HomeReviewsMediaBooksStreet Machines Idea Book

Classics and Performance Logo

Street Machines Idea Book

Book Review

by Ryan King

U.S. Military Name Tapes Link

Ideas are a foundational part of creativity.

It's been my experience that many people think creativity occurs in a vacuum — that a person, without any previous knowledge or ideas about what they are doing, somehow magically creates something new and different that no one has ever seen before.

I've spent more than a decade learning, working, and otherwise dabbling in the creative fields of graphic design, illustration, photography, and writing, and I can tell you that I have never seen any creative idea occur in a vacuum. The fire of inspiration creative people experience is kindled by the passion they have for things that already exist.

The greatest designs and creative ideas got their start in an individual, or collaboration of people, that saw something similar somewhere else and repurposed it. Creativity, like diagnosis, engineering, or even simple part replacement, starts with the same basic concepts: knowledge, skill, and experience.

Since creativity comes from a blend of inspiration, ideas, and knowledge, many artists and designers keep a collection of concepts they like for reference and motivation. Those collections can take many, many years to mature into a comprehensive resource capable of providing them with enough material to cover their creative needs.

That's where Street Machines Idea Book: Classics • Muscle Cars • Modern comes in. It collects and categorizes hundreds of different ideas in 10 separate categories for a quick, handy reference. A book like this is a long time coming to automotive enthusiasts that have been lacking this kind of essential material. The author — Sue Elliott — has done an excellent job producing a visually rich resource with just enough information to whet the appetite of everyone from the average car guy or gal who's just learning how to be creative, to the experienced professional designer — without dulling creative energy.

Below is a chapter-by-chapter summary of what this packed title has to offer.

The Book

Chapter 1: Early Street Machines

In the introduction, Sue Elliott gives definition to a term for the purpose of this book that may have as many different meanings as there are people that use it: "Street Machine." Her interpretation is "1950-and-newer American cars and trucks...with V8 and larger engines...that have been heavily modified for increased performance and styling." She also goes on to write that we "may spot an earlier vehicle or twin turbo V6 car, but only if it clearly fits into this not-so-clear genre." Thus, Chapter 1 takes a look at 35 cars of varying styles that don't clearly fit into the other categories this book was broken into: Muscle Cars or Modern. Along with a nice photo of each, there's a brief explanation that makes note of anecdotes, the builders, owners, and an overview of some of the alterations that make it unique. Each entry contains just enough visual and descriptive information to get creative juices flowing, but not enough to overwhelm with complexities.

Chapter 2: Muscle Cars

This chapter has the same attributes as the last — a nice photo and brief explanation of each car — however, it focuses on Muscle Cars from the '60s and '70s. It's got 53 examples of everything from resto-mods to pro-streeters to g-machines, from nostalgic to modern interpretations of original classics. Like Chapter 1, there's just enough info to get you thinking, but not enough to get you lost in the details.

Chapter 3: Modern Street Machines

The third chapter finishes the book's look at whole vehicles by delving into its last category: modern. From my experience — outside of aftermarket tuner cars — modern performance cars have been largely overlooked by the custom car crowd, a trend which is changing, and the author does an excellent job of showing exactly that with another 29 examples of what some of the most creative people in the field of automotive design have done with the more modern offerings of American automobile manufacturers.

Chapter 4: Engines & Exhaust

Engine configurations can be as distinctive as the custom cars they reside in and often a successful custom car has an engine as unique as it is. Chapter 4 gives you a whopping 80 different ideas for the engine and engine compartment, as well as 13 ideas for the exhaust. There are also two engine swap packages and four crate engines to consider for your own street machine.

Chapter 5: Wheels & Tires

If wheels and tires are your thing then this chapter is for you. It offers a look at 76 different wheels, and 77 wheel and tire combinations mounted on nearly that many cars to tantalize your visual "taste buds." The number of wheel and tire offerings out there are staggering and this chapter illustrates the depth and breadth of those offerings from understated to outlandish, with great clarity.

Chapter 6: Chassis, Suspension & Brakes

It seems to me that the chassis, suspension, and brakes are overlooked on too many cars. They may not provide the simple seat-of-the-pants experience that stepping on the gas pedal will, but in many ways, those systems are more important than the engine and drivetrain. The underpinnings of a car are responsible for a number of things that are vital: rigidity to handle engine output and body flex in corners, traction under acceleration, ultimate corning grip, quickness and preciseness of steering response, accuracy of cornering and acceleration control, and braking grip. These factors add up to two very important concerns for car people: safety and performance. Without those elements under control in a vehicle with a high performance engine, you've got a dangerously overpowered vehicle, as well as one that can't use the power the engine makes to enhance performance. It also seems to me that people tend to think of the looks of the underside of their vehicle as many businesses view their employee accommodations: a necessary afterthought. While it's true that there aren't going to be people crawling under your car at a stop light that doesn't mean they won't see it at a car show or in a parking lot. Like every other part of the car, you can go from mild — like industrial, but clean — to wild — like smoothing everything so that it looks like the topside of an award winning show car. This chapter demonstrates all of those concepts and shows that the underside of a car can be just as beautiful as it is functional with 41 different images of various chassis set-ups and individual components.

Chapter 7: Interiors

As much as a car is usually designed to be like a beautiful sculpture on the outside — and that's what most people see — the interior is how a driver or passenger experiences it. It always amazes me that people ignore this vital area. An area that to me, is almost more important than the bodywork. Thankfully, no detail in the 49 interiors shown in Chapter 7 got ignored and they all serve as prime examples of how to execute a custom interior. From simple to extravagant, each one was treated to the kind of care befitting a custom street machine that has had no bolt un-turned.

Chapter 8: Body & Paint

In Chapter 8 there are 107 photos of 95 cars covering everything from the overall look of body mods and paint to the minute details that make them different. There's enough food for thought to keep your wheels spinning for a good long time. Visual design seems to be the thing most car people find difficult to execute effectively and there are many reasons for that beyond lacking creativity or the skills necessary to carry out the design. Two of those things are incorporating the kinds of details that give a design a finished quality and the ubiquitous factor of being unable to see the finished product until it's exactly that, finished. Both are a problem for every person who attempts to create a visual design, even those that are trained experts with loads of experience. It sucks when you think you have a great idea in your head, but when all is said and done, the paint choice and light don't combine well to accentuate the lines of the car like you imagined, or that the edges, lines, trim or other elements leave the overall look appearing poorly executed or unfinished. This chapter gives you a chance to see many different finished paint and body mods to get an idea of the effect certain kinds of paints or decorative treatments will have on your ride.

Chapter 9: Lighting

The subject of lighting is an often-overlooked area of custom car design and it's one of those features that can give a project car a finishing touch that is both unique and functional. Although a highly technical area of both design and engineering, lighting can add the right mood and/or improve visibility if done well. Of course there are legal requirements when dealing with certain types of lighting on a vehicle, as well as styling and functionality concerns, so it's important to fully understand what can be done with the lighting on a car before making changes. While gaining that knowledge can be a challenge, it may very well be worth the effort. As Chapter 9 illustrates with 26 different examples, lighting is a very effective part of custom design.

Chapter 10: Before & After

I don't know about anyone else, but I find that a side-by-side comparison of the before and after condition of a project car even more inspiring than a well executed finished ride. The reason for that is, getting to see how far a car has come gives me a practical sense of what I may be able to accomplish given the starting condition of my own. This chapter gives six examples of actual project cars and leaves you with a taste of what you may be able to do with yours.


One of the single most difficult parts of executing a project has to be finding sources for quality parts and services — with 144 different providers, the robust Resources section should help get you on your way. While it may not give you a local source for what you need, it will at least give you an option in case you can't find what you're looking for in your area. In some cases that can be the difference between completing your project and running into a seemingly insignificant obstacle that sidelines it for years. It also adds a tremendous value to the Street Machines Idea Book: Classics • Muscle Cars • Modern, so much so, I dare say it may make it worth picking up a copy just for the Resources section. Although it might sound silly, if you've ever been deep in a project and gotten tripped up by an unexpected problem with parts or work, then you know just exactly how important it is to have the ability to find a source for it.


As creative people have known for a long time, creativity isn't magic, and it doesn't occur in a vacuum. It requires inspiration and more importantly, ideas. What makes something creative, versus a simple copy, is utilizing details from other sources in unique ways. Sue Elliott's Street Machines Idea Book: Classics • Muscle Cars • Modern can help you do what designers have done since the dawn of the automobile: come up with different, creative ways to rethink the car. It does that by giving you a chance to see many different approaches to customizing them without having to hunt far and wide for examples. I would recommend this book to any avid car enthusiast — novice or professional — as an excellent resource for their own custom street machine ideas.

•   •   •

For more information contact Motorbooks on the web at www.motorbooks.com, by phone 1.800.826.6600, or by email at customerservice@motorbooks.com.

U.S. Military Name Tapes Link