Book Reviews, August 1979, August 1979

“Mini” by Rob Golding. 208 pp. 9 3/4″ x 7 3/4″ (Osprey Publishing Ltd., 12-14 Long Acre, London, WC2E 9LP. £6.95.)

The Mini, British Motor Corporation’s original Morris Mini Minor, now on the eve of its 20th birthday, deserves this book. The most popular of Britain’s little motor-cars, the Mini was a quite remarkable technical breakthrough, conceived by that genius, Sir Alec Issigonis, who perpetuated an engineering layout since almost universally copied by so many design teams working on the World’s modern small cars.

The late Laurence Pomeroy gave us an excellent technical and development story of his friend Issigonis’ clever concept, in “The Mini Story”, and later Peter Browning covered admirably the competition exploits of those astonishing works Minis, in a book of that title. What Rob Golding has done is to give the complete story between two covers, with a whole host of pictures of Minis of all ages and types, in all manner of situations, for enthusiasts of these front-drive “minibrics” to feast their eyes on. The text goes into it all – the Mini’s creation, how it was launched and the market thinking behind it, the advent of the Cooper and Downton Minis, the competition scene in the Mini context, the automatic-transmission development, the tyres for Minis, the special versions, and the very many variants on the production theme, even unto vans. The author also deals with the pre-production and post-production models, and there is the first published picture of the ADO 74, shelved as too expensive in 1974, and a picture of the 9X, Sir Alec’s o.h.c. replacement, frozen by the BMC/Leyland merger. Information is also included about the forthcoming Mighty Mini intended to go into production next year. Golding also shows that, in his view, the Mini never made a penny for its manufacturers. . .

The pictures make the book, in a light-hearted context; the text tells all, even to Appendices giving details of production figures, specifications, dates of mod. introductions, Mini Clubs, etc. A trifle “journalise” in places, this is definitely the book for all Mini-fans and the author’s description of a Mini being driven by Timo Makinen or Paddy Hopkirk on a rally stage in Wales is truly breath-taking! – W-B.

“Sigh For A Merlin” by Alex Henshaw. 210 pp. 8 3/4″ x 5 1/2″. (John Murray, Ltd., 50, Albemarle Street, London, W1X 4BD. £6.95)

There are now a great many books about Rolls-Royce, covering the motor-car and aero-engine aspects of this great British Company. In this 75th year of the meeting between the Hon. C. S. Rolls and Henry Royce that sparked it all off, here is another contribution to the aviation side of the picture. It is no dull technical tome, this book by Alex Henshaw who was so well known as a successful racing and record-breaking pilot of Percival Vega Gulls before the war, and who was a dashing young man of that now lost era. In this long-awaited account, a book already in its second printing, Henshaw tells directly, simply, and in excellent prose, with no punches pulled, of how he became a test-pilot of Rolls-Royce Merlin-engined Supermarine Spitfires during the years of World War Two.

In this role, one so vital to Britain’s survival, Henshaw became Chief Test Pilot at Castle Bromwich, the giant Spitfire shadow factory on the outskirts of Birmingham. This was, to put it mildly, not exactly the best place from which to test the fastest and most effective of British fighters, and the adventures were numerous. But the undefeatable, indefatigable and indestructible Henshaw was responsible for over 37,000 test flights, not only of Spitfires but of Lancasters and other important aeroplanes powered by Rolls-Royce engines, more than 12,000 of which were delivered to RAF Squadrons. The test pilots flew from dawn to dusk, often in “impossible” weather conditions.

This very readable and enjoyable book covers it all, in a crisp, unselfconscious manner, even to this now confident and very senior young man referring to his father as “Dad”. Some of the Spitfires that he and his co-pilots managed to save intact in horrific forced-landings, or the wrecks from which they escaped, are quite incredible, as the photographs confirm. The personalities of those days and the conditions under which they served come over very well indeed. This is autobiography, not a technical work, and all the better for that. It includes a map of Castle Bromwich aerodrome at the appropriate time and a summary of flying there from June 1940 to January 1946.

Alex Henshaw comes over as a man who preferred the country, and his horses and Labrador dog to urban life. He was a superb pilot and had a great reputation for some of the most skilful aerobatics of all time, notably those involving really low-level flying and rolling at ground level and I am glad that he describes how he did this in Spitfires, of which, of course, the book covers his flying of all the different marks, and also of the Walrus amphibian. What a splendid contrast! There is a hint that one day Alex Henshavv will write of his pre-war racing and record-breaking activities notably with the Essex Aero Racing Team – may it be soon. Meanwhile, you can enjoy this excellent book. The appreciation by Lt. Comdr. J. K. Quill, OBE, AFC, who was Vickers-Armstrongs’ Chief Pilot at Supermarines throughout World War Two, has for some reason been relegated to the book’s dust-jacket. – W.B.

“A Clubman at Brooklands” by A. C. Perryman. 127 pp. 11″ x 8″. (Haynes Publishing Group,Sparkford, Yeovil, Somerset, BA22 7JJ. £4.95).

For those of us who cannot have too much of Brooklands, here is a fresh treat! It is the detailed, personal story of how the amateur rider, A. C. Perryman, enjoyed himself before the war, from 1931 with aged motorcycles, and from 1934 onwards racing in Clubmans’ meetings at Brooklands, with some grass track and speed-trial riding and a holiday visit to the TT thrown in for good measure. Less technical than the rather similar book about Francis Beart, this one has also been edited by Jeff Clew, and if at times there is a feeling that he has “padded-the-tapes” in this context, this does not detract from the Perryman story, which so admirably captures the spirit and the atmosphere of those BMCRC and other Club days at the old Track.

One example, when asked how to make a Velocette go really quickly, Les Archer said simply “you do two things, you sit on it and you open it right out” . . .

I said of the Morgan 3-wheeler racing book that some of the pictures in it almost reek of burnt castor oil and the crackle of exhausts, and it is true also of the Haynes book, illustrated with so many fine photographs, some from Dr. Joe Bayley’s great collection. Some of those showing views from the public enclosures bring back much spectator nostalgia and there are some fine shots of the more imposing, later Brooklands motorcycles, especially of the supercharged 490 c.c. Norton of Miss Shilling, Ben Bickell’s blown 500 c.c. Ariel-4, and the blown Triumph Twin. The author rode Ariel, Excelsior, and Velocette machines, but the pictures are by no means a monopoly of these.

Altogether, this is a most entertaining book, by a man who is one of those lucky people who can somehow make the hours stretch out – apart from his competition motorcycling he has made two magnificent 5″-gauge LBSC passenger-hauling locomotives, being an ex-railway apprentice.

By including reproductions of speed certificates, pre-war advertisements, etc., relevant to his Brooklands story, his book is guaranteed to bring on a nice fit of the nostalgics to all those who love motorcycles or knew Brooklands; the attack which BMCRC members will suffer will be extra severe! It is full of delightful anecdotes, such as the one about the careless lap scorer, Ebby and Baragwanath. Those concerned with historical accuracy, however, will not be pleased to find that on page 5 Les Archer is described as the first man to do 100 miles in the hour on a British track, whereas on page 20 this honour is attributed to C. W. G. Lacey. – W.B.

“The Automobile Treasury of Ireland” by Finbarr Corry. 208 pp. 10″ x 7 1/2″. (Dalton Watson Limited, 76, Wardour Street, London, W1V 4AN. £10.50).

There have been books about veteran and vintage cars and the advance of the automobile in Africa, Australia and New Zealand, etc. and now we have this one, about the old-car movement in Ireland. The first part of what is essentially a pictorial record of high quality is devoted to history, the latter, larger section of the book (“The Treasure”), to individual cars in Ireland, from veteran down to pre-WW2 makes and models, while the last pages of the book are devoted to old cars exported from Ireland.

The historical part is rather disappointing, being very brief. Although several of the pictures are of racing cars, many of which I have seen previously, these stop with the 1903 Gordon Bennett races; perhaps the author thinks enough has been done about the TT, but the Ards Tourist Trophy was such an important race that it should surely be essential in a book about motor racing in the Emerald Isle? A few reproductions of period advertisements are included and the book’s end-papers consist of cartoons about a motor show. The more important part is that dealing with Irish car manufacturers and their products. – W.B.

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Those interested in aviation history will find excellent coverage of all manner of Naval flying machines of all kinds and periods, including airships, in the well-illustrated book “Wings Over The Sea”, by David Wragg, which is published by David & Charles of Brunel House, Newton Abbot, Devon at £7.50. This is a reasonable price for a book so well endowed with good pictures and with a full supporting text – I like especially the shot of the Convair Sea Dart prototype-taking off. The accounts runs from the first faltering steps with Naval aircraft to the Nuclear Navy. – W.B.

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In last month’s stop-press review of “The Rolls-Royce Twenty” by John Fasal we inadvertently said that the list of every 20 h.p. Rolls-Royce ever made, which is just one part of this incredible work, ended with the last 20/25 h.p. Rolls-Royce car – we should have said that it ended with the first 20/25, because this is a book about the earlier cars and the Company that made them, and there would have been some additional 3,500 additional entries, had the list covered 20/25s as well as 20s. Also, in praising the very high standard of production which Burgess & Son Ltd. of Abingdon devoted to this remarkable book we described them as its publishers. The author points out that they are more accurately its printers, as he did the work of publication himself. – W.B.