Book reviews, April 1980, April 1980
“The Complete Book of Electric Vehicles” by Sheldon R. Shacket. 168 pp. 11″ x 8″ (Davidson Publishing Limited, 109 Southampton Row, London WC18 4HH. £3.95).
In an age when we are continually being told that liquid motor-fuels may run out in the near future, a panic which seems to have been raising its alarming head at least 80 years ago, there is bound to be growing interest in alternative fuels, including electricity. This large soft-cover book sets out to introduce the subject, explain its technicalities, deal with the history of the electric automobile since 1947 (the author claims that an experimental American electric-car was made at that date, and quotes an even-earlier battery-powered car) including the early LSR contenders and those electric town cars which I always think lend themselves rather handily to model-making, and give a very full account of present-time electric vehicles of many kinds, including railway locos. Home-built electric cars are not ignored, some on a VW base, experimental electrics are given plenty of space, and the book is full of pictures.
It may be significant that no fewer than 25 Clubs devoted to fostering electrically-propelled vehicles are listed, together with suppliers of parts for making same. There is an interview with Mr. McKee, who is said to have built and tested more experimental electric vehicles designed by McKee Engineering than any other American Company, and there is a brief look at other sources of energy. Electric bicycles and motorcycles are discussed, and altogether this is a publication for those who like looking into the future, who enjoy experimenting, and for those optimists who can actually bear to look at milk-floats crawling home on exhausted batteries, and still think in terms of what the late C. G. Grey of The Aeroplane called “electrickery”. It is very well done. — W. B.
“Motoring Mascots of the World” by William C. Williams. 196 pp. 10″ x 8″. (Cop of Kensington (Sales) Ltd., 2-31 Queens Gate Mews, Queens Gate, London SW7. £14.95).
What word can I use about a book which describes and illustrates with clear photographs 789 car mascots, except fascinating! This is an invaluable reference work for motoring historians, for those restoring old cars, and for anyone interested in Art as it applies to the motor car. The book was published three years ago in America and we should be indebted to Coys of Kensington for making it available in this country. It is divided into chapters devoted to mascots used by car manufacturers, the well-known Lalique and other glass mascots, those adornments from commercial, Club, and personality sources, and mascots sold by accessory firms. When I say that apart from the 789 individual pictures (on the finest glossy art-paper) of such mascots — 790 with the Frontispiece picture of the first known car-mascot of St. Christopher, used it is thought, in 1896 — the book contains Appendices listing Sculptors and Designers, Glass Manufacturers and Designers, and Mascot Dealers and Retailers, the scope of this remarkable book will be appreciated, as will the fact that it is an essential work of reference, and therefore beyond price.
All the popular mascot themes are there to amuse and captivate those who study the book — animals, bathing-girls, nymphs, birds of a different kind, and the inevitable policeman and “Old Bill” mascots. Among the car-maker’s section, naturally the expected Rolls-Royce, Hispano-Suiza, Packard, Buick, Cadillac and all the rest of the traditional mascots are there, with most of their many variations. But, more important, some very rare and unexpected items will be found. The elaborate Ballot and Vulcan mascots are there but it is rarities that will make this book so valuable to all students of automotive history. It is all the more valuable because details of each mascot, where known, are given, as captions to the pictures, so that dating such mascots and checking whether they are made of the original materials and fitted to the correct year and model of car, is made possible, for about the first time ever. I defy anyone not to find something new among the 460 manufacturers’ mascots illustrated, which run from that of the 1926 Ajax to those mascots used on the Russian Volga in 1959 and on the Swiss Martini and Pic-Pac cars Of 1925, and from 1911 onwards, respectively. Are you getting the message?
The Foreword, Preface, Introduction and Acknowledgements are in both French and English and that the author has a sense of humour is seen in his comment about the Pierce-Arrow archer who as time went on gained weight, removed his clothes, and made himself comfortable — this to remind readers that mascots were varied frequently in detail, for which Williams makes adequate provision in the illustrating of his unique book.
He says in his Introduction that although Vulcan had offered its blacksmith since 1902 and Rolls-Royce its “Spirit of Ecstasy” since 1911, these were isolated cases and the flood of makers-approved mascots did not commence until the ‘twenties, he quotes this trend as numbering the Star’s Dancing Nude on a six-pointed Star and the Farman Icarus in 1922, the Lorraine-Dietrich Stork and the Chrysler Winged-Hat-of-Hermes in 1924, the Minerva Goddess-of-Wisdom in 1925, the Cadillac Herald and Pontiac Indian in 1926, the Buick Goddess and the Vauxhall Wyvern in 1927 and the De Soto Warrior of 1928 as landmarks; and if you, no more than I, couldn’t have put “starting dates” to these mascots without endless research, you will see what you are missing by not having this book to hand!
The author is very interesting on the subject of the mascots chosen by Royalty (HM Queen Elizabeth II’s liking for St. George and the Dragon, HM the Queen Mother’s mascot depicting Britannia sitting on the Globe, HM King George VI’s taste for the Imperial crown and lion, etc.), and he says of Rolls-Royce that he has to confess that he considers the best choice of the mascot designs submitted to them by Charles Sykes wasn’t made, but that the one adopted “suited the best taste of the time”. There is also the story (true or false?) of the English gentleman who removed the “Spirit of Ecstasy” from his Rolls-Royce and substituted a stainless-steel pin removed from his own hip joint, inscribed “A loyal supporter”!
To revert to this book’s great value to historians, it illustrates and describes seven different Rolls-Royce mascots (and six Bentley “Flying-Bs”), eight varieties of Studebaker mascot from 1927 to 1963, 30 Packard mascots, and 11 for Cadillac, for instance. The makes of car are divided into countries for quicker reference. The R-R mascot by Charles Sykes gets a little monologue all to itself and in many cases the manufacturer of the mascot is quoted, where this was different from the car manufacturer. Do you know what the Ruston-Hornsby or the Bucciali had as mascots? They are among the hundreds of illustrations in this admirable book, from which we learn that Ballot had an adornment known as “La Renommee” from 1923-1928, in silver-plated bronze, the designer being Emile Peynot, while naturally the bronze Elephant used on Bugatti Royales and designed by Rembrandt Bugatti has its place. The clarity of the pictures used throughout the book is highly commendable, especially as many mascots are now extremely rare — where, for example, would you photograph the Praga encircled-bird or the Essex “Spirit of St. Louis” aeroplane?
“Motoring Mascots of the World” is dedicated to Harry Pulfer of La Crescenta, California and the author was helped by Edourard Lambert. With Tim Nicholson’s “Car Badges of the World” (Cassell, 1970), there is now little excuse for not being able to recognise even seldom-encountered makes, or of endowing restored examples with incorrect insignia. Apart from which, this must be the World’s finest bedside-book! . . . — W.B.
“Forty Years of Design with Fiat” by Dante Giacosa. 307 pp. 10″ x 8″. (Albion Scott Limited, Bercourt House, York Road, Brentford, Middlesex TW8 0QP. £24.95)
There have been several histories of the great Fiat Empire, both from their own publicists and from that great and very industrious historian Michael Sedgwick. There is something indefinably pleasing about Fiat of Turin and its multiple products. In this new study of Fiat the great engineer Dante Giacosa tells personally of how he worked at their designs and why and how these evolved.
We have had Donald Bastow’s researches in great detail into the design work of W. O. Bentley but this new beautifully-produced and impeccably illustrated book is by a company chief engineer himself, who was actually responsible for the Fiat cars he dissects for us. He commences with his early years in the Industry, at SPA before he went to Fiat. The memories are there in considerable detail — his first day at work in 1928, the day when Mussolini came to the Fiat plant in 1932, the top-personnel at Fiat who met when a new car was being discussed, and quite inimitable accounts of the many Fiats that Giacosa evolved. Those discussed include the Zero-A, leading to the 500 “Topolino”, the 508C, the 2800 and the 700 and other experimental models, the war-time A40 aero-engine, which involved study of Rolls-Royce and Hispano-Suiza aero-engines, an electric “Topolino”, the racing Cisitalias, the Gregoire and the Tipo 102, development after the war of pre-war designs like the 500, 508C and the 1500, and so on. Later chapters describe how the Tipo 103 project led to the Nuova-1100, the Tipo 100 to the Fiat 600, and they cover most of the more recent Fiat models up to Tipos 124, 127, 128, 130 and 135 Dino, etc. The Fiat Hovercraft, Fiat automatic gearboxes, etc., are also included, up to Giacosa’s resignation. Through it all is woven the texture of Fiat as a company, its Senators or Heads-of-Empire, with their immense influence, and the many engineers with whom Dante Giacosa worked. Fiat Departmental plans and engineering drawings, workshop interiors and photographs of vehicles and personalities in great profusion, are all part of his life-story.
This individualistic story forms the context of this book, of high-quality, thick-texture paper, the broad margins of which are used to provide illustrated biographies of relevant companies, personalities, and cars with many competition models and racing drivers quite frequently encountered, including Carlo Salamano, Tazio Nuvolari, and Enzo Ferrari etc. Those who have owned, now own, or otherwise admire Fiat products are advised to procure a copy of “Forty years of Design with Fiat”, in which they will find much to learn and enjoy. Do you know, for instance, which bicycle you should ride in order to claim racing-car associations?
It is interesting that Giacosa pays warm tribute to Sir Alec Issigonis for his design of the Morris Mini Minor, which he admits was “a discouraging blow to us all”, for although he knew the Morris Company had been testing the vehicle for some time, he “never imagined it was so small and so amazingly successful in design”, and he was “shaken and regretful that I had not persisted with my studies for a front-driven transverse-engined auto after the design of my little 100 in 1947”. The differences between the Fiat 100 and Mini are then outlined.
Giacosa is amusing about how he travelled from the “gloomy silent ruins of London” soon after the war to the “wonderful sight of the skyscrapers standing out against an azure sky” in New York, when he went by rail and sea to America, with a visit en route to Simca in Paris. This USA visit gives an insight to the worldly scope of Giacosa’s engineering knowledge, so that it should come as no surprise that he mentions a poem about the “Topolino” that appeared in the British Light Car magazine and another about his Fiat 600, from The Times . . .
As I have said, Fiat products have an appeal all their own, and are regarded by many with the same affection as that which Frenchmen display for Renault and which the British should feel for Leyland. The all-powerful Fiat Empire may not always have made the best of cars but the variety of them, and the undoubted life and verve of the good ones do much to endear the great Torinese manufacturer to motoring enthusiasts. Dante Giacosa’s book will appeal to all Fiat followers and the racing enthusiast is well served by the chapter about the birth of the Cisitalia. It has, however, to be said that this book is autobiographical, rather than deeply technical in the way the Bastow Bentley book is technical, and that as a great deal has been released in the past about Fiat designs, especially those of the Torinese small cars from “Topolino” to 126, some of the findings have a familiar ring to them. And I wish there was an Index! W.B.
“La Storia della Mille Miglia” by Giovanni Lurani. 190pp., 11¾” x 9¼” (Instituto Geografico De Agostini — Novara — Italy)
This large book, well illustrated with photos of cars and people, covers all the Mille Miglia races from 1927 to 1957, with a chapter to each year. In addition there are general stories on the thirty years of development, and personal stories from Brivio. Guidotti, Marzotto, Taruffi, von Metternich, Villoresi and this reviewer. The full-page maps of the variations of the 1,000 mile route over the twenty years add great interest. Giovanni “Johnny” Lurani drove in the event from 1932 to 1952, with Alfa Romeo, MG, BMW, Healey, Bristol and Porsche, winning his class in 1933 and invariably finishing in the first three in whichever class he was in.
At the moment the book is only available with text in Italian, and the price in the UK has yet to be determined. — D.S.J.
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In conjunction with the now-concluded exhibition of “The Thirties” organised by the Arts Council of Great Britain and held at the Hayward Gallery in London, which was dominated by that BBC mockup of Sir Malcolm Campbell’s 1935 Rolls-Royce “Bluebird” LSR car, a very splendid catalogue was produced. I recommend it strongly to all who are interested in this evocative period (sometimes called “The Devil’s Decade”, but featuring much that was good and evolutionary, as Graham Robson has shown, in the motoring context, in his recent book). Running to 320 pages, each measuring 10½” x 8″, with a durable soft cover, this huge catalogue covers just about everything imaginable relating to Britain in the 1930s. The developing story of the decade is unfolded year by year, in separate chapters, one for each year, from which the cost of living, the politics, what people were reading, how they were existing, their ways of travel and entertainment, the houses they lived in and the buildings they used, etc., etc., are recaptured, before the Catalogue becomes just that, with extremely full and copiously-illustrated descriptions of the exhibits that formed this memorable Exhibition, numbering over 1,200.
That gives some idea of the coverage this Catalogue affords. I am gratified to find that it includes those motor-racing and aviation items which Motor Sport referred to when I reviewed the Exhibition, including the car models, with data on these exhibits, as well as biographies of notable artists, designers, architects and photographers who were instrumental in shaping the stormy 1930s. The Brooklands photographs in the Exhibition were the work of Edward G. Malindine, those of Cobb’s Napier-Railton and Railton LSR car were taken by James Jarché, the rare 1931 Austin and Singer car models to which I referred are seen to be “Ranlite” toys, the Campbell, Don and Cobb LSR models were by Britain’s Toys, these, and the Minic car miniatures, having been lent by Mike and Sue Richardson. There is a great deal about motoring and flying in the pages of this excellent Catalogue and some of the plates are in colour, including BP and Imperial Airways’ advertising posters. — W.B.
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That standard work of reference, “Ferrari, The Sports and Gran Turismo Cars”, by Fitzgerald, Merritt and Thompson, first published in 1968, has gone into a fourth, revised, edition, the authors being helped in this by Peter Coltrin and others. It is available from Patrick Stephens Ltd. of Cambridge. — W.B.
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The 1980 edition of that so useful, pocket-size, Observer’s Book of Automobiles, was published by Frederick Warne last month. This 23rd edition, compiled by John Blunsden, provides illustrations of, and data about most of the world’s current production of passenger, sports and estate cars, with comprehensive details of specific models and information on the countless variations and derivations. It seems to be pretty well up to date in most respects, incorporating models like the latest S-class Mercedes and the prototype Porsche 924 Carrera GT, but it hasn’t kept up with Ferrari changes, describing the carburetter 400GT instead of the injection 400i, introduced last July. Still, excellent value for young and old alike at £1.50 — it was five-bob in my youth — C.R.