Book Reviews, April 1969, April 1969

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“Memories And Machines: The Pattern Of My Life” by Sir Harry Ricardo, F.R.S. 264 pp. 8¾ in. x 5½ in. (Constable & Co. Ltd., 10, Orange Street, London, W.C.2. 45s.)

This is a very enjoyable book; it can almost be said to be two books in one. On the one hand Sir Harry Ricardo outlines in clear language the history and development of steam, gas, oil and petrol engines during his lifetime and of how experiments started when he was at Cambridge led to a proper understanding of combustion inside the cylinder-heads of petrol engines, how stratification of the mixture could be made use of, and why turbulence within the combustion chamber was found to be essential for full efficiency. On the other hand, the book is a most fascinating autobiography by this great engineer, in which he describes living conditions at the turn of the century as skilfully as a professional historian and goes into acceptable detail about his associations with engines of all kinds, leading to his election as a Fellow of the Royal Society, among lesser honours. Above all, Sir Harry writes delightfully, so this is an easy book to read, although covering the most obtuse subjects.

The first motoring event in which he competed, a motorcycle economy trial at Cambridge in 1904, in which he rode his specially-tuned home-built machine, with his own 900 c.c. engine in a frame of Chater-Lea parts, to achieve nearly 160 m.p.g., drew the attention of Professor Hopkinson to Ricardo’s ability, and later they together instituted research into i.c. engine problems in the Cambridge laboratories, using a Crossley gas-engine. (Incidentally, how honest the Undergraduates competing in that trial must have been, to stop where they were after their fuel had run out, until the distance covered could be ascertained, without, apparently, recourse to pedalling or a tow!)

What follows is about Dr. Ricardo’s work, designing a tank engine in 1915 and the foundation of his own research company in 1919. He goes into much detail about the Dolphin car with which he was closely associated at Shoreham, this augmenting our “Fragments on Forgotten Makes” article which appeared last year. The Vox cyclecar had a 750 c.c. twin-cylinder two-stroke Dolphin engine (Ricardo says 100 Vox cars were made, Georgano’s “Encyclopaedia” says about 50), and a larger engine of Ricardo’s performed so well in a big Dolphin car bought by a uncle that it served as a good recommendation when he became a partner in the family firm.

Civil engineering was not to Ricardo’s liking, however, so he left and for a time, until war work engulfed him, experimented with i.c. engines in a shed beside his house at Walton-on-Thames. It is interesting that after 1918 the pre-war Dolphin car which Ricardo had been using as personal transport was handed over to his assistant, Evans, who went on running it for “several more years”, and that at this time Ricardo acquired a 1911 Alfonso Hispano-Suiza for himself and a 1912 12 h.p. Humber for his wife.

Ricardo’s work on anti-knock engine fuels, early aero-engines, the early promise of the single sleeve-valve engine in obviating rapid cylinder wear, and so on, is essential reading for those who like the engineering of this period. The explanations of octane-ratings at that time and the problems to be solved with the engines of those days are most interesting. I recall a present very well-known automobile engineer and industrialist, trained, like Ricardo, to be a civil engineer, who told me that when he was first designing cars he resorted frequently to Ricardo’s famous book on the internal-combustion engine; the manner in which this great work came to be written is covered in “Memories And Machines”. Ricardo refers, also, to the 3-litre T.T. Vauxhall engine he designed for Vauxhall Motors Ltd., but rather surprisingly dismisses it in a few lines and does not provide an illustration of it. And in connection with motor racing he commits a rather unhappy error, saying that at Brooklands “Some of the racing cars, such as the famous ‘Chitty-Bang-Bang’, had been fitted with high-powered ex-aeroplane engines, and others with heavily-supercharged racing engines. The speed of such cars, well over 100 m.p.h., was considered too high for safety even on that highly-banked race-track, and the organising committee had banned the use of superchargers, or of engines of unlimited cylinder capacity”. Quite untrue—supercharged cars and aero-engined cars were permitted at the Track up to its demise in 1939, an example of the latter being the 24-litre Napier Lion-engined lap-record-holding Napier Railton.

Odd how this lapse occurs, for Ricardo was fairly well acquainted with Brooklands, where his Ricardo-Triumph motorcycle, which he deals with very briefly in the book, gained fame for him.

Another interesting aspect of this history is that the facts are included of how Ricardo fought Hillman-Humber successfully for infringement of his cylinder-head patents, the offending car being the new Hillman Wizard, which may well be why the announcement of this car was delayed, as recounted in that other so-interesting autobiography by Dudley Noble, “Milestones in a Motoring Life”, reviewed last month. The witnesses included the Chief Engineer of the L.G.O.C. and another engineer from Thomas Tilling, both of whose ‘buses used Ricardo heads. Sir Harry Ricardo’s consulting firm at Shoreham was used by Napier, Rolls-Royce and Bristol in the aero-engine field, by Vauxhall and Tilling-Stevens on the vehicle side, and by three well known industrial-engine companies. But it was not all work, and the author deals with his boats and other recreations as charmingly and modestly as he writes of his great research and design undertakings.

This is an unexpectedly enjoyable volume. It recalled for me going nearly “off my head” at the age of about 14 while trying to understand the pros and cons of turbulent versus non-turbulent combustion chambers and the technique of flame quenching, as expounded in an article in The Automobile Engineer (then a very fine journal; I regret the passing of its detailed and beautifully illustrated Extra Show Numbers) and of trying to persuade my mother that a model gas-engine would be a suitable toy for the sitting room. (Where have all these models disappeared to? They are not even seen in those recent posh model shops where speculators invest in old models when not buying up old cars. I wonder how many readers recall them, often with ignition by full-size magnetos? I would dearly like to find one, today.) Sir Harry Ricardo’s book reveals much of his talented career, introduces in a fresh light many famous names in our world, and ably recaptures a past age, so it should be high on your list of essential reading matter. The pictures, though, are an anti-climax.—W. B.

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“Automobile Year—1968-1969”. No. 16. Edited by Ami Gauchard 257 pp. 124 in. 12¾ x 9½ in. (Edita S.A., Lausanne. British Distributor, Patrick Stephens Ltd., 9, Ely Place, London, E.C.1. 75s.)

This remains the best produced if no longer the sole annual of its kind. It has beautiful pictures and the colour advertisments compete with those in the text in quality and dignity. The main purpose of this annual is to review the previous season’s racing and rally activities; I regret that this time no list of fresh records is included.

These detailed competition accounts and tables are backed up by a number of articles. The specifications of the World’s production cars, with technical features presented pictorially. I criticised this last time as superficial and space wasting but it does give a quick appreciation of how many manufacturers still cling to rigid back axles instead of using i.r.s. to make their cars cling better to the road, how many have f.w.d., and how the cylinders are disposed, etc.

This time there seems to be less about the specifications of F.1 cars but Japanese racing, hill-climbs, Group 5, Can-Am and Indianapolis, etc., are covered and cars with exotic 1968 coachwork are illustrated. The leading articles deal with Enzo Ferrari, the Pike’s Peak hill-climb (with some fabulous pictures) and 77 years of Peugeot. The last-named article is well illustrated but not too convincingly written, although we note that Zuccarelli is given more credit than Henry for the design of the now-legendary 1912 twin-cam G.P. Peugeot engine and that Boillot’s controversial retirement from the 1914 French G. P. is attributed to a broken valve. There is an article on 1968 cars but it is not so critical as those which Gordon Wilkins used to contribute and the older cars are again ignored.—W. B.

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“The Rolls-Royce Companion” by Kenneth Ullyett. 144 pp. 8½ in. x 5½ in. (Stanley Paul & Co. Ltd., 178-202, Great Portland Street, London. W.1. 25s.)

There is nothing much left to write about Rolls-Royce cars but somehow Ullyett contrives to make his small contribution to the ever interesting subject seem fresh and original. It is a combination of history, technical description and mechanical facts, helped along by illustrations, particularly drawings of the last-named, and the reader is introduced to members or the present Rolls-Royce Company and so on.

For those who cannot afford the exotic books on Rolls-Royce this one is quite a decent substitute.—W. B.

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“Signpost”. 30th. Edition. by W. G. McMinnies. 579 pp. 7¾ in. x 4 7/8 in. (Capable Printers Ltd., 86, Hagley Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham, 16. 25s.)

I had heard of “Signpost”, the book recommending the sort of hotels the ex-motoring writer and driver of Morgans in pre-1914 races liked to stay at in later years, but this is the first edition I have seen. I am disappointed. The 300 colour pictures of expensive hotels are delightful to look at and the Foreword about the founder is nostalgic. But it seems to me that the text reads far too much like an advertisement for each hotel instead of being critical, or if it need not be that, not sufficiently informative.

British hotels are far from perfect—the last one I stayed in, on the outskirts of Wolverhampton, served a pot of tea promptly in my bedroom on arrival but hadn’t removed the tray by next morning, hadn’t turned down the bed in the box-like room, the breakfast-room cloth was soiled and there was no-one in reception to give me the bill when I was in a hurry to leave at just before 9 a.m. McMinnies, with his vast travel experience and love of comfort and service, might have exposed these things in his book unless he has stumbled on 300 absolutely perfect hotels. He does not—but I accept that if every one of the hotels he has included is chosen because each is entirely beyond criticism, then the book will be valuable to those who can afford to live well when away from home.

I note that there is a Signpost Society which sends you a quarterly newsletter, a “dignified window transfer” and a “Short Guide to Wine” booklet, and will discuss hotels, restaurants and routes if you write to it, the subscription to which is three guineas!—W. B.

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“The Sports Car” by Colin Campbell (305 pp. 8¾ in. x. 5½ in., Chapman and Hall Ltd., 11, New Fetter Lane, London, E.C.4., 40s.) has gone into a third edition, revised but following the former format, which commences with an historical survey and then covers modern sports car design and construction item by item. Performance calculations are included and this is an excellent introduction to the subject.

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“Automobile World—1969” (234 pp. 13 in. x 9¼ in., International Automobile Parade; Zurich) continues in the former style, with a review of the World’s production cars, illustrated with over 550 pictures, some in colour, a report on the last Racing Car Show, road test reports on 44 current cars, a survey of the 1968 motor-racing season and some supporting articles. The many colour pictures reach a very high standard and this annual also contains some large and very fine photographs of racing and racing drivers. It is a sort of poorer-customer’s “Automobile Year” and is handled here by World Distributors (Manchester) Ltd., P.O. Box 111, Manchester M60 1TS, at 63s.

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The same distributors have got hold of two Italian annuals, in English translations. One of these is “1916-1939 Vintage and PVT Cars of the World”, (128 pp., 12½ in. x 9¾ in.) a hotchpotch of fine illustrations, many in full colour, of such cars, both contemporary and taken at recent meetings, with a complimentary text. A pleasing browser, this one is good value pictorially but not important—I lost faith after seeing a Horstmann Captioned as a “Hotsman” and inevitably most of the pictures have been published previously. The companion volume is “1890-1915 Veteran Cars of the World”. If you like lots of pictures you may like these books, which cost 30s. each.

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The duplicated 16-page booklet “Reminiscences of Weybridge: The Locke Kings”, published by the Walton & Weybridge History Society, is now available. It contains information about the Hon. H. F. Locke King who built Brooklands Track and pictures of that gentleman and his wife Dame Ethel Locke King. Alas, the names of racing drivers are horribly mis-quoted. This is No. 3 in the series and costs 3s., post free from The Curator, Walton & Weybridge Museum, Church Street, Weybridge, Surrey.—W. B.

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