The speed enthusiast’s library
by Eric Thompson
This was the heading for an article in Speed magazine in February 1936. It claimed to list most of the books available on motor racing — and there were 36 titles! In December 1940, which had by then incorporated Speed, published “a very comprehensive book list” — and the total number of titles had increased to 44.
It was easy for an enthusiast to build up a motoring library in those days, but today he is faced with a bewildering profusion of new titles every year. My catalogue details well over 2,000 out-of-print books — and it is far from complete. In consequence, the enthusiast has a bewildering selection to choose from and he must carefully define his areas of interest.
I was given The Boy’s Life of Sir Henry Segrave when I was nine, and biographies and autobiographies have been my favourites ever since. Almost every Formula 1 driver today is the subject of a biography but they seem pale in comparison with heroes like Charles Jarrott, S F Edge and Sammy Davis. Without doubt Duncan Hamilton’s Touch Wood is the most hilarious, where every improbable episode has at least one grain of truth. That was motor racing in the Fifties; Innes Ireland’s All Arms and Elbows with Graham Hill’s Life at the Limit take us into the Sixties with equal bravura.
The history of motor racing is covered from its beginnings in A Record of Motor Racing 1894-1908 by Gerald Rose, and you can progress through the years in TASO Mathieson’s Grand Prix Racing 1906-1914 and Laurence Pomeroy’ The Grand Prix Car, Volumes 1 and 2. LJK Setright continued the story with the same title for 1955-1966 and Doug Nye brought us almost up to date with his 1966-1985. Strangely, the print run for all these underestimated demand and in consequence, when they can be found, they cost the proverbial arm and a leg.
Possibly, the rarest title is The Motor Car. A History & Souvenir, a massive leather bound book published in 1908 as a limited edition of 650 with 250 reserved for the USA. Worby Beaumont’s Motor Vehicles and Motors published in 1902 is desirable, and the earliest motor book which I have ever seen is Carriages Without Horses Shall Go, unusually a softback of 1896.
That “comprehensive list” of 1940 contains titles which remain firm favourites today — the Chula/Bira books, Birkin’s Full Throttle, The Magic of a Name (RR), Sammy Davis’ Motor Racing, Monkhouses’s Motoraces and Motor Racing with Mercedes-Benz and the Barry Lyndon trio Grand Prix, Combat and Circuit Dust along with the Lonsdale Library Motor Racingand the Badminton Library Motors and Motor Driving.
Marque histories, motoring fiction and circuit or race chronicles like the delectable Les 24 Heures du Mans by Roger Labric with artistry by George Ham can fill your shelves but when the annuals Autocourse and the much under-rated Automobile Year begin to feature, then the enthusiast has turned into a collector and he needs space for the ultimate prize — a complete run of Motor Sport from its beginnings in July 1924 — and he needs at least 12 feet of shelving for that!