Book Reviews, February 1948, February 1948

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“Grands Prix, 1934-1939,” by Rodney Walkerley (Motor Racing Publications, Ltd., 7s. 6d.).

In this book Walkerley has done a job which should have been undertaken before — he has written of motor-racing so that the uninitiated shall discover what it is all about.

In forty spirally-bound pages he outlines how Grand Prix racing came into being, describes various G.P. circuits, devotes a little space to technicalities, attempts a definition of the art of G.P. driving, and captures for his reader the atmosphere of an important road race — this last “a subtle blend of pre-war Boat Race Night and Derby Day.”

The settings, accessories and machines used by the man who, as the author sees it, “is not only confronted with Nature in her many moods of rain and shine, warmth and cold, but with natural forces which seek to pluck him to destruction as he skirls a corner or thunders at 200 m.p.h. down the straight, “who” not only faces these enormous forces but who seeks to harness them to his will, using them to speed him on his way,” have a place in Grands Prix, 1934-1939.”

To the schoolboy and the younger followers of motor-racing, I am certain this album will fill a long-felt want. Whether seasoned followers of the Sport and the technically-minded will receive it so gratefully, I do not know. It is disappointing that the actual history of the great races of 1934 to 1939 are covered by three pages of tabular results at the end, rather than by the text. It is disappointing, again, to find only about four-and-a-half pages devoted to the technical development of the racing cars of a period when Grand Prix racing had reached its highest peak.

Certainly the presentation of divers circuits, of classic and spectacular incidents, of accidents, and of famous victories, written in the “popular” style, is well off-set by a whole host of photographs taken by the late Robert Fellowes. The pictures are not always very clear, however, so that the use of larger blocks, slightly better reproduction and more careful “bleeding” in some instances, and more careful layout of some of the “spreads,” would seem to be deserved. These photographs, of which there are 90 of various sizes if I have counted correctly, do not achieve quite as high a standard as those of the better present-day photographers.

I had hoped that “Grands Prix, 1934-1939 “might have been an absorbing history of the closing period of racing before the war and, as such, a valuable reference.

I am reluctantly forced to say that this is hardly the case — indeed, the author himself admits that he has not attempted an historical or technical book. “Grands Prix, 1984-1939” is not in the same class as George Monkhouse’s masterful work, “Motor Racing with Mercedes-Benz.”

The chapters on “What was — and is — Grand Prix Racing?” “The Art of Grand Prix Driving” and “The Grand Prix Atmosphere” in this Scrapbook No. 2 are very well written indeed, and form an excellent introduction to the sport.

The more technical chapters contain a number of rather obvious errors and while I appreciate how easily mistakes creep into the best books, in the interests of accuracy, I wish to take the liberty of correcting those I spotted. I cannot agree that the 1934 G.P. cars “were not so very much slower than the Land Speed Record itself.” They were at least 82 m.p.h. slower. The Pescara lap record is given both as 90.76 m.p.h. and nearly 98 m.p.h., the Coppa Ciano is not mentioned, and the Donington G.P. is quoted as held for the first time in 1936 in two instances, after which the result of the 1935 race is given. The Mercedes-Benz which did 228 m.p.h. on the autobahn was the V12 record car, not the 1936 4 3/4-litre straight-eight. The explanation of the need for lower geared steering on modern G.P. cars is very confusing and the 1936 Auto-Union was first 6.5-litres, at Tripoli, then 5.8-litres, not 5.9-litres rising to 6.8-litres as stated. These cars changed their long exhaust pipes for stubs in 1935; the illustration caption is correct but the text says 1936. The 2.8-litre Alfa-Romeo P3 of 1934 is something new to me, and the 2.9-litre was hardly introduced late in 1984. It is true the P3 rear springs were changed from 1/2 to 1/4-elliptic, but the significance of the latter is that they were reversed, as on a Bugatti. It is hardly true to say that a transverse rear spring was used later, as this was only done experimentally. Nor did the 3.8-litre Alfa-Romeo have torsion-bar front suspension as a picture-caption suggests. The picture actually shows a V12 car, anyway. The Type 158 Alfa-Romeo’s camshafts are driven not from the back but from the front.

I cannot recall the 2 1/2-litre six-cylinder Maserati of 1934 later “enlarged to 2.9-litres.” If the straight-eight engine is implied I am still puzzled, for the 2 1/2-litre is credited with about 270 b.h.p. at 5,800 r.p.m. and some 160 m.p.h. and the 2.9-litre with a “corresponding gain in power and speed,” yet in the very excellent book which the same author compiled for the Victoria League Exhibition (an excellent two-shillings worth, with many new photographs) he quotes. Prince Chula’s “2.9” Maserati as giving exactly the same power, at the same r.p.m. It is further stated that the 4.6-litre V8 was put into the same chassis, which later had torsion-bar rear suspension; actually only the V8 cars had the chassis suspended thus.

Curiously, the 8CTF Maserati is disposed of in three lines. The earlier 1 1/2-litre Maseratis had 1/2, not 1/4-elliptic rear springs and the 16-valve car appeared not in 1938, but in 1939. It only had two superchargers in experimental form at that period of development. A photograph captioned as of the 1936 4.7-litre Bugatti shows the 1938 3-litre car of that make, which ran at Cork. The “3.3” Bugatti (that it was a 3.2-litre until the late summer of 1934 is a point new to me, although I recall the “2.8”) made its first appearance at Monaco in 1934, not in the French G.P. as implied. Its mechanically-operated brakes are described as unconventional, but Alfa-Romeo had such actuation until 1935.

It would have been more accurate to say that Rosemeyer became the Auto-Union star in two short seasons rather than in “a few seasons.” On page 81 Mercedes are quoted as having introduced “self-locking” differentials in 1936, but page 22 told us that “the Z.F. self-locking differential” was adopted in 1938. Again, page 22 says “the fuel, of course, was not petrol, but a blend including alcohol, benzole, ether, acetone and tetra-ethyl-lead . . .,” but page 31 remarks, of the same cars, “nor consuming too much petrol!” No result is given for the 1937 Masaryk G.P., won by Caracciola, nor was the Avus track exactly “dismantled.”

True, Walkerley has done an admirable job in explaining motor-racing to the beginner, and the book gains in this respect by making brief reference to racing from the earliest times and by concluding with a chapter on the 1945-47 seasons and the prospects for the future. All most useful to the uninitiated. But I wish that. the author, as “Grande Vitesse” of The Motor, had remembered his older students. — M. C.

“The Endless Quest for Speed.” First and Second Series (Iliffe & Sons, Ltd., 5s. each).

Those of our readers who recall the series of coloured plates, depicting famous racing and record-breaking episodes, which were given away with our weekly contemporary The Autocar many years before the war, will be interested to know that some of these have been reprinted and bound in two cardboard folders, priced at 5s. each. The first contains plates covering twelve historic events from 1899 to 1912, the second twelve plates of happenings ranging from 1913 to 1927. The pictures are reproductions of paintings by the late Gordon Crosby and are unbacked, thereby being eminently suitable for framing. S. C. H. Davis contributes a brief preface to each issue and each illustration is captioned. These folders of attractive colour prints constitute yet further additions to the many motor-racing publications that have come on the market in the last few years. Not everyone likes Crosby’s style, which, certain critics say, tends to inflate even the largest cars of real life, so that, for instance, Brooklands is dwarfed in comparison. Those who are Crosby fans will consider ten shillings very well spent on these two books.

“Floyd Clymer’s 1947 Indianapolis Race History” (Clymer Motors, Los Angeles, $1.00).

Floyd Clymer has issued a most comprehensive supplement to his main history of the Indianapolis event. It runs to 55 large pages, numbered to run on from those in the larger book, and contains all the information on last year’s 500-Mile Race that anyone could want, including some interesting views of the 3-litre Mercedes-Benz, driven by Duke Nalon and re-named the Don Lee Special on arrival in America. Race rules, drivers’ signatures, technical data and drawings by Laurence Pomeroy, and details of the timing apparatus, etc., add to the value of this latest Clymer scrapbook.