Book Reviews, August 1969, August 1969

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“Louis Renault”, by Anthony Rhodes. 235 pp. 8½ in. x 5¾ in. (Cassell and Co. Ltd., 35, Red Lion Square, London, W.C.1. 45s.)

Some years ago a book was published about Renault and I complained that, interesting as it was, and fresh ground that it broke, it did not tell the story of the Renault car so much as that of the Renault brothers and the tragic end of Louis Renault. Since then Renault themselves have dug up much history about the factories and the cars, and this has been presented in the form of an attractive pictorial record.

The present book reverts to the former theme, concentrating, in greater detail than has been the case previously, on the life of Louis Renault, France’s greatest industrialist. It is as well that Anthony Rhodes, a Cambridge scholar, does not attempt to tell the story of Renault cars as such, because he exhibits a lack of technical perception which leads him into making vague automotive statements and even downright inaccuracies.

So this book must be accepted as a study of Renault the man, not a history of the Renault motor-car. As such it cannot be ignored, for the writer spent two years in France researching it. He presents a sympathetic study of a man who rose from humble beginnings, saw in the horseless carriage a future, appreciated the part early motor races would play in its development (Marcel Renault died in a Paris–Madrid accident), developed a mighty motor empire, played a cat-and-mouse game with Andre Citroën who in the end went under while Renault expanded (curious that in France one used to see far more Citroëns than Renaults, it seemed, while this was going on), and then became enmeshed in war and political intrigues that stemmed from the war, and was brutally murdered in jail without, perhaps, having been guilty of acting against France when it was in German occupation.

This is a moving and fascinating story, well told, the death of Louis Renault being very carefully investigated and assessed. But it is the story of the man, not of his cars, and must therefore have a limited appeal, although, as Lord Montagu of Beaulieu reminds us in the Foreword, Renault epitomised the age of the motor-car in France during the first half of the present century more than any other individual, and thus this biography is a very significant one.

We read of the methods of this hard aloof industrialist, of Renault’s connections with aviation, of his love affairs and social limelight. His duels with Citroën, publicity-wise and in respect of long-distance journeys with trans-desert vehicles, are well covered and some amusing tales derive from these, although I find that the author does not include that story about the Renault plant coming to a complete halt on account of a lack of coal supplies. Renault, furious, is said to have demanded an explanation, to be reminded that he had issued an edict that, as so many industries owed their prosperity to selling goods to Renault, in future these products were to be delivered only on Renault lorries and that the gate-keepers be instructed to turn away all other makes. Unfortunately for Louis Renault, the coal supplies had arrived in other than Renault lorries (Berliets?) and had been duly turned away. Whether this is fact or legend I do not know, and maybe the same applies to other choice tales which Rhodes does include; they indicate the manner of man Louis Renault was and are redolent of an age, now past (with no disrespect to Lord Stokes of Leyland intended) when the Industry was controlled by individuals, with which this book deals.

The illustrations are unfortunately old-hat.—W. B.

———

“British Racing Green”, by Anthony Pritchard. 263 pp. 8¾ in. x 5½ in. (George Allen & Unwin Ltd., Park Lane, Hemel Hempstead, Herts. 60s.).

Some considerable time ago Cyril Posthumus gave us a pretty adequate book about the origins and subsequent performances of British (green) cars in competition. Another would seem unnecessary but as an advocate of detailed writing I suppose I should accept that a fuller account of the more recent “wearers of the Green” may be of some importance.

This is what Anthony Pritchard gives us in “British Racing Green”. He is not concerned with Napier, Sunbeam and pre-war E.R.A. history. What this book does is to look at a few pre-war and early post-war sports-car projects such as Allard, Healey and Austin Healey, H.R.G., Jowett, etc., and then to tell the readers about post-war Aston Martin, Jaguar, H.W.M., Connaught and similar British projects, going on to deal with Cooper, Vanwall, Lister, Lotus, B.R.M., Brabham, Lola and Elva undertakings in comparatively recent times. Some of these race-by-race accounts are sub-divided, by chapters, into pre- and post-1955. One chapter is called “Grand Prix Failures” and covers Alta, E.R.A. and B.R.M. efforts from 1946 to 1955, thus taking in the unfortunate V16 B.R.M., although the B.R.M. story has been covered far more completely in another book.

It can all be found in bound volumes of the better motoring journals, of course, but for quick reference this book has its points. The writer is honest in admitting that the reasons he quotes for retirement from races are in places dependent on wrong hunches in contemporary reports, stemming from journalists who stayed in the bars, teams which did not care to reveal true causes of failures and those who deliberately misled reporters. He goes on to say that he accepts full responsibility for the accuracy (he means inaccuracy) of the contents when forced to rely on such reports. And he bravely says his book is devoted to Grand Prix and sports/racing teams “rather than the entrants of production sports cars and the cars that have run in the lesser single-seater categories of recent years, Formula Junior, Formula Three and Formula Two. For these categories, even when the racing has been fast and close and the drivers have been among the more able and experienced, have been tedious and uninspiring.”

The author, I feel, will have to dodge some brickbats after writing those words into his Preface but at least he leaves us in no doubt as to the cars not included in “British Racing Green.”—W. B.

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“High Speed Low Cost”, by Alan Stainforth. 144 pp. 9¾ in. x 7¼ in. (PSL, 9, Ely Place, London, E.C.1. 45s.)

In this large book is packed a mass of information about how to go about building a rear-engined Terrapin (a name which reminds me of the days when I was a frequent visitor to the London Zoo), powered by a B.M.C. engine, a tiny single-seater capable of 140 m.p.h. and which, in the hands of professional-journalist Stainforth, took some Class G records at Elvington last year.

The Terrapin is intended for racing, speed trials and speed hill-climbs. It will accept various sizes of B.M.C. engine to enable it to qualify for entry in six different capacity classes, and the use of an alternative engine bay opens up (no pun intended) possibilities of using Hillman Imp and Ford power units, giving access to four more race categories, including Formula Ford.

If you crave such a car this book will be worthwhile, nay essential, reading. It gives step-by-step building instructions, and specialised data for those who have concluded the construction of the Terrapin or, indeed, similar racing cars. This tales in such matters as chassis tuning, road-holding problems, driving methods, tyres and wheels to use, brake specifications, etc. The author, nothing if not ambitious, even offers you his novel “string Computer” method of calculating wishbone geometry, which can be adapted to the design of other racing cars and has a chapter on supercharging such engines as might be used in a Terrapin. There are also eight detailed appendices covering items such as materials, parts, and supply sources, tools required, costing, racing formulae and other books to study. Working drawings are also available for 95s. the set.

It comes as a surprise to find that the author/builder is 45 years of age and I note he estimates the rough cost of a Terrapin, with Mini Cooper 997-c.c. engine from a crashed car, enlarged to 1,100 c.c., to be £338 and suggests it could be cut to less—which is a pretty inexpensive way of driving at 140 m.p.h.

The publisher once wrote his own book about building a Ford Ten Special, which probably made him sympathetic to Stainforth’s. Has anyone yet discovered how it works out, building cars from this book and plans?—W. B.

———

Macdonald are making a success of their one-make books and “Alfa Romeo” which is a Cassell one-make volume, has gone into a second edition, the first having been with us for five years, The new edition, which sells for 63s., has a number of errors eradicated and a little fresh information, the remarkable Tipo 160 Alfa Romeo being described, for example.

* * *

Those who cannot afford the several expensive directories of modern cars but want a reference work on the subject may be interested in “The Observer’s Book of Automobiles” which is edited by L. A. Mannering and published by Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd., Chandos House, Bedford Court, Bedford Street, London, W.C.2, for 7s. It attempts a lot, with a potted history of the automobile, a Foreword by Stirling Moss, a rather cursory table of styling changes down the years, from 1900 to 1968, a description of how things work with a glossary of technical terms, a list of International and British registration marks and data on number-plates of other countries, in addition to its directory of makes ranging from Abarth to Zil. All this is packed into 288 small pages. But the quality of the paper is good and the illustrations, several to each make including drawings, are very clear. The specifications are embellished by badges for each make and a description of the car’s appearance as well as its dimensions and performance. If you think this little book has nothing to teach you, what do you know about the Acadian, for instance? It would be an excellent present for the younger generation, anyway.

* * *

The Public Relations Department of Vauxhall Motors Ltd. has issued an illustrated booklet of “Sixty Years of Vauxhall Cars”, ranging from the first 1903 single-cylinder 5-h.p. model to the 1968 range of cars and the experimental XVR coupé.

* * *

“The Vickers Vimy” (reviewed last month) is available from PSL, 9, Ely Place, London, E.C.1 in a special de luxe edition hand bound in real hide and buckrum over millboards, limited to 500 individually numbered copies, at 84s. each.

* * *

For those who do their own car maintenance Faber & Faber, 24, Russell Square, London, W.C.1, have published a paper-back, running to 294 pages, called “Low-Cost Car Repairs”, by John Mills. It covers repairs possible with limited workshop equipment, is entertainingly written, and has copious illustrations. It costs 15s., and is also available in a cloth-bound edition, priced at 35s.

* * *

Bart H. Vanderveen is an acknowledged expert on military vehicles. In “The Observer’s Fighting Vehicles Directory—World War II” he makes available the result of years of research of this specialised subject, with descriptions, specifications and pictures of all kinds of military motor vehicles used by the Allied and Axis powers in the Second World War. Claimed to be the first-ever reference work on the subject, the book is published by Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd., this comprehensive reference work runs to 340 pages, has some 900 pictures, and costs 25s.

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