Book Reviews, April 1981, April 1981

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“Turn Left — The Riffs Have Risen” by A. Cameron Gilg, 191 pp. 9″ x 5 1/2″ (The Royal Automobile Club, 83-85 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y SHW. £4.50.)

Some time ago there was a twice-shown TV documentary about how a Morris Minor tourer was driven from England to Cape Town in 1933 and how the two men who made the expedition, Alan Gilg and air-line pilot Walter Kay, were united 40 years afterwards. Barry Cockcroft, who produced and directed the TV film, has now edited a book about the adventure and Kay has contributed some anecdotes to Gilg’s story. The book is very nicely produced indeed and is well packed with pictures from the films taken in 1933, by no less than the RAC itself.

Gilg was an essentially quiet man and the idea of driving a standard 8 h.p. British car to the Cape was a form of badly-needed escapism. From a wealthy upbringing — Cameron describes him as “. . . a good example of a particular breed of Englishman which flourished as never before in that slightly unreal yet curiously exhilarating period between the two World Wars, when merely to be English and a gentleman gave one an edge over the rest of the world” — he suffered first the loss of a secure business and then an unhappy love-affair. He decided that the cure was to drive endlessly towards the unreachable horizon. Walter Kay, being at a loose end and wishing to get to Africa, went along as companion.

Gilg was 23 when he undertook to be the first person to get a baby-car across the African continent. He simply bought a 16 mm. cine-camera, as taking better pictures than the less-expensive 8 mm. camera, and exchanged his Morris Minor two-seater for a Morris Minor tourer. As Cameron says, his story of what followed “captures the very spirit, sight and smell of that unique era. Sir Malcolm Campbell and his contemporaries may have scaled Mount Olympus, but it was Alan Gilg who patiently recorded the fascinating minutiae of the times”. Unfortunately, he was very ill when the film was being made, a story to which his author son had drawn attention, for Mr. Gilg never thought he had done anything remarkable. He was reunited with Kay 40 years after his journey, just before his death.

Although others had undertaken great expeditions of this kind years earlier, Gilg’s was a very amateur effort, in a very small car. The Morris Minor was given a lower hack axle ratio and larger tyres but was otherwise standard. The makers showed little other interest but supplied a kit of spares, many of which were never needed. Dunlop’s, the Vacuum Oil Company, Lodge plugs and the Schneider (does he mean Schrader?) valve people gave some help but otherwise it was all very unprofessional. In fact, when a crowd assembled outside the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool where the Press were photographing the start, causing much clanging from the trams that were held up, so that a policeman arrived, Gilg just drove off — on a journey of 13,370 miles, during which the Morris Minor (side-valve, I think) averaged 30.6 m.p.g. of petrol and 890 m.p.g. of oil.

The account of what befell the two adventurers is told simply and effectively. The book gains, too, by having a map of the Algiers-Cape Town section of the route, an Appendix about this route and prices of petrol, etc. in 1933, and a note about the going as it would be today, still an adventure but involving many fine new African roads; this is by Colin McElduff, FRGS, FRIA, author of “Trans-Africa Motoring”. There is additionally a note about the two travellers after the adventure was over. Gilg wrote the book that until now was never published, managed large estates, joined the RAF during the war, married and had three sons, and died, aged 69, in 1978. Kay, likewise a public school boy with wealthy parents, had had a Merseyside friend who had an old Farman biplane, and after a hunting expedition in Africa at the age of 17 he returned to England to join the de Havilland Flying School. His father bought him a Puss Moth with which he made the film Wings Over Africa, following the first Imperial Airways’ mail-flights. He then joined DH in Johannesburg as an instructor. Flying an injured man in very bad weather he crashed and lost his uninsured aeroplane, so returned to England at a loose end, to meet Gilg.

So, of this competitively priced book I can only use the old cliche, strongly recommended to those who like motoring travel-books. — W.B.

“The Roaring Twenties” by Cyril Posthumus. 146pp. 11 1/4″ x 8 1/2″ (Blandford Press, Robert Rogers House, New Orchard, Poole, Dorset, BH15 1LU. £6.95).

This is an oddly-attractive book, comprising an album of some 200 black and white pictures, depicting the 1920s period of motor racing. There is a complementary text from the welcome pen of Cyril Posthumus. The publisher’s hand-out claims that many of the illustrations will not have been seen before. Well, that was a challenge to me and I started counting. I have definitely seen 146 of them previously and have an idea this applies to others. But to browsers through the archives this is not altogether frustrating, because by greatly enlarging old prints after the copyright on them has expired a pleasing effect is often achieved, as in this picture book.

So Posthumus has done for the racing side of the nineteen-twenties what Graham Robson has overdone of the nineteen-thirties, in a nice format. The photographs are well reproduced and certainly embellished by the informative text and captions, even if not all the racing cars depicted roared their way to victory. – W.B.

“Maserati — Una Storia della Storia” by Luigi Orsini/Franco Zagari. 403 pp. 10″ x 8″ (Emmetigrafica, Editrice, Milano, available from Connoisseur Carbooks, London W4, and Albion Scott, Brentford, Middlesex. £19.95 approx).

The Italian photographer Franco Zagari is owed a huge debt of gratitude by all those enthusiasts to whom Italian racing and Italian racing cars are the basic roots of real motor racing. He it was who acquired a monumental collection of motor racing negatives, which took him more than two years to sort out and catalogue. These came from the family of Dr. Ferruccio Testi, a wealthy amateur photographer who lived in Modena, with close ties with Enzo Ferrari and the Maserati brothers. Dr. Testi and his friend Odoardo Gandolfi travelled to most of the motor races in the nineteen-twenties and thirties, photographing everything of interest. Anyone who loves all there is about Italian racing owes these two gentlemen an even bigger debt of gratitude.

After cataloguing these thousands of negatives Zagari put them to good use and with the assistance of Luigi Orsini, on the writing, they produced the magnificent book on the Scuderia Ferrari just over a year ago. It is soon to appear in an English version. Last year these two produced another book, using something like five-hundred hitherto unpublished photographs, all on the subject of Maserati. This deals with the racing activities of the Maserati concern from 1926 to 1945 and it makes any other Maserati book pale into insignificance. It lives and breathes the aura of the cars from Bologna, carrying the Bolognese Trident on their badge, and to the Maserati enthusiast it is worth all the other Maserati books put together. Testi and Gandolfi were there and were friends of everyone in racing at the time, which comes over very strongly in the very personal character of many of the photographs. Luigi Orsini, a serious student of motor racing, has written the racing history and detailed all the specifications of all the Maserati racing cars, as well as individual production details, gleaned from the Maserati factory.

If you thought the Zagari/Orsini “Scuderia Ferrari” book was worthwhile you will not be disappointed with their “Maserati”. — D.S.J.

“Automobile Year — No. 28” Directed by Ami Guichard of Edita Lusanne. 286 pp. 12 1/2″ x 9 1/2″. (Patrick Stephens Ltd., Bar Hill, Cambridge, CB3 8EL. £19.95).

This de luxe annual needs no introduction. It appears every year, in ever-better format to tell us about the past racing and competition season, the year’s new cars, the trends in design and styling, and to tabulate 1980 results. The latest edition, for 1980/81, has a grand collection of very fine illustrations, 80 of which are in colour, backed up by 400 other photographs. I suppose the top picture in this great assembly is the panoramic shot of the Monaco sea-front during the Grand Prix.

The articles are Guichard’s long review of the Japanese Motor Industry, which he also devotes the Editorial to, with other writers including Gordon Wilkins covering the same subject, Michael Sedgwick taking us again over Hispano Suiza perfections, something on the fate of dream (or experimental) cars and Pfunder writes of how many a famous make is disappearing from the Industry, while Farene looks at last year’s motoring novelties. That is the bare bones of “Automobile Year” but you have to handle its beautiful pages, look at the impeccable pictures, and study its very complete reporting of all the 1980 races and rallies that matter, in those enormous glossy pages, to appreciate why back numbers have become bookshelf items prized by those who have collected them.

“Automobile Year” is the Rolls-Royce of motoring annuals and has been for many years, since the appearance of No. 1 in fact. It is beyond price, or not many would invest in it. Even the British distributors seem confused by its impact, claiming in one breath that No. 28 carries 480 pictures and in another 118 colour and 445 photographs, which is 563 in all: that is in addition to many charts and diagrams. — W.B.

“The Austin — 1905-1952” by R. J. Wyatt. 298 pp. 9 1/2″ x 6″. (David & Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon, £12.50.)

We have had to wait a long time for this one-make title but now that it has arrived it is fully up to expectations. R.J. Wyatt wrote, at my suggestion, a very excellent book about the Austin Seven but his promised work about the great Austin Motor Company as a whole had to wait until he had complied with Mrs. Zeta Lambert request that he should write a biography about her father, the later Lord Austin.

Wyatt has now completed his Austin history and David & Charles have published it. It is an authoritative book that covers the Austin cars, Lord Austin, and the Company in about equal measure. Thus it is an important reference work with a wide appeal — to those who love and perhaps own Austins of any year or model, and this was surely one of the best-loved British cars — to those who are concerned with finding out what Sir Herbert or “Pa” Austin (as he was prior to his knighthood) was like and how he built-up his great motor empire, and to those interested in the rise and fall of the Company’s fortunes and how it treated its share-holders.

It is mostly all there, in this one easy-to-read book, which is compiled in typical Wyatt style, economical of words yet with sufficient detail to hold one’s interest to the last, possessing enough “background” outside the book’s immediate concern for the story and the times it covers to be properly understood, and with plenty of fascinating information about the cars, which from a writer who has long concerned himself with Austin affairs and who has owned some of their early models (including a Sports Twenty) has full authenticity.

It wasn’t at first all plain sailing for Sir Herbert Austin, and the vast profits of the war years did not prevent the Receiver being called in shortly after the end of munitions production had ceased. How the Twelve and the immortal Seven were Austin’s salvation is but part of the story contained in this book. It is a book packed with absorbing statistics. Thus one is astonished at the vast expansion of the original small factory at Longbridge; and it is nice that Wyatt tells us which of the original or early buildings there are still standing. He includes little-known facts which one either did not know previously or had forgotten — that there was a 73-acre aerodrome at Longbridge during World War One, that certain early post-war Austin Twelves had wooden wheels, and that because of the prevailing poor roads of the early nineteen-twenties Austin supplied the Twenty with two spare wheels — although the specification of it at the end of Chapter 4 doesn’t confirm this.

How Austins were made, at differing periods of the factory’s activities, are not overlooked in the informative text, and as the book unfolds one finds that this is very much the story of how the British Motor Industry developed, overcoming prevailing problems of financial depressions, labour unrest, changing fashions, the ebb and flow of imports and exports, the McKenna Duties, and so on. Throughout the chapters Wyatt puts in plenty of comparisons with other makes and models, to show how the current Austins compared, and his book is a splendid foil for the Jarman and Barraclough Morris history.

It is rather sad that Wyatt says he calls his book a survey of Austin affairs because a book five times the size would have been needed to convey all he has gleaned about this famous make in the past 25 years. One hopes he will be able to dribble out more Austin information from time to time. As it is this comprehensive and, for me, very enjoyable book, which he dedicates to Cliff Lewis and Bob Burgess, two Austin old-timers no longer with us, such things as the Austin 2/3-ton lorry, the Austin aeroplanes of 1909-1919, the Austin farm tractor and the three (or four?) racing Austin 20s, are the subject of Appendices and these also provide a wealth of statistical data, about production figures, identification of Austin chassis and bodywork of 1933-39 models, production figures year by year from 1906-1952 for the Motor Industry as a whole, Austin production figures from 1906-1919, chassis prices and availability from 1906-1914, production figures for Austins from 1919 to 1951, some of the latter approximate, the Company’s net turnover and profits from 1905 to 1913 and Austin finances for 1914-1951. There are details of attempts to combine the Austin Motor Company with Humber’s, of the unsuccessful Austin-Morris-Wolseley merger of 1924, and how General Motors bought Vauxhall’s, not Austin’s, in later years, and why Austin formed a separate Company to make lighting-plants.

You cannot ask much more of a one-make or one-Company history than that! Perhaps there might have been more illustrations. Those gathered together in the centre of the book are good, and representative, but far from comprehensive, and in one place captions have been transposed. These photographs are supplemented by a few pleasing drawings, some of which have been “lifted” from the author’s Austin Seven book. It is not only the Appendices that abound in statistics; there are plenty throughout the text and altogether this is a book which Austin fanatics will welcome, and turn to again and again. — W.B.

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The fourth edition of Gordon Riley’s “British Aircraft Museums Directory” is now available from Battle of Britain Prints International Ltd., 3 New Plaistow Road. London E15 3JA, price 85p. It is an illustrated guide to all the aeroplanes, etc., in 57 museums, with much useful data, and is therefore as informative as it is inexpensive.

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John Blunsden has come up as compiler of that useful pocket-directory of 1979 cars called “The Observer’s Book of Automobiles”. If you have a collection of these informative books they are effective, but they cover only one year’s new cars remember, which for just picking out the annual developments and changes is fine. John writes about the happenings of 1979 before tabulating the specifications of that year’s new cars. Frederick Warne Ltd., 40 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3HE are the publishers of this 24th edition, which sells for £1.80.

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Motor Racing Publications, 28 Devonshire Road, London. W4 2HD, have added Eric Gibbins’ landscape-shaped history of DAF commercial vehicles to their “Trucks Today” series. It is commendable for very sharp photographs and an all-embracing historical text, running to 128 pages, 7 1/4″ x 9″, costing £6.95.

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I doubt whether many of our readers have time to stop their cars to visit gardens open to public under the National Gardens Scheme. But their passengers may manage to get there and where to go is made clear in a 70p book covering over 1,250 private gardens open to them. The book comes from the National Gardens Scheme, 57, Lower Belgrave Street, London SW1W 9LR.

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Where to get a meal for less than £5 must concern many drivers as well as their passengers and a book listing 999 such places has gone into a new edition — issued by the AA, at £1.95. Wonders never cease and therein will be found details of the “Applejack” at Ledbury run by ex-Formula One driver Bob Evans and his wife, in a converted 17th-century inn, along with some 998 other bistros. Useful!

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Now that the almost unbelievable collection of cars at the Schlumpf Museum in France is in the news again, you may like to know that Albion Scott Ltd., York Road, Brentford, Middlesex, is distributing a big book that illustrates in black and white and colour many of the cars in that fabulous hall at Mulhouse. It is called “The Schlumpf Automobile Collection”, edited by Halwart Schrader, runs to 182 large pages, and costs £12.95.

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The Hamlyn Group, Astronaut House, Feltham, Middlesex, TV14 9AR has a big picture book about “Motor Cycling in the 1930s” by the celebrated Bob Currie. Of popular format, it covers all aspects of the game, with supporting text, in 144 pages and is priced at £6.00.

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DIY is the means of reducing the cost of car ownership, so “Car Care” by John Bot(?) may be useful to beginners in the motoring game. An “Observer’s Guide”, it costs £1.95 and another Frederick Warne publication.

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The RAC has issued its 1981 edit of its well-known Continental Handbook.

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Another guide to where to eat and to stay, this one covering France, is “French Leave”, published personally by Richard Binns, which he claims provides answers to cuisine matters and information that even “Michelin” overlooks, gained in the course of rallying and other motoring over a period of 25 years. The author organised the 1962 and 1963 Express & Star by the way, and is still a member of Ecurie Cod Fillet — remember? “French Leave” costs £3.95 from Chiltern House Publishers Ltd., Chiltern House, Amersham Road, Bucks, HP6 5SP. It contains two-colour maps guiding you to over 800 recommended locations and lists over 200 hotels and restaurants, etc., and identifies more than 300 wines. — W.B.