► Ultimate Collector Cars book review
► The Rolls-Royce of coffee-table books
► Can a book really be worth £200?
You’ll spot the intent of Ultimate Collector Cars the moment you first clap eyes on it. Here is a guide to the 100 most collectible vehicles on the planet, lovingly photographed and chronicled across two exquisite hard-bound volumes.
It’s not like other car books. This one is so heavy, I struggled to carry the collection in its dust sleeve for any distance. I later weighed it on the kitchen scales but it went off the scale (it actually weighs in at a portly 12 kilogrammes). Blame the thick art-quality paper, the glittering foil embossed on the cover and the sheer size of the thing. It’s a large-format hardback measuring 36cm tall, split over two volumes totalling 1424 pages and is something of a reference bible to the kinds of cars that pass through the world’s wealthiest garages.
Ultimate Collector Cars is written by Charlotte and Peter Fiell and published by German arthouse specialists Taschen. The duo are specialists in the design field and insiders in the high-falutin’ world of top-class car auctions and the collector mindset, which shows throughout the text, which is biased towards the shortlist’s design and significance more than any dynamic merits. It's car as art.
The history of the motor car told through collectors’ eyes
The storytelling is boosted by access afforded to the leading minds from the car collector kingdom: the chronological structure is punctuated by interviews with the likes of the Duke of Richmond (formerly Lord March, the powerhouse behind Goodwood’s Festival of Speed and Revival) and Sandra Button (chair of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance).
It’s a neat authorial trick to illuminate the mindset of the types of buyers who won’t blink at the seven-figure sums commanded by the most coveted cars in these pages. While the perspective is lofty and privileged, these interviews provide a stepladder up for us mortals, who can merely dream of what it must be like to be in the collectors’ inner sanctum.
This is what the book does exceptionally well. It gives a glimpse into a world of rarefied auctions, of air-conditioned garages and of the finest cars trading as art more than high-octane jinks. The story of the car is told from the very earliest days of the twentieth century, starting with the Mercedes-Simplex 40hp, and works through each consecutive decade as the Fiells select the most significant vehicles of each period and tell their story with sumptuous detail.
It’s hard to argue with their choices, although they tend to the obvious over the lesser-told stories, and there is a tendency to favour the most celebrated marques (no fewer than 78 Ferraris feature in the index). Seekers of an alternative and more democratic car history may not enjoy this tome, but as an authoritative guide to the icons in the canon of the automobile it tells an engaging story wisely and carefully.
There are a few treats for the non-anoraks to discover, including rareties such as the 1937 Talbot-Lago T150-C SS Goutte d’Eau Coupe by Figoni et Falaschi. Your automotive knowledge will undoubtedly expand if you read this from cover to cover.
Car book as art
The production values are astonishing. In addition to its outright heft, Ultimate Collector Cars is a joy to behold with luxurious paper quality, sumptuous photography (though with a reliance on archive and extant imagery) and the space and pace to make this an ideal coffee table companion. Some of the silver-foiled pages can be too reflective with poor read-out in bright daylight, but overall this book reflects the quality you’d expect for two hundred quid.
If you want the ultimate gift for the petrolhead in your life (and that may be you), look no further. It won’t sate those wanting an alternative history of the motor car, but it will transport you into another world - one where you can chew over the finest details of the Ford GT with a dozen pages and some droolworthy photography and pore over the cars that Jay Leno and Jay Kay flit between. Just make sure you reinforce your coffee table first.
Ultimate Collector Cars by Charlotte and Peter Fiell is published by Taschen, £200