Auto Biography: A Classic Car, an Outlaw Motorhead, and 57 Years of the American Dream

Overview

A brilliant blend of Shop Class as Soulcraft and The Orchid Thief, Earl Swift's wise, funny, and captivating Auto Biography follows an outlaw auto dealer as he struggles to save a rusted '57 Chevy—a car that has already passed through twelve pairs of hands before his—while financial ruin, government bureaucrats and the FBI close in on him.

Slumped among hundreds of other decrepit hulks on a treeless, windswept moor in eastern North Carolina, the Chevy evokes none of the Jet Age ...

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Auto Biography: A Classic Car, an Outlaw Motorhead, and 57 Years of the American Dream

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Overview

A brilliant blend of Shop Class as Soulcraft and The Orchid Thief, Earl Swift's wise, funny, and captivating Auto Biography follows an outlaw auto dealer as he struggles to save a rusted '57 Chevy—a car that has already passed through twelve pairs of hands before his—while financial ruin, government bureaucrats and the FBI close in on him.

Slumped among hundreds of other decrepit hulks on a treeless, windswept moor in eastern North Carolina, the Chevy evokes none of the Jet Age mystique that made it the most beloved car to ever roll off an assembly line. It's open to the rain. Birds nest in its seats. Officials of the surrounding county consider it junk.

To Tommy Arney, it's anything but: It's a fossil of the twentieth-century American experience, of a place and a people utterly devoted to the automobile and changed by it in myriad ways. It's a piece of history—especially so because its flaking skin conceals a rare asset: a complete provenance, stretching back more than fifty years.

So, hassled by a growing assortment of challengers, the Chevy's thirteenth owner—an orphan, grade-school dropout and rounder, a felon arrested seventy-odd times, and a man who's been written off as a ruin himself--embarks on a mission to save the car and preserve long record of human experience it carries in its steel and upholstery.

Written for both gearheads and Sunday drivers, Auto Biography charts the shifting nature of the American Dream and our strange and abiding relationship with the automobile, through an iconic classic and an improbable, unforgettable hero.

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Editorial Reviews

TRACY KIDDER
“I’ve never met Earl Swift, but from the very first page of this book I like him. Auto Biography is exuberant, big-spirited, and more than occasionally profound.”
BILL MORRIS
“Earl Swift has done something astonishing. He has let us see the unwinding of the American Dream through the windshield of a single 1957 Chevy-and through the stories of every one of its owners. Auto Biography is funny and sad and wise, an ingenious joyride of a book.”
Booklist
“Fascinating... The author tells Arney’s story deftly and with great, often raw, humor, and it rarely loses momentum.”
Christian Science Monitor
“A true tall tale that doubles as a complicated fable, Auto Biography is the wild and woolly saga of a 1957 Chevrolet station wagon, its 13 owners, and Tommy Arney, the appetite-forward, contradictorily honorable character who restores the four-door chariot to a glory even greater than its original.”
New York Post
“[A] must read … It’s the bromance of the ages: a ruined man and and a ruined ‘57 Chevy find happiness in each other’s arms.”
Daily Progress (Charlottesville
“Dazzling. … Many readers likely will feel the description Swift paints of Arney in the first page and a half of the book is worth the $26.99 price tag alone.”
Matt Stone
“A good fun read. … There’s rust, havoc, renovation and redemption, for the car and several of its owners. … The car talk is interesting and accurate; an easy and well written read. Swift is a big name, award-winning writer, and his chops show well here.”
Joe Bargmann
“A fresh, personal perspective on America’s love affair with the automobile.”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“Full of crackerjack reporting and fuel-injected mirth... Swift’s lengthy step-by-step description of the disassembly and recreation process is as nail-biting as any drugstore action-thriller. It’s hard to conceive of a more riveting (or unriveting) work on the subject than Auto Biography.”
Jason Fogelson of Forbes
“Swift delivers on the ambitious scope of his subtitle, and will capture the imagination of classic car fans and non-fans alike. Highly recommended.”
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“Entertaining and enlightening.”
The Durham Herald Sun
“Swift negotiates a phrase like a car with a tight turning radius.”
Houston Chronicle
“An entertaining, surprisingly informative and action-packed tale.”
Dallas Morning News
“Swift excels at such descriptions of autos and people, as well as observations on society and pop culture.”
Detroit Free Press
“A great read, with the cast, dialogue and drama of a novel.”
Publishers Weekly
05/12/2014
In this engrossing and entertaining book, Swift (The Big Roads) tells the story of a car—not the story of a classic car model, but the story of a particular 1957 Chevy owned, in the 57 years since its manufacture, by 14 different people. While at first the conceit may seem itself too manufactured, the narrative tactful unfolds with deeply human stories of struggle, ambition, hopes, dreams. The book's main thread follows Tommy Arney, a charming, foul-mouthed, and endlessly interesting businessman, who is tasked with restoring the Chevy to its original glory. We learn along the way the life of the vehicle and how it fit into the lives of its previous owners; we learn too of Arney's past, marked by violence and struggles of his own. Swift is a wonderful guide and the stories he relates are engaging in their own right. Yielded together, though, these vignettes take on a fuller meaning, as the restoration becomes social metaphor. (May)
Kirkus Reviews
2014-04-01
In a compassionate yet never overly nostalgic nonfiction portrait of two behemoths from another age, Virginian-Pilot reporter Swift (The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways, 2011, etc.) offers a startling portrayal of a violent entrepreneurial misfit. The author, who has an obvious boyish joy for things that go fast, locks in on a guy named Tommy Arney, a local legend in rural Moyock, N. C. Along with a small crew that includes his first mate, Skinhead, his business manager, Slick, Painter Paul and other malcontents, Arney joyfully buys and sells "project cars," those fixer-uppers that dads like to work on with their kids on the weekend. But make no mistake—Arney is no curmudgeonly grease monkey with a heart of gold. He's a profane gladiator from a former age who has cursed all the curses, slept with more women than he can count, and generally drunk and brawled his way through his whole existence. One of the first things Swift relates is that Arney carries surprisingly few scars for a man who is said to have once bitten a police dog back. He's also a man at war with his times. His empire of go-go clubs and industrial real estate has fallen into ruin, and his dodgy bank loans and sprawling shop yard have the city council and the FBI lining up to nail him in court. It may sound straight out of Sons of Anarchy, and in some ways, it is. However, the heart of the story is more Bill Bryson than Hunter Thompson. Along the way, Swift lovingly recounts—despite a palpable frustration—Arney's thoughtful restoration of a classic 1957 Chevy as well as the stories of its dozen owners. Neither arc ends the way readers might expect, which comes as a pleasant surprise. A big, weird, heartfelt book about a badass who could give a damn whether you root for him or not.< BR>★
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062282682
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/17/2015
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Meet the Author

Journalist Earl Swift has written five books, including The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways (2011). Since 2012 he has been a residential fellow of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities at the University of Virginia.

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