“Shelsley Walsh,” by C. A. N. May (Foulis, Ltd.), 8s. 6d.
Austen May has very quickly followed up his’ trials book. “Wheelspin,” with another motor-racing work “Shelsley Walsh.” This new book is history pure and simple, and it is significant and pleasing that to-day, with racing non-existent, publishers find such accounts worth while — there was a time when only personal reminiscences of world-famous drivers found favour. May tackles the history of the classic Midland A.C. hillclimb from 1905 up to the war very well indeed.
It might be thought that mere reiteration of how various competitors ascended the hill, year after year, meeting after meeting, would tend to pall; actually this 135-page book gave us a very late night. Nor is there any reason to believe that only rabid enthusiasts will read it at one sitting – it should have a wide sale amongst the ordinary reading public who can appreciate sport. Probably because May is interested in this market, rather than in providing enthusiasts with a complete pocket-reference to Shelsley motoring, one finds rather a lot of the “powerful Mercédès,” ” glittering black-and-chromium Alfa,” “sleek, lovely-looking G.P. Sunbeam” and “lovely blue Bugatti” touch. What technicalities there are, too, are so sparse as to whet the appetite for more, while May quotes freely from contemporary accounts – and not one from Motor Sport; were we insufficiently lurid in our reports? In spite of these matters, May has done an excellent job of work, and these minor criticisms pass unnoticed as the tale unfolds. One is taken slap back to those nostalgic days at the Worcestershire venue, and no praise could be greater than that. The many photographs contribute to this end, and that of Stuck’s Austro-Daimler, which took the record in 1930, is particularly fine.
Indeed, so praiseworthy an addition is “Shelsley Walsh” to the motoring bookshelf that the few errors are the more regrettable. For instance, it is distressing to find a self-confessed Segrave “fan” spelling that great driver’s name incorrectly, and, later, Callingham is rendered as “Callaghan,” clearly a typesetting error. Glen Kidston’s rank is given as Lieut., when he was, surely, a Lt.Comdr., the Shelsley Specials in places are given gears they do not possess (remember — “Nash and Godfrey hated cogs, built a car with chains and dogs”), and we rather thought the T.T. Vauxhall engine had twin o.h.c. camshafts long before it became the Vauxhall-Villiers. Incidentally, did not this last-named car have three, and not two, carburetters bolted to its Villiers supercharger? Later, Eccles’s “2.3” Bugatti is rather humorously referred to as a “Two, Three,” and Dick Nash’s Union-Special is quoted as having a twin supercharger, when it actually used two blowers.
Then May quotes from an early article of mine, remarking that it portrays a climb of Shelsley from the competitor’s angle. As I have never driven up Shelsley the joke is on me, especially as I like to claim I am an enthusiast who writes and not a journalist who motors … But I can forgive May this, and we can all afford to forget the few inaccuracies. It is an excellent account of the Shelsley Walsh hill-climb and a most useful, if condensed, history of this classic event — condensed, that is, to the extent of leaving out such well-worn episodes as how the “30/98” Vauxhall came into being and what John Bolster said about turning off the fuel as they carried him off after “Mary” had overturned. Actually, it is surprising how many drivers and cars May mentions, and how detailed and absorbing he manages to make the accounts of each run. I congratulate him on tackling a difficult task and getting on top of it.
Raymond Mays, who naturally figures prominently on account of his many Shelsley records, writes a most entertaining Introduction, which one could almost imagine was the work of yet another May. – W. B.