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California’s famous Autobooks-Aerobooks store seeks new owner

Words: Elliott Hughes | Photos: Tina Van Curen

For more than 70 years in Burbank, California, a small, privately run bookstore called Autobooks-Aerobooks has been a haven and meeting place for those with a penchant for both wheeled and winged transportation. 

Founded in 1951, Autobooks-Aerobooks is an established feature of the state’s vibrant car culture, located just a stone’s throw from the world-famous Petersen Automotive Museum and the Mooneyes hot rod shop. 

“Burbank has been a car-culture hub since the 1950s, and being based there is one of the things that makes us truly unique. Autobooks is a store, but it’s also a place where car clubs and like-minded people can come to meet and socialise,” says co-owner Tina Van Curen. 

Tina then reveals that this is by no means unusual – legends of the US motoring scene often drop into the store to say hello and peruse the 6000 books lining the shelves

Tina then reveals that this is by no means unusual – legends of the US motoring scene often drop into the store to say hello and peruse the 6000 books lining the shelves

She purchased Autobooks-Aerobooks alongside her husband Chuck Forward in 2008, and the couple have been enthusiastically running the place ever since. 

“Chuck and I had been customers for a long time – we knew about the store before we even knew each other,” Tina explains. “We’ve always been involved with cars and the car community. My dad built hot rods, and I used to race Alfa Romeos. Chuck is an aerospace hydraulics engineer, and he’s also the president of the Citroën Car Club. The original idea was that we would run the store for a few years and then retire – that was 17 years ago!” she laughs.

Although they’ve had to wait much longer than they first thought, Tina and Chuck are now truly ready to embark on their next chapter and savour the well earned fruits of retirement. Consequently, the couple is looking to entrust the stewardship of the business to passionate new owners. 

It’s not the first time the store’s owner has faced the conundrum of passing it on to a new owner. Before Tina and Chuck, Autobooks was owned by Chet Knox, an automotive photographer and ardent member of California’s hot rodding community. Chet owned the store for six years, and only agreed to sell it after making the promise to his wife that once he turned 80, he would sell it and retire.

Tina says: “The first thing we did when we got the store was get it on the internet, and the online sales are continuing to grow – but that’s not our primary business. We had a book signing last weekend for a book about the history of the Road Kings Car Club, which did hot rodding in the San Fernando Valley – it’s very well known. 

“Some of the early Road Kings members are very famous drag racers – Rob Morales, Don Prudhomme and Tommy Ivo – they all started out in the Road Kings, and a bunch of them were at the book signing.”

Tina then reveals that this is by no means unusual – legends of the US motoring scene often drop into the store to say hello and peruse the 6000 books lining the shelves. 

“Ed Pink basically started building engines in our neighbourhood way back when; he’s 94 now, and still comes to the store. So does Ed Iskenderian and he’s 102! The tradition is still there, the San Fernando Valley is still a place where there’s a lot of automotive activity, and a lot of the people involved are local people.”

Testament to that is the fact that the store’s most famous patron, world-renowned petrolhead and comedian Jay Leno, has his own space at the front of the store.

“Jay comes by once a week, and he’s such a nice guy with everybody. He comes to our Saturday morning Cruise In car shows, looks at all the cars and talks to everybody. He also really appreciates people who work on their own cars,” Tina continues.

“The best part about owning the store has been meeting a lot of interesting and nice people. One of the fun things that happens is that somebody will be looking for a particular book about a car, and then somebody else will say, ‘Oh, I have one of those – you should join our club!’ It happens all the time. You make a lot of friends here.”

Clearly, Autobooks-Aerobooks has been a huge part of Tina and Chuck’s lives, but Tina explains that a huge benefit of retirement is the chance to enjoy car culture from a new perspective:

“I intend to volunteer to help some people write their books, and I also have some car trips planned. I would love to spend a week in New England for Audrain Car Week, and it would be silly for us to go across the country for just two days! We’re not leaving the car community at all, we will just have more time to do things when we don’t have to run the store anymore.”

While it’s sad that Tina and Chuck’s tenure as the owners of Autobooks-Aerobooks is at an end, it’s heartening that the couple will make sure the next owner, whoever they might be, has the same passion and reverence for the place that they do.

“The next owner has to be someone from the automotive community, who wants to carry it on. We got into it that way, and so did Chet. I’m sure that we will find the right person – but until we do, I will be there.”

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