If you’re the sort of person who reads Ars Technica, there’s a good chance you appreciate the finer details in life. You know, the tiny nuggets of information other people might leave out, like a 12-part history of the Amiga, told over more than a decade, or just why the kerning in the OS X Terminal was so objectionable. If you’re feeling seen right now, and you’re looking to amass more obscure facts that you can use to educate the normies in your life, do I have the book for you. It’s called A Medium-Sized Book of Boring Car Trivia, and it’s written by Sniff Petrol, aka Richard Porter, a British automotive journalist and writer whose work you almost certainly know from Top Gear and The Grand Tour, even if you didn’t know that you knew that. (See? Another way to “well, actually” your less erudite friends.)
The experience of reading this book was a little like the first time I played Forza or Gran Turismo online. Up until then, I thought I was pretty good, but realized quickly there are some true aliens out there, with skills that are the benchmark to aspire to. When it comes to knowing random car facts, Porter is up there.
Some of the trivia is recent, like the fact that Jaguar’s current supercharged V6 actually uses the same engine block as the V8, just with two cylinders blanked off. That’s either a wonderful example of British engineering efficiency or of its audaciously cheeky laziness. Maybe both. Other facts date back a bit, like explaining how you can tell the true color of a 1996 Volkswagen Polo Harlequin, seen below:
A whole section is devoted to car names. Many of these anecdotes involve fights between car companies, like when Porsche told Aston Martin it couldn’t use “GT3” for a spicy variant of the Vantage, so the latter called its car a GT12 because that was four times better. Porter also explains acronyms, like the XJ that Jaguar uses for its sedans or what Mitsubishi actually meant by i-MiEV.
Other facts are perhaps even more obscure. Apparently, Ford once got stuck with a thousand actual ponies that it tried to use as an incentive to sell Edsels, but everyone wanted the $200 cash alternative instead. And there are several descriptions of long-lost (and occasionally even found) prototypes, like a V12-engined Range Rover P38A or a pair of mid-engined Group B Peugeot 205 Ti homologation specials, one fitted with a Lotus active suspension system, that disappeared into General Motors for 30 years before being auctioned off in 2018.
As you’ll no doubt appreciate after hearing just a few of those snippets, one complaint you could level at A Medium-Sized Book of Boring Car Trivia is that the title is inaccurate. At 101 pages, we can quibble over whether Porter’s book is short or medium; more importantly, I think you’ll agree the random facts it contains are anything but boring. If you’re looking for a Mother’s Day present for the matriarch who’s also a petrolhead (or maybe just something to while away the time in lockdown), I highly recommend it. (It’s also less than $6, if that helps.)