Anyone old enough to have grown up with the Encyclopedia Britannica or a World Atlas will savor every page of The Atlas of Car Design: The World’s Most Iconic Cars. This 568-page paean to the automobile presents global car design across its entire 130-year history, from the 1893 Duryea Motor Wagon to Tesla’s absurd 2023 Cybertruck. More than 650 cars from almost 200 marques are featured, illustrated by period and contemporary studio photography, and enhanced by original advertising from the era. That these designs are from more than 30 nations illuminates the unique aesthetic sensibilities that, until the advent of global automotive design studios, expressed the sense of style distinguishing one country’s cars from another. Here, even the most informed reader will discover cars they never knew existed.
So, while seasoned car spotters may recite the family trees of Ford, Ferrari, Jaguar, or Porsche, it’s a sure bet that they could ever have imagined the American 1932 Stout Scarab or the 1935 Wikov Kapka from the Czech Republic. Fans of microcars (those charming weirdos of the automotive world) will take special delight in the U.K.’s diminutive 1958 Meadows Frisky, or Fuju Toshuda Motors’ Fuji Cabin, only 85 of which were built between 1957 and 1959. With its kick-start scooter engine, two seats, three wheels, and a single headlight, this Japanese microcar is, perhaps the strangest-looking vehicle ever made. Invoking Turkey’s Anadol A1, made from 1966-1975, may be useful as a tie-breaker in board games where the use of proper nouns is permitted.
The book also includes well-known, one-off delicacies like the 1925 Rolls-Royce Phantom Jonckheere “Round-Door” Coupé, 1930 Bentley Blue Train, and 1938 Hispano-Suiza H6B Dubonnet Xenia, plus dozens of other masterpieces far too extreme to have ever seen series production. Lovers of Italian cars made in the 1950s-1970s are in for a treat as well. Elegant little Cisitalia, Siata, and Lancia two-seaters with hand-built bodies rub shoulders with better-known marques like Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, and Lamborghini. Those interested in modern supercars will appreciate that the authors bring them right up to date with the latest models from Pininfarina, Rimac, and GMA. Nobody gets left out.
The authors, Jason Barlow and Guy Bird, have produced text as dense as Leviticus—but far more entertaining—that will consume many leisure reading hours. And contributor Brett Berk’s critical essay, putting Detroit’s automotive styling in perspective, adds yet another reason why this $150 treatise is a fundamental addition to any major automotive library.