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Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Reading List: Tom McCahill's Car Owner Handbook
- McCahill, Tom.
Tom McCahill's Car Owner Handbook.
Greenwich, CT: Fawcett, 1956.
The 1950s in the United States were immersed in the car culture,
and cars meant domestic Detroit iron, not those funny little
bugs from Europe that eccentric people drove. American cars
of the fifties may have lacked refinement and appear somewhat
grotesque to modern eyes, but they were affordable, capacious,
fast, and rugged. Just about anybody with a rudimentary
knowledge of mechanics could work on them, and their simple
design invited customisation and performance tuning.
was the most prominent automotive journalist of this epoch.
His monthly column and reviews of cars in
could make or break a model's prospects in the market. He was known
for his colourful language: a car didn't just go fast, but
“took off like a Killarney bat”, and cornered
“like a bowling ball in a sewer pipe”. McCahill
was one of the first voices to speak out about the poor
build quality of domestic automobiles and their mushy
suspension and handling compared to European imports, and
he was one of the few automotive writers at the time to regularly
In this book, McCahill shares his wisdom on many aspects of
car ownership: buying a new or used car; tune-up tips;
choosing tires, lubricants, and fuel; dealing with break-downs
on the road; long-distance trips; performance tweaks and more.
You'll also encounter long-forgotten parts of the mid-century
car culture such as the whole family making a trip to Detroit
to pick up their new car at the factory and breaking it in on
the way home. Somewhat surprisingly for a publication
from the era of big V-8 engines and twenty-five cent gas,
there's even a chapter on improving mileage. The book concludes
with “When to Phone the Junkman”.
Although cars have been transformed from the straightforward
designs of the 1950s into machines of inscrutable complexity,
often mandated by bureaucrats who ride the bus or subway to
work, there is a tremendous amount of wisdom here about
automobiles and driving, some of it very much ahead of its
This “Fawcett How-To Book” is basically an issue of
consisting entirely of McCahill's work, and even includes the usual
advertisements. This work is, of course, hopelessly out of print. Used
copies are available, but often at absurdly elevated prices for what
amounts to a pulp magazine which sold for 75 cents new. You may
have more luck finding a copy
than through Amazon used book sellers. As best I can determine, this publication
was never assigned a Library of Congress control number, although others
in the series were.