Book Reviews, February 1974, February 1974

“The Guinness Guide to Formula 1 Motor Racing”, by Jose Rosinski. 246 pp., 10 ¾ in. x 8 in. (Guinness Superlatives Ltd., 2, Cecil Court, London Road, Enfield, Middlesex, EN2 6DJ. £4.95.)

This is a big, beautifully-produced book which sets out not so much to contribute to the great bulk of reportage and history already available about top-class motor-racing as to explain, in not too non-technical terms, what this sport is about, to those not yet aware of it. In fact, this is the first of a new Guinness series covering the major sports and we should, perhaps, feel flattered that motor-racing at Grand Prix level has been chosen for number one. Guinness have expanded into publishing in recent years by way of their well-known Guinness Books of Records. It might seem worthwhile for them to look into the matter of a smaller work devoted to those members of the famous brewery family who made a name in motor-racing, namely, K. Lee Guinness and Sir Algernon Guinness, but so far I have been unable to convince them of this!

The present book will appeal on account of its lavish and very good illustrations, numbering 196 black-and-white and 55 colour pictures. Otherwise, it says what we should all know already, seen through the eyes of an ex-racing driver, the blurb says. But even the pictures lose-out to those of us who have admired many of them previously in Ami Guichard’s “Arnnee Automobile”. Perhaps a book for the girls to be seen with in the pits during the World’s great races, rather than for my, or your, book-shelves.—W.B.

“The Wight Aircraft”, by Michael H. Goodall. 194 pp., 10 in. x 7½ in. (Gentry Books Ltd., 2/2, Belsize Grove, London, NW3. £6.50.) This is an extremely dedicated book about the Aviation Department of the little-known Company of J. Samuel White & Co. Ltd., little-known that is in the aircraft context, because they were, before and during this venture, considerable ship-builders. The author has researched this history in a most professional manner and has obtained a quite remarkably complete collection of fascinating photographs and documents with which to illustrate it. Although the period covered ,runs only from 1913 to 1919, there is a great deal in this book about all the interesting machines built under the Wight banner. These include a great variety of seaplanes and subsequent land ‘planes, including the remarkable Wight quaduplanes. For a writer not professionally connected with the aircraft industry Goodall has done a splendid job. Not only does he consciously uncover the obscure Wight history but he takes the reader back to old haunts, telling him what he can still see of the old factory buildings and hangars on the Isle of Wight, for instance, and what became of other haunts of this short lived but ambitious aviation venture. Which is fascinating!

There is a very pleasing Foreword by E. C. Gordon England, who was Wight’s first test-pilot of some pretty primitive machines! Which makes me wish that this ever-young pioneer would give us at least a monograph about his later exploits with ABC and Austin Seven racing cars. I see that W. O. Manning, whom I knew slightly during the war when he was at the RAE, but whom I respected far more because he designed the 1923 Wren motor-glider, and Marcus D. Manton, who wrote for MOTOR SPORT about aeroplanes when W. S. Braidwood was its Editor, were associated with the Wight machines.

The book abounds in three-view and engineering drawings as well as rare photographs and it has some interesting appendices, the latter about such matters as Wight doublecamber wings and propellers, various types of guns built by them, how to handle a 200-h.p. Canton-Unne Wight, the links with William Beardmore at Dalmuir, notes on the Portholme aerodrome used by Wight’s, and lists of their directors and staff. This is an expensive book but it contains information for students of aviation history not to be found anywhere else.—W.B.

The RAC has issued a booklet, “Motoring in National Parks”, which is a plea for access by private car to our open spaces, instead of regimentation to them in public transport. It is available from all RAC offices.

Cars in books

Another flying book which I am surprised we did not receive for review is “One Of The Few” by Gp. Capt. J. A. Kent (William Kimber, 1971), with a Foreword by Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park, GCB, KBE, MC, DFC. Although largely about the Battle of Britain, the detailed stories of sorties which I find rather dull, although they were anything hut dull at the time, there is some very interesting peacetime flying described as well—when I appealed recently for this some time ago, I had no idea the call would have been so readily answered!

Kent is a Canadian but as he trained with the RAF here from 1934 there is plenty of pre-war RAF material in the book. I am glad, incidentally, that the young pilot’s decision to enlist was through an advertisement in The Aeroplane. Before coming to England he had been taught to fly in Canada in DH Moths, after a first-flight in 1931 in a Cirrus-Moth belonging to the Winnipeg Flying Club. Thereafter he gained experience of Moths on skis, in a Desoutter Coupe, and so on. Then came experiments with home-built aeroplanes, including a machine powered first with a four-cylinder Henderson motorcycle engine, then with a two-cylinder Lawrence. The technical details of the latter are of interest. Later a small biplane was built from a kit of parts and given a 45 h.p. three-cylinder radial “Szekeley” engine, acquired under exciting conditions—I think a Siddeley is meant. There is a good deal of fascinating material about training in England on Avro Tutor, AW Atlas and Bristol Bulldog aeroplanes, before graduating to Hawker Fury and Gloster Gauntlet. There is some very enthralling reading about life at the RAE At Farnborough both before and after the war, including accounts of those incredibly brave assaults on balloon cables and of how the author went solo in a Boulton and Paul Overstrand without previous twin-engined experience and much more of this kind, and there are fascinating analyses of the characteristics of various types. The whole book is most absorbing and I was interested to read of the Royal visit to Odiham Airfield, which I remember well, because about the last car permitted along the road from Winchfield Station on that occasion was my Morgan Plus-Four, which had arrived by a little-known route and been waved through reluctantly, so that the waiting crowds thought I was part of the Royal party as I drove rapidly down the narrow lane of waving humanity! The only motoring reference in “One Of The Few” concerns HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, who had been to the author’s house when the latter was Commanding RAF Tangmere and was about to drive away. Gp. Capt. Kent’s young son, aged six, remarked “I know what that is, it’s a Jag.” To which the Duke replied with a laugh: “Actually son, it’s a Lagonda; I couldn’t afford a Jag.” Will someone now please work out the comparative costs of the current Jaguar and a David Brown Lagonda at the time when His Royal Highness acquired one of the latter? . . .

In the series about Royalty by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, the book devoted to King George V contains a well-known picture of the King when Prince of Wales riding in a Sheffield-Simplex during a visit overseas and a big plate of vintage or near vintage touring car taking girls to the Poll at the time of the institution of the “flappers’ vote”. I think this car, full of short-skirted femininity, is a Silver Eagle Alvis. But the radiator does not appear, so perhaps the Alvis OC or the 12/50 Alvis Register would like to comment? The hubs look odd, too.

In the first volume of Cecil Roberts’ autobiography “The Growing Boy” (Hodder & Stoughton-1967), which centres in Nottingham, there is passing reference to the Birkin family and to Major Frank Halford, the latter given credit for evolving with Sir Geoffrey de Havilland the “Famous Moth pioneer plane . . . in the First World War”. In fact, the DH Moth did not emerge until 1925 hut its Cirrus engine, designed by Halford of motor racing memory, had Renault origins dating from the war days. The book refers to the hill between Bunny and Rempstone “. . considered so steep that the automobiles then coming into use were taken there for a test by their proud owners. They ‘crowed’ if their wonder-ears got to the too”. That was in 1907, when the author and his father were on a bicycling tour to trace the Roberts’ ancestors. The boy rode a secondhand Raleigh, made locally, which had been bought for 20/-. I wonder if this hill still exits for the pleasure of 1970s owners of good Edwardian cars, or whether it has been by-passed? A later visit introduced the author to the Reverend Edward Boston, whose Cadeby light railway was mentioned in thee columns some time ago.—W.B.