Book Reviews, August 1991, August 1991

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Williams — The business of Grand Prix racing by Alan Henry. 232 pp. 9-1/2in x 6in. Patrick Stephens Ltd, Sparkford, Yeovil, Somerset, BA22 7JJ. £15.99.

Among the many books which have appeared in comparatively recent times devoted to F1 racing, describing the races, the drivers, the teams, the personalities and how top-powers such as Honda and others operate, many of which I find rather dull and repetitive, this latest one by Alan Henry stands out as a masterpiece. It held my attention, unlike so many others, and with a Foreword by Nigel Mansell OBE, and due for publication the day after the British Grand Prix, with Williams-Renault again in the ascendent, it looks all-set for a considerable publishing success.

It is not a flamboyant book. The dust-jacket is brighter than the book itself and there are no colour pictures, but nevertheless the photographs embellish the story admirably. There are plenty of quotes from those who matter on the Williams’ scene, and Alan Henry knows what he is about, as the late Grand Prix correspondent of Motoring News and now for The Guardian and editor of Autocourse. He has not funked anything in setting out the remarkable career in motor racing of Frank Williams, the triumphs, the despair, the victories and the grief, even to a detailed description of the road accident in France which put Frank into a wheelchair — and however morbid, such information is irresistible to most of us. . . . But the true purpose of this remarkable book is to how Frank, with a one-track ambition, went from near poverty to the control of the Williams F1 team, and how such multi-million companies function day-by-day, race-by-race.

In his Prologue, Alan Henry makes a significant case, up to World Cup and Olympic Games level, for Grand Prix racing from the business and team-accomplishment angles, but his opening chapter about Frank Williams’ early days, living on a shoestring with other young men who existed only for this exacting sport, might well be shown to any girlfriend, wife, aunt or even grandmother whom you want to ensure understands what the urge to motor race is about. . . . It is very much in the “Right Crowd” idiom and we discover how patriotic Frank was, believing implicitly that an Englishman was a cut above the rest, calling the Union Jack the Union Flag, in those carefree, fun-days when he shared a flat, and amateurish racing, with Piers Courage, Sheridan Thynne and other titled and/or monied young enthusiasts.

After which the story becomes more serious, about Patrick Head’s engineering influence, with fascinating and informative accounts of how Williams Grand Prix Engineering looked at the then-current F1 cars, acquired a wind tunnel, evolved into carbonfibre construction, etc. There follows the entry of Honda and Renault power, Frank’s deals with the Saudis, and the running of the successful Williams team as a business and how it chooses its drivers, Rosberg, Mansell and Piquet in particular. Because Alan Henry gives a fair smack of the “inside” happenings, is very outspoken about how Honda meanly broke their engine contract after Frank’s crippling accident, and continues to use plenty of quotes from the top people in the organisation, this book is good entertainment, as well as an important contribution to motor racing history. The two appendices list all the race results by Williams’ entered GP cars, from Piers Courage’s debut with the ex-works Brabham BT26 at Brands Hatch in March 1969 to the 1, 2 finish of the Williams-Renault FW14s in Brazil this year, retirements included, and complete specifications tables of all the Williams F1 cars, through the Cosworth, Honda, Judd and Renault engine variations.

I enjoyed this book and Williams’ followers will lap it up. It tells the story simply but comprehensively, even to the romances, the accidents, the set-backs, in what is essentially a technical discourse. Congratulations, Alan! His words fire one’s enthusiasm re tenacious, unlucky Frank Williams, who once advertised, rather optimistically, under a photo of a fast-cornering Brabham, “Who is Frank Williams? He sells Racing Cars And Guarantees Them!” One of the 53 pictures is of the gigantic Renault articulated transporters which carry the precious F1 cars about Europe from race to race; I like to think that those who run ordinary Renault cars are sometimes inspired by the magnitude and accomplishments of the Williams-Renault team. After reading Henry’s latest book, they will be. — WB

***

Shire Publications Ltd, Cromwell House, Church Street, Princes Risborough, Bucks, HP17 9AJ, have issued three new titles (Nos 263, 265 and 266) in their “Shire Albums” motoring history series. The first of these is The Land Speed Record by David Tremayne, the expert on this subject. It is a fine concise coverage, as far as 32 pages can cover such a long and complicated happening, running from 1898 to the jet-age and beyond. The criticisms I have, however, are that David might have used more appropriate photographs of the Malcolm Campbell 350hp V12 Sunbeam and the 4-litre V12 Sunbeam with which Segrave later raised the record. For the former he has used a picture of the car in its revised National Motor Museum guise, saved admittedly after many vicissitudes, but over-cowled, and over-tyred, and for the picture of the car which took the LSR to a slightly higher speed at Southport in 1925 he has made do with a shot of it in much later, Railton-redesigned form after it had been rebuilt for Sir Malcolm, and with fairings behind the wheels that were never used in anger, surely? I note that Tremayne claims that the photograph I was lucky to get of “Babs” going temporarily on fire at Silverstone, on the first day I had used a new Canon Sureshot camera, is his own! Moreover, he says it is Wyn Owen who is coping with the carburettor fire. Wrong! It was Roger Collings.

The next little work in the series is Motor-car Mascots and Badges by Peter W Card. This is a useful study for those not equipped with the more profound coverage of both subjects. It is going to be interesting to collectors and historians and with well over 103 clear illustrations of badges and mascots in the 32 pages and more on the colour front cover, the value of these “Shire Albums” is well portrayed.

Card has divided his book into chapters on manufacturers’ approved mascots (with an attempt to give the sizes, dates and the applicable Rolls-Royce cars on which the various versions of the famous Sykes “Spirit of Ecstasy” was used), accessory mascots, ie those by proprietary makers, comic, artistic and sexy, glass mascots, including those of Lalique, and Club Badges, with a short finale on radiator badges and notes for collectors, with the various Bentley badges sorted out pictorially. I have nothing serious to criticise, except that the BARC badges, now so much sought-after, were (in full members’ size) lapel, not wrist, badges (the cords supplied with them presumably caused confusion) and when the author says that these BARC badges of the war years and later are the most rarely found today, it should have been made clear that only one full-scale war-time badge was issued, that for 1915, with a poor substitute in 1916. Then the BARC car-badge is said to have been used “in the 1920s and 1930s”, but in fact it was not introduced until 1931 and Goldie Gardner’s name is given as “Gardiner” in one caption. Otherwise, an attractive little book; incidentally, the MG Tigress mascot has been chosen as the Frontispiece illustration.

The third in this popular series is Motoring Specials by Ian Dussek, who has bravely compacted this difficult subject into the prescribed 32 8-1/4 x 5-3/4in pages. “Regulars” will have seen most of the pictures previously, but all are very clear and appropriate, and 50, including two drawings, plus a colour front cover of “Bloody Mary”, cannot be bad value for £1.95, the price of all three of these booklets. Dussek’s text is crisp, his subjects running from Jappic to Higham Special, ie from 350 to 27,000cc. Trials specials, Allard, Batten etc, and A7s are there and a rare photograph is that of a very young John Bolster at Shelsley Walsh studying what I think is HP Prestwich’s Akela-GN Special, circa 1932/33. Good fan all three, and excellent value. These Shire motoring titles run from Aston Martin and Austerity Motoring to my Vintage Motor Cars and The VW Beetle.

***

Ole, Toledo! by Edouard Seidler, 135 pp. 9-1/2 x 7-3/4in. Motor Racing Publications Ltd, Unit 6, The Pilton Estate, 46 Pitlake, Croydon, CRO 3RY £9.95

Not all one-make histories are about cars from the distant past. This one, by the well-known journalist who interviews the leaders of the world’s Motor Industry, tells how the Seat has flourished since 1948, when it was in partnership with the Spanish Government, how this has happened in spite of Fiat pulling out of the operation in 1980, and how after this a group of enterprising Spaniards engineered a great revival, so that with the help of Ital Design, Porsche and Karmann, the Seat Ibiza enabled the company to expand to its horizons of 2500 outlets in 31 countries six years after it had but 150 dealers, aided by Volkswagen alliance in 1986.

The book is about dramatic events, perhaps the most dramatic in the history of the post-war Motor Industry, and Seidler is the writer to know the inside story. He introduces the brand-new Seat Toledo, for which 133 mph is claimed for the 16-valve GT version. The soft-cover book, in fact, reads more like a manufacturer’s blurb than an unbiased one-make history, which its sub-title The Saga of Seat and the Car which is giving it a New Dimension fosters. The print, though, is large, which may be a comfort to our older readers who have a vested interest in Seat affairs. — WB

***

Vauxhall — The Postwar Years by Trevor Alder. 192 pp. 11 x 8-1/4in. GT Foulis & Co Ltd, Sparkford, Yeovil, Somerset, BA22 £9.99

A complete history of the celebrated Lutonian cars has yet to be written; followers of Vauxhall have to be content with a rather truncated work by the manufacturers, the pictorial history by Michael Sedgwick (Beaulieu Books, 1981), with some more to be gleaned from Kenneth Ullyett’s Vauxhall Companion (Stanley Paul, 1971). The official history runs from 1857 to 1946, so leaves an appreciable gap.

It is this gap which has now been ably filled by Trevor Alder’s book about the post-war Vauxhalls. He admits that some of the information he would have wished to include has been lost in the mists of time. But I am impressed by the sound help he was able to enlist, making this book very complete, each chapter, for example, including a complete list of all models produced in the category covered.

The coverage runs from the Vauxhall Ten (which survived for a while into the postwar period, having created a niche for itself when it was first announced because a clever use of wide plug-gaps enabled a weak mixture to suffice, giving 40 mpg or better from this quite spacious car) to the latest 4WD Cavaliers. Indeed, the models included range from the Albany to the Wyvern, through such well-remembered Vauxhalls as the Cadet, Carlton, Magnum, Velox, etc, while conversions are also covered, but not the Opel variants. The commercials in car-based form get their own chapter. To achieve all this Alder has drawn on the expertise of such as Mario and Edmund Lindsay, Lindon Lait, Martin Cooper, Miriam Carroll of the Vauxhall Press Office and the NMM library. So the work is notably complete, rare prototypes and all. The book also abounds in good pictures, some in colour, and I like the idea of using either period views, or club vehicles that are in standard form; there are many of those always welcome road scenes, some identified in the captions but others posing interesting puzzles as to where they were photographed — for instance, I would like to know where a train pulled by a steam tank-loco emerged into a road, close to a blind bend, a comparatively modern scene judging by the no-parking yellow lines. Other pictures prompt similar speculation.

The real purpose of the book, however, is to fill in comprehensively gaps in our knowledge of post-war Vauxhall cars and history, aided by Appendices about this history year-by-year, production figures, competition achievements, and the 15 specialist Vauxhall clubs — which reminds me that, although I have not had news of it for some considerable time, the pre-1957 VOC had a big following and recorded cars for sale at quite reasonable prices, as does the Singer OC Club. Such cars may not be everyone’s idea of a good thing, but in Alder’s book you can read about the Lotus-Carlton and Calibra, and the droop-snoot Firenza, remembered because that so-efficient Vauxhall Press Officer, Michael Marr, brought one to the Motor Sport offices for me to try, just prior to his retirement. Unexpectedly, I liked this conscientious book. — WB

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