Books for Easter

“By Jupiter! The Life of Sir Roy Fedden” by Bill Gunscon. 157 pp. 8¼” x 5¾” (The Royal Aeronautical Society, 4 Hamilton Place, London, W1V OBQ £5.00).

This is a long overdue and entirely excellent study of the late Sir Roy Fedden. I had known that Roy Fedden was associated with the Straker Squire car, which he raced at Brooklands before the war, and that he was responsible for those very effective sleeve-valve Bristol radial air-cooled aero-engines that made inroads into the monopoly enjoyed by water-cooled in-line engines. What I did not know, and which Bill Gunston brings out so clearly and powerfully, is that Fedden was a character in his own right, was a man who worked tirelessly for perfection, of the smallest aspects of his successful range of aero-engines, and who in the later stages of a remarkable career tried to make an economy-car which could be described as a British Volkswagen.

Because Gunston is an aviation expert, who was Technical Editor of Flight after leaving the RAF, where he had been a Flying Instructor, he can handle the technical aspects of “By Jupiter!” concisely but accurately, and consequently all manner of fascinating items emerge, about engine development, early supercharging, the aeroplanes in which experimental and prototype engines were test-flown and what happened to them, the emergence of Service types in the biplane and later eras, and so on. I found it all most informative and enjoyable, and, of course, up to the standards one would expect from a R. Aero. Society publication – soft-cover in this case, with appropriate illustrations.

From our point of view this book covers the pre-war Straker Squire car business, including the low-powered Shamrock which set that Company on the road to success (there is a picture of the Shamrock) and it sorts out the complexities of the different Companies that took the Straker name.

It refers to Fedden’s aspirations for the 1914 TT with a 3.26-litre o.h.c. 80 b.h.p. engine which never made the team of cars that started in this race, and to the post-Armistice 4-litre o.h.c. Straker Squire Six, admitting that this had close associations with Rolls-Royce (nee Mercedes) aero-engine designs which Straker Squire had made under licence during the war.

It also refers to the coil-sprung, 1.2-litre small car designed by Fedden, which had three air-cooled cylinders and a horizontal crankshaft (his 1946 car had a vertical shaft), for which orders for 2,000 with cash deposits were taken at the 1919 London Motor Show. The book contains illustrations of Fedden at Brooklands, his TT cars and the light car engine. The later chapters of this important addition to aviation and motoring history look at, among other things, Fedden’s ideas for a post-WW2 small car, with which Sir Alex Moulton was for a time associated, and his light aero-engines. The testing of the engines for the former project is delightfully conveyed by a chapter which goes: “… Professor Peck’s falsetto voice could be heard above the din saying ‘Ah, this really is much better … these readings are very good indeed, in fact I think we can call them magnific …`BANG!’, as the engine exploded.” That sets the style of this notable book, which is technically accurate, and sufficiently detailed to carry the story easily along without being tedious, and is leavened with anecdotes like this one. It also shows what manner of man Fedden was and deals with his social life. He is a product of Clifton College and was apprenticed to the British Motor Co. His first taste of motoring was in a wealthy American’s Duryea while the Fedden family was on holiday at Bettws-y-Coed around 1898, and later his father bought an 8½ h.p. two-cylinder Decauville from Vincent’s of Reading, which was registered AE4, the fourth car, we are told, in the Bristol region; it needed pushing up the local hills.

Other motoring items are that relating to the blower-4½-Bentley, referred to on page 450 in this issue, the fact that Fedden had a twin-cam Bugatti circa 1932, and that someone still owning a Straker-Squire called on Sir Roy at his fishing hide-out in Wales, shortly before he died. Gunston refers to a Bill Hamilton of New Zealand as a winning co-driver at Le Mans but must have confused this Hamilton with Duncan Hamilton, who shared the victorious Jaguar with Tony Rolt in 1953.

Apart from his prowess at ocean racing with his own yachts, Fedden remained a fast car-driver – there is a reference to his average of more than 60 m.p.h. from Rome to Calais in his Bentley S2 one summer day, after he had retired from his post with Leyland’s. He was then 65 years of age. Finally, was the Bill Renwick who joined Fedden’s post-War “people’s car” project the Renwick of Aston Martin, Renwick and Bertelli associations?

At last new aviation books are appearing again and the aero-engine side is getting some attention. “By Jupiter!” is among such books and is a treat indeed. It is available direct from the Royal Aeronautical Society, address above. – W. B.

“Toby A Real Life Ripping Yarn” by A. J. Smithers. 191 pp. 10¼” x 6¾” (Gordon & Cremonesi, New River House, 34, Seymour House, London, N8 OBE. £7.90).

We have referred before, many years ago in “Cars in Books”, to some of the exploits of that remarkable self-made soldier, Sir A. “Toby” Rawlinson, who took his racing Hudson, a car intended for the 1914 TT but not apparently entered for it, to France with the RAC Corps of volunteer drivers and their own cars on the outbreak of war, and later formed an anti-aircraft gun battery in London and ran the Capital’s Mobile Defence against Zeppelin raids from 1915, using guns mounted on vee-eight De Dion Bouton and other chassis. Some of these items possibly came from Rawlinson’s own books; that about the defence of London (Andrew Melrose, 1923) I found in a secondhand bookshop in the City, only yards from the barracks from where Rawlinson had operated – now, of course, the bookshop is no more. (The other books were Rawlinson’s “Adventures on the Western Front” and “Adventures in the Near East”.)

What Major Smithers has done is to add a graphic account of Lt. Col. Toby Rawlinson’s war-time adventures to other military works. He presumably based some of this on the aforesaid books, as he was born in 1919, too late to have served at the same time as the intrepid Toby. The result is an interesting account of this mobile field of action and how the incredible Rawlinson, and others like the Duke of Westminster, with his “fine Rolls-Royce and the most accomplished in the country”, and Oscar Morrison, Jimmy Radley and C. D. Baker-Carr, who are described as “racing drivers of distinction” drove their cars as high-speed messengers serving the British Army’s GHQ. Some of the adventures and near-escapes of these gallant gentlemen have appeared in accounts of how Rolls-Royce cars served at the Front, but in this book it is seen from Rawlinson’s angle and his subsequent activities in the Middle East round the story off.

This is a book for those who like a real-life adventure story, factually presented, rather than a detailed Rawlinson biography. I would have liked to have known more of the enigmatical Toby Rawlinson, but this book does not go further back than 1914, apart from telling us that Rawlinson was “a former Cavalry Officer who had gone on to become one of the most famous racing drivers of the day” – and naturally I would like to know more about that! In fact, I think he did some racing with Darracqs. The book also describes him as having been, before the war, “For some years past … managing director of a firm near Paris which designed and built the fastest cars in the business.” I think this refers to the Darracq Company but the author is clearly better equipped to write of military than motoring matters, as these Darracqs were not particularly successful, although I suppose the 200 h.p. V8 Darracq of 1905 might be called one of the fastest cars of its time. Rawlinson is said to have known the roads of France intimately due to his motor-racing activities and there is the exaggeration of calling the aforesaid Hudson “the fastest car in the country”. It is described as having “a powerful engine, a chassis of immense strength and, superimposed upon it, a tiny aluminium body with two narrow seats”. We are told it was what the French term un torpedo! Nevertheless, I do not quite see even the intrepid Toby driving it “at a steady eighty miles per hour” from London to Southampton, with roads as they were then, to lead the RAC party. He was then 47. I would like to have learned more of the man, who was an aviator as well as a racing driver – he took his “ticket”, I think, at Shellbeach in 1910, on a Henry Farman, the third pilot to do so, after Moore-Brabazon and the Hon. Charlie Rolls – but the present book deals only with his war-time activities, although it does tell us that this brave man who served without leave throughout the war, sacrificing his health by so doing, was given the CBE (and later, although not mentioned, the DSO) and a temporary pension equivalent to fractionally over 1.72½p increased “after a battle royal” to about 2.89p – which cannot encourage Army recruiting and died suddenly in India in 1925, after a game of polo. “Toby” has no illustrations, but Motor Sport did publish one of the Hudson, complete with those “four extra wheels” and the machine-guns, which I am surprised to find could be bought in London in 1914, “at a shop in Cannon Street”, as easily as buying tobacco. – W. B.


For those avid about military vehicles Gresham Books, Old Woking, Surrey, have reproduced the “US Army Standard Military Motor Vehicles 1943” manual – TM 9-2800. This 560-page book with over 500 illustrations, is priced at £9.50. – W. B.

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Those who organise rallies, gymkhanas, auction-sales and whatnot, will probably find their requirements for equipment, side-shows, etc. catalogued in “The Showman’s Directory – 1979”, which is available for £1.00 from Brook House, Mint Street, Godalming, Surrey GU7 1HE.

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Two one-make year books serve enthusiasts for those two famous sports car marques, Austin Healey and MG. The Austin-Healey Year Book 1978 is a 12″ X 8½” glossy production compiled by Paul Skilleter, a follow up to his 1977 Jaguar production. Packed with pictures, many never previously published, it covers: a history of Healeys, with reminiscences from Gerald G. Coker, designer of the 100-style body shape; in-depth coverage of the Austin-Healey Club’s activities during 1978; advice on maintenance and the obtaining of spares; facts and figures on all Austin-Healeys from 1953 to the last Sprite of 1971, including performance and production data; and a list of specialist services available to owners. A useful reference work and an appropriate tribute to Donald and Geoff Healey and the men who helped them start the legend in Warwick, relating as it does to the 25th Anniversary Year of the Austin-Healey marque. Published by the Magpie Publishing Co., it costs £6.50 from specialist booksellers or £7.20 incl. p. and p. from Bookstop, Holmerise, Seven Hills Road, Cobham, Surrey.

Less ambitious, in production quality, but equally useful in content to anyone with an MG, is the MG Owners’ Club Year Book 1979 published by that Club from its 13, Church End, Over, Cambridgeshire (0954 31125) address. The 8,200 members of this five-year-old club will get their copies free (subscription is £5 per annum plus a £2 joining fee), non-members must pay £2, which will be credited to the purchaser should he join the Club. This is a Club devoted largely to assisting owners to keep their MGs on the road, not a concours and racing organisation and this is reflected in the wealth of technical advice contained in the Year Book. Good value this. – C. R.