British Aviation—The Pioneer Years by Harald Penrose. 607 pp. 8-4/5 in. x 5-2/5 in. (Putnam & Co. Ltd., 9, Bow Street, London, WC2. 84s.)
Yet another of Putnam’s beautifully produced and illustrated books, this big volume is especially interesting because it concerns itself with the dawn of heavier-than-air flight in this country from the viewpoint of an author who was there and saw most of it happen, knew personally most of the famous pioneer aviators. Consequently this account is both more readable and more valuable than a second-hand history of the remarkable period it covers. And it covers the very early days, when Maxim was making his experiments with enormous machines running on railway tracks and Pilcher was bravely trying out man-lifting gliders and Cody was building his aeroplanes at the Farnborough balloon factory, down to the exploits of those who gave Britain her fighter and bomber aeroplanes of the 1914/18 war.
In particular this book gives detailed and fascinating accounts of the pioneer work of men like A. V. Roe, S. F. Cody, Frederick Handley Page, Geoffrey de Havilland, T. O. M. Sopwith, Hiram Maxim, George White, Robert Blackburn, Mervyn O’Gorman, Capper and others of that empirical era. Some very rare drawings and illustrations are included, the text is very detailed and takes care to set the scene against the background of the times, and there are appendices giving details of significant aerial patents of 1842-1914 and brief biographies of famous aviation personalities, from Ader Clement to Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin.
Of particular interest is the fuss that developed before the outbreak of war in 1914 about Britain’s aerial strength and the accidents that happened before proper stressing of aircraft structures was understood. I am glad that Penrose quotes liberally from contemporary sources, including some choice passages from the pen of C. G. Grey, and that a picture of the “Bluebird” tea-rooms at Brooklands is included. It is also interesting to recall, from dimensions given, how very large some of the early rubber-driven flying models were, with which people like A. V. Roe experimented before building real aeroplanes. Roe’s prize-winning model, for instance, was 10 ft. long, had a 9 ft. span, weighed 6 lb. and used 1 lb. of rubber—and there were bigger ones! The days Penrose describes so vividly will never return but it would be fun to reconstruct big models of this kind—I know of one motoring enthusiast who releases big model hot-air balloons, and here is a suggestion for enlarging on this theme!
In brief, an interesting, useful and nostalgic contribution to aviation Itterature.—W. B.
Automobile Year- 1966-67. Edited by Ami Guichard. 281 pp. 12-3/4 in. x 9-1/4. in. (U.K. Distributors: G.T. Foulis & Co. Ltd., 1-5 Portpool Road, London EC1, 63s.)
This lavish de luxe annual seems to have regained much of its former quality with this, the 14th edition. There is good pictorial coverage of last season’s competition activities, including colour plates, although Jack Brabham fooling about in a long beard as the old man of motor racing is given too much prominence, if you agree that in retrospect such goings on detract from the dignity of a World Champion.
The historical theme this year is Citroen, well covered by Carl Wagner, even though he has not found many new illustrations, although there is a fine colour shot of a 5 c.v. cloverleaf. There is the inevitable article on safety in car construction, an illustrated history of the Mille Miglia by Piero Cassuci, and Douglas Armstrong reports on the 1966 Grand Prix races and the new cars of that year. His race reports are backed up by coverage of the important sports and GT races by Wagner and rallies by Sprinzel. The G.P. reports are embellished by useful tables of past winners, lap chart, starting grid, retirements and results, with circuit maps. There is a rather space wasting tabular treatment of specifications of the World’s automobiles, special articles on the Oldsmobile Toronado and Corvette SS, a page of Cahier on Brabham, and a useful page of records homologated during 1966.
Advertising is permitted in this lavish annual but the full-page colour insertions by firms of International repute like Longines, Deinhard, Fiat, Lancia, Schuler, Pininfarina, Renault, Fram, B.M.W., Shell, Solex, Mercedes-Benz, N.S.U., Bosch, Lucas and Jaguar add rather than detract from the volume’s appearance.—W. B.
Racing Cars by Richard Hough. 152 pp. 11-2/5 in. x 8 in. (Paul Hamlyn, Ltd., Drury House, Russell Street, London, WC2, 15s.)
This is a browsing book that represents good value, containing as it does a claimed 280 action pictures of racing cars of all ages, some of them in colour. Practically all are well known to close followers of the sport but for the younger generation or those new to the game it is convenient to have them all together in one volume and there is sufficient text to provide a pocket-history of motor racing. The theme extends to the present day and Jim Clark contributes the Introduction.
If at times we seem intent on listing errors in the books we review, this arises from the knowledge of how seriously future historians can be misled by errors in current sources of reference. Apart from the fact that he seems deliberately to have avoided using more than two pictures of racing at Brooklands, there is little to complain of in Hough’s latest pot-boiler, except that a 1922 G.P. Sunbeam is captioned as a 1914 T.T. car, and the 1913 G.P. Delage so beautifully restored in America by Edgar Roy is surely not to be seen in the Montagu Museum ? But there is a great deal of well-indexed browsing in this book for a very modest outlay.—W.B.