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

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

4.6 5
by Earl Swift

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A brilliant blend of Shop
Class as Soulcraft
and The Orchid
, Earl Swift’s wise, funny, and captivating Auto Biography follows an outlaw-genius auto mechanic as he painstakingly attempts to restores a classic 1957 Chevy to its former glory—all while the FBI and local law enforcement close in.

To Tommy Arney, the old


A brilliant blend of Shop
Class as Soulcraft
and The Orchid
, Earl Swift’s wise, funny, and captivating Auto Biography follows an outlaw-genius auto mechanic as he painstakingly attempts to restores a classic 1957 Chevy to its former glory—all while the FBI and local law enforcement close in.

To Tommy Arney, the old cars at Moyock Muscle are archeological artifacts, twentieth-century fossils that represent a place and a people utterly devoted to the automobile and transformed by it. But to his rural
North Carolina town, they’re not history; they’re junk. When Tommy acquires a rusted out wreck of an old Chevy and promises to return it to a shiny, chromed work of American art, he sees one last chance to salvage his respect, keep himself out of jail, and save his business. But for this folk hero who is often on the wrong side of the law, the odds of success are long, especially when the
FBI, local authorities, and the bank are closing in.

Written for motor heads and automotive novices alike, Auto Biography interweaves this improbable hero’s journey with the story of one iconic car to chart the rise,
fall, and rebirth of the American Dream. This wise, charming, and heartbreaking true story is an indelible portrait of a man, a machine, and a nation on the road from a glorious past into an unknown future.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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)
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
Kirkus Reviews
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>★

Product Details

Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 5.70(h) x 1.50(d)

Meet the Author

Earl Swift has been a reporter for the Virginian-Pilot in for more than two decades. He is the award-winning author of Where They Lay and Journey on the James. A former Fulbright Fellow, he is currently a resident fellow at the University of Virginia’s Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.

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Auto Biography: A Classic Car, an Outlaw Motorhead, and 57 Years of the American Dream 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
naher More than 1 year ago
Recommended for anyone who loves cars. The '57 Chevy is a favorite of many and mine too, as I once was a second owner of a black 4 door, 210, six with a stick shift. It had plenty of power to climb hills but the vacuum windshield wipers would stop when climbing. It was interesting to read about this model Chevy. This book would be liked especially by those who customize old cars, but I found the elaborate details of restoration became tedious and made the book too long. I also did not like the repeated use of profanity.
A_Sloan More than 1 year ago
How to tell the Life Story of an Inanimate Object Most of us think about telling our own life stories, but we rarely consider relaying the tale of an inanimate object. In Auto Biography: A Classic Car, an Outlaw Motorhead, and 57 Years, Earl Swift does exactly that. This book lies somewhere between a shop class demonstration and a memoir as it follows Tommy Arney in his quest to save a '57 Chevy that has been owned by 12 people before him. This is one book that delves into a world most of us would never consider (at least I sure didn't!) Readers learn about the many challenges of owning a piece of American history, especially when it falls into the hands of a felon with a lengthy record of crimes that would shock even the toughest characters. As readers continue on, they find that there is more to this story than a character who is a bit rough around the edges. This book is about more than Arney's &quot;biceps big as most men's thighs&quot;, &quot;calloused mitts&quot; and &quot;belly nourished by beer.&quot; It is a story about the human condition. Swift gets into the details of the story right away, revealing the kind of relationship one can have with a car, as well as how becoming a champion often means doing something as simple as rescuing an inanimate object. It effectively captures America's relationship with auto culture, like so many other fantastic books on car lovers' shelves. (It sits beside my copy of How to Restore the Model A Ford... someday, someday)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
enjoyable if your a car guy but to much unnecessary detail on the restoration process
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Umm apparently 10 was mess hall so i brought bella here. I am going to go to the armory