivity.
So who is this book suitable for? You can buy the book if you know someone who has either owned, or tried each car, or perhaps just wish to wallow in the memories; so at best it is suitable for most car lovers, loathers and those who love the 1970’s and 1980’s. At worst it is for anyone who thinks their pride and joy amongst this list is perhaps better than anything else on the road. At the end of the day it’s a matter of personal choice, but most of these cars are no longer made anymore let alone allow to be constructed worldwide (apart from a handful) but importantly they do have some kind of iconic status, good and frankly bad. The language isn't bad either so a teenager may appreciate this kind of book and aged upwards.
So the next time you consider an old banger, consider this book. It may not improve your opinion of the cars you choose to run or buy, but it certainly adds insult and realism judged from experience, general knowledge and brand cache, or for most in regard to the cars displayed, a rather large lack of it. As such this book isn’t quite the toilet paper idea it serves up, but, with a leading car magazine and programme behind it to sponsor it, should last longer than anything else which offers such a wide array of cars consumers bought with their heart rather than their head. It may not offer the bonus points of say, a pack of Trump cards for cars, but with a top ten included right at the end, it makes no apology for its existence and it is a book which is compelling to refresh your memory repeatedly on cars featured here.
Infact, since 2011, there is now a specific pack of trump cards called "Crap Cars," probably in honour of this original, older published book!
My parents had one of the Allegros and my aunt and uncle had several!!!
GodfatherOfSoul 10.05.2012 12:01
Interesting and enjoyable review. Can't say I'm too surprised that the Austin Allegro made the list!
RICHADA 08.05.2012 15:24
I guess there's money to be made oput of books like this - and i'll take your word for his "honest opinions" but one mans meat and all that. Being a child of the 60's I remember all of the cars listed here, about 50% would fall into a similar title were it to have my name on it! If memory serves, the 340 Volvo was originally designed to be a Daf and ended up being a Renault colaboration - always bad news that. The safrane was a warmed over R25/30 = a model that had already flopped everywhere but France. R.