Review: A-Z of Popular Scooters and Microcars

The A-Z of Popular Scooters and Microcars, Cruising with StyleThe A-Z of Popular Scooters and Microcars, Cruising with Style, by Michael Dan
Veloce Books, 2007
Paperback, 256 pages
ISBN 9781845840884

The peak of the current “scooter boom” (surely it can’t get any bigger?) has been marked by an ever-growing number of books, each more general than the last. Most of the current scooter books are targeted at wheel-kicking neophytes, and some were clearly written by folks that have never straddled a 150cc engine. Even books targeted towards scenesters, like Colin Shattuck’s great Scooters: Red Eyes, Whitewalls & Blue Smoke have their faults; listings of events, models, and clubs are outdated soon after publication and there’s just not enough space to do justice to the diverse range of subjects covered. Few scooter books find an engaging “hook” and really focus on it, and too many books rely on fifth-hand recycled historical boilerplate, most of it simply re-hashing Piaggio’s self-scripted mythology.

On the opposite extreme, Veloce’s books are (hurrah!) written by anoraks for anoraks, and while The A-Z of Popular Scooters and Microcars, Cruising with Style perhaps isn’t quite as slick-looking as other new books on the market, it seems likely to appeal to a fanatical scooter/microcar owner or someone wishing to just skim the surface. It’s great to find a book written from first-hand personal experience. Michael Dan is a solid writer who clearly loves and respects his subject matter. He fills the book with engaging stories of his exploits in the fifties riding various tiny-wheeled contraptions. Doubling the subject matter by throwing microcars into the mix seems like a bad move, focus-wise, but this book is probably the first to explore the connections between these two “niche” vehicles, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a devotee of either who lacked (at least) a passing interest in the other, so it’s a smart combination. Dan discusses the connections in detail: not only did many companies produce microcars and scooters concurrently, there was also crossover in the transportation market and the rally scene. Microcars were also a popular upgrade for scooterists finding themselves with a larger income and/or family.

The book starts with a brief overview of its subjects, building a historical context for the machines we love and the scenes that developed around them. The next section, and the most pleasant reading, goes into more detail on several specific models, featuring photos, ephemera, and the author’s first-hand period anecdotes from fifties Britain. This section is followed by nearly 100 pages of “A-Z” listings, featuring three scooters or microcars per page with specifications and notes about each model. The listings aren’t slavishly comprehensive, but they feature a good mix of the common vs. the obscure, with scooters and microcars from around the world, from the forties to the current day.

After the listings, Dan has assembled simple but great feature: a series of timelines, sorting popular marques and models by decade. The timelines put the models and their development in a temporal context with their contemporaries, depicting booms and draughts. A photo gallery fills the remaining 25 pages, bringing the book to 256 pages, each packed tight with scooter and microcar goodness.

Veloce’s design and typography is a bit disappointing. A $60 book simply deserves a bit more care in that department. Veloce seems to follow the Scootering magazine school of jamming as much photography and text on the page as possible, using wacky angles, drop shadows, repeated images, stretched type, goofy oversized captions, and similar “corporate newsletter” design traps. A simpler, cleaner design would serve the information better. Stranger still are the shots where a scooter or car was digitally added to an idyllic landscape, surely they didn’t think they were fooling anyone? Aside from those quibbles, the printing and binding is top-quality, and most of the photography is solid. The period ephemera is tops–ads and brochures we’ve never seen before, reproduced very cleanly. The majority of the “A-Z” section features snapshots taken at swap meets and car shows. If you’re expecting big-budget Art of the Motorcycle-style portraits of hundreds of models, you’re not going to find them here, these are real-world machines in various states of repair, restoration, or decay, and the eBay-auction-style photos are actually an engaging way to present them.

A trivia-obsessed scooterist might debate a few finer points of the text, but there’s certainly nothing blatantly wrong, which can’t be said for many of the ‘scooter boom’ cash-ins on the market. Assuming that the microcar data is similarly sound, this book is perfect for a devotee of either vehicle, and a great bridge between two scenes that don’t communicate much, but share many common elements. Any vintage scooter fan won’t be disappointed with this book, the scooter information is fresh and personal, and the microcar content offers instant immersion in an unexplored, parallel world.

More info available at Veloce’s site.

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