Reviews, April 2006

Ralph de Palma – Gentleman Champion by Gary Doyle, ISBN 9729144 8 X published by Golden Age Books, $80

Gary Doyle’s last book, on Jimmy Murphy, set a high standard, but he has if anything surpassed it with this work on Ralph de Palma, the dapper and modest Italian immigrant who became a darling of US motor racing, surviving those lurid early races to retire aged 50, and then becoming an ambassador for the sport he loved.

Doyle draws from an enormous range of sources, factual and photographic: there are pictures of de Palma as a delivery boy, on his racing bicycle, and larking with his FIAT team-mates as well as in every type of car his long career brought him, from Allen-Kingston to the advanced Millers he raced at the end. Where there isn’t a photo, Doyle inserts atmospheric paintings by Peter Hearsey or Peter Helk — appropriate because Helk was a long-time friend of de Palma and wrote down his recollections. Every illustration is varnished, reinforcing the excellent reproduction and feeling of quality.

The text demonstrates a huge breadth of investigation, detailing the politics which split American racing in the Twenties and caused de Palma to go ‘freelance’, and quoting from a vast array of contemporary newspaper and magazine articles describing not only the racing but the social and economic background, as well as his personal rivalry with cocky showman Barney Oldfield. Doyle also emphasises the morale boost that de Palma, the first Italian-American sporting star, gave to immigrants in the USA.

Avoiding a strictly chronological tale, Doyle focuses his chapters on individual events or periods of de Palma’s life, following him through the earliest dirt road races, on to the rise and disappearance of the dramatic but hugely dangerous board tracks, across to Europe where he raced in grands prix, and on into the hard times when, despite having won an estimated $1.5m, he lost his money in the Depression. For the rest of his life he had to keep working at a punishing rate, appearing at endless press and PR functions, and always so elegantly dressed even though struggling for income.

I was surprised to learn quite how much racing went on in the USA during WWI, and startled to see a Ku Klux Klan member pictured during ‘Klan Day’ at Denver… But it’s through works like this that longdead heroes come back to life. GC

Rallye Horizons 2005, by Pascal Huit & Katalin Repa, ISBN 2 952342814 published by 45

Attractively packaged and just a mite vacuous, this exercise in vanity publishing will look good on the coffee table. Limited to just 1000 copies, and printed on 150-gram satin paper, the presentation does justice to Huit’s photographs if nothing else. They’re uniformly beautiful and he knows how to work a backdrop. Repa’s words in French and English — are sparse though the interview with Sebastien Loeb (or Lobe according to the accompanying press release) makes for good reading— but you’d probably be able to pick up as much gen in an Autosport season review. RH

Springbok Series: an Era of Sports and Saloon Car Racing in Southern Africa by Greg Mills, ISBN 1 919969 43 8 published by Ecurie Zoo. 250 Rand available from [email protected]

Following on from his John Love book, Mills has produced another meticulous work that majors on the 1960s and ’70s.

You can almost feel the sunshine-and-cars atmosphere oozing from the pages. The author has done a superb job of interviewing literally dozens of luminaries — from the top Southern African stars to the international racers who made the long journey south to take them on.

This has a scrapbook feel in places, but it’s incredibly thorough. It covers the obvious ground — the Kyalami endurance races and Jody Scheckter’s early saloon days — but also goes into rich detail on homebrewed machines from constructors such as Lolette and Mpiti. And Cologne Capris look great in Lucky Strike clothing! MS

Abarth: Fiat-Based Cars by Andrea & David Sparrow ISBN1904788 82 9 published by Veloce. £9.99

Yet another entry in the Sparrows’ cheap and (occasionally) cheerful series of photo albums. This time the theme is Carlo (cough, Karl) Abarth’s highly-strung Fiats. All the obvious ones are included — 595s, 750s and 1000TCs along with oddballs such as the misshapen Vignale coupe and lovely Allemano-bodied 2200. But quite why they’ve included a late-model Barchetta (Abarth kit comprising a bumper sticker) here is a mystery. And this coming from an owner of one.

Problem is, there isn’t much to read and the snappery isn’t at all captivating, although we did like the shot of a 1000TC with workmen painting white lines on the road in the background (weren’t they visible through the viewfinder?). It gave us a laugh during press week, for which we’re eternally grateful. RH

Les Grands Prix de Monaco Formule 3 by Michel Delannoy, ISBN 2 914920 48 2 published by Editions du Palmier, 30

Formula Three nuts do not have a huge amount of books to indulge their passion, but the tantalising message here is that this is but the opening stanza in a series on the famed Monaco F3 race.

Part one covers the 1950 race, for the 500cc brigade, and then the Formula Junior runnings of ’59 and ’60 (there was no race from 1951 to ’58). Everything is here: shots of many of the competing cars and drivers — including a very happy ’50 winner, Stirling Moss — and full results and practice lists. Did you know Lorenzo Bandini was the fastest non-qualifier in ’60?

The informative text and captions are in French and English (translated by David Waldron) and, although the photography angles are samey, this is a fantastic document. Can’t wait for part two! MS

Les 1000Km de Dijon1973-2002 by Christian Naviaux, ISBN 2 914920 512 published by Editions du Palmier. 40

Yet another cracker from the prolific Naviaux. Should you be turned on by Group Six sports-racers and be-winged Porsche 935s (and really you should be), you’re going to love this. Charting the history of the Dijon enduro (the 1000Km subhead is slightly misleading as some races were 800km, others even less), this hardback gives a pretty comprehensive year-by-year account plus results tables, and you’ll genuinely learn something new.

Did you know that legendary The Italian Job stuntman Remy Julien drove a BMW CSL to last place in the 1976 Six Heures de l’ACF, or that Tom Walkinshaw finished seventh in the same race in a similar car despite suffering near-asphyxiation from exhaust fumes? Great images and a clean layout too, but French text only. RH