BOOK REVIEWS, April 1970, April 1970
“The Record Breakers”, by Leo Villa and Tony Gray. 160 pp.
11 3/10 in. x 8 2/5 in. (The Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd., .Astronaut House, Hounslow Road, Fathom, Middlesex. 42s.)
I opened this book with keen anticipation, because Leo Villa has been, I thought, too long in coming forward as a writer and at last, I hoped, it would be possible to enjoy the inside story of the many racing cars and record-breakers on which he worked for the Campbells, Sir Malcolm and Donald. Unfortunately this hook is sheer disappointment.
It gives very few fresh facts in a story which has been told far too many times already. The pictures, reproduced large, are its best excuse for appearing and many of these have been published previously. As if this is not enough to exasperate anyone foolish enough to have wasted a couple of guineas on “The Record Breakers”, ghost-Gray has done his homework badly, so that the book contains too many errors. (Although Villa writes in the first person, it is apparent that Tony Grey has ghosted the work for him.) The early pages are a repetition of the Villa life story that was old-hat before this book was mooted, but there is interest as Leo tells of his youthful experiences with racing driver Foresti. Then the mistakes creep in. For instance, Chitty-Bang-Bang did not have a Mercedes truck chassis. Foresti’s Austro-Daimler which he raced at Brooklands in 1920 is described as really a 110-h.p. Mercedes but to avoid confusion with Zborowski’s sister car, Foresti is said to have re-named it. Now there is some truth in the tie between Mercedes and Austro-Daimler but Zborowski was not racing a 9-litre Mercedes at the Track, so why the confusion? Moreover, the Austrian car is quoted as a 1903 model but was more likely a 1913 car. It could not have raced at Brooklands in 1919 because the Track did not re-open until May 1920, and drivers like Kaye Don, Segrave, Zborowski and Barnato cannot be called “big names, getting under way again after the war”, because they were not racing before the war. The description of the Austro-Daimler is in “popular” style, for those unaccustomed to old racing cars. After some interesting material about Villa riding as mechanic with Foresti in Ballots in the Targa Florio and preparing an unsuccessful Hall-Scot aero-engined Itala for Count Zborowski, in conic more errors— the Indianapolis Sunbeam of Campbell’s described as a 4-litre instead of a 4.9-litre car, his first racing car as a Talbot-Darracq when it was, of course, a Darracq, Villa’s old cyclecar as a Bodelia instead of a Bedelia; and I wonder whether we should not put the story of the Ballot radiator cap mascots being of ”solid silver” alongside legends about the Rolls-Royce “Silver Lady” ? Nor do I know what the “118-m.p.h. lap record” is, which Campbell is quoted as attempting at Brooklands in his Indianapolis Sunbeam.
is still there! (My italics.) Then there is the fatuous caption to a picture of Campbell in a Derracq, said to be his first “Bluebird”, at Brooklands before the First World War, which stetes that “Even experts have been unable to identify the year of this car”. Without claiming to be anything of an expert, I would have thought it should have been pretty obvious that this is the 10 ½-litre 59.6-h.p. Darracq with which Campbell won a 1912 Private Competitors’ Handicap after lapping at over 81 1/2 m.p.h. (it later went much faster); in which case it is a 1906 Vanderbilt Cup car and was not the first “Bluebird”, because Campbell had thus named his 24.8-h.p. Darracq in 1911.
As it is, this book uses too much old-hat material and pictures, suffers from too little research, so that it must be dismissed as a relatively unimportant contribution to the history of speed.—W. B.
“Automobile Year No. 17.” Edited by Douglas Armstrong. 256 pp.
12 1/2 in. x 9 1/2 in. (PSL, 9, Ely Place, London, EC1 95s.)
The 1969-70 edition of that most luxurious of motoring annuals is now in print. It surveys last season’s racing scene comprehensively and with full tabular coverage, and contains the usual supporting articles. The latter include chapters on the Porsche 917 and Matra, on Cars of the Year, etc., but the main attraction is the great many fine pictures, more than in previous editions, some of the Grand Prix colour reproductions being extremely commendable. The former tabular presentation of World car specifications has been dropped, and is unlikely to be much missed, but the crude sketches which illustrate the Diary of 1969 are just as out of keeping in this beautiful volume, bound in Silvertex, in which the advertisements are often as appealing to the eye as the superb colour lithography supporting the text.
This year’s one-make study is of Jaguar, which is rather a hackneyed subject since the publication of Lord Montagu’s book and so many articles. But “Auomobile Year’s” main purpose is a review of the previous season’s competition events, with results, in lavish format. It has many imitators but still stands alone.—W. B.
“Silver Ghosts and Silver Dawn”, by W. A. Rowbotham. 290 pp.
8 3/4in. x 5 2/5 in. (Constable & Co. Ltd., 10 Orange Street, London, WC2. 50s.)
This is one of the best Motoring books I have read for a very long time. The author retired recently from the Board after 44 years with Rolls-Royce, which Company he joined as a premium apprentice in 1919. It might be thought that his autobiography would be full of Rolls-Royce songs of praise and that, as so much has been published since the War about the “Best Car in the World”, he would repeat many of the old stories and legends. Not a bit of it! Mt. Rowbotham is far from fullsome in his praise for Rolls-Royce Ltd., rather the reverse. From criticism of the R-R apprenticeship scheme as it was just after the First World War, this runs through to unfavourable comparisons of the cars Rolls-Royce made just Prior to the Second World War with American automobiles, which Rowbotham got to know well on visits to the States.
“Silver Ghosts and Silver Dawn” may not entirely please R-R fanatics but read it they must, for much fascinating fresh material is included between its covers, presented in a most readable manner. Mr. Rowbotham tells of the unusual way in which this great Company operated, of the rival makes of cars they purchased and tested, of how he came to be involved in the frustrating task of inserting Merlin engines into our war-time tanks, and his ultimate satisfaction in developing Rolls-Royce diesel engines for universal industrial application.
Throughout the book humour prevails and the style is crisp and satisfying, the author, as I have said, not being blinded by R-R supremacy and not pretending that cars made at Derby and Crewe were better-than-perfect.
Much of intense interest to students of Rolls-Royce history is revealed in this important new book. For instance, an American car was bought so that its four-wheel-braking system could be studied when big f.w.b. drums on the Phantom 1 had caused axle-tramp problems. Rowbotham also describes tie Hispano-Suiza brake servo on a Boulogne model which R-R had purchased as “the best . . . of any contemporary car”, but “the foot-pressure needed to obtain maximum stopping power . . . was about the same as that required to crush the shell of a grit-deprived battery chicken’s egg” and later he remarks that “One feature of Marc Birkigt’s brake design was that while only the lightest pressure was needed in the forward direction, they were so heavy in reverse” that he ran backwards down Porlock hill after stalling on the second corner. There is the quite fascinating account of a drive from Derby to West Wittering (to visit Royce), Hives in a f.w.b. Silver Ghost, Rowbotham in the Hispano-Suiza, and of other intimate aspects of getting the R-R braking system right (the troubles R-R had with f.w.b.. were many, even the Sales Department describing their system incorrectly.) Rowledge, incidentally, is credited with making the R-R servo-braking system the best of all contemporary brakes and is amusingly described as driving a Le Mans-type Lorraine-Dietrich owned by Rolls-Royce in the most inappropriate garb.
Rowbotham is so very interesting about so many Rolls-Royce matters that his book is a most significant contribution to history— he tells, for example, of what the Kestrel aero-engine owed to the American Curtis-Wright V12 in respect of its monobloc aluminium cylinder casting, rather as a Mercedes engine may have suggested separate welded steel water jackets for the Eagle. He is critical of the Springfield Rolls-Royce but considers that we would never have won the Battle Of Britain but for the achievements resulting from the Schneider Trophy contest—with which I agree heartily, having long ago made up the couplet: “If the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, the Battle of Britain was decided over Calshot Water”. . . .
That this is not just another Rolls-Royce glee-hook is clear when you find Rowbotham quoting Lord Hives as saying that although it was undoubtedly the most expensive car in the world, the Phantom II was no longer the quietest or most comfortable vehicle in the world. This and other franknesses about the Company might suggest that Rowbotham took up his pen with a chip on his shoulder—rather, I suggest, such revelations stem from his intrinsic honesty and his habit of looking at the product from the viewpoint of its success commercially—how, otherwise, could he regard pre-war American cars, with their poor brakes, odd steering, plain facias and dismal-looking “tin” engines, as .superior to a P2 or P3 Rolls-Royce, except as tools of efficient transport and nothing more?
Whatever the truth, Rowbotham’s book is going to cause something of an uproar in R-R enthusiasts’ circles and it should be widely read by all who are interested in the subject. The author is extremely forthcoming about the ways in which Rolls-Royce ears were tested before the war, it being his task to organise these tests and to set up a test centre in France. [I recall that he was generous to me in contributing articles on this subject to MOTOR SPORT during the lean years of the war.—ED.]
To read Rowbotham’s remalkable contribution to R-R lore is to learn much that is intriguing, to capture the atmosphere of long tourneys in fine cars in pre-war times, and to look into the absorbing closed-shop that is motor-car manufacture, with intimate glimpses of how Sir Henry Royce and his engineers worked at it. There is the story of what happened when Rowbotham optimistically undertook a winter journey in America in an experimental Park Ward Rolls-Bentley, which will not please Bentley fanciers. (Incidentally, I make no excuse for using the usually verboten term “Rolls-Bentley”, because that is how Rowbotham names these cars.) He tells of how a 1937 Rolls-Royce P3 proved inferior to a straight-8 Buick at General Motors’ proving ground, is very interesting on the subject of E. R. Hall’s TT performances with Derby Bentleys (disagreeing with W. O. Bentley’s observations on this race) and adds some delectable new facts about experimental R-R cars which will be news to most self-styled R-R experts. Do you, for instance, know what power the Rolls-Royce Myth developed or in what car its prototype engine was installed? (The Myth, for example, gets just ten words in ‘Anthony Bird’s standard work on Rolls-Royce cars.) All this and much more is gleaned from this exceptional book, which is as readable as Minchin’s “Under My Bonnet”, and has a likeness to the autobiography of Sir Miles Thomas.
The R-R works foreman under whom Rowbotham was apprenticed was Wormald, presumably the same Wormald who was at Daimler’s before the war, as recalled by S. C. H. Davis in “Motor Racing”. I imagine that Rowbotham’s friend, Geoffrey Summers, is the person who raced his Silver Ghost at Brooklands in 1922, and what happened when the Summers brothers staged a private speed trial in Flintshire between 13 cars in 1926, these including a 30/98, a Hispano-Suiza, a Lincoln and a 3-litre Bentley, makes good reading.
“Silver Ghosts and Silver Dawn” is something no R-R follower can afford to miss; I think they will find the chapters dealing with tank development and industrial engine design (and the author’s farming exploits) nearly as interesting as those about Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars from 1919 to the birth of the post-war models—and Rowbotham is Very interesting about the latter!
Apart from a kw spelling mistakes of names like Segrave and Roesch, errors are minimal. I do not have space to discuss all the spice contained in this latest book on Rolls-Royce, nor would it be fair to do so. But, believe me, it is an important and welcome book, highly recommended; if it draws other Rolls-Royce executives to set down their reminiscences, perhaps in answer to some of W. A. Rowbotham’s more -controversial points, rather as W. O. Bentley replied to a book by A. C. F. Hillstead, we shall indeed be in clover.—W. B.
“Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War”, by R. J. Francillon. 570 pp.
8 3/4 in. x 5 12 in. (Putnam & Co. Ltd., 9, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2. 105s.)
This is a highly specialised subject but Putnam have produced a full-scale book on it in their standard layout and as usual beautifully produced. To students of Japanese history, quite apart from aeronautics, this is a most valuable book. It commences with brief histories of the Japanese aircraft industry and Army, Air and Navy Forces, and gives Japanese aircraft designation systems, camouflage and markings. It then describes individually Kawaski aircraft from the Ki-10 to Ki-119, Kayaba Ka-1 and Ka-2, and deals in this fashion with Kokusai, Mitubishi, Nakajima, Rikugun, Tachikawa, Aichi, Kawanishi, Kyusha, Yokosuka, and lesser types of flying machines from the Land of the Rising Sun.
There are comprehensive appendices about foreign-designed aircraft, aircraft carriers, aero engines, armament, designations and coding.—W. B.
If you are touring France this year you may find it adds to your enjoyment to equip yourself with a copy of “Cathedrals of France” by Auguste Rodin (278 pp., 9 1/2 in. 7 3/5 in.), which is concerned with the formal characteristics of sculpture and architecture and contains 88 Rodin drawings to explain how these are identical. This, the only book Rodin has written, has chapters on the cathedrals of Reims, Mantes, Amiens and Etampes. It is published by The Hamlyn Group, Hamlyn House, 42, The Centre, Feltham, Middlesex.