“The Last Open Road” — Literary Porn for Vintage Sports Car Enthusiasts

I’m a voracious reader. The desk, nightstand, counters, and back of every toilet in the house are stacked with monthly publications and thick reference books.

What you won’t find are many novels. Quite honestly, I’ve never been that much of a fiction guy. I was one of the only chaps in high school who didn’t think “The Great Gatsby” or “Great Expectations” were really that great. Most of the modern novels I’ve read have turned out to be too predictable – like a Hollywood movie, except that I had to invest much more than 90 minutes of my time. Furthermore, with my busy schedule, it’s much easier to find the time between appointments to digest a four-page article than a twenty-page chapter.

Many years ago, though, one book caught my eye. A writer named Burt “B.S.” Levy had challenged the conventional wisdom that car enthusiasts didn’t read at all by self-publishing a book called “The Last Open Road”. I read a short review lauding that Levy had penned a great fictional tale about the very real sports car racing scene of the 1950s. This review called it a “must read”, so I told myself I would race to the phone and order a copy.

Fast forward over a decade. Not only had I not acquired the book, but Levy’s concept had proven so successful that additional printings of “The Last Open Road” and two sequels had already been released by a major publisher.

I was reminded of my inability to find time to buy and read Levy’s book last summer at the SOVREN Pacific Northwest Historics Vintage Races in Kent, WA. Walking through the vendors on my way to the paddock, I noticed a stand featuring “The Last Open Road”, plus the sequels “The Fabulous Trashwagon” and “Montezuma’s Ferrari”. As I looked around, I noticed B.S. Levy sitting and signing his books.

I introduced myself to Mr. Levy and told him of my ages-long intentions to read his book. He grabbed a copy of “The Last Open Road”, put it in my hand and said “read it and let people know what you think of it.”

It might have taken me seven or eight months to find the time to begin the book, but it only took a week to finish it. This is a pretty good indication of what I think of Levy’s work.

If that’s too abstract, I’ll make it simpler. “The Last Open Road” is a collector car and/or vintage racing enthusiast’s version of top-grade literary porn. It simply holds the reader’s attention and keeps it by painting an accurate picture of days and fabulous cars gone by.

Levy’s book chronicles the serendipitous events that take Buddy Palumbo, a wet-behind-the-ears blue-collar New Jersey kid, from living with his parents to working at the local Sinclair gas station and falling into the wild and upscale world of road racing in the early 1950s – the glory days of the sport when races were held on not on multi-million-dollar tracks, but on regular public roads. Levy’s ability to develop and bring to life the many fictional characters, as well as integrate them with real dates, times, people, and events is simply amazing.

Just as fantastic is Levy’s knowledge of cars. A racer and former mechanic (and certainly the foundation for the Buddy Palumbo character is Levy himself), his words display the passion of seeing, hearing and even smelling specific automobiles for the first time. Like the cars themselves, the beauty of Levy’s writing is in the details – the way he describes the brutish Allard, the sensual Ferrari, the amazing C-Type Jaguars …or the curves of Palumbo’s love interest.

Where many writers might have focused too much on the cars, Levy never neglects the story. Characters are brilliantly developed, and hold true to history – such as the rich racing trust-fund baby who never has cash in his pocket, the eccentric mechanic at the British import car dealer, or the anti-Semitic membership chairman of the SCMA racing body (a not-so-subtle jab at the SCCA) who creates narrow classes to ensure he wins awards for his own eclectic cars.

And Levy nails the real personalities. From the quiet and modest Phil Hill, to the gentlemanly Briggs Cunningham, the story remains authentic. Similar is the book’s accurate paintings of the sites of these races, such as Bridgehampton, Watkins Glen and Elkhart Lake.

For those, like me, who missed out on these early days of sports car racing, but want a clear picture of what life was like, “The Last Open Road” is the best way of depicting the fun, hard work and danger surrounding the events. Not even period magazine stories or home movies tell the tale from cradle to grave quite like Levy.

Hopefully it won’t take me the rest of the decade to see how Palumbo’s story continues and ends.

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4 Responses to “The Last Open Road” — Literary Porn for Vintage Sports Car Enthusiasts

  1. J says:

    The Last Open Road really was a great book. Too bad the two that followed didn’t measure up.

  2. markmcchesney says:

    I’ll read it as soon as I can pries it out of my 16 yr-olds hands. 🙂

  3. Barry Mihailov says:

    Thanks for the tip. I just got my copy & started reading it. It’s great!

  4. Burt Levy says:

    Thanks for the kind words! Much appreciated! The Last Open Road is about to go into its seventh printing (over 40,000 sold!) and mostly thanks to “car media” reviews like this and tremendous word-of-mouth support on the racing, collector car and all-purpose gearhead scenes–highly unusual for a novel! The other books are also doing well (just did another reprint on Montezuma’s Ferrari), and thanks so much to all the people who’ve enjoyed and recommended them!
    I’m currently working on the next (5th) and most likely last book in the series. There’s some other stuff I want to write after that.
    Burt

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