Achievements: Land, Sea and Air

By Richard Graves

Published by Bloomsbury, £30.00, ISBN: 0 7475 3771 2

This book celebrates more or less a century of powered transport as helped along by the products of the Castrol company. Hence the title of this large-format book, because ‘Achievements’ was the title of the series of booklets published by Charles Wakefield, the company’s founder, from 1912 onwards to publicise the firm’s part in significant events on land, in the water and in the air – the same remit as MOTOR SPORT carried on its masthead in the early 1930s.

After opening up with ‘Pioneers’, a straightforward run-through of the struggle to perfect the internal combustion engine, we soon get on to tanks, trams, primitive aircraft, submarines and speedboats. That pattern is then repeated era by era, with the automotive sections switching to trains, boats and aeroplanes in turn and, all the while boasting some beautiful monochrome photographs of the machinery interspersed with small but engaging colour details of various posters, intricate models and paraphernalia which make almost every spread a pleasure to look at. You should not forget that the book is, of course, a promotional publication in essence (or perhaps essence), but Castrol has been so involved in racing and record-smashing for so very long now that the Castrol oilcans and pamphlets sit with complete appropriateness among the Land Speed Record and Blue Riband machines, adding to rather than detracting from its appeal as many a lesser company might.

Only in the closing chapters does the insertion of more recent and, dare one say, ordinary, Formula One, motorcycling, and power-boat racing look a little more calculated, though it does come balanced by a look at the progress of space exploration and possible future transport revolutions. Coverage comes right up to the Thrust SSC project (Richard Noble provides a Foreword) and the international space station. Backing this wide brief is some expert text by a variety of specialist writers, who do somehow manage to cover this extensive range without seeming rushed. Good value.