Books for Christmas

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Bill Boddy

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“Morgan—First and Last of the Real Sports Cars” by Gregory Houston Bowden. 191 pp. 10 in. x 7¼ in. (Gentry Books Ltd., 55-61, Moorgate, London, EC2R 6BR. £3.95.)

The Morgan, as the foremost three-wheeler and one of the sole surviving hand-made sports cars, is deserving of a full and accurate history. This reviewer did his best to record the vintage years of the three-wheelers in a 50p book (Grenville, 1971) which is still available from the Motor Sport offices and the active Morgan Three-Wheeler Club got out a rather broader history of the famous tricars at about the same time. So when I heard that there was another Morgan history in the pipe-line, a title which I knew several publishers had been looking for, I thought this must be a really comprehensive account of all the Morgans from that first spidery Peugeot-powered three-wheeler of 1909 to the latest of the Morgan Plus Eights which now use the Rover V8 manual-gearbox power unit complete, instead of the separate Moss gearbox with which it started life and modified for the Earls Court Show, as Peter Morgan himself proudly demonstrated to me, with proper interior door locks instead of pulls!

Disappointment could, therefore, perhaps be excused, when I read in this latest Morgan book, in the author’s own words, that “there is a wealth of information which I have either failed to discover or have discovered and been obliged to set on one side for lack of space”. This, then, is not a complete history of Morgan and the Morgan Motor Company. It is a very nicely got-up production. It is good reading if repetition from the previous Morgan histories can be tolerated. It was clearly written with enormous fervour by a writer who is a Morgan owner—his Plus Four four-seater, WXA 6, bought second-hand while he was at Oxford, forms the subject of the colour picture on the dust jacket and features in other places within—and it runs from the beginning of Morgan interest in cars, from 1884 in fact, the year Harry Morgan was born, to the present day and the Malvern Link factory and products as they now are. It is just the book the Morgan people themselves might have issued had they been so inclined—come to think of it, they did put out a good little history booklet of their own some years ago, which brings the total to four—and it made me want another Morgan as soon as I looked through it.

It has been written by using the Morgan Company’s scrap-books, which were also made available to me, and as these are mostly Press cuttings, the treatment by both authors is somewhat the same, except that Houston Bowden interviewed Dorothy Morgan and gets in a few fresh angles but does not give as much data as I was able to about the three-wheelers in races and trials and record-breaking sorties, or as much intimate technical material about the different models as does the Morgan Club’s book.

What is left ? Well, the chapters about the four-wheelers in the ‘fifties and ‘sixties are interesting and the book ends on a with-it note about the famous and off-beat folk who have bought Morgans. A lot of the pictures, including cartoons and technical drawings, have been seen before but as they are blown up big, although not on glossy paper, they are most attractive, the enormous chapter headings less so, while Houston Bowden’s love for his Morgan shines through brightly (there is a picture of it in an Oxford Quadrangle and another of the author, in gown, driving a lecturer in Medieval English in it, the latter apparently about to catch a football), so I was sorry to learn that on his very first outing in it he was caught speeding (at 60 m.p.h.) and fined £15. Interesting that he had that front-wheel shimmy which I used to get on the Editorial Plus Four, and that he is not adverse to coupling girls with Morgans, and I like his story of the Monk and the Morgan. One has the impression that he is not as at home to motor cars as some writers, and so neglects a really good description of the Morgan, the many different engines used in them, and that perhaps he is not very familiar with the three-wheelers. He relies on Press road-tests for assessing the later models and there are one or two puzzles in the story—for instance, when H.F.S. broke an inlet valve during an ACU Six Days Trial we are told that this was “not disastrous”—it usually is—and this Morgan’s four gears are not enlarged upon, although later we are told that four ratios were sometimes obtained by having a two-speed gearbox ahead of the two-speed chain-and-dog transmission. There is a tendency to call the bevel-box a gearbox, a gear-lever in the picture of a racing Morgan’s cockpit is surely wrongly captioned, being the brake lever, and McMinnies is credited with winning both the sidecar and cyclecar class of the 1913 Cyclecar GP, whereas it is usually said that he was disqualified because the organisers didn’t regard his Morgan as a cyclecar and relegated it to the sidecar category. And how does Mr. Bowden know there will be no more real sports cars, even if we concede that, say, a 30/98 had nothing on an Aero Morgan as the first of them ?

This is a very good popular story of the Morgan and I love some of the pictures, particularly the one showing the body panels of a modern Morgan being nailed to the ash subframe. You have just got to decide, haven’t you, whether you are going to buy more technical Morgan three-wheeler material in a couple of little booklets or spend nearly four times as much to have a proper Morgan book in the bookcase ? Now I suppose I shall be criticised as biased and self-interested but perhaps the author won’t know, because I don’t think he reads Motor Sport. — W. B.

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“Captains & Kings”, by Neville Birch and Alan Bramson. 256 pp. 9¾ in. x 6½ in. (Pitman Publishing, Pitman House, Parker Street, London, WG2B 5P8. £4.00.)

The title of this book suggests that it has no motoring associations at all, but in fact it will be of very considerable interest to many of our readers, because it describes the aviation experiences of kings and princes, royalty who are captains of their aircraft first and kings (or princes) thereafter. The authors are remembered for their excellent book, a one-model aviation work, on the Tiger Moth.

“Captains & Kings” covers The Infante Alfonso de Orleans y Borbon, Spain’s first military pilot, King Baudouin of the Belgians, who flys Starfighters, the Shah of Persia who, not to be outdone, pilots his own airliners, Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands with over 8,000 hours logged, Prince Bira, Prince Louis Ferdinand, head of the house of Hohenzollern, King Hussein of Jordan, King Constantine of the Hellenes, the Duke of Windsor, Prince William of Gloucester, killed air-racing, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who has flown aircraft right up to the Concorde category, Charles, Prince of Wales, who made the Royal parachute jump, and others. Most of the information has come from personal interviews with the book’s subjects; in fact, with five kings, nine princes, two princesses, many generals and other distinguished persons, all within the space of under fourteen months, involving 10,000 miles’ travel to places as far apart as London and Teheran.

Because royalty always has avid followers this book is bound to be a success, but that apart, it contains much of great interest to aviation enthusiasts and many of the unique illustrations are published for the first time. The places where the interviews took place add to the interest and it is apparent that only in a few cases was data taken from books, such as the Chula and Bira travel ones.

In this unusual, even astonishing book, we are reminded how unstuffy many of today’s royalty are. We meet Prince Bernhard, who has long been known to be a very professional pilot, read of how two MiG 17 fighters actually attacked King Hussein’s Royal DH Dove, and are reminded of the long British heritage of flying royalty, with HRH the Prince of Wales taking to the air in the early days, later becoming a considerable owner of private aeroplanes, up to the size of the Vickers Viastra in which he once visited a Brooklands Air Display.

One of the truly delightful chapters in this delightful book concerns the cousin of the late King Alfonso XIII, who was the great motoring king. The Infante is clearly an individualist, at 83 still flying his own aeroplane. The account by Bramson of a trip with him in his Continental-engined Aisa I-IIB is fascinating in the extreme and the flight exactly what flying for fun should be. At the opposite extreme there is the Vickers Viscount used for long journeys by His Imperial Majesty the Shah of Persia (who enjoyed Meccano as a boy), with its bedroom. and 12-seater cabin equipped with a 200-piece Crown Derby dinner service, crystal glass, silver cutlery and the best Irish linen, before he changed it for a Jetstar. The number of royal pilots who have flown very fast fighters, jet aircraft and helicopters is rather remarkable. Definitely one for the Christmas shopping list. . . — W. B.

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“The Great Trog Conspiracy”, by Charles Gardner, O.B.E., A.F.R.Ae.S. 80 pp. 8 3/5 in. x 5 4/5 in. Soft covers. (Planned Action Limited/Colourmaster International, 12 Dene Way, Speldhurst, Kent. 75p.)

A little humour at Christmas does not come amiss, and this book provides it. It seemed at first that Gardner thought he was Red Daniells and his illustrator, Don Roberts, imagined himself to be Ronald Searl. What they are dealing with are the motoring Trogs, who impede our progress. Trog, the author tells us, are unlikely to be driving Lotus Elans, E-Types, Mercedes-Benz or similar vehicles unless these are chauffeur-driven—and if Gardner is used to encountering chauffeur-driven Elans he is more observant than I am! And has he forgotten the E-Type Morris Eight ? He hints that the expressive term Trog was first coined by Drive and here I think we pause to pay tribute to other firsts in the field of motoring writing—I believe that “Mimser” pre-dates “‘Trog” and was the invention of Colin Willock, when he was Editor of Lilliput, that the frequently-used term “Badge-engineering” was first used by a contemporary motoring journal, and then there is our own neat, all-embracing title, Motor Sport, dating from 1925 but by whose pen I know not. Anyway, wherever Gardner got his Trogs, he has gone to town on them; presumably as a fast driver of a fast car, who finds them troublesome ? Incidentally, he was on the staff of the BBC and later Publicity Manager of the BAC, having much to do with the celebrations in connection with the 50th Anniversary of Brooklands Track in his latter capacity. The book’s blurb refers to his broadcast from the cliffs of Dover during the “Battle of Britain” but when I mentioned this to my wife she said: “Oh yes, he was drunk and said the Fleet was all lit up”. . . .

Anyway, laugh with Gardner about the Trogs by all means, although they are in reality no laughing matter; clues about identifying Trogs, so as to take avoiding action, occupy much of the book but hat-wearers, afraid to go fast even in saloon cars in case their headgear blows off, should, in my experience, have been included! With the book comes a Trog Badge and a “Spot the Trogs” rear-window sticker; at the risk of being called a fuddy-duddy, in fact a Trog, I wonder if the last-named is wise ? It will presumably encourage anyone who displays it to drive faster than they might otherwise do, for fear of being labelled a Trog themselves, and the young and the simple-minded who can be expected to display it usually drive quite quickly enough already. — W. B.

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“Sports Car Championship”, by Anthony Pritchard. 240 pp. 9½ in. x 6 in. (Robert Hale & Co., 63, Old Brompton Road, London, SW7 3JU. £3.20.)

For students of more recent motor-racing history, who want the facts and figures within the covers of a book, this is a useful account of the Sports Car Championship during the period 1968-1971. It thus deals with the great Porsche and Ferrari performances in some very quick sports-car contests at great circuits such as Le Mans, Monza and Spa. It is the tale of 3-litre Prototype cars battling against larger machinery, of Porsche 908 and 917, JW Ford GT40s, Ferrari 512 and the rest. Not only the the drivers who took part in them but the specifications and development of the cars themselves are covered. The book is indexed, has just sufficient illustrations, and appendices deal with results up to sixth place in every race in the Championship, specifications of the leading cars, and the evolution of the Porsche, month by month. — W. B.

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“Castro Rally Manual 2.” Edited by Peter Browning. 128 pp. 8½ in. x 5½ in. (PSL & Castrol, 9, Ely Place, London, EC1N 6SQ, £1.50.)

Here is another of these useful Rally Books, with articles by experts on various aspects of the sport, our Gerry Phillips, for example, writing about the top Scandinavian drivers, with lots of pictures of rally cars and happenings, lists of useful addresses, illustrated drivers’ biographies and tabulated results of important rallies and rally championships from 1960 onwards. An excellent gift book, if your man likes rallying. — W. B.

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A soft cover introduction to “The Motor Industry”, by James Ensor (223 pp., 7¼ in. x 4¾ in.), has been published as part of the Financial Times Introducing Series and, packed with data, is available from the Longman Group Ltd., 74, Grosvenor Street, London, W1X 0AS.

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Another for the gifts-list, “Lorries, Trucks and Vans, 1897-1927” (1.59 pp., 7¾ in. x 5¼ in.), with lots of colour pictures and reproductions of period advertisements, has been published by the Blandford Press, 167, High Holborn, London, WC1V 6PH, the price being £1.50.

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In the same series as the book referred to beforehand is “Passenger Cars, 1913-1923”, by T. R. Nicholson, this one running to 157 pages, and costing £1.25.

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Two more source books in the Olyslager Organisation series have been released, namely “Military Wheeled Vehicles” by B. H. Vanderveen (useful for prospective hill rally entrants!) and “Commercial Vehicles” by W. J. J. Downton. Both are of 144 4¾ in. x 6½ in. land-scape pages and each sells for 95p. The publishers’ address is Ward Lock Ltd., Warwick House, 116, Baker Street, London, W1M 2BB.

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Collins, PO Box 30, 144, Cathedral Street. Glasgow, C4, have a selection of motorists’ diaries, ranging in price from 63p to 90p, which should make appropriate presents, as should their Motorists’ Desk Diaries and Log Books, which sell at 73p and £1.25 according to bindings. But it would have been nice if they had given the Secretary of the VSCC correctly. . . .

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“Cars in Profile No. 2” has been published by Profile Publications Ltd., Coburg House, Sheet Street, Windsor, Berkshire, SL4 1EB, at the standardised price for this new series of 50p. This one is by Cyril Posthumus about the 4½-litre Lago-Talbot and a fine job he has made of it. The origins, development, racing history and decline of this fine 1936-1954 French sports/racing car are written-up in typically clear Posthumus style and the text is backed up by some very good pictures and diagrams which include sectional drawings of the three types of Lago-Talbot engine, cross-push-rod, still-born shoulder-o.h.-camshaft and later high-camshafts competition engines. Posthumus’ story reminds us of the interesting immediately-post-war period of motor rating, when the Lago-Talbots put up such a fine fight against increasingly heavy odds and he makes out a good case for the prowess of Louis Rosier, who, as a table reminds us, won seven races for Lago between 1948 and 1951. Raymond Mays’ and Duncan Hamilton’s exploits with the breed are mentioned, and the scale colour pictures of the 1949 Belgian GP winner by James Leach are magnificent. This artist proves just as adept at painting the Lago-Talbot badge and showing the 1950 Le Mans winning LagoTalbot in action.

I still dislike the smaller type of the “new” Profiles and although my last month’s comment that the covers will detract from the promised bound-volumes will not be valid if these are removed before the Profiles are bound, doing this will eliminate two big pictures of each car. There also seems to he a brief for writers in this series to explain cars to the reader, which was not deemed necessary previously—thus Posthumus tells us the Lago had a Wilson gearbox and then tells us what such a gearbox is! Incidentally, as he refers to the 1904 Pipe and later Riley and ERA engines as also having high camshafts, he could have included Dorman, who once used this kind of valve gear. That is positively the only criticism I have—proof of the readability and value of this Profile. The new series is splendidly informative but, so far, not so much fun as the old. — W. B.

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The Oakwood Press, Tandridge Lane. Lingfield. Surrey, has issued No. 62 of their booklets they call “Locomotion Papers”, this one being about “London Independent Bus Operators, 1922-1933” by D. E. Brewster (44 pp., 8½ in. x 5½ in., soft covers). Although I remember the “pirate” ‘bus services which operated in London in these years and which got a bad name for fast driving in order either to get to queues of waiting passengers before the LGOC ‘buses could pick them up or to provide a quicker service, it comes as a great surprise to discover, from this little book, that there were some 170 of these independent operators in the hey-day of such competition. The book illustrates many of them and lists the 264 fleet-names (or lettering) which they shared, from “A-1” to “X-Service”. It started in 1922 with a Leyland and ended in 1934 when the Leyland Titan single decker “Prince” was withdrawn from service.

The book contains 71 good pictures of such London ‘buses, together with pictures of some of the tickets used, supported by 2¾ pages of descriptive text. I found it fascinating, although some may think the book dear at 75p. The places where the pictures were taken are given in the captions, which adds to the nostalgia, and from this book you learn which was the first ‘bus in London to have front-wheel brakes, which was the last to run on solid tyres, etc. I now await with impatience a book about ‘buses on our country services in the vintage years, and wonder how many different makes and pleasant pictures that one could reveal ! — W. B.

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