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Bookshelf: Zen and the Art of Collecting Old Cars

Author Bruce Valley shares wisdom and wit in this must read for the collector


When a person makes the step into car collecting, it is with a sense of joyous pursuit. Go to any car event; the people there just ooze passion. Bruce Valley and his marvelous book, Zen and the Art of Collecting Old Cars: Adventures in Toyland, takes that passion and puts it into words and stories that both captivate and teach.

The author and his wife Nancy with the 1954 Corvette

Old cars are like old anything: they need refurbishment, upkeep and TLC. The author has had a lifetime of car collecting across six decades, restoring and driving amazing machinery from a pre-war turret-top V12 Cadillac to a Pontiac GTO (his first new car) to Studebakers and Packards, a Lamborghini 400GT, and so many others. Each car had its own personality and set of lessons, he notes.  Each chapter is dedicated to a facet of his car collecting. Most are specific cars, but he combines experiences on British and Italian cars, station wagons and pickup trucks in their own chapters.

Valley himself has had an interesting life as a Navy test pilot, Washington speechwriter and aerospace executive, but cars were his lifelong passion. As he declares in the book’s introduction “This is not a book about Zen. Nevertheless, Zen pervades its pages.”

The Lamborghini 400 GT

In the early 1970s, he read the cult classic, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by the late Robert Pirsig. Valley says he re-read the book several times throughout his life.

1966 GTO, the author’s first new car

The lessons he took from the book were far from just maintenance. It was about good life, seeking quality and peace of mind. These were lessons he took to heart in all aspects of life. He truly channels Pirsig’s philosophical spirit into the car collecting hobby.

This is one of the most emotional books I have read about automobiles. The stories are personal and deep. He speaks of weeping as he delivered his 1954 Corvette to its new steward,  the joy of junkyards and the hunt for parts, his love of Mercedes-Benz.

1958 Dodge Swepside

I really don’t want to give away too much as I encourage reading this terrific book. But after reading Zen and the Art of Collecting Old Cars, you might find yourself changed a little. But isn’t that the joy of the written word?


TitleZen and the Art of Collecting Old Cars: Adventures in Toyland
AuthorBruce Valley
PublisherGREAT LIFE Press, 2020
ISBN193839447X, 9781938394478
Length260 pages
Tom Stahler
Tom Stahler
Tom Stahler is the Managing Editor of the ClassicCars.com Journal. Tom has a lifelong love of cars and motor racing – beginning with the 1968 USRRC race at Road America, in a stroller, at eight months of age. His words, photos and broadcasts can can be found on a myriad of media. He has won the Motor Press Guild’s Dean Batchelor Award and a Gold Medal in the International Automotive Media Awards.


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