I won the book listed above in a raffle at the Dallas Area Classic Chevy’s Annual Business Meeting and Dinner in Forney, Texas on a misty cool evening in November, 2014. The remainder of that weekend was cold and rainy, along with being a bye week for my Dallas Cowboys, thus, I began and enjoyed reading the book.
Auto Biography (itbooks), follows the life of a 1957 Chevy station wagon as well as the car’s 13th owner Tommy Arney. Tommy is a rough and ready - car loving - strip club owning - entrepreneur. The author, Mr. Swift recants the history of the 57 including stories of the colorful Chevy's middle class owners and their stories, lived in the ‘57 Chevy’s wake. In these stories, Mr. Swift describes, in a hidden history lesson, the plight, wants and desires of the middle class from the 50’s to the end of the first decade of the 21st Century.
The story told in Auto Biography is basically the back stories to an article Mr Swift wrote for the Virginian-Post. In the article he traced the ownership of a four-door 1957 Chevy wagon through a chain of local Virginian owners all the way back to it original owner . Mr. Swift muses in his story that the Chevy through the years was a popular car, but alas, was the common man’s mass marked vehicle. Here is an excerpt that express this Social Commentary:
“If you are over fifty - and certainly if over sixty - you can close your eyes and summon its detail. Even if you’re quite a bit younger, the car serves as a visual shorthand, to foreigners, it is a quintessentially American emblem of postwar brashness of confidence, power and excitement - and maybe of red, white and blue excess, too. Show a photo of a ‘57 to a kid in Punjab or Phuket or Terra del Fuego, and he'll know he’s looking at an American car. A teenager here at home might not know Honda from a Hyundai, but odds are he’ll be able to pick a 57 Chevy from a lineup."
The co-main character of the book, the Chevy the other, is Tommy Arney . Along with Mr. Swift's social commentary and stories associated with the car, he describes the pitfalls and struggles of Tommy Arney’s restoration of the car to her new glory.
Tommy Arney is the type of character a novelist would create. Tommy has been arrested seventy-odd times. Six feet one, Tommy is a man among men. His fists are calloused and rock hard from wrench turning and several hundred applications of knuckle sandwiches. I have been told, “A person that cusses, is a person who can not fully express themselves.” I do not really get that from Tommy’s quotes, however if bad languages can turn you off of a book this book may not be for you, because Tommy cusses like a M’-F’er. Tommy is a real rascal to say the least, however Mr. Swift showed another side of Tommy, other that his felonious past. Tommy became a self made man despite his lack of an education and stable upbringing. Tommy is known for his fantastic memory and the love of post war history, related to the car culture.
Mr. Swift makes himself a part of the book, as a fly on the wall, during Tommy’s ownership of the Chevy. Mr. Swift has an easy writing style that is great for my minds eye. The dialogue of the book brings a realness to the story. I felt as if I we having beer with Mr. Swift and hearing the story at a back yard get together. The book moves along fast and held this readers interest by the shrewd inter-cutting between the Chevy’s past and present. Many things past and present stand in the way of a successful restoration of the Chevy. I found myself rooting for Tommy as hero and anti hero as his struggled against the odds. I was hoping during my read that the car and its owner would get the restoration they deserved.
Mr. Swift’s book Auto Biography describes an alternative lifestyle and 57 years of the American dream. Mr. Swift writes a great story that captures the imagination of the classic car lover and non-car people alike.
I would recommend the book.---Alan Arnell