Book reviews, February 1978, February 1978

“Austin Healey The Story of the Big Healeys” by Geoffrey Healey. 256 pp. 9 3/4 in. X 7 in. (Wilton House Gentry Ltd., 16, Regency Street, London, SW1P 4DD £7.95).

If the story of the motoring career of the mercurial Donald Healey and his sports-cars has been told before, commencing with his ABC and going on to great Monte Carlo Rally feats and astonishing Triumph developments, and if the Austin-Healey story is also quite well documented, this detracts only a little from the present book, published by the House that has given so much recent coverage to the Morgan.

This is because the account comes from Geoffrey Healey himself, son of Donald Healey and Chief Engineer of the small business run by that famous competition driver and sports-car creator. Thus the reader gets a full, detailed, and accurate account of how the Big Healeys came into existence and how they were developed, raced, rallied, and sold. The book is not confined to these; the Austin-Healey Sprite, for instance, gets a chapter to itself. There are any number of interesting “inside” stories how Geoffrey inadvertently threw two of the most important men in the US Forces out of the Healey pit at Le Mans and wondered, as a Captain himself during the war, what would happen to him and whether his necessary action had jeopardised Healey sales in America. It hadn’t! We get another, but thankfully quite undramatic personal eye-witness view of the 1955 Le Mans accident in which Lance Macklin’s Austin-Healey was one of the cars directly involved Geoffrey does not think any of the drivers were to blame. We learn many things, relating to building proper sports-cars in a small factory the best material from which to make gear lever knobs included, this is a book close-packed with racing, record-breaking and rallying with production-type sports-cars. It is enhanced by excellent black-and-white and colour photographs and I was pleased to read this intimate record of all those Big Healeys, having gained early experience of the Continent in a colleague’s Healey 3000 which the Traction Avant Citroen’s of the time made mincemeat of over the French pave.

The origin and development story of the first of these Big Healeys is followed by chapters on thetoo-Six and the Austin-Healey 3000 and how BMC sought to replace the latter. The competition chapters are followed by power-curves, sales-statistics, specifications, engine details, production figures and the Index. Altogether a book that those who remember with respect, or still own, a Big Healey, will warmly welcome. -W.B.


“The First Croydon Airport 1915-1928” by Bob Learmonth, Joanna Nash and Douglas Cluett. 89 pp. 8 1/4 in. x 5 1/2 in. (Sutton Libraries and Art Services, Central Library, St Nicholas Way, Croydon, Surrey. £1.50).

This little soft-cover history of Croydon Airport from the RFC era when it was just a piece of ground at Beddington requisitioned by the RFC for the flying training and defence of London, through the days of the National Aircraft Factory at Wadden (itself a remarkable piece ofhistory), to the opening in 1920 of Croydon Airport, the most important Civil aerodrome in the country, gave me very great pleasure.

It is a little book long overdue, and very well done. Croydon, like Brooklands, has now gone. But so much happened there, so many people flew from there, that its history is of the greatest importance. From an article in a local newspaper by Bob Learmonth and Joanna Nash has come this excellent little book, edited by Douglas Cluett, with art-work by Shirley Edwards. They have dug out some very nostalgic photographs, like that of the open-top tram-car running past cornfields in 1906 where the aerodrome was to be situated in 1915, of the RFC flying there, and pictures showing the exterior and interior of the National Aircraft Factory buildings (one of which is still standing), and of Croydon as it became with others showing the various commemorative plaques unveiled there, and the airliners that used it. The picture of a Farman Goliath of Air France recalls for me the days I spent watching the very infrequent arrivals and departures of such aeroplanes, with my mother, as a schoolboy, long, long ago. So do the pictures of what the sheds and entrance to this thrilling place were like at the time of those visits. Later! used to go by tram or ‘bus to watch the morefrequent arrivals at Croydon, after the Purley Way by-pass (a lonely country lane, the book reminds us, when the RFC arrived) had been opened, confinement in the public enclosure or trailing behind the Guide of a conducted tour (not referred to in the book) ending when C. G. Grey of The Aeroplane, which I read regularly and even contributed to in the late 1930s, generously obtained a Tarmac Pass for me. How thrilling it all was! From chancing on a small Air Display put on for some visiting VIPs, when I went there one weekday afternoon in the 1920s with my mother, (perhaps that referred to on page 53 of the book) to making the journey from South London alone, sometimes to join the dense crowds awaiting the arrival of some long-distance record-breaker. After the 1939/45 War, I was to fly from Croydon as a passenger on Motor Sport assignments in various aeroplanes, including Avron Anson and Airspeed Oxford. But nothing compared to that first discovery that there was an aerodrome at Waddon, where you were actually allowed to stay and watch what was going on and where an officer took pity on a small boy and his war-widowed mother and took them behind a hangar to look at a derelict Handley-Page V1500 bomber … I am indebted to the Motor Sport reader who recommended to me this Sutton Library’s publication that has recaptured so many, now-faint, memories of those days…

Although the full and complete history of Croydon has yet to be written and this little work only takes it to 1928, the book covers a great deal of ground in the most fascinating manner. Did you know that the R33 airship made a brief visit to Croydon? (A steam-roller was used to haul it to its temporary mast). Did you know that Prince Albert trained there in 1919, in Avro 405Js, before he became King George VI? When you think of how few ancient aeroplanes, and even their components and wooden propellers, have survived into the 1970s, you will be astounded at how the NAF stacked these tip very carefully for eventual disposal, just after the 1914/18 war. The book illustrates and describes this and even contains a picture of a section of the fuselage of the Vickers Vimy “City of London” air-liner, that was used as a summerhouse in the Wallington garden of Captain Spry Leverton, then-manager of KLM. Indeed, this Croydon Airport is well endowed with pictures as fascinating, although some of a more standardised kind have been included. The air-races that started and finished from Croydon, a few of the accidents to RFC, RAF, and civilian aeroplanes that happened near there, the development details of the two flying grounds (not forgetting the Plough Lane aeroplane-level-crossing about which we had some correspondence in Motor Sport some time ago), the pioneer air-line pilots, with reproductions of the picture-postcards issued of them, the early wireless installations, the dramatic arrival at Croydon of Charles Lindbergh, it is all there, with many illustrations and details about the flying fields themselves. The end-papers, being maps of Beddington and Wallington aerodromes as they were from 1915 to 1920, and of Croydon as it looked between 1928 to 1959, and of the present Roundshaw Estate which has engulfed it, alone justify the price of this little work, in my view. It sells for £1.50 but as presumably it is not available from bookstalls, I suggest that if you want a copy you add about 20p. to cover postage. The Foreword is by Wing Commander R. H. McIntoch DFC, AFC, author of “All-Weather Mac” -W.B.

“The Original Lotus Elite”, by Dennis Ortenburger. 135 pp 8+ in. x 11 in. (Motor Racing Publications, 28 Devonshire Road, London W4 2HD. £6.35).

This soft-cover landscape-shape book about “The Original Racing Car for the Road”, edited by R. A. McCormack, which contains a wealth of data, pictures, drawings, charts and diagrams about the Lotus Elite and the customers who took delivery of this Lotus model between 1959 and 1961, with dates and delivery numbers, published in California by the Newport Press, is now avalaible here, from Motor Racing Publications. -W.B.

“Farm Tractors” by Nick Baldwin. 95 pp. 12 in. x 8 3/4 in. (Old Motor, 17 Air Street, London, W1. £4.95).

Although this book may deal with vehicles which are way-out for most Motor Sport readers, it deserves creditable mention as a book covering very fully, in pictorial fashion, and with some very big pictures at that, a rare subject, which has long been of interest to specialist collectors. The historical text commences with tractor happenings before the turn of the century and it goes without saying that the Old Motor team has found pictures of most of the petrol farm-tractors from 1902 onwards. These are described in the text and in long captions accompanying the great display of rare photographs; the book’s content will be a revelation to those who think of the older farm-tractors as comprising mainly Fordsons and Atistins. Some astonishing machinery is, indeed, depicted, and this book first I understand of a series on various transport-subjects will prove acceptable to those who enthuse over these Specialised tractors, as we do over fast cars. The publishers obviously go for accuracy, because this first edition carries a stuck-in errata-list covering 16 errors and corrects the dating of the Fordson on the dust-jacket (which it calls a front cover) from the 1930s to a 1942 model. -W.B.

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The City of Coventry’s Herbert Art Gallery & Museum has issued a very acceptable list of the exhibits in its Coventry Motor Museum, with historical and technical discourses on each, and colour postcards which can be inserted to form illustrations. The vehicles covered range from the 4897 Daimler wagonette to a 1975 E-type Jaguar Series-3 V12. This large publication has an Introduction by Anthony Davis, Director of Libraries, Arts and Museums, and Forewords by Gilbert Hunt, Lord Ili& and Sir William Lyons. The text is by Peter Mitchell, the design and illustrations by Paul Maddocks, and this catalogue is available from the Museum for £5.80 post— free.

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Motor Racing Publications has again issued its excellent coverage of the (1977) motor-racing season. “Motor Racing Year 978” is compiled by five authors led by John Blunsden, and is packed with pictures, the work of 18 well-known motor-racing photographers. -W.B.

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The “1978 Showman’s Directory” is available from Brook House, Mint Street, Godalming, Surrey for £1.00. It gives the names and addresses of suppliers of a full range of show attractions, together with other useful information. I confess that I did not realise that even flying displays and parachute jumps come these days under the heading of stunts you can purchase for Your show why, even a crazy Model-T Ford, and John Evans’ clever sheepdogs which were Performing at the 1977 Horse Show of the Year, join the performing bull “Oxo” among these circus-like attractions. Formula One motor-racing is not quite so predictably rehearsed and organised and we must hope it never becomes so….

Anyone who is planning to take a farm-house or similar holiday this year should invest in the series of “Farm Holiday Guide” books for 1978, issued from 18 High Street, Paisley, PA1 2BX. Those covering Scotland and Wales cost 35p each, that for England 50p.