Books For Christmas

“English Sports-Cars.” Illustrated and described by George A. Oliver. 27 pages, 14 in. x 20: in. (Hugh Evelyn Ltd., 9 Fitzroy Square, London, W. 1. 63s.)

This is the fourth in a series of these enormous books on early motor vehicles, by Hugh Evelyn, which are intended primarily as a source of big colour illustrations, the pictures being on good paper and unbacked, to make them suitable for framing. The twelve cars selected for this treatment in the present volume are the choice of the author/artist and cover 1925 Alvis 12/50, 1926 3-litre Sunbeam, 1928 4½-litre Bentley, 1930 Brooklands Riley Nine, 1930 Ulster Austin 7, 1932 2-litre Lagonda Continental, 1933 1½-litre Singer Le Mans, 1½ -litre Le Mans Aston Martin, 4-½ litre S-type Invicta, T.T. Replica Frazer Nash, 1937 Morgan 4/4 Le Mans Replica and TB M.G. Midget, a selection George Oliver says he is well aware may cause raised eyebrows in certain quarters. He asks, however, whether one has to ingnore what was produced in the ‘thirties altogether, just because some of the cars of the previous decade were superior in quality, inferior in comfort? Which is a neat way of coping with the vintage versus 30/40s outlook.

The very bulk of this book will hardly make it popular with the average reader or collector, unless he or she has some use fort the illustrations therein. Moreover, I am sorry to see inaccuracies in a work by the usually meticulous Mr. Oliver, who laid on a pretty severe attack on casual authors and careless editors in the pages of the Veteran Car Club Gazette not so long ago. But inaccuracies there are. The illustration of the Super Sports 12/50 Alvis, for instance, shows it with a rear-mounted fuel tank, its radiator too far forward, and With a sloping bonnet/scuttle line, which is wrong for a duck’s-back, while the specification says it has centre-lock wire wheels, whereas those depicted (correctly) are bolt-on wheels; this latter error is perpetuated in the case of the Ulster Austin 7, which always had bolt-on wheels. The 12/50 Alvis Register found some dozen errors in this Alvis drawing, and three or four more in the caption. Mr. Oliver says of the Austin, “. . . according to Waite, this still-willing Seven took second place in the Brooklands Whitsun 75 m.p.h. Short Handicap—but according to that great Brooklands authority, William Boddy, his car retired after the first lap of the Small Car Handicap (which was won by E. C. Gordon England in his own specially prepared Seven). However, Waite resolved his troubles so effectively that he was able to take second place in a later race to the twin-camshaft Aston Martin driven by Major Halford.”

Quite what this has to do with the 1930 Ulster Austin I do not know, nor what the author is trying to prove. On that particular Whit Monday the Small Car handicap was run at 1.25 p.m and after an opening lap at only 54.99 m.p.h., Waite’s Seven retired. He came out at 2.15 p.m. for the 23rd 75 m.p.h. Short Handicap, in which he finished second, as Oliver says, to Halford’s Aston Martin, which had given the little Austin a start of 66 Sec. Thus both Waite and I are correct. If the author had any doubts I would have thought he might have read The Autocar report of the occasion, for he says in his Preface that he “was greatly helped by the special library facilities granted to him by the R.S.A.C.,” the peace and quiet at which is specifically praised. Had he done this he would have read that in the Small Car Handicap “Interest centred on the two baby Austin racers, little fellows looking like large bumble bees made of aluminium. . . A. Waite (Austin) came to a standstill along the railway straight on his second lap,” and that in the 75 m.p.h. Short Handicap Waite was indeed second.

There is nothing new in the text and this huge book standsor falls mainly on the merit of its illustrations, so the errors in the Alvis picture are most unfortunate. The prints, should anyone want them, are obtainable separately, for 8s. each.—W. B.

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“Amy Johnson,” by Constance Babington Smith. 384 pp., 8 7/8 in. x 5¾ in. (Collins, St. James’s Place, London, S.W.1. 45s.)

This is an extremely readable book and moreover a serious study of the life of Amy Johnson, the famous aviator. The popular story that Miss Johnson left home in Hull, became a penniless London typist, took a few flying lessons at Stag Lane, and then contrived to fly solo in her D.H. Moth to Australia, is effectively corrected. There was considerably more to it than that, as any thinking person must have realised.

Yet such revelations do not for a moment undermine one’s enormous admiration for Amy Johnson. Indeed, there is plenty of real-life drama in this undramatised and honest biography, as it leads up to her departure from Croydon on the bid to be the first woman to fly solo to Australia. When she took off, at the second attempt, on that fateful early morning in her secondhand £600 Gipsy Moth Jason she had never flown out of England before, had less than 100 hours’ solo flying to her credit, her longest previous flight was 150 miles, and she had owned this aeroplane for less than three weeks, had only flown Jason twice before, and had never taken it off fully-loaded! Only a handful of people saw this dramatic departure, among them the Castrol and Shell reps., for she was using this oil and fuel. How she must have felt, how her homely parents and sisters must have felt, can be well-imagined!

Constance Babington Smith’s book deals not only with this great flight of 1930 and the events in Amy’s life which led up to it, but of Amy’s marriage to Jim Mollison, which broke up, and of the flying she and her husband did until her mysterious accident when serving with the W.A.A.F. in 1941. Because the authoress is conversant with aeronautical matters, this is a splendid book for the aviation enthusiast, the aeroplanes Amy flew being properly described and her flights correctly analysed; drama is not allowed to distort the facts, which the authoress has done her utmost to discover and adhere to.

Apart altogether from the flying aspects, this very worthy biography covers Miss Johnson’s early love affair, her suicidal tendencies, her relationships with her parents, her backers and her husband, and the aftermath of her first great flight, impartially and in considerable detail. The result is a quite fascinating tale of a great personality and of flying in the days when it was still the top adventure; especially if you were Amy Johnson. That Miss Johnson was a studious girl (she had been a student at Sheffield University) is very obvious. That her life was scarcely a happy one, not only before she embarked on her lone flight but for most of the rest of it, is sadly apparent from this straightforward and understanding book. It is a book every private-flying enthusiast must read without delay. The illustrations are exactly suited to it. Indeed, it is a book of such quality that one hopes sincerely that the authoress will attempt further work of this kind.

Incidentally, “Amy Johnson” contains items of the “cars-inbooks” kind. We read how her father, as his fish business expanded, gave up riding a motorcycle and bought a car, and was soon running a standard saloon and a Morris Oxford two-seater; that was not long after the Armistice. Amy herself went out in a car belonging to friends, “a four-seater with a hood and open sides that let in the rain,” in 1925, and rode on the pillion of her lover’s motorcycle, but the makes are not mentioned. While learning to fly at Stag Lane in 1928/9, Amy bought a 1926 maroon Morris Cowley two-seater, for £70. She worked on its engine herself, fitting it with an “air-trap” because it used a lot of petrol; this probably started her interest in aero engines. (The authoress explains this reference to an “air-trap” as meaning an air filter, but what Amy really fitted was an extra airvalve, of course). While Amy was taking her engineer’s licences on Gipsy engines at Stag Lane she sold the Morris for £40, partly to raise funds for her flying, partly because it had proved so unreliable. She then often borrowed an Austin Seven, which she described splendidly as “. . . useful for running about once one gets used to the ‘unsafe’ feeling. I like to have something solid under me,”—which so aptly expressed the sense of frailty and vulnerability one used to feel in an Austin 7 Chummy. About this time, too, she was going out with Tim Rose-Richards, the Brooklands’ racing driver, and there are interesting references in the book to letters she wrote home about this driver’s ability to control skids and make clutch-less gear changes.

Much later in her flying career, Amy had a Mercedes in Palm Beach, complained of having to drive “an old borrowed Delage” because her husband, Jim Mollison, wouldn’t let her use his new Buick (this was in 1934), and was waiting eagerly for “my Hispano.” After profitable flying ran out for her, Amy was for a while editor of The Lady Driver, and in 1937/8 she used a big Ford, obviously a V8; incidentally, she was involved in an unnerving accident when driving from London to her home in Gloucestershire. At this time, the authoress mentions, Amy Mollison took part in motor rallies, hillclimbs and track races, which brought her “a good deal of publicity but very few prizes.”—I do not recall her racing but she drove a 328 B.M.W. at Shelsley Walsh and a Bentley in at least one of the big rallies. One picture shows her with a Triumph Roadster, another make with which she was associated.

The crash into the Thames on a miserable winter day, which ended Amy Mollison’s sad but remarkable life, will forever remain a mystery. It is dealt with sensibly in this essentially well-balanced book, but the thought persists that Amy’s Airspeed Oxford may have collided high up with another aeroplane, perhaps a lone German raider, otherwise, why did she jump by parachute, from such a low altitude?

There is one part of this biography which makes Amy Johnson’s Australian flight particularly memorable for me. This is the account of the triumphant drive from Croydon to Grosvenor House, after she had returned, the World’s heroine and everyone’s sweetheart, to England. I had been to Brooklands that day—it was August Bank Holiday—and had come back by train to Streatham Hill station, as I was then living with friends in West Norwood. Coming out of the station, I was astonished to find the Main road so thickly lined with people that I had to ask a policeman for permission to cross Streatham High Road, in order to walk home, up Leigham Court Road. “What is happening?” I asked. “Oh,” the policeman replied, “we are waiting for Amy Johnson.” ♱ That surely underlines the fame of long-distance pilots in those days; I doubt whether today even the Beatles would cause dense crowds to line a route of some 12 miles they intended driving over, at some indeterminate time. I can vouch that in 1930 the public thought it worth while doing so, in order to pay their tribute to Amy Johnson!

This book of that title recalls it all, honestly, vividly and in great detail—W. B.

♱ Although not stated in the book, this remarkable drive was made in the four Armstrong Siddeley demonstration cars (one of them apparently a tourer) painted red. white, blue and green, to represent St. Andrew, St. David, St. George and St. Patrick. It is too much to expect that four of these models have survived, but the A.S.O.C. might consider, should one exist, having it painted an appropriate colour and lending it for use at some of next year’s flying displays, to give a contemporary atmosphere to aerodrome backgrounds—Ed.

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“McCudden V.C.,” by Christopher Cole. 224 pp., 9½ in. x 6½ in. (William Kimber, 6, Queen Anne’s Gate, London, S.W.1 50s.)

When I first saw this book I regarded it as unlikely to be particularly interesting, because I was aware that McCudden, the top-scoring lighter pilot from the U.K. in the 1914/18 conflict, had written his own autobiography, edited shortly after his death by C. G. Grey, and published under the title of “Five Years in the R.F.C.” This present work, I thought, is just a rehash, maybe an embellishment, of McCudden’s own book. I was completely mistaken.

Finding the personal story of McCudden too modest and not altogether accurate, Mr. Cole set out to write a very complete, detailed account of this famous pilot’s life and flying career, the latter lasting from the beginning of the war almost to the end. The result is an entirely fascinating piece of aviation history. McCudden was not only the top-scoring U.K. fighter pilot of the First World War but he was a great aeroplane enthusiast. The author describes each of his many encounters with the enemy and traces his development into a leading fighter pilot, covers the many aeroplanes he flew and his opinion of them, discusses his temperament, and the fatal accident in an S.E.5 that ended, in mysterious circumstances, his great career.

Indeed, this excellent book deals with the flying careers of McCudden’s three brothers as well as that of James Byford McCudden. The last-named was by far the most successful of the family, however, bringing down 57 enemy aeroplanes, a score bettered only by the Canadian ace, Bishop, with 72. The entire story is of absorbing interest and the pictures (plus two maps) are good, too.

It is a reflection on the social standards prevailing in 1914/18 that because McCudden had risen from the ranks, a fact which became known when publicity for his victories was at last permitted, he was unpopular in some quarters. But that he was a very efficient fighting force was never for a moment in doubt, even if his actual handling of an aeroplane was sometimes criticised. There are frequent extracts from McCudden’s log-books, and accounts of his cross-country flights, forced-landings and test flying. The author presents this biography so that it embraces a vivid record of how the air-war developed, from being fought with rifles, through the “Fokker scourge,” to the later dog-fights. He includes as appendices J. B. McCudden’s air-combat victories (with dates, aeroplanes brought down, places and missions) while this pilot was with No. 29 and No. 56 Squadrons, details of his flying hours and the aeroplanes flown (ditto for J. A. McCudden) and information on markings of his aeroplanes, the British serial numbers of German aeroplanes destroyed over Allied lines by J. B. McCudden and, particularly interesting, rates of climb and speeds recorded in his log-book by McCudden for a Sopwith Pup, seven S.E.5s, two Vickers F.B. 16Ds and a Bristol M1C flown in 1917/18, the author noting that such figures, however, should “be treated with some reserve in comparison with official performance figures.” There is also a Postscript covering the last days of McCudden’s life and the post-war activities of other McCuddens, of whom Maurice McCudden flew as a passenger on many test-flights from the R.A.E. and for relaxation became a member of J. S. Worters’ motorcycle racing team at Brooklands, where, having like so many other people discovered the fascination of the Track, he “was never happier than when lapping at 100 m.p.h.”

Apart from this reference to racing, “McCudden V.C.” has some interesting references to motoring. Bill McCudden, also in the R.F.C., had a tandem-seated Sabena cyclecar while at Farnborough in 1913, of which a photograph is reproduced with James at the wheel; he is also seen on a Douglas dispatch-rider’s motorcycle. Bill McCudden had the difficult task of looking after the transport for the Balloon School at Farnborough in 1911 when five aeroplanes attempted to fly to Cambridge, but unfortunately the lorries used are not described, although the “rattling, solid-tyred Leyland lorry” that took the N.C.O.s and men from Larkhill into Salisbury on Saturday afternoons in 1912 is mentioned. Bill McCudden was fined 2s. 6d. in January 1913 for driving backwards from the Canal to Queen Street in Salisbury, in the powerful Mercedes tender used by No. 3 Squadron, R.F.C. James McCudden followed his brother in these matters and the book mentions that in 1913 he “coaxed his temperamental secondhand twin-cylinder Moto-Reve motorcycle as far as Brooklands to see Pegoud loop-the-loop, while working as a fitter in the R.F.C. Much later there is a reference to a girl-driver of an R.F.C. Crossley tender picking McCudden up after he had crashed in France, the girl being too shy to ask to be allowed to get out and light the lamps until McCudden told her it was time to do so!

I found this book exceedingly interesting. It provides a very full account of the McCudden family, of whom the father died after falling from a train and three of the four boys were killed in flying accidents. The Foreword is by Air Vice-Marshal “Johnnie” Johnson, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O., D.F.C. Put this one on the list for very worthwhile Christmas reading.—W. B.

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“All Arms and Elbows,” by Innes Ireland. 189 pp., 8¾ in. x 5½ in. (Pelham Books Ltd., 26, Bloomsbury Street, London,W.C.1., 30s.)

Innes Ireland, recently appointed Sports Editor of Autocar, has had a go previously at writing the story of his motor racing Career. But in “All Arms and Elbows” he makes a proper job of it, commencing at the beginning, when he felt the thrill of the thing, as so many of us did, by reading as a boy about the Bentley successes at Le Mans and elsewhere, and getting in on the ground floor, as it were, while running a garage, by racing a Bentley and a Riley 9 and then becoming too-wild a driver at Goodwood with a kit-built Lotus. From that time onwards, Innes was a dedicated racer, and his career expanded until he drove for Lotus in 1959-61 and for B.R.P. from 1962-64, winning for Team Lotus their first serious G.P., at Watkins Glen, in 1961.

All this, the joys and triumphs, the accidents and disappointments, are extremely well told in this very readable and entertaining book. Ireland has gone out of his way to paint a picture of himself as a “larger-than-life” character, who enjoys every minute of active motoring and the atmosphere and companionship surrounding it. In this he succeeds, and certainly he emerges from these pages very much as a driver in the carefree pre-war tradition, instead of a dedicated finance-wizard, which is what almost all the present-day racing drivers are. He describes with great gusto the wild parties, the slap-happy approach, which were part and parcel of motor racing to him; it did not, escape me that in this book about a full-time racing career extending over six years Ireland admits to crashing 18 cars racing and one road car, and that of these crashes, at least seven appear to have been due entirely to his own carelessness!

Innes’ accidents in racing may be attributed to brake trouble in an F.2 Lotus at Rouen, a tire in an F.1 Lotus at the Nurburgring, the car being burnt out, breakage of a steering-arm on an F.1 Lotus at Watkins Glen, brake failure at Zandvoort with a B.R.P. Lotus, the gear lever jumping out on a Lotus-B.R.M. at Monaco, oil at Nurburgring when driving a B.R.P. car, and another shunt at the same circuit when his Lotus 24 was hit by Bandini, a spin at Goodwood in a B.R.P. entry to avoid Arundell, which caused Ireland to be hit by McLaren, a prang at Abbey on the Silverstone circuit for no apparent reason, while he blames the brakes of a B.R.P. car he crashed at Rouen and a tyre was responsible for his Ford GT 40 accident at Nurburgring. Ireland should be safer in his sports-editor’s chair!

So this is rip-roaring stuff, which some present-day racing drivers, and I suppose almost the entire staff of the R.A.C. Competitions Department, may well recommend only as a book about how a racing driver should not behave! But it is refreshing to find that Ireland had fun from his chosen career and imaged something of what the public used to expect from its racing-driver heroes. He also writes a very powerful chapter about what is wrong, in his opinion, with modern motor racing, and what caused him to withdraw. The gist of Ireland’s argument is that motor racing has become a money-making rat-race, which has taken the fun out of it—he writes: “Motor racing has become such a money-conscious affair that for most people in it, the fun of the thing is but a minor consideration. For me, it was all-important.” (Ireland may, of course, have foreseen the sudden withdrawal of petrol and tyre companies’ support for racing. He certainly seems to have got out at the right time and is to be congratulated on finding another task so close to his heart; “starting money” in motoring journalism is sometimes unrewarding; fortunately he says that money does not interest him! I hope Innes will continue to get his fun, however, and that he will not conform-to-pattern, or sober-up, in his new profession.)

Ireland also has some very pertinent observations about some of the absurdities surrounding Formula One and the restrictions imposed on those outside the “Paris Agreement,” which put B.R.P. out of racing; This (chapter 15) contains some out-spoken writing and a discussion on motor-racing finance, including some interesting figures relating to starting-money payments, which those who claim to have the future of Formula One at heart should find intriguing.

Certainly Innes Ireland is not afraid of offending people. Many drivers will resent his remark that their own books (often written by “ghosts”) are “about as interesting as a Motor Show catalogue.” B.R.M. may or may not deny that they wouldn’t have Ireland in their team because he drinks. Ireland quotes Graham Hill as saying that modern motor racing has become a science, adding “Unfortunately, I’m no scientist.” He rubs it in with the following summing-up: “Today, it is very namby-pamby stuff, kindergarten type of fun. There are no really riotous times such as we used to have. Everybody seems to be frightened of making merry as racing men once did. I suppose this is the way motor racing is going. I think most drivers these days are a bit scared of the effect rowdy behaviour might have on their team managers. Consequently, the so-called fun and games these days is a pale imitation of the things the chaps used to get up to in the old days.”

Now Ireland has, in that awful phrase, “hung up his helmet,” and instead of racing is going to write about the “inmates of the kindergarten.” One supposes that he will not do this for peanuts, although throughout his book he emphasises that fun rather than money is what appeals to him. Definitely one hopes that Ireland will not forsake his outspoken opinions now that he is a Sports Editor and that he may to enjoy life and enliven parties, as he did when he was a racing driver. This he puts over to such good effect in this “eat, drink and be merry” book that it will make good Christmas fare. The illustrations are worthwhile and very well reproduced, although I object to the humorous captious, tailored to suit.—W. B.

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“The Hyphen in Rolls-Royce—The Story of Claude Johnson,” by Wilton J. Oldham. 194 pp., 8¾ in. x a 5½ in. (G.T. Foulis & Co. Ltd., Portpool Lane, London, E.C.1., 45s) 

It might seem inconceivable that any more books could be written on the subject of Rolls-Royce. Yet here is just such a book; and I prophesy that it will not be the last. W. J. Oldham has written of the life and work of Claude Johnson, who was head of the Rolls-Rover concern, with sympathy and in as much detail as there was information open to him. But I do not think this book flows as smoothly as his masterly earlier work “The Ismay Line” (referred to in “Cars In Books” some months ago). I found the early chapters, before Johnson became associated with the more-recent Rolls-Royceaffairs, boring and repetitive, a great deal of the information conveyed, both about R-R matters and motoring of the Edwardian and vintage periods, has appeared previously, and the author tends to dodge backwards and forwards in time. But when this has been said, all the criticism has been disposed of. Those who are avid for every crumb of information on R-R matters will find the price of ‘The Hyphen in Rolls-Royce” a small one to pay for the new items which emerge. It would he unfair to Mr. Oldham to disclose these for the purpose of embellishing this review, although I cannot refrain from mentioning his reference to the Bugatti which F. H. Royce ran during the 1914/18 war, to conserve petrol. Suffice it to remark that there are fascinating extracts from C. J’s personal diaries, details of his way of life, with private railway coaches, many Rolls-Royce cars and his motor yachts to facilitate transport and many fine houses to live in, of his interest in art and music and his great love of his children and animals, and of the cars, other than Rolls-Royces, owned by the Johnson family.

If not is great many fresh R-R facts emerge, those that do are significant, but to list them here would be unfair to the author who has unearthed them. The reproduction of one of the innumerable letters Sir Henry Royce wrote to C. J., and other intimacies that passed between the great engineer and the business head of Rolls-Royce ltd., and the correspondence C. J. had with Lord Northcliffe, form the “meat” in this latest work about R-R; if the amount proferred leaves the reader hungry for more, nevertheless his palate will be nicely tickled while he consumes what is there.

Oldham, when I first met him, was a great Austin enthusiast, who owned a couple of Austin Twenties and an Austin Twelve. He has since transferred his allegiance to Rolls-Royce, owning a 20/25 and a Phantom III, both of which are illustrated amongst the mediocere number of pictures in his book. I had an idea that he liked Daimlers, but he spends some time disparaging them, and reminds us that, to C. J., they were “The Unmentionable Cars.”

There may not be a great deal of new information in this book, but what there is, is well worth having, and discovering it will, I am sure, be a very pleasant Christmas relaxation for the more dedicated R-R followers. It is a fine tribute to Claude Johnson; 1864-1926, interest being added by appreciations from his two daughters.—W. B.

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“Short’s Aircraft Since 1900,” by C. H. Barnes. 532 pp., 8¾ in. 5½ in. (Putnam & Company Ltd., 9, Bow Sliver, Covent Garden, London, W.C.2. 84s.)

Conforming to the standard Putnam aeronautical histories, and, as ever, making motoring history look terribly naked and casually documented, this is a scholarly study of the products of Short Bros. of Rochester, from the earliest days to the present. The author first gives a very readable 71 pages about the Origin and History of the Company and then embarks on detailed descriptions of the various Short machines chronologically, with the usual splendid accompaniment of rare and absorbing pictures and 3-view scale plans.

This covers aircraft from the Short Twin-Engined Biplanes of 1911-13, down to the present-day Short Skyvan. On the way we read of a great many fascinating Short productions, such as the numerous seaplanes and the big flying boats, the Imperial Airways liners and the experimental duralumin Silver Streak and the Gulls built for the Lympae light-‘plane contests. The long descriptions of the Short Empire Boats and those about airships built by the Company in 1920-21 recall an era of skytravel very different from that prevailing today. This is nostalgic stuff, yet the book is entirely factual. There are the expected comprehensive indices—nine in number, not overlooking a footnote which tells me that an E.N.V. aero-engine about which a reader wrote recently to Motor Sport is the one discovered in a pub in Eltham in 1964, where it had been stored in running order in 1914, being the engine used in the Short S.27 flown at Wolverhampton and Bournemouth in 1910.

Compiled from Company archives and the log-books of the late John Lankester Parker, Short’s test pilot, this is a stupendous work. Putnam’s have done it yet again, and once more have set an exampis to any publishers contemplating one-make car histories – W.B.

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Collins offer 900 rather indifferent, not much larger than postage stamp-size colour drawings of vehicles from 1770 to today in “Illustrated Motor Cars of the World ” (255 pages, 8¼ in. x 7½ in.) for 30s. Jack Brabham, whom we had not known to be a motoring historian, contributes the potted history which forms the Introduction and there are brief specifications. Perhaps for the children ? But Methuen did it more crisply, at the same price, live years ago….

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Probably the best value in Christmas motoring books is the reprint of Thirlby’s one-make history of the “Chain-Gang” Fraser Nash, with a chapter on the G.N. Published originally at 45s. it is now available, to members-of M.B.C., 10-13, Bedford Street, W.C.2., for 9s.

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The Paul Hamlyn Group has published two picture books, “The Great Cars,” by Ralph Stein, with photography by Tom Burnside (252 pages., 11¾ in. x 8¾ in.) and “Cars, Cars, Cars, Cars,” by S. C. H. Davis (139 pages, 11¼ in. x 8¼ in.). We suppose that as glossy presents they have a certain momentary appeal and there are big colour plates in the former, while Davis contributes historical text to match the illustrations in his book, some of which site in colour. But we have seen them all before, except for the clever treatment of endpapers in Davis’ book, showing Marble Arch traffic in pre-1914 times and American traffic congestion at the presentaday. The price are, respectively, 63s. and 15s.


I waited a long time before I had the opportunity of reading “Life Is a Four-Letter Word,” by Nicholas Monsarrat, author of “The Cruel Sea,” etc. (Cassell, 1966), but before I did so I had a hunch this might be a book which would qualify for inclusion in this feature. This hunch proved more than correct—I hadn’t expected to find so many references to cars in the first volume, “Breaking In,” of this popular autobiography.

But there they were! Before I had got past page 30 of this 534-page tome, there was mention of the excitement caused to a young Monsarrat by the opening, in Rodney Street, Liverpool, of a motor-car showroom, “Liverpool’s very first salon of the automobile,” with its name, J. Blake & Co., in gold-lettering. That was in 1916 and “. . . no cars were on view for a long time, not until the end of the war.” But at Trearddur Bay in N. Wales near Holyhead, where the author’s parents then had a holiday house, there was already a garage, “Rogers’ Garage, a new, inordinately modern development “—is it, one wonders, a survival into the 1960s?

In the chapter commencing with the year 1921 the Monsarrat family cars come into the picture. The author’s father, a successful surgeon, “after trying out successively a Renault, a Lancia, and a Siddeley-Diesey” (the last-named-Obviously a Siddeley-Deasy), “now had a Daimler.” There is a picture of a stately sleeve-valve six light saloon, but it looks more like a 1924-26 than a 1922 model. The schoolboy Monsarrat praises the family Daimler warmly, although wishing his father had bought a Rolls-Royce. And his mother at this time had “a Stellite (a sort of junior Wolseley).”

The description of the proud schoolboy being driven back to school, via the boat across the Mersey and on to Hoylake in the “magnificent dark green Daimler,” is pleasing; one notes that although the chauffeur drove sedately, young Monsarrat told his schoolfellows “We absolutely scorched all the way!”

On this journey he tried to impress his father with his knowledge of cars, which he had gleaned from reading The Autocar. In fact, there are several pages of this, quoting makes (with another incorrect spelling) and prices. But his father wasn’t interested. [I find this rings a faint bell—I had a relative who at about the same period also took The Autocar, which was passed on to me during summer holidays in Wales, but why he did so is a mystery, because, although owning chauffeur-driven Austin Twenty and Overland cars, he Was not exactly a motoring enthusiast.—Ed.] From Monsarrat’s memories their Daimler seems to have been a 1922 Twenty, judging by the chassis price he quotes, but, as I have remarked, the picture seems to show a later and larger model, so perhaps his father had a series of these cars. I confess I do not follow his description of the Leyland Eight as a “non-handmade” car, and it quoted price of £3,000 is rather high even for this expensive chassis, while the “big, square-bowed Steam lorries” he remembers seeing as a boy at the Liverpool docks were surely Sentinels, not Fodens? The author is also unable to make up his mind whether it was the 20-h.p. Wolseley landaulette or tourer which sold for £1,600 and later, listing new makes on the scene in 1927, he includes the Rover, which dates back to 1904/5, and others from half-a-decade earlier. Moreover, he includes the speaking-tube with four-wheel-brakes and balloon tyres as 1927 innovations, which is just careless writing.

From schoolboy memories of cars Monsarrat gets on to motorcycles, but I do not think members of the Morgan 3-wheeler Club will be very pleased to read: “Not everyone knew that a Morgan Three-Wheeler had an Anzani engine, and often overturned on corners.” At The Leas, the author’s preparatory school, one of the masters rode “a fiery red Indian motorcycle, which gave him a special status throughout the school.” This was especially exciting to a boy who loved Motorcycles and could tell many of the approaching makes while out on school walks without turning round, by the characteristic sounds they made, as the book describes. The Ixion two-stroke is recalled and many others, so that I find myself wondering whether Monsarrat consulted old volumes of The Motor Cycle while writing “Life Is a Four-Letter Word.” (He remarks that in those days it cost 2d.—in fact, it was 3d. weekly.) At this time Monsarrat designed an automatic gearchange (illustrated in his book) which, however, failed to impress his Indian-owning master, and he cut the T.T. results, etc., out of the Liverpool Post.

This biography (which in places reads more like a novel) fully deserves its mention in this “Cars in Books” feature, and there is a lot more to come. An office-friend of Monsarrat, Tom Forman, is credited with owning “a beautiful, low-slung little car called an M.G. Magnette, and a two-seater, open-to-the-breezes Gypsy Moth aeroplane. . . .” Later, as Fascism took hold, the advertisement for S.S.-Jaguar cars with the wording in small-type “Fascists Need Fast Cars” is recalled—a gem not, I think, included in Lord Montagu’s S.S.-Jaguar history.

There is a description of a run from Cambridge to London, ending at Belgrave Square in an open 4½-litre Bentley owned by Lord Gentil-Jones. The year is now 1931, when, we are told, Oliver Bertram was at Cambridge with his “unrivalled Mercedes” and “other fortunate friends had Frazer-Mashes and Lagondas, and Aston-Martins and Rovers, and one of them a small, very suave model called a Lea Francis.” Monsarrat hadn’t a car at Cambridge but at home “I had an old, battered, third-hand Alvis ‘tourer’, reliable but rough. It was better to say that I had no car.” There is a picture of this 12/40 or 12/50 tourer, Reg. No. SR 383? The aforesaid Bentley, “a 4½-litre with a ‘racing green’ open body,” was obviously very well driven, had two tiny windscreens, and took 68 minutes from Cambridge to its destination (54 miles) in spite of a long traffic hold-up, this journey being possible in just under the hour “with luck and the right car.” The author returned to Cambridge in a terrible taxi, but its make isn’t mentioned. May I suggest that the Bentley D.C. might do a little research into Lord Gentil-Jones’ Bentley, curiously described as “the new model” in 1931, although the 4½-litre came out in 1928? Oliver Bertram’s Mercedes, which is referred to as “a racing car” which had clocked 108 m.p.h. along the Barnet Ily-Pass, seems to have been a rather odd model, too, as it was “the kind with four silver-plated exhaust pipes curling like snakes out of one side of the bonnet”—the 33/180, 36/220 and 38/250 models, which I also adored at this time, had but three of these -snake-like exhaust pipes. . . .

Incidentally, this is yet another book which, the newly-formed Brooklands Society should note, contains a reference to Brooklands, for Monsarrat says that he “. . . once put the Mercedes through a dozen laps there, while Oliver crouched by my side, listening to the roar of the engine and shouting churlish remarks about the tappets.” [The italics are mine—E.d.] Around 1931 Monsarrat tells us that his sister had “a car of her own, a modest, not too reliable tourer called a Jowett. Other, more complex models had now out-stripped the Jowett marque, and there were not many of them to be seen.” His sister explained “that whenever Jowett owners pass each other, they put up two fingers like this—.” Asked by her brother if this wasn’t rather rude, she said of course it’s not rude, it’s a kind of salute” because Jowetts are the last two-cylinder cars on the road.” I wonder? I cannot visualise the Jowett, then the car of the cloth-capped citizen, inspiring its owners to make a sign later rendered immortal by Churchill, especially to a girl; I am inclined to think that the author included this anecdote in his keen pursuit of pornography, which is evident throughout the book. As witness the messy use he made of dance-floors, his reference to going to bed with a virgin the night King George died, of how, five nights later, he attended the Lying in State at Westminster after promising this girl, who didn’t want him to go out to pay his respects to the late King, “But we’ll do it again as soon as I get hack”; and his even more astonishing mixing of sex-and-ceremony when, in Paris on Christmas Eve in 1936, he went to Midnight Mass at St. Eustache and then on with his girl to a brothel within hailing distance of the Place Verdome to gloat over a perversion-performance, complete with dildo, by two French girls! On this note, back in the bedroom, “Life is a Four Letter Word” ends . . .

Paris, on the occasion just referred to, had been reached in a Rolls-Royce which had been left in a will to the girl-friend of Monsarrat, which surely only happens to the mistresses of famous novelists? It had languished in a stable in North Wales after doing “only 26,000 miles from new.” It turned out to be “a superb 40/50 h.p. Phantom. about ten years old.” In it, with his mistress, Monsarrat drove to Austria and back to England, although they had but £22 between them. They often slept (together) in the car but stayed at times in hotels, so this should give great encouragement to those who are contemplating a Continental holiday next summer on the £50 travel allowance! In this “lordly Rolls, which made even the long-nosed, black Mercedes in which the party elite roared through the streets seem vulgar and intrusive,” they managed quite a long holiday, going to Vienna and Budapest, so no wonder Monsarrat had to drive “with exceptional care” the 160 miles from Dijon to Paris, having left Hungary with only £3 left, and “the spare wheel . . . patched and repaired already.” No occasion, this, to emulate Caracciola, which was the name his girlfriend called him when he wanted to go to the Christmas brothel in the Rolls-Royce; in Germany they had encountered Volkswagens, which had “become an article of belief, like Hitlerism, like the ‘myth of the Good Jew,’ like Germany’s destiny, like millions of marching feet treading down all opposition.”

This series “Cars in Books” has run for a great many years in Motor Sport and has aroused much interest. It may be that other specialist journals have similar features, such as “Gardens In Fiction and Biography” or “Ships in Books”; but I have yet to see them. Certainly the first volume of Nicholas Monsarrat’s autobiography, which I suppose is bound to be a best-seller (not necessarily on account of these references to motoring!), has amply filled this column for me this month.—W. B.

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“Radio Control Manual-2” (110 pp., 8¾ in. x 5½ in.; Model Aeronautical Press Ltd., 13/35, Bridge Street, Hemel Hempstead, Herts., 13s. 6d.) does not cover model cars but it does give much erudite information about radio-controlled model aeroplanes and boats, with results of the 1967 World Flying Championships at Corsica. From it we note that Sqdn. Ldr. John Crampton is now flying a radiocontrolled racing seaplane, using R.E.P. equipment.

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The A.A. has issued five booklets listing between them 674 offstreet car parks with a capacity of over 87,000 vehicles, in the London area. They are free to members.

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RECORDS WEEKEND (October 21st/22nd.)

The two-day meeting at Elvington airfield in Yorkshire, which gives car and motorcycle aspirants the opportunity to attack world, international and British records over short distances, has become an annual fixture. This year the paying public were invited to attend and they were able to witness some 89 records being broken or established by vehicles ranging from an 80 c.c. Suzuki motorcycle to a 7.9-litre supercharged nitro-burning Ford V8 engined dragster. Under the efficient control of the International Sprint Organisation contestants were able to attack records over the standing-start quarter mile, 500 metres, kilometre and mile, and over flying start quarter mile and kilometre. The top N.S.A. motorcycle sprinters took part with four B.H.R.A. members with motorcars, these four being Densham with his supercharged Ford VS dragster, Turner with his supercharged Cortina engined dragster, Patsy Burt with her hill-climbing McLaren-Oldsmobile V8 and Tyack with his Porsche Carrera Six. They annexed 19 records between them, the remainder falling to the motorcycle riders.

Densham set a two-way time for the standing quarter mile of 8.91 seconds, which comfortably beat the old record held by Allan Allard in 9.37 seconds. The two runs, out and back along the measured quarter, were accomplished within an overall time of one hour, an international stipulation that has so far prevented any American dragsters setting a world record, for once one of these 1,000 b.h.p. projectiles has been fired they take a long time to cool off and be made ready for a second firing. Densham also took the standing start 560 metre record previously held by the works Brabham-B.M.W. 2-litre, these two efforts being world records.

Turner with his highly-tuned 1,500 c.c. Ford engined dragster improved on his own international records for the standing kilometre and standing mile, the sound of the blown engine being held on full song for the mile distance being well worth listening to.

Among the two-wheeled giants Flagon set the world two-way standing quarter mile at 9.95 seconds and George Brown took a national flying kilometre at 171 m.p.h., while Orris did an incredible standing kilometre in 22.51 seconds on a 350 c.c. Rudge engined special of his own design.

All the claimed records await ratification by the F.I.A. and F.I.M. but unless there are any snags the short-distance records book should be rewritten as follows:

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While Porsche, Lamborghini and Ford have been forging ahead with the mid-engined GT coupe concept, Ferrari has been rather left behind, for he did not follow up the lead he had when he first produced the 275LM, and his various Dino projects have been hanging fire, apart from Motor Show exhibits dreamed up by Pininfarina. Now Ferrari has made a step forward by producing a new Dino 206/GT mid-engine coupe, using the basic four-camshaft V6 engine design, but mounting it across the chassis instead of in-line just behind the cockpit, and built integrally with the gearbox and final drive unit. This makes a very compact and neat power unit and it has a bore and stroke of 86 x 57 mm. giving a capacity of 1,986.61 c.c, and using Weber carburetters 180 b.h.p. is claimed at 8,000 r.p.m. The fully-independent suspension by wishbones and coil spring units follows Grand Prix practice, there are no greasing points on the chassis, and light alloy wheels are used, with 14-inch tyres. This a-litre coupé is priced at a little over £2,800 in Italy and it is hoped that it will be in limited production by next spring.