Not just furry dice book review: Accessories all areas
Light-hearted and packed with products, the story of one man’s experiences as a motoring-extras salesman is a riveting read
Should Netflix or Amazon ever consider putting together a Mad Men-type series about the exploits if the car industry in the Midlands from the 1960s to the ’90s, they could do worse than use Chris Mitchell’s short but highly entertaining memoirs as their source material.
The book begins with an apology in advance, explaining that some of the stories may seem somewhat sexist and a little un-PC. Standing in the cold, harsh glare of our Kafka- esque 2020s this is a promising start.
Car accessories were once a massive business. Oil additives, headrests, Maserati air horns, slats for the rear windscreen, Graham Hill driving gloves – for girls! – and then there were the bullet-hole transfers for windscreens and bodywork which were a smash with fans of the Sean Connery-era James Bond films.
Where today there are around 1000 shops nationwide offering motoring odds and ends (plus Halfords), in 1973 there were 8000, each chasing the latest trends. Mitchell was a central player in what testosterone-powered young men were fitting to their cars.
It all started for Mitchell at Robin Sturgess Accessories on Walnut Street, Leicester. The 1958 launch of the Mini, sold in bog-standard format and leaving the production line with a whole host of build-quality issues, meant that Britain’s inventive garden-shed engineers could offer an assortment of upgrades for Alec Issigonis’s family run-around. RSA took full advantage as the industry widened, moving to ever-larger premises as fads came and went.
With its well-weighted anecdotes, you’ll likely tear through this book in a matter of days, and the accompanying pages showing adverts and behind-the-scenes photographs are worth the price alone. Mitchell is easy company and you get the sense that his buyers must have appreciated his ready wit when he strode through the doors of accessories shops, having parked his gadget-strewn van nearby.
There are poignant moments too: a family tragedy before a trade show, an appallingly snide dismissal, starting all over again and the eventual decline of a colourful industry once car manufacturers realised they were missing a lucrative trick by offering flashy add-ons.
If there’s a criticism, it’s that the book could have been longer, but then again Mad Men went to seven series so hopefully there are a few more tales left in Mitchell yet.
Not Just Furry Dice…
February 2022 reviews in brief
Forza Horizon 5
We’re off to Mexico for a new adventure, which will feel familiar to series veterans but equally welcoming to those starting out. Drive anything from an Auto Union Type D to a Mercedes-AMG One and tackle road, street and off-road races. Edinburgh and Scottish farmlands are replaced by the sandy deserts and colourful thoroughfares of Central America. Customisation is offered for the list of almost 500 cars available for you to collect, mod and master.
Xbox Series X and Series S, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, £54.99
Britain’s toy car wars
Ah, the tummy-tingling thrill of standing in the toyshop debating which Corgi or Matchbox model to buy… Reading this analysis of the competition between those makes and Dinky swept me back to boyhood. Not that this is a catalogue or buying guide (though there’s advice on collecting); it’s the entertaining tale of how each of these firms started, the aggressive competition between them and the fatal damage that those flashy American Hot Wheels models did to them in the 1970s. Fun to read.
The History Press, £12.99
The complete book of Classic MG cars
Doesn’t it seem amusing that a car with 20bhp could be considered a sporting vehicle? Yet when the MG badge first made its mark that was where we were. In 1929 when a roof was unusual and a heater unheard of, the tiny M-type Midget felt sporty, a character the marque continued into its great days. Rightly giving a scant page to the badge’s recent Chinese resuscitation, this book lines up all the proper MGs up to MGF and the great looking SV-R supercar that might have reinvigorated the Octagon, with brief diversions into racing and records. No surprises, although I didn’t know there was a Zagato Y-type.