The Author Behind A Man And His Watch Is Back To Tackle The Car World
Matt Hranek’s first book, A Man and His Watch, is an anthology of personal and passionate stories, told by watch enthusiasts from around the world. As Hranek says, “Cars were obviously next.”
Matt Hranek has a passion for sharing the stories of others. Admittedly, he would characterize his motives as all a bit “selfish” seeing as how the stories being told focus on some of the things he loves most. If you’re familiar with his first book, A Man and His Watch, you’ll know that even though his motivation for seeking out these stories is slightly biased, the result was a fantastic mosaic of relatable and enthusiastic tales from all walks of watch culture.
Hranek’s follow up book, A Man and His Car, is both more of the same and entirely new and fresh at the same time. This time around, as you may have guessed, Hranek dives into cars and their owners, much like he did watches. I sat down with Hranek (via Zoom, of course) to find out how the new book came together and what it means to him.
Bryan Campbell: For someone who might not be familiar with your previous work, what is A Man and His Car about?
Matt Hranek: I did A Man and His Watch, and that was a real passion project for me and came from a really honest, thoughtful place, as far as my own personal story. And it really wasn’t a “watch book,” it was a storybook. And my publisher realized people like reading these stories. Not just looking at watches. Then they asked, “What’s next?”
For me, it was a very easy transition to make the next one about cars. Not only because I had my own personal connection in a story, but I knew, from hanging out with car guys at car shows and concours all my life, there was great emotionally driven storytelling to be shared.
I knew I was going to irritate a lot of car guys because I missed thousands of stories, so I had to figure out what my angle was with all of this. So with the watch book that celebrated the Casio F7 as well as the Paul Newman Daytona, I really felt cars had the same dialogue.
I wasn’t interested in price-list Ferraris – as much as I do like them – I really wanted the stories to drive the book. From the Fiat Panda to an extremely rare Delahaye or Hudson, that was the gamut.
BC: Putting this book together certainly had to be an adventure. Where did it take you?
MH: I traveled around the world, chasing down stories and following stories I knew were there – through the south, to Los Angeles, to the Ford Museum in Detroit, the south of France, the outskirts of the UK, and back all over the US. The Peterson Museum in LA was a big stop. They let me into the archive, and that is the most overwhelming place I have ever been. They have so many epic cars there. It’s almost impossible to choose which to focus on.
My love affair with cars also happened via television and pop culture. So when I saw those cars that really resonated with me – Magnum PI’s Ferrari 308, a ‘32 Ford Hotrod, Elvis’s Pantera – that’s when I thought, “This, to me, speaks to the theme of the book.”
To have Ford as the real benchmark of the automotive experience was really something. And then in Europe, for me, that was Fiat. You have these two companies who changed the course of how people traveled, and in the meantime, designed some really beautiful machines. They really democratized the automobile.
BC: Was there anything you discovered on this trip that caught you off-guard?
MH: I didn’t think I’d like Jay Leno as much as I did! I’ll be honest: I wasn’t a fan of his stand up. I thought he was funny, but I wasn’t a super fan. After I talked to him and heard his story, I’m a super fan. I heard myself laughing more often than any of the other interviews I recorded. And his story was poignant, emotional, and amazing.
What I’ve learned about Jay, and other car guys, is they’re all the same, essentially. There’s a certain positive obsessiveness; there’s an emotional tie-in to their story. They’ve been thinking about this story for a long time. With the watch book, I really had to pull stories out of the watch guys. The stories were there, but they never really articulated them or talked about them. No one really asked them about their watches before.
Car guys? They have their stories dialed in! That was the common thread. These car guys have been thinking about why they care about this car for a long time. Even before they actually owned it. It started, like myself and many of these guys, when we were kids. And that was exciting to find that common thread – no matter if you’re one guy with a rare Bugatti or another with a 1982 rag top Fiat Panda.
BC: Are there any standout stories?
MH: Ralph Lauren, of course. I knew Ralph has this epic collection, but, again, for me, it was about which of his cars told the story about who he is. The one car that touched him emotionally. Rather than just listing a collection of priceless, beautiful things.
Then there was a kid I met who contacted me early on when I started this. He had a Honda that was his father’s. There was this very complicated story about his father passing away, and this car was left to him. And, at one point, the car was totaled, but it was so important for him to hold on to a piece of that car.
When I met him, he pulled out a box of parts he had salvaged from this Honda and wanted to keep forever – the valve cover, steering wheel, ignition. It was a portrait of a car. I felt the story was deeply emotional and touching.
BC: Despite the vastly diverse places you traveled to and the people you met, were there any commonalities?
MH: Although there are socioeconomic, demographic, and cultural differences, the single thread between all of this is the same: A passion for this fossil-fuel-burning machine. The passion for the object is the same, no matter what language you speak, no matter your job title.
BC: Is there anything you want potential readers to know about the book not covered in the book jacket summary or isn’t immediately apparent?
MH: [The book is] not about expensive or rare cars. It’s about passionate people with cars and stories that I selfishly liked. It’s about the passion of four wheels.
When we were choosing the cover, my gut said, since we had Paul Newman’s Daytona on the watch book, Steve McQueen’s Jaguar would make a great cover. Then I photographed a friend’s Series II Land Rover that is a hodge-podge, beat up, buffed out, abstract model of a car. I spent the weekend with him in that Series II, and I’ve never seen somebody so passionate about an object.
It’s the humble Land Rover [on the cover]; basically, the shape of a car you make when you’re a kid. And that tells the story of every man’s car better than a priceless, unobtainable thing.