“The Big Drive”, by Richard Hudson-Evans and Graham Robson. 68 pp. 8 in. x 6 in. Soft covers. (Speed Sport Motobooks. 10s.)
There were at least three books about the London-Sydney Marathon and it remains to be seen what the final score will be in respect of the 16,000-mile World Cup London-Mexico Rally. But this paperback, advertising-accepted account seems to get most of the story of the toughest rally to date between its cardboard covers. One of the authors went in the Ford Escort which retired when it hit a lorry en route for Bulgaria while Colin Malkin was driving it – this is a hazard of reporting a long-distance rally as a crew member. Nevertheless, all the incidents seem to be there and the book is out while the World Cup is still topical.
There is plenty of interest about how the Ford works entries were prepared but the axle modification effected while the rally was in progress seems to have been rather glossed over. Tribute is rightly paid to the Ford personnel who worked on the victorious Escorts – praise being given to Competitions Manager, Stuart Turner; Ford’s Assistant Competitions Manager, Bill Barnett; Ford Rally Engineers, Bill Meade, and Ginger Devlin; the electricians, Don Partington and Pat O’Sullivan; Peter Ashcroft, who built the engine; the mechanics, Jones, Wiltshire, Backshall, Masters, Stevens and Hoyle, who did the S. American servicing; and the rest. There is interesting information about these special 1,850-c.c. 1.h.d. 18-cwt. Escorts with their dry sumps, push-rod o.h.v., Mahle pistons, twin Weber 45 DOCE carburetters, Holbay camshafts, Lotus-Cortina flywheels, Borg and Beck clutches with manual adjustment, 5-speed ZF gearboxes, Salisbury limited-slip Mk. II axles with Taunus casings and magnesium-alloy tail covers, German Bilstein shock absorbers and suspension struts, Twin-Cam radiators, 9.6 in. brake discs, Minilite magnesium wheels shod with Goodyear tyres, running on Castrol oil and Autolite AG12 plugs, and equipped with Cibie BB headlamps fed from Lucas 11 AC alternators.
What happened to them and to most of the other entrants is well told, there are good pictures, two in colour, and a pull-out sheet carrying pictures of all the 106 crews who entered. Another book on the World Cup Rally is apparently due out in September, which reminds us that we are still awaiting Innes Ireland’s book on the Marathon, as advertised on the Mercedes he drove in that event. – W. B.
“The Grand Prix Mercedes-Benz Type W125, 1937”, by Denis Jenkinson. 75 pp. 5 3/8 in x 8 3/4 in. (Lionel Leventhal Limited, 677, Finchley Road, London, NW2. 28s.)
A great deal has already been published about these W125 GP Mercedes-Benz, the most powerful of the pre-war racing cars, certainly the most spectacular to watch in action, and the symbol of the “golden age” of Hitler-sponsored motor racing. They have been described in detail and dissected in “The Grand Prix Car” and a postwar HMSO report, and how the German team was operated and how it fared has been told by George Monkhouse in his “Motor Racing With Mercedes-Benz”. Consequently this little book about one season’s racing with one model from Mercedes-Benz might be thought unnecessary. It would be, had Jenkinson not made good use of records made available to him at Stuttgart. From these, some fascinating new information emerges. The mileage of test runs, how many racing engines were built and their performances on the test-bed, and why Mercedes did not always beat Rosemeyer’s Auto-Union in the 1937 Grands Prix are revealed perhaps for the first time and most of the causes of race retirements are given.
The author, who is Motor Sport’s Continental Correspondent, as if you didn’t know, presents the story of these fabulous cars very clearly and without elaboration. Yet, as you read this brief account, you are transported back to the remarkably thrilling era when only two makes mattered in Grand Prix racing yet they were so fast and sensational as to make the racing worthwhile. The obscure facts about just when Mercedes changed from pressure to suction supercharging and on which engines is an important addition to historical knowledge, and the use by Mercedes of straight-eight, V12and V16-cylinder racing engines is sorted out.
If any criticism is merited, the author omits to say who won the Coppa Acerbo, which slightly spoils the story, and it would be interesting to know why the c.r. of the Mercedes racing engines varied by 0.74 to 1 (presumably because of machining differences in the heads). It is interesting that when passed as raceworthy the maximum power varied by as much as 41 b.h.p. between five W125 engines, and that while the average race-form output was about 580 b.h.p, experimentally as much as 646 b.h.p. at 5,800 r.p.m. was achieved from those 5,660-c.c. power units, for which at least 78 superchargers were apparently made.
The book is illustrated with nearly three dozen pictures, many of them familiar ones, with liberal use of Mercedes-Benz hand-outs, but the new pictures are extremely interesting. With supporting tables and four plan and elevation drawings of the W125 to a scale of 1:24 this brief discourse makes worthwhile reading and advances knowledge of these historic racing cars. – W. B.
“The Ford GT40 Prototypes and Sports Cars”, by David Hodges. 83 pp. 5 3/8 in. x 8 3/4, in. (Lionel Leventhal Limited, 677, Finchlcy Road, London, NW2. 28s.)
Companion volume to the one reviewed above, this is topical stuff, about Ford’s very successful sports/racing model. It follows the same format as the other book, with plans to the same scale, and is an excellent complete record of the GT40 in its many forms and race appearances. The Mercedes-Benz belongs to a more exciting era of motor racing history if you allow that when it was doing 200 m.p.h. ordinary cars that would do half that speed were not very numerous and many of them would not appreciably exceed 60 m.p.h., whereas with the GT40 doing a similar maximum speed to the 1937 Mercedes-Benz road cars are not all that much slower, 100 m.p.h. is now common-place, and the GT40 itself, as the book reminds us, is made as a road-car, which the W125 wasn’t.
Which book you prefer will depend on your age and outlook, but either is a useful contribution to motor racing history. – W. B.
“Observer”, by A. J. Insall. 208 pp. 9 1/2in. x 6 1/4in. (William Kimber, 6, Queen Anne’s Gate, Landon, SW1. 55s.)
This is the memoirs of a RFC observer during the active years, 1915 to 1918, of the First World War. The author was instructed on Maurice Farmans at Brooklands with his brother, who went on to earn the VC and who escaped from a German prisoner-of-war camp, as a later chapter of the book reveals. “Neither of us had been to Brooklands before; we knew of it as a motor-racing track, of course. . . “. There is some good description of how Brooklands looked to a raw recruit to the RFC in 1915, billetted at the “Blue Anchor” and having aerial adventures over St. George’s Hill, etc. Insall had a crash and lost his ability to pilot aeroplanes, so the bulk of the book is about his experiences and adventures as an observer in Vickers Fighters, over the battle area of the Western Front. Indeed, although the book has a great deal to say about the British and German machines of that period, Mr. Insall being well qualified as one of the co-founders of the Imperial War Museum and concerned with the Official Air History, to write about them, it is largely a tribute to the stolid Vickers Fighter which he loved so well.
There is scant reference to cars, except for the anticipated Leyland lorries and Crossley tenders, of which the allocation to Aeroplane Squadrons in 1914 makes interesting reading (32 motor vehicles, plus six motorcycles, usually P & Ms, to each one), apart from a sleeve-valve ex-racing Panhard with four-seater body used as transport back to Paris for pilots ferrying aeroplanes from Le Bourget and Villacoublay, which gets eight lines on pages 184-5, and brief mention of some nice driving by de Courcelles in his “red, two-seater Hispano-Suiza”, presumably an Alfonso, on the Champs-Elysées, which the author compares with the habit of early members of the Royal Aero Club when they “used to scorch down Old Bond Street and skid to the kerbside outside No. 168 in Piccadilly, under the eyes of the bobby on duty there”. One Brooklands pilot is described as “No stranger to Brooklands, he brought with him his racing car, and I recollect going round the track with him one evening, and seeing 90 m.p.h. on the clock as we passed under the Members’ Bridge. We were staggered when one day we heard that he had been turned down on the ground of unsuitability. He had been told that he was too heavy-handed ever to make a pilot”. Alas, we are left guessing as to whom this racing motorist might be.
This is a book which should fascinate those who shared in the adventures of aerial observing and fighting over France and who will meet in its pages some of the great RFC characters of those days. The account is intriguing, but suffers from being unillustrated, except for a composite picture on the dust-jacket incorporating a Shuttleworth Trust replica Vickers FB6, nor, one gathers, is the author enamoured of a publisher who has allowed Major Lanoe G. Hawker to be called “Lance Hawker” on one page, has put Maybach engines under “British and French” in the index, allowed Albatros to be rendered as “Albertross” on page 147, etc. – W. B.