Book Reviews, February 1991, February 1991

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Books for the New Year

Automobile Year — 1990/91
Editor David Hodges. 279 pp. 12¾ x 10in. Motor Racing Publications Ltd, Unit 6, PiIton Estate, 46, Pitlake, Croydon, CRO 3RY. £24.95.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and since the first edition of Automobile Year made its appearance 37 years ago it has become a publication which no New Year would be satisfactory without and back numbers of which are now valuable possessions, as the specialist bookshops will confirm.

The 1990/91 volume runs true to form, the English language edition by David Hodges sets out to review the past sporting season and comment on topical world automotive trends in the established high-class format of big glossy pages, magnificent colour and black-and-white pictures and detailed tables recording the results of last year’s leading rallies, races, hillclimbs and rallycross. The specialist articles by known experts are devoted to a multitude of pertinent subjects, including a look at how the world and European motor industry will face up to 1993, a similar survey of the American situation, Ray Hutton on car nomenclature, a look at Japan, Pininfarina and technical developments in general, and a study of Supercars, starting with vintage Bentley and Mercedes-Benz, etc. Edouard Seidler deals with the bosses in the motor industry.

Ten powerful chapters unravel the sporting happenings of 1990, with our Michael Cotton writing about Endurance Racing, and John Blunsden on F1. All this and the 500 terrific illustrations — what more could you crave? Normally it is my opinion that advertising is in poor taste in such a high-class book, where paper, printing, photography and binding are of top quality, but somehow Automobile Year has always contrived to have such top advertisers, with such pleasing layouts, that their pages seem to enhance rather than detract from the overall enjoyment. This time they comprise ASC, Mahla, Blaupunkt, Mazda, France Design, Lancia, Longines, Mitsubishi, Marlboro, Mercedes-Benz and Pininfarina.

Freelance journalists could do themselves some good by perusing the pages of Automobile Year, one feels, and as I have said, it is – magnificent. Those who can afford one superbook for the coffee table, bookcase or the back seat of the Porsche need look no further. WB

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Lotus — All The Cars
by Anthony Pritchard. 224pp. 11 x 8in. Aston Publications Ltd, Bourne End House, Harvest Hill, Bourne End, Bucks, S18 5JJ £19.95.

The title says it all, apart from qualifying this all Says Lotus coverage by saying that the book is of high quality, the 188 pictures and 31 colour plates (of F1 cars) extremely clear, and that a special buckram-bound edition of 200 numbered copies, signed by Stirling Moss, Innes Ireland, Mario Andretti, John Surtees, Roy Salvadori and the author is available, priced at £45, available only from Chater’s Motoring Bookshop or Mill House Books.

Lotus advocates can cheer themselves up after the depressing F1 Camel Team’s performances in recent races by buying this book, which has all the Mks therein, from Colin Chapman’s 1949 Mk 1 trials special to production Elan and the full run of F1 cars. Specifications and Lotus F1 results from 1958 to 1989 are included. If you should need more, the bibliography lists another 35 Lotus titles. WB

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Uphill Racers — The History of British Hill Climbing
by Chris Mason. 433pp. 11 x Bookmarque Publishing, 26 Cotswold Close, Minster Lovell, Oxon., 0X8 5SX £39.95.

This is an ambitious work, the story of British hillclimbing, speed hillclimbing that is, so much enjoyed by motor racing folk in this country, from the very earliest times right up to, I am glad to note, 1990. For a long time we have had to rely on TR Nicholson’s Sprint to cover such ground and, to be fair, his book, published by David & Charles in 1969, also covers speed trials, which Mason does not attempt.

Mason, himself a competitor, who saw his first “uphill race” in 1953 and began to take part from 1968, has done a fine job. The development of this branch of the sport is excellently uncovered, and a book which must have been difficult to compile makes a useful, welcome addition to the bookshelves of enthusiasts who revel in history. If any mild criticism is deserved it centres around the inevitable fad that many of the 400 or so black and-white pictures have appeared in other places, that there could have been a few more showing Shelsley Specials (we could have provided some) and that the quality of the reproductions of the four photographs on page 106 are an insult to photographer CD Pearce. A few minor errors seem confined to the Index, in which Kay Petre is given unmarried status, etc. But most of the illustrations are good and admirably capture the spirit of speed hill-storming; and what memories they bring back — to quote just one, I had forgotten that the famous Dennis Poore Alfa Romeo had overtuned at Bo’Ness. . . . Some of the accredited picture sources seem to have had different origins, if my memory is correct; but this may be imagination and does not reflect on the author.

So here is the first comprehensive study of this important subject, edited by the late Jim Thomson, who contributes a guide to hotels and pubs close to a dozen well-known courses and who, sadly, did not live to see the book published. Tables give the various Championship results and a few blank pages at the end of the book are there for notes, this sport being very much one for jotting down masses of times. The format, chapterwise, covers the periods 1899-1914,1919-1925,1925-1939,19461950,1951-1961,1962-1968,1969-1974, 1975-1983and1984-1989,some300,000 words in all, and at least the later years of this friendliest of sports have been fully described. As I said, formidable. Highly recommended! WB

* * *

The Sporting Fords Volume 4; Sierras
by Graham Robson. 128 pp. 7¼ x 9in. Motor Racing Publications Ltd, Unit 6, The P1/ton Estate, 46, Pitlake, Croydon, CRO 3RY. £12.95.

In this landscape-format book in MRP’s Collector’s Guide, a series this publishing house introduced twelve years ago, Graham Robson deals with all the Sierras, gilding the reputation of a car which at first, he says, accrued a lot of snide remarks. Although the book is about the Sporting Sierras, after an introduction about the origins of this model, I am glad that Robson regards even the XR4x4s, from three of which I have had impeccable service, to be in this category and not just cars for reps and suchlike. In the first volume from MRP about such sporting Fords Robson dealt with the Cortinas, and in volume 2 with the Escorts, after which Jeremy Walton carried on the work with volume 3 about the Capris.

In this fourth volume the twin-finned XR4i and Merkur XR4Ti from Cologne, those ‘all-weather’ XR4x4s, the rear-drive RS Cosworth, the race-winning RS500 Cosworth and the 4×4 version of the last named get chapters to themselves. Other chapters cover the Sierra’s racing, rallying and rallycross exploits, the closely related V8 cars from S Africa and how to choose, examine and test a used Sierra today. The book concludes with the technical specification, car identification, performance data and other Appendices. An authoritative coverage of this very popular Ford, the book is not quite up-to-date, inasmuch as only a picture caption tells us anything about the 2-litre DOHC engine which came out in 1989 and the merest hint of the 16-valve version, which was due in the early 1990s. However, Robson promises more on these engines — there will be more to tell in the next few years, you wait and see! — in a second edition of Sierras.

Meanwhile, I am glad to read that the experienced Robson regards the XR 4x4s as Ford’s “best of the best”, after he had owned one for two years which never disappointed him in any way or at any time and, used as a fast road car, was at least as agile as the best Cosworth-engined Ford, “Though you might be frustrated by the V6 engine’s reluctance to rev.” Just as I found, before changing over to a 2-litre DOHC version. So, a book for all believers, illustrated with 131 generously captioned pictures. WB

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Another Ford book is a new edition of Escort Mks 1, 2, 3 & 4 by Jeremy Walton, which runs to 416 pages (the publisher’s ‘blurb’ says 440) and more than 425 illustrations, the first edition having been published five years ago. Haynes of Yeovil do this one at £15.95. WB

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Rolls-Royce Piston Aero Engines — A Designer Remembers
by AA Rubbra. 156 pp. 8 x 6in Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust, PO Box 31, Derby, DE2 8BJ. £7.00.

This book was written by AA Rubbra, who became Chief Designer at Rolls-Royce and was responsible for the R-R Merlin aero-engine which won the war in the air for Great Britain during WW2, after his untimely death. It forms a fitting memorial to a modest top engineer. The soft-cover publication, No 16 in the R-R Heritage Trust’s Historical Series, is beautifully produced and will enthral engineers. It has many fine illustrations, some of them pull-out drawings, and there are photographs of the aeroplanes powered by the Rolls-Royce engines for which Rubbra — Rbr at the factory — was responsible or developed. These include the Kestrel, Eagle XVI, Goshawk, Peregrine, Buzzard, the Schneider Trophy racing ‘R’ engine, the long series of Merlins, the Griffon, and on to the Eagle 22, Vulture, Exe and Crecy, Rubbra having joined the Company in 1925.

From this little book much will be discovered about these engines, and there are fascinating biographical notes about the author. As I have said, engineers will be enthralled and will appreciate the excellent drawings, and even a layman like myself was intrigued to be reminded that R-R built an X-formation aero-engine long before the same-formation Vulture with which I had association (ha! ha!) during the war. In the same R-R Heritage Trust Historical Series there are equally enthralling books on the subject of Rolls-Royce cars. Would that other books represented such marvellous value for money; highly recommended. WB

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For those seeking authentic information about jet engines, the previous book in the R-R Heritage Trust’s Historical Series — see above — was No 15 Olympus — the first forty years by Alan Baxter, who joined the Flight Test Department of Bristol-Siddeley in 1961 and wrote this book to mark the 40th anniversary of the first test-bed run of the Olympus engine, of which the Type 593 Concorde is the most powerful turbo jet engine in service. The book is of the same high quality as that reviewed above and runs to 179 pages, of the same size as all the titles in this splendid series, for easy filing, namely, 8¼ x 5¾in. This shows the scope of the welcome, indeed avidly awaited, R-R publications. This one costs £6.50, from the Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust, PO Box 31, Derby, DE2 8BJ. WB

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Readers who are intending to buy kit cars and who may have problems on deciding which one to acquire and who anticipate problems with building and trimming them now have GT Foulis’ The Kitcar Builder’s Manual to study. Written by Peter Coxhead and Martin Foster, it runs to 176 large pages, and there are all the illustrations to tempt the newcomers to kit-car building to make a start. One shot taken at Castle Combe circuit is a reminder of the choice of cars awaiting the would-be home builder who needs just this sort of assistance. The book is priced at £11.95.