Its few patches of
surviving paint are sun-bleached and salt-pocked and cracked like a dry
lakebed. Its interior is stripped to bare and rotting steel, floorboards chewed
away, the whole layered in a thick carpet of grime and flaking
metal. Birds have nested in its driver’s seat. Its engine, or what’s left of
it, hasn’t turned over in years.
Slumped among other rusting hulks on a windswept patch
of eastern North Carolina, the Chevy evokes none of the Jet Age optimism that made
it the most beloved and instantly recognizable car to ever roll off an assembly
line. It’s thrashed. A goner. There seems little left to scrap, let alone save.
Auto Biographyis the story of how it got this way—of its long service to thirteen owners, its steady decline
from showroom beauty to abandoned beater—and of its unlikely rescuer, an
orphan, grade-school dropout and rounder, a felon arrested seventy-odd times,
and a man who’s been written off as a ruin himself.
To Tommy Arney, the Chevy isn’t junk, but a fossil of the
twentieth-century American experience, of a place and a people utterly devoted
to the automobile and changed by it in myriad ways. It’s a piece of history—especially so because its
decrepit skin conceals a rare asset: a complete provenance, stretching back
more than fifty years.
Hassled by banks, local officials, the FBI, and his own volatile
demons, the Chevy’s thirteenth owner embarks on a mission to save the car and
preserve the long record of human experience it carries in its steel and
Written for both gearheads and Sunday drivers, Earl Swift's fifth book of narrative nonfiction charts the shifting hopes and
fortunes of the people who’ve gripped the car's steering wheel, throwing a light on the sturdy resilience of the American Dream and our abiding relationship with the automobile through the most iconic model in
history and an improbable, unforgettable hero.
Put it there.
Earl Swift began writing for a living in his teens. In the years since, the Virginia-based journalist has penned five books and hundreds of major features for newspapers and magazines, and has earned a reputation for fast-moving narrative and scrupulous reporting. His work for Norfolk's Virginian-Pilot was nominated five times for a Pulitzer Prize.
A former Fulbright fellow, Swift is currently a residential fellow of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He has a 20-year-old daughter, Saylor, and is engaged to the wondrous Amy Walton of Virginia Beach.