The Vintage Alvis, by Peter Hull and Norman Johnson. Menoshire Ltd, £39.95.
Jubilations! The 12/50 Alvis Register has revised this book, first released in 1967 and republished in 1974. The 12/50 Alvis is one of the great vintage cars — the poorer man’s 30/98? — and here is a great slab of history all about it and its later 12/60 and six cylinder derivatives. Edited by Paul Haye, written by those Alvis experts Peter Hull and Norman Johnson of the VSCC and now published by the 12/50 Alvis Register itself, no book could be more complete, or interesting, about one make of vintage motor car. There are some 300 pictures, many “new”, and a 32-page colour feature from 1920 to 1930 catalogues.
While the basis of the original work remains, there is a wealth of fresh material, more than doubling the size of the 1967 book. I was continually coming on new facts about the cars and Alvis people. There are delightful anecdotes and technical asides — a discussion of how FWD originated is one example — and from the competition aspect the authors seems to have included every event in which a vintage Alvis appeared.
Wonderful reading for 12/50 believers, running to 620 pages, and by no means all history. There are delightful reminiscences by Antony Powys-Lybbe and the late Michael May, the 12/50 tuning article by the late John Cooper reproduced from Motor Sport, descriptions of Alvis Specials from Racing Car No 1 to the Norris Special, including modern examples, shop-floor interviews, long-distance runs, the exploits of the late Mrs Ruth Urquhart-Dykes and her husband (she contributed the Foreword to the new edition), the “Marendaz mystery”, and full lists of existing cars and productions figures — and much more as well.
So a book to read and treasure, to embellish the fun of Alvis ownership and nostalgia. For those who know a bit about the quality of the vintage Alvis (as I think I do although owning only five very dubious wartime purchases) this is publishing history to be celebrated.
Jaguar Sports Racing Cars, by Philip Porter. Bay View Books, £24.95.
I really thought there was no more to be said about C, D and racing E-types, but Philip Porter proves me wrong with this one, the book he says he has been promising himself to write for years. It’s just fascinating, packed with the details which lift a book above a mere history: notes between Heynes and Lyons, sketches by Sayer, confidential reports by “Lofty” England.
Over his years as a Jaguar historian, Porter seems to have talked at length with absolutely everyone from Heynes and the works drivers to the guys who shaped the metal on the prototype C and D-types, and he quotes extensively, giving the inside track on, for example, the panic which resulted in the 1952 Le Mans debacle. Factory drawings, sketches and photographs are supplemented by good new colour photography of seven key cars, and the remit takes us up to the works lightweight Es and XJ13. Porter concludes with a number-by-number history of every C, D, XKSS and lightweight E (several ending with those exciting words “no longer exists” which can bring a gleam to the eye of certain people in the business…). If you want to know what Salvadori says of Hamilton, or what were the XL and the G-type, you need this book.
MG Collection: Post-War Models, by Richard Monk. Patrick Stevens/Haynes, £19.99.
This second volume completes a major task by Monk, the model-by-model coverage of all MGs right up to the new MGF, and as Manager of MGOC, he has been able to find and photograph good original examples of each type. The idea of a monthly slot in Enjoying MG, the MGOC’s magazine, with a history and a spread of detail shots on one type, was a good one. However, it does not translate so well to book form, where slightly differing models repeat blocks of text, often word-for-word. So this is OK for quick reference, rather than offering a good read; and it badly needs a good subeditor to clean up the grammar and punctuation.
The Guinness Book Of Car Facts & Feats, edited by Beatrice Frei. Guinness Publishing, £14.99.
This fourth edition is packed with historical items of interest, whether as a happy browsing-field for motoring enthusiasts or a serious source of information for writers and historians. It is full of fascinating pictures, from a drawing of the circa 1867 Dudgeon steam-carriage to an Aston Martin DB7.
Editor Frei has dispensed with contributions by the late Anthony Bird, the late Cyril Posthumus, the late Wilson McComb, the late Michael Sedgwick and me, employing as writers David Hodges and John Davenport and bringing in David Burgess-Wise. All good and proper, except that racing and record-breaking are no longer separate subjects and as the close-packed paragraphs have no individual headings, one has to resort to the Index for quick reference. In the 1971 edition, a short search took me to the fact that the world’s first series-production straight-eight was the lsotta Fraschini of 1919. I can find nothing of this in the new edition, but it did tell me that the Pope once had a two-tone purple Isotta Fraschini. And “Guinness” now goes for the 1902 CGV as the first in-line eight, and the 1905 Leader as the first British one, based on “rather fanciful drawings”! That Britain made the first production straight-8 (the Leyland) is ignored. And is variable valve-lift the same as variable valve-timing? I would have said not, but Burgess-Wise quotes his De Dion Bouton in this respect. And there is no mention of Spyker beating Napier to the first six-cylinder engine…
So while still a very worthwhile purchase, it is less easy to use than before, and rather more “general” than “technical”. But you do get 90 pages of racing, records and rallies, 59 racing and rally drivers’ biographies, 12 pages on the origin of car make-names, and much, much more besides.
• Lotus Elan and Plus 2 users will find a lot of data in a new MRP book by Paul Robinson and Christopher Ross, priced at £29.50. Loads of information, 300 illustrations, and the “Hickman Diary” about the design progress of the Elan Plus 2, to recall the pleasure these cars gave some of us, between 1962 and 1974.
• Veloce have a specialist book about the VW Karmann Ghia, in all its versions, with tabulated data, a colour insert, and 160 pages of allure, to please those who are still driving some of the 870,000 Karmann Ghias that were built between 1955 and 1974,or the later VW Beetle cabriolets. It costs £25.00 and has 160 illustrations.
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