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courtesy of Alpine Car
photos courtesy of Alpine Car, Veloce Publishing, and EVRO PUBLISHING

Book Review


For The Love of Cars


Today’s automotive news, especially when generated by the mass media, is almost always EV-centric. It began – of course – with Tesla, but now there are many more players in the EV segment, and with those multiple players generate many more story lines. Missing (make that ‘sorely missing’) are those stories about more conventional cars and the people building them. In my experience, those narratives are equally compelling, and so – as you’d guess – are those people. And it gets even better when those people building cars write their own stories. Below you’ll find two people – David Twohig and Raoul ‘Sonny’ Balcaen – documenting their involvement with several storied cars, over a period spanning some 60+ years. 

If you’re a fan of Nissan – and despite Nissan’s propensity for corporate upheaval I’m still a fan – you’ll enjoy David Twohig’s INSIDE THE MACHINEBilled as an engineer’s tale of the modern automotive industry, Twohig’s automotive career began when joining Nissan UK in 1992; notably, that’s some seven years before Nissan and Renault came together in the formation of the Renault-Nissan Alliance. Not only do readers get Twohig’s perspective as a native of Ireland working for a multinational in the UK, his book provides a not-quite-granular look at all that goes into the design, engineering and construction of a car or, notably, a crossover at the beginning of this century, when Elon Musk and his Tesla team were – at least figuratively – still using training wheels.

The book’s core focuses on those three products most closely associated with Mr. Twohig’s career: The Nissan Qashqai, Renault ZOE and the Alpine A110 sports car. If Nissan’s Qashqai didn’t invent the subcompact crossover segment, it was certainly one of the early adapters of that descriptive. And while the Qashqai tag is unfamiliar to Americans (here it is sold as the Rogue Sport, also unfamiliar to Americans), following its debut in early 2007 it took the market by storm, providing a much-needed profit for the Nissan brand in Europe while giving Mr. Twohig’s career a significant bounce in both the UK and Japan. 

The Renault ZOE is even less familiar to U.S. readers, but its development is certainly relevant, as it was Renault’s first all-electric car, intended for an urban/suburban audience with no interest in hauling mulch or towing travel trailers. Of the greatest interest to your reviewer is Mr. Twohig’s work on the launch of the Alpine A110 sports car, which would be a viable competitor to Porsche’s Cayman and Toyota’s Supra if – of course – those enthusiasts in America were allowed to buy it. It’s beautiful and accessible…and in our pickup-crazed America we probably don’t deserve it.

For either car enthusiasts or students of business, INSIDE THE MACHINE is a recommended read. And if you’re a Nissan enthusiast it’s a recommended buy. You can purchase its 180+ pages, either from your local bookstore or at the Veloce Publishing’s website, Veloce.Co.UK. 

While Mr. Twohig’s automotive perspective comes from his native Cork, Raoul ‘Sonny’ Balcaen gained his from Southern California’s hot rod hotbed in Los Angeles. Most of you reading this know that LA, beyond its history as the American birthplace of hot rodding, was also the ‘zip code’ for Shelby American. In RAOUL ‘SONNY’ BALCAEN, Mr. Balcaen’s self-titled memoir bridges the gap between rodding and – get this! – Reventlow, having started with rodding and subsequently working on Lance Reventlow’s Scarab sports-racing project, which preceded Carroll Shelby’s work by some four years. The book’s subtitle – My Exciting True-Life Story in Motor Racing from Top-Fuel Drag-Racing Pioneer to Jim Hall, Reventlow Scarab, Carroll Shelby and Beyondtells you most of what you might need to know. And while perspective on Carroll Shelby and his Cobras can be found almost anywhere, inside looks at Lance Reventlow or Jim Hall are relatively scarce, and both represent moments in motorsport history that needn’t be ignored – and shouldn’t be forgotten. 

And for Chevy fans, Mr. Balcaen’s own business, IECO (Induction Engineering Company), was established to serve the needs of Corvair and Vega owners, establishing him as (perhaps) the anti-Nader in the hearts and wallets of those enthusiasts.

Mr. Balcaen is assisted by co-authors Jill Amadio and Pete Lyons, as well as a well-written foreword by automotive author and historian Preston Lerner. It is published by EVRO PUBLISHING, and is available in hardback for $40.

Boldt, a contributor to outlets such as, Kelley Blue Book and Autoblog, brings to his laptop some forty years of experience in automotive retail, journalism and public relations. He is a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, The Washington Automotive Press Association and L.A.'s Motor Press Guild. David is the Managing Editor of txGarage, a regular panelist on the AutoNetwork Reports webcast/podcast, and the automotive contributor to Dallas' Katy Trail Weekly.

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