When ‘365 Cars’ was a really good car book and became really bad car TV

365 Cars You Must Drive cover

This book was made into a televisions show, sorta.

A rant in Jalopnik, Here’s Why TV Car Shows Suck If  You’re Really a Car Lover, berated the formulaic structure Fast N Loud, a car show of which I’ll admit I’ve seen, oh, minutes. Not only is it repeated week after week, it’s, well, it’s a reality show. And everyone knows is that reality shows have little to do with reality. A great takeaway quote: “You can manufacture conflict, you can’t fake passion.”

But, hey, I had a book made into a TV show. Really. Well, it was a book I co-wrote, actually wrote fully half of, though if you look at the book you’d think I was just a bit player who “authored many of the capsules” because the other guy…well, never mind that

Anyway, 365 Car You Must Drive–in addition to being translated into Russian and Romanian—was made into 101 Cars You Must Drive, for the Speed cable TV channel. The book was rather actually good. People said good things about it, though not the tiny font. But the other author and I knew something about cars, and we had a rather eclectic mix of vehicles to write about. We had about 250 words to explain why some automotive for-lack-of-a-better-word icon was for-lack-of-a-better-word iconic.

And then we had bullet points. That was the fun part, coming up with where to drive it, what would be playing on the radio, and who would be in the passenger seat. Such as a reference to Carol Doda as a passenger for the Corvette L56, it plastic and with a 454 cubic inch engine, and Carol was famous for being, um, well endowed and, ah, plastic. But you really need to Google search her.

Back to they book. There’s actually no table of content or index for 365 Cars You Must Drive. You dive right in, in alphabetical order from Acura NSX to–of course–Zimmer. Someone said it is a great book to keep in the bathroom. Reading one page takes just the right amount of time…

You really need to go out and buy the book. It was written in 2006 but I’m still getting royalties from it, and will as long as you keep buying it.

But speaking of royalties, when the book was made into a TV show, they mailed me a check. Yes, the standard contract allowed that if the book was made into a movie or TV show, I’d get some sort of royalty from that. A royalty from a car book made into a TV show? Never thought that would happen. But it did. And it was more than what I had earned from writing the book in the first place.

Would that the TV show have justified that in some way.

The producers of the show 101 Cars You Must Drive didn’t keep very much of the book. In fact, the only things noticeable that came from the book were the title and the choice of cars.

The format of the show was the host—I’m deliberately not mentioning his name because, for one thing, I don’t remember it, and the other, it wouldn’t help his career if I did—would drive around in the car and talk about it.

It’s a good concept. But the execution was dreadful. The producers picked a comedian to be the host of the show. His main qualifications were (a) being a comedian and (b) having been an aircraft mechanic. Because, you know, wrenching airplanes and telling jokes in a bar makes you an expert on cars. The comedian wasn’t funny, and more often than not, the facts were wrong. Well, mostly wrong. He used the word “cars” correctly.

It was an embarrassment. I certainly wasn’t bragging about it, even to my fellow auto writers who had never had anything they had written made into a TV show. I did cash the check. And there would have been another had the show not sucked. And royalties on reruns, perhaps. Who knows. That didn’t happen.

But oh, the book had one more brush with television stardom, and it involved a comedian who has a TV show where he drives cars around and talks about them. Hey, what a concept. Except this guy is funny and he knows whereof he speaks.

Anyway Jay Leno had the other author of 365 Cars You Must Drive on his television show talking about the book. Which is great, nothing like a plug from Jay Leno. But cut to the tape: The other author is standing next to Jay, and Jay says, “This book was written by my friend [insert other author’s name here] and…[insert pause here]…has a foreword written by Dad Gurney.”

Hey! What? What about me. That pause was where my name was supposed to go. I’m guessing Jay didn’t know how to pronounce my name…so he left it out. It’s not difficult. Think The Matrix. And Dan Gurney, sure, the guy who threatened me with a lawsuit. I have his autograph on the letter. Sure. But still, Jay, shame on you. You robbed me of three seconds of fame.

But back to 101 Cars You Must Drive, the TV show. In the day of the internet, nothing really ever goes completely away. For some really bad car television, it’s on YouTube.

And buy the book: 365 Cars You Must Drive. I could use the money.