Book reviews, February 2015, February 2015
Peter M Larsen with Ben Erickson
I’ve never seen such wide context in a car book – a positive history lesson about the Romanovs, pogroms and flight to France, where Iakov Savtchik changed his name to Jacques Saoutchik and rose from carpenter to fashionable purveyor of some of the most lavish car bodywork ever seen.
Supported by shoals of photos of everything from the beau monde to the trenches plus extensive personal snaps and drawings, Vol1 is the in-depth life story of the Paris coachbuilder while Vol2 reproduces all extant brochures, renderings and sketches of the firm’s designs, with a discussion of their elements and influences. Each volume is an inch or more thick; author Larsen himself says the first two require serious intent from the reader but invites us to relax with the last, a period photo record of every car the firm built, from Edwardian simplicity to tasteless postwar excess via some undisputed masterpieces. Larsen was lucky to find an indulgent publisher, but the result is a lavish tableau not only of a creative soul but of an era. GC
Published by Dalton Watson ISBN 978-1-85443-269-8, $500
Pieces of Silver
This is the second ‘historical fiction’ based around 1930s Grand Prix racing to land on our desks in the past year. The dramatic potential of pre-war death or glory, stylish society and nasty Nazis is clearly in vogue.
Unlike Tracks: Racing the Sun, reviewed in the October 2014 issue, Pieces of Silver centres around fictional characters with only a few ‘real’ figures, most notably Bernd Rosemeyer, turning up. The ambitious plot revolves around Westbury Holt, a charismatic English racing driver personified by his signature cricket jumper and pipe. Carefree Holt is naïvely immune to moral and political doubt when he lands a plum drive at Auto Union and is focused solely on finally proving himself in the fastest car. The parallels to Richard Seaman are obvious, until the real-life English Mercedes driver pops up himself in a couple of none-speaking cameos – as does a certain unnamed “young editor” from Motor Sport.
Holt’s blinkered refusal to acknowledge the fascist horrors around him come home to roost as a POW a few years later, and his story unravels in gruesome fashion. Extreme violence and gore pepper the tale, particularly in the narrative of Sepp, a young mechanic with latent Rosemeyer-like driving abilities. The love scenes are a little ‘Mills & Boon’, but Breslin’s enthusiasm for his story is genuinely engaging and you soon find yourself wanting to know what happens next to his colourfully drawn characters.
It’s an enjoyable page-turner. DS
Published by Pic Shop ISBN 978-1-500488-36-9, £11.99
2014 FIA Formula 1 Review
There was a time when perennials such as this and the estimable Autocourse annual could easily be completed in time for pre-Christmas release (except during the early 1960s, long before the VHS or DVD age, when the South African GP sometimes took place at the end of December). It’s an unintended consequence of Bernie Ecclestone’s forever expanding Formula 1 calendar that production schedules are becoming an ever-tighter squeeze.
That hasn’t diluted the quality of this traditional staple, which comes as a two-disc set: the first provides edited highlights of the campaign just past, with commentary from BBC linchpin Ben Edwards and analytical interludes from some of his colleagues. Edwards is something of an unsung hero in this industry, a gifted broadcaster whose own racing experience gives him an instant understanding of what he needs to relay.
Disc two contains a series of on-board laps, dissected by whichever architect happens to be at the helm.
At the time of writing it was available at a discounted rate (£14.99 for the DVD): however you dress it up, that is spectacularly good value for money. SA
From www.dukevideo.com DVD £19.99, Blu-ray £24.99
1970/1971 Eighty-Four Hours of Endurance
Niche publishing is nothing new in motor racing, which has spawned many fine books that are of interest only to a precious few.
It’s the nature of the business: motoring literature tends generally to be a labour of love rather than reward, unless your surname happens to be Clarkson.
If anything this is a niche within a niche.
The concept might not sound too promising – a snapshot of two World Sports Car Championship seasons, viewed from a single continent – but this was the age of Porsche v Ferrari, 917 v 512S, and for the most part this is a wonderful pictorial essay viewed through the lens of Michael Keyser, a handy driver, as well as a most accomplished photographer – in 1976 he and Al Holbert shared the winning Porsche Carrera RSR in the Sebring 12 Hours.
There are fleeting texts and race results to provide context, but the vivid imagery from Daytona, Sebring and Watkins Glen makes this particularly worthwhile. There are plenty of car shots, naturally, but it fizzes with atmosphere and features some wonderfully candid portraits (with Steve McQueen among the subjects). Not much to read, then, but plenty to absorb. SA
Published by AMA ISBN 978-0-692-27908-3, $69 plus P&P
Official MotoGP Season Review 2014
When one competitor tops the podium more often than not, as Marc Márquez did in 2014, the prospect of an interesting season review seems quite slim. But MotoGP had much more going for it last season than one record-breaking youngster.
Aside from Márquez’s delightful habit of making his wins much more difficult than they need to be, Ryder – along with technical expert Neil Spalding and our own Mat Oxley – isn’t lacking in material. There was a rejuvenated and adaptable Valentino Rossi, the series’ new ‘open’ rules and Ducati’s exploitation of them, as well as its ongoing travails with the Desmosedici, plus myriad storylines and happenings further down the grid. The stars of the future are well represented in the Moto2 and 3 coverage, too.
As usual, it’s all laid out in an easy-to-digest fashion, which is impressive given the sheer amount of information packed into the book’s 200-plus pages. The photos aren’t bad either; even in still shots of Márquez, the combination of flair and control that marks him out as a potential all-time great is fully apparent. ACH
Published by Evro ISBN 978-0-9928209-8-5, £30