Book Reviews, August 1957, August 1957

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“The History of Brooklands Motor Course,” by William Boddy. 504 pp., 9¾ in. by 7¼ in. (Grenville Publishing Co., Ltd., 15, City Road, London E.C.1. 50s.)

This monumental work, which appears in the year of Brooklands’ Golden Jubilee, puts its author in the same bracket as Gerald Rose, Laurence Pomeroy and Kent Kerslake where motor-racing history is concerned.

Based on the official documents of the B.A.R.C., Boddy’s weighty tome covers in remarkable detail the car racing and record-breaking activity which took place at Brooklands Track from 1906 until the demise of the famous Motor Course in 1940.

In telling how Locke King built this, the World’s first motor track, on his estate at Weybridge, Boddy describes its construction and layout in the same painstaking detail as he subsequently surveys almost every race and record attack that took place at Brooklands.

The early years, commencing with the official opening and S. F. Edge’s great 24-hour record run with the 60-h.p. Napier in June 1907, are notable for the horse-race tactics used, for some spectacular accidents resulting from inexperience in this new sphere of racing, and of great cars like the Blitzen Benz of Hemery and Horsted, the first aero-engined V12 Sunbeam and Percy Lambert’s immortal “100-in-the-hour” 25-h.p. Talbot.

After the Armistice Brooklands became the fascinating haunt of very fast light cars like the Talbot-Darracqs, A.C.s, G.N.s and Aston Martins, etc., and the fabulous aero-engined monsters such as Zborowski’s Chitty Bang Bangs, the 350-h.p. Sunbeam singles-eater, Eldridge’s F.I.A.T. “Mephistopheles,” the Wolseley-Viper, Isotta-Maybach and Higham-Special, with which pre-1914 Grand Prix cars, discarded from the road circuits, did battle. Boddy is in his true element here, covering the mechanical details and racing adventures of cars large and small, famous and obscure, using a great deal of information, culled not from contemporary accounts alone but from personal correspondence with the creators of these cars. Specifications are frequently given down to the smallest details.

After the nineteen-twenties Brooklands added other long-distance classics to its calendar besides the J.C.C. 200-Mile Race and these races — the Essex “Six Hours,” J.C.C. ” Double Twelve,” B.R.D.C. 500-Mile Race, International Trophy, the L.C.C. Relay Races and various others get the same careful, well-balanced coverage as the hundreds of short handicaps, from “75 m.p.h.” to “Lightning” events, on which this remarkable history is based.

Almost every racing driver of note figures in its pages, as the comprehensive Personalities Index indicates, and in chapters devoted to the racing year by year the author, who is well-known as the Editor of Motor Sport, usually starts by describing improvements to the Track, concluding each chapter with an account of the season’s record-breaking activities, successful and otherwise.

Humour and tragedy naturally find their place in these broad pages yet Boddy has resisted the temptation of stooping to sensational “journalese”; instead he devotes 300,000 words to straight-forward statements about the cars, the drivers, and what befell them when they went to Weybridge to win races or break records. He has found a quite exceptional collection of pictures, beautifully reproduced (over 290 of them!), with which to illustrate “The History of Brooklands Motor Course” and these alone represent an unrivalled cross-section of British racing cars, including famous sports cars, of the past half-century. The book also contains many lengthy appendices.

It is evident from his preface that Boddy has sought to provide motor-racing enthusiasts with a book every bit as detailed and informative as those railway enthusiasts are accustomed to, in their particular field. “After all,” he observes, “motoring enthusiasts are as keen as railway fans and deserve historians equally as painstaking.”

After reading this book there will be very little left to discover about the three- and four-wheeler side of Brooklands, which for many years was the home of British motor-racing. That Boddy has succeeded is evident ftom the foreword by Lord Brabazon of Tara, G.B.E., M.C., P.C., who writes: “The research and industry put into it is beyond praise. Factually it is remarkable, yet readable and enjoyable from cover to cover. Those who loved Brooklands can at least, due to Mr. Boddy, live the great days again, as they read this enchanting book.”

Great days they certainly were and of the memorials now being dedicated to the old Motor Course, this in every sense full-length history by William Boddy, who knew and loved the place dearly, is the most fitting of them all. — J. W.

 

“Tourist Trophy,” by Richard Hough. 255 pp. 8½ in. by 5½ in. (Hutchinson & Co. Ltd., 178-202, Great Portland Street, London, W. 1. 25s.)

This is the story of the R.A.C. T.T. race,”Britain’s Greatest Motor Race,” as it was run from 1905 to 1955, over the long and short courses in the I.o.M., on the Ards circuit, at Donington and at Dundrod. There is every reason to welcome books devoted to particular motor races, which was the idea behind Boddy’s “200-Mile Race,” now incorporated in his monumental ” History of Brooklands Motor Course,” and a book about the T.T. sports-car races fills a noticeable gap in such motor-racing literature.

Hough’s book isn’t perfect — he discloses youthful enthusiasm in some of his expressions and descriptions and he tends to deal rather superficially with the less interesting races in the T.T. series, which may not please the serious student of racing history. He does not dig down especially deep, basing his book mainly on contemporary Press reports. But he does give tables of entries and results for all the 22 races described, which constitute a valuable record, while an unusual and pleasing feature of “Tourist Trophy” is the inclusion of quotations from various sources about cars and courses encompassed by the T.T. The story, of course, takes the reader from the earliest days of the race, when it really was virtually a trophy for touring cars, through the brief incursion into the realms of true racing cars, just prior to and after 1914/18, to the great Bentley-Mercedes-Benz battles on the splendid Ards circuit in Ulster, when typically British sports cars such as “Hyper” Lea-Francis, f.w.d. Alvis and M.G. were to the fore, and on to the later races featuring classic Continental sports cars like Delahaye and Delage, to Moss’ win in 1955 with one of the fabulous Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR sports cars. This book may not complete the history of the T.T. race, but as no such race was held last year or will take place this year, Hough has chosen an appropriate time to write it.

If this history does not tell us as much as we could wish, failing to delve very deeply into such matters as why Caracciola was disqualified in 1930 and what Nuvolari did before his victory with the M.G. in 1933, what there is contains no errors, the presentation is pleasing and the illustrations excellent — although we have seen most of the later pictures before. Some interesting maps relating to gear-change tactics and lap times are included and drawings are used as well as photograph reproductions. We like this book. — W. B.

 

“Men With Wings,” by Wing-Comdr. “Sandy” Powell. 169 pp. 8¾ in. by 5½ in. (Allan Wingate Ltd., 12, Beauchamp Place, London, S.W.3. 15s.)

This book follows “Test Flight” by the same author and is really a biography of eight outstanding test pilots. Because Wing-Comdr. Powell, who taught many of these pilots when he was Chief Flying Instructor at the Empire Test Pilots’ School, treats the book in this manner the reader gets a fascinating insight not only into the thrills which sooner or later intrude into a test pilot’s life but into the characteristics of all manner of aeroplanes, from Avro 504s to the very latest jet fighters and bombers.

In “Men With Wings,” the foreword of which is by Peter Twiss, D.F.C. and Bar, another of “Sandy” Powell’s pupils, many absorbing stories are published for the first time which will intrigue lay-readers and fascinate and please aviation students. To repeat them here would be unfair to author and publisher but the remarkable engine-less landing of a Spitfire prepared for an attack on the air-speed record, which Group Capt. H. A. Purvis, D.F.C., A.F.C. and Bar, was flying between Farnborough and Basingstoke, the first escape by a pilot using an ejector seat, and how C. Turner-Hughes brought off a forced landing of a four-engined A.W. Ensign with all power gone and yet saved this valuable prototype, are just a few of the good things between the covers of this welcome new book.

We have observed previously that while scores of flying books have been written about the 1914/18 war, scores more have been devoted to World War II and now accounts of post-war supersonic flying are piling up, yet there are all too few books about the fascinating between-wars period. Some of “Sandy” Powell’s biographies whet the appetite for more of the last-named. As we read of life at Martlesham Heath in 1920, of a hilarious drive in a model-T Ford Huck’s-starter by pilots who had found the Crossley R.A.F. station car u/s, and of illicit landings in a small field (which should be identifiable to those who like to reconstruct such things) by Group Capt. Purvis with an Avro Anson from Boscombe Down during the last war, the desire for more accounts of flying with pistons grows on this reviewer. Powell — he likes ale! — tells these stories as well as he sets down the serious aspects of test flying. 

Yet those who like to live in the present with one eye on the future will find “Men With Wings” equally enthralling, for it lives up to its frontispiece of the H.P. Victor in flight. The pilots dealt with are McGuire, Lancaster, Turner-Hughes, Purvis, Starky and Beaumont, and there is a pleasing chapter devoted to Fred Rowarth’s handicapping of many air races and more important duties. As to cars, Powell refers to his Frazer-Nash, to the fame of Beaumont’s 38/250 SSK Mercedes-Benz at Hucknall (today replaced by a Ford Prefect) and to the aforementioned Crossley, etc. A.J.S., P. & M. and long-stroke Sunbeam motor-cycles also come into it. By all standards a good book — the pictures are a very nice collection if not all directly applicable to the text. Snatch up three dollars and buy this one! — W. B.