by Wim Oude Weernink
Published by: Instituut Trompenburg Foundation, £24.99. ISBN 1 899870 28 8
A worthwhile addition to the motoring library, this. Not, it has to be said, for its sparkling prose or its stunning photography both are in dismally short supply but for the simple story of the Spijker brothers and the car company they created.
Hendrik-Jan and Jacobus Spijker are two of the least frequently sung members of automobile history and proof positive that the road to hell is indeed lined with good intention. Far from lacking in talent, the perennial problem of the pioneering Spyker marque (so called to make it easier to read outside its native Holland) was that the brothers seemed to have gone back for seconds of creativity whereas a brief spell in the common-sense queue might have been more prudent.
The marque sprang from a carriage-building firm into one of the most innovative car makers in the world, with, for instance, as good a claim as any to building the world’s first six-cylinder engine and also pioneering four-wheel drive; staggeringly for 1903, both appeared on the same car, the 60hp racer. Sadly, the firm was almost always in strife, either through natural tragedy (Hendrik-Jan drowned in 1906), a lack of financial acumen or impulsive and soon to be regretted stunts. The most famous of these was when Jacobus gave the shadowy Charles Godard, a French wall of death rider, a car and several thousand francs to win the 1907 Peking-Paris race. There is not space here to retell the story of this event or the role played in it by the charming, brave, well-meaning but unarguably criminally-minded Godard, but suffice to say Godard receives less than a hero’s welcome in these pages than in the original report of the race, Allen Andrews’ The Mad Motorists, a book I would recommend to anyone. The same can’t be said for this Spyker book but for those looking to remember a marque that’s 100 years old this year and remains one of the most underrated of all, it’s more than worth a look and, to some I have no doubt, the money too.