Set the record straight

As Roy Castle said, if you want to be the best, dedication’s what you need. And few were as devoted to speed as Goldie Gardner

Goldie Gardner at Silverstone in 1949, readying himself for a test run in the MG EX135 speed-record car

Goldie Gardner at Silverstone in 1949, readying himself for a test run in the MG EX135 speed-record car

Reading “Unfeasible speed – Disgruntled Nazis – Beautiful heiresses” on the flyleaf here gave me a brief worry that this would be a Boy’s Own pastiche. In fact there was only one beautiful heiress and the Nazis seemed more than gruntled to have Lieutenant-Colonel Goldie Gardner obe mc doing his stuff at their Record Week trials. But there’s unfeasible speed aplenty: in a succession of cars Gardner dominated the small-capacity end of the record lists for 21 years, breaking 150 of them. Three stand yet.

In his time he was seen as one of the speed kings with Malcolm Campbell, George Eyston and John Cobb and received the Segrave Trophy, yet except in MG circles his name has drifted into the mists. I certainly knew little about him beyond those records so this is a timely life of a man who hasn’t had a biography since his own 1951 memoir.

There’s lots to learn. First, that far from being a young man as he ticked off records in the famous MG EX135 he was by then in his fifties and sixties – one caption calls him “a disabled old veteran”. He served in both world wars, invalided out in 1917 due to a hip injury from an aircraft crash that left him limping with a stick. Here Mayhead proves himself a dogged researcher (so many footnotes!), chasing many leads about this mysterious crash: was it over enemy lines, or having fun while on leave? Gardner never told, and Mayhead doesn’t solve it, wondering if it was this murky event which made Goldie keep on proving himself. Severe-looking in photos, Gardner drove himself hard, yet seems from this engaging book to be a modest man and a kindly father.

Mining the National Motor Museum’s copious Gardner archive plus Goldie’s own and his daughter’s recollections, Mayhead presents us with a man obsessed with speed, to the detriment of his first marriage. Racing at Brooklands and Ards, joining Campbell on his Daytona records, then taking over his faithful EX135 and heading for the autobahns during Rekordwoche where he noted “Nazi bestiality clearly visible”, he never stopped, renewing his efforts postwar at Jabbeke and Bonneville. Here in 1952 he received a head injury leading to a slow decline until his death in 1958.

Perhaps, muses Mayhead, it was this long-drawn-out, private end which denied him much of the fame of his peers. GC

Goldie-John-Mayhead book

John Mayhead
National Motor Museum, £20
ISBN 9781739629731

The First Lady of Dirt Bill Poehler

The First Lady of Dirt 

Bill Poehler
This is the tough tale of a black woman’s battle to get onto the Indy grid in the ’80s. Unsurprisingly Cheryl Glass endured racist and sexist taunts, but instead of ‘brave woman fighting unfair odds’ it’s clear that her talents didn’t involve staying on the track. Repeated crashes caused increasing mental difficulties – when her Indy Lights licence was suspended she insisted the CIA and drug smugglers were to blame. Thereafter her life spiralled down. A sad story of unrealistic dreams. GC

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
£25 ISBN 9781538184059

Formula 1 car by car 2000-09 Peter Higham

Formula 1 car by car 2000-09

Peter Higham
The definitive Formula 1 decade series continues, with Peter Higham listing and illustrating every team, marque, model and livery to hit the F1 grid in those 10 years. What a great era it was. Michael Schumacher and the stunning F2002 Ferrari, Lewis Hamilton’s bomb-burst arrival and that astonishing season for Brawn GP. As we have come to expect, Higham is evenhanded with coverage – Super Aguri gets the same attention as McLaren. This is no bedtime book, but it’s the perfect go-to source. GC

Evro Publishing, £60
ISBN 9781910505861

Ferrari 166mm Uovo James Page

Ferrari 166mm Uovo

James Page
When I first saw the Uovo, it looked so bizarre I thought it must be a later re-body. As James Page outlines, ‘The Egg’ was built almost 75 years ago for a keen racer; one co-designer was a sculptor, hence its lines but it’s intriguing to know that the grill was forced on them to accept a larger radiator than planned. Page digs deep into its history and racing career, going on to describe a sad decline and rebuild for the 1986 Mille Miglia. Many pictures of it in build and racing, with much background info, make for a useful volume. GC

Porter Press International, £35
ISBN 9781913089627