Books For The New Year
“Motoring Afloat,” by Charles Mortimer. 128 pp., 8¾ in. by 5½ in. (G. T. Foulis and Co., Ltd., 7, Milford Lane, Strand, London, W.C.2. 12s. 6d.)
Charles Mortimer, who has previously written up the experiences of himself and his wife as amateur racing motorists, now tells us of his latest hobby, that of motor yachting. Hesets out with great modesty to give his experiences as a complete tyro, front the day he bought his boat, the 45-ft., 20-ton Kelvinia, to the time when he ventured on his first cross-Channel cruise.
Mortimer gives it to us in great detail, including mooring hints, his log, fuel costs, and even a map of the sea areas referred to in B.B.C. weather reports and publication of the Beaufort Wind Force table. If experienced yachtsmen regard “Motoring Afloat” with scorn this won’t matter a scrap, because Mortimer’s book will intrigue and instruct the many newcomers to this exacting pastime. There must be many who, finding the roads congested and motor racing over-commercialised, will next summer take to the water, not only in Sunday-paper-inspired sailing dinghies but in the real thing—which, to the Mortimers and others with petrol in their veins, is motor yachting. This book will spur them on in their efforts to find a suitable boat, will warn them of pitfalls in purchase and navigation and will certainly warm the cockles of amateur mariners’ hearts, making-chain yearn to up-anchor and away. — W. B.
“Alf Francis—Racing Mechanic,” as told to Peter Lewis. 336 pp., 8¾ in by 5½ in (G. T. Foulis and Co., Ltd., 7, Milford Lane, Strand, London, W.C.2. 25s.)
This remarkable book ranks as one of the greatest motor-racing autobiographies of all time. Alf Francis, the well-known motor-racing mechanic, has written of his experiences from the days when, without having seen a racing car or a motor race, he joined the late John Heath and George Abecassis as chief mechanic on the courageous H.W.M. project, to the beginning of last season when he joined Rob Walker to prepare his Formula II Coopers, one of which was enlarged to have a go at the Formula I cars at Monaco.
In between these times Alf was with Peter Whitehead and Stirling Moss and he worked on Cooper-Alta, Maserati, G.P. Alta and other racing cars. In his book, actually told to or recorded by Peter Lewis, to whom Francis pays great tribute, Alf tells all, and there is absolutely no indication that he hasn’t written every word himself. This is a book which reads as Alf thinks and speaks and it is the most enthralling book of its kind, quite impossible to lay aside until every word has been read and digested.
The author deals with every facet of the racing mechanic’s life:—the hard work, often for night after night with a minimum of sleep, the long, hectic journeys in the transporters across Europe, the frustrations, excitements, disappointments. He tells in detail of how he prepared the various cars with which he was entrusted, bringing in a significant amount of technical detail, so lacking in many similar books. As you follow his fortunes, you read on, eager to know how he will cope with the next of the ever-present problems, what will be the outcome of the next journey against the clock in the van carrying the precious racing cars, of what his reaction will be to the next personality with whom he has to associate. It may be his next “boss,” the head mechanic at Maserati, or Stirling Moss himself.
This is indeed a great book, the more so as Alf is refreshingly, even astonishingly. outspoken. He does not wrap up, even in cellophane, weaknesses a character in the cars and persons he encounters. This book, and it is a very long book, depicts motor racing as it really is—from the inside. And, remember, Alf Francis has seen it as mechanic to a works team, to a private amateur and to a professional racing driver, as well as on the most intimate terms with everyone at the Maserati factory. He goes into detail, even to the pay and expenses the racing mechanic can expect, although he does not tell us what starting-money different drivers receive.
As the pages turn you feel exhausted yourself as Alf describes the season-long grind that is the racing mechanic’s lot and you marvel at the conscientiousness of the man, who will remove a cylinder block or change an axle after days and nights of unremitting toil, if by so doing he can increase by the slenderest margin the chances of “his” driver in tomorrow’s race. Whether read as an adventure story, as a means of discovering what this “religion” of motor racing amounts to or as an informative account of how and why different racing cars behaved as they did, this book is an excellent investment.
The pictures match the text in excellence, especially as each caption, in itself, tells an absorbing story.
A further pleasing factor about Alf’s tome is the accuracy of the contents. Apart from technicalities about which only Francis himself knows the facts and which we have to take on trust as correctly printed, not a single historical error seems to have crept in. The fault-finding reviewer is reduced to remarking that perhaps it would be more factual to say that Seaman “died of burns” than that he was “burned to death,” while although Alf is correct in remarking that in a short race it is impossible for a mechanic to take things calmly in diagnosing trouble during a pit-stop, it is, of course, possible to do so in a long race, and the calm manner in which Colin Chapman thought out the reason why his Lotus was misfiring at Reims in 1956, finally removing a blockage from the carburetter “air box” without touching anything else on the car, is a fine example. But such comment arises not as criticism of the book but from the. controversial mood in which Alf puts the reader! Stirling Moss, for example, may not agree with the author when, referring to a faulty automatic gearbox on Stirling’s own Jaguar Mk. VII, he concludes: “I take a very dim view of a racing driver who uses this sort of gear-change. It’s fine for old ladies and Americans!”
That is the kind of thing you get all through this book, for Francis is equally frank whether explaining why one of “his” cars retires from a race or why he left a certain driver or equipe. The whole work is so excellent that we even wish he wouldn’t refer to the recent Mercedes-Benz racing cars as “Silver Arrows.” They didn’t look much like arrows and this name never appeared on them, unlike silly names which people have painted on fast motor cars front time immemorial.
Otherwise, no criticism and lavish praise for this 336 pp. book, which has a Foreword by Stirling Moss, and a coloured dust-jacket, depicting Alf, and some pleasing thumb-nail sketches by his wife, Sylvia. There will be plenty of people who will dismiss this classic with a sniff or something stronger. Read it and you will probably discover why! — W. B.
“Europe on Wheels,” by Ian Mercer. 86 pp., 6⅞ in. by 4⅝ in. (Power and Pedal Ltd., 113, Temple Chambers, Temple Avenue, London, E.C.4. 5s.)
This little book describes a number of delightful holidays in Europe for owners of scooters, mo-peds and other forms of mild mechanical transport. As a combined guide book, route book and glossary of expenses and hints and tips this is worth having. Buy it and plan your summer holiday over the winter hearth! — W. B.
“Forty Years With Ford,” by Charles E. Sorensen, with Samuel T. Williamson. 345 pp., 8½ in. by 5¼ in. (Jonathan Cape, 30, Bedford Square, London, W.C. 21s.)
This is an enthralling story of the late Henry Ford and the fantastic Ford empire, told by the man who was closer to Henry Ford than anyone else within that great organisation. Sorensen, sometimes known as “Henry Ford’s man” or, from his intimate experience of metal casting, as “Cast-iron Charlie,” Ford’s own name for him, packs a punch behind his straightforward description of the growth and functioning of the Ford Motor Company from its conception to the present day.
Sorensen debunks many accepted statements about Ford which have appeared in other books on the subject, thereby setting up “Forty Years With Ford” as a motoring equivalent of recent controversial military writings. He disclaims the story that Ford invented the moving assembly-line, although he certainly developed it. As we, read this interesting book we get new, true facts about Ford’s early “greats,” men who built the foundations of his great company only to be immediately dismissed through no fault of their own when Ford felt that way. Couzens, Wills and Flanders are three “greats” who have a chapter devoted to them. Sorensen gives the inside story of the sensational introduction of the five-dollar working day, of how the River Rouge plant was started and finished, of how Ford acquired and ran his own railroad, of trading with Russia and of how Mrs. Ford intervened when Henry wanted to turn his back on trade unionism.
There is a chapter devoted to the birth of the famous Fordson tractor, of its importance to England during the First World War and of how Harry Ferguson, “then a young machinery salesman,” got in on this aspect of Ford production and won 9¼ million dollars front Ford in a legal battle.
Henry Ford shows up as more in the background than has been popularly supposed, even during the greatest years of the Ford Company and in his old age he is seen in an unfavourable light, difficult to deal with, at variance with his sons and executives and unhappily a broken man. Sorensen, loyal to Henry Ford to the last, does not hesitate to paint this tragic picture, nor is he immodest about the magnificent part he played in creating, in 19 months, the mile-long Willow Run plant from which one four-engined B-24 bomber left the assembly-line every hour during World War II, putting, in all, 8,800 of these giant bombers into the air.
As usual in a book of this sort technicalities relating to the cars themselves are included sparingly. Nothing very new emerges on this quarter except the intriguing information that, but for the desire of Edsel Ford to get the model-A into production after manufacture of the model-T had been discontinued and the factory shut down, this car might very well have had an automatic planetary transmission instead of sliding gear, which in 1927 would have been pretty sensational. The advent of the V8 is described, with details of how one-piece casting of the combined cylinder block, crankcase and exhaust passages was accomplished and the technique of casting instead of forging the steel crankshaft developed. The V8 remained in production longer than the model-T had done, for it was made without major change for 21 years, the model-T for 19 years. It could have had rubber engine-mountings earlier than it did had Henry Ford not disliked the idea. Sorensen pays tribute to Walter Chrysler for this “quieter way of life,” first introduced on the Plymouth in 1932.
From page 227 of ” Forty Years With Ford” we learn that the designer of the Ford V8 was J. Galamb. Some technical details of the model-T are given but not nearly so many as, for instance, Antique Automobile has dug up in recent times, Sorensen being more concerned with Ford the man and Ford the company than with Ford cars. It is significant that he quotes March 1908 as the month when the model-T was announced and October 1st, 1908, as the day the first car was introduced to the public. It originated at the Piquette Avenue plant and apparently J. Galamb had a big hand in its design. Model-T departed on May 26th, 1927, after 15 million had been built.
This book tells an enthralling story, from Ford’s pioneering days to the note of personal tragedy on which his eventful life closed. The pictures are rather indifferent and all grouped in the centre of the book and the printing and punctuation are somewhat slipshod. — W. B.
“The Brockbank Omnibus,” by Russell Brockbank. 120 pp., 10 in. by 7½ in. (Perpetua Ltd., 32, Newton Road, Bayswater, London, W.2. 21s.)
Words would be wasted in describing these typical Brockbank cartoons of motoring and aviation happenings. Everyone who enjoys Brockbank, who is Art Editor of Punch, will rush for this comprehensive collection of his inimitable cartoons. — W. B.
“Return to Canada,” by J. S. Gowland. 199 pp., 8¾ in, by 5⅝ in. (The Bodley Head, 10, Earlham Street, London, W.C.2. 18s.)
This is an interesting travel book, with a motoring flavour because the author covered nearly 13,000 miles in a used 1955 Austin A50. He made his journey on a budget of 300 dollars, which lends excitement to his story. The book gives a real insight into what Canada is like and is well endowed with maps and photographs. — W. B.
“Eve at the Driving Wheel,” by Moie Charles. 120 pp., 7½ in. by 5 in. (Chatto and Windus Ltd., 40/42, William IV Street, London, W.C.2. 8s. 6d.)
Intended as an instructive book in Chatto and Windus’ “Career Novels” series edited by Mary Dunn, “Eve at the Driving Wheel” is a readable ingenious book that constitutes excellent light entertainment for motoring enthusiasts. Read how Eve Grosvenor, sacked from an office job for reading the motoring papers in business hours, graduates from pump attendant to divers driving jobs. Of how she drives an ancient taxi from England to Italy, follows the Mille Miglia practice in a 150-m.p.h. Alfa-Romeo, drives a Judge on circuit in Germany and manages to get 120 m.p.h. out of his Packard along the autobahn, falls in and out of love, marries a hitch-hiking one-legged ex-R.A.F. boy, competes in a friend’s Renault 750 in a Little Rally (an entry form, part of the route card and details of the tests from an actual London M.C. Little Rally are included!) and finally discovers, surprisingly late in the day, that her husband was a well-known racing driver before the war, so that she ends up by buying a Simca out of the profits of a Motel the pair built from old Nissen-huts in Worcestershire, with which to hurtle across Europe in the Geneva, Monte Carlo and Alpine Rallies, “even the Mille Miglia round Italy.” This after turning down an offer from “one of the big motoring groups” who wanted to lay on “cars for rallies and cars for races” for Eve on the strength of her Ladies’ Cup win in the little Renault in the R.A.C. Rally, a Rally, however, which she describes as “more difficult in many respects than the Geneva, Alpine, Monte Carlo or any other of the International ones.” Her chief memory of winning the Monte Carlo was drinking real onion soup in Paris!
Eve is an accomplished girl. We read of how she repaired the condenser of a broken-down Mercedes sports car owned by two Frenchmen with the application of “a few odd tools.” The owner gave her a 5,000 franc note—no wonder! She managed to prise a Volkswagen out of Wolfsburg and deliver it to its new owner in the ‘West of England, taking a honeymoon with her R.A.F. boy en route, completely by-passing the English branch of VW Motors! She was careful to take her time in order to run-in this new VW—she was wasting her time because new VWs don’t need running-in!
Had Moie Charles consulted some experts she could have avoided such pitfalls—but then this book wouldn’t be such fun for motoring types. — W. B.
“MOTOR SPORT Racing Car Review, 1958,” by Denis Jenkinson. 172 pp., 5⅛ in. by 7⅜ in. (Grenville Publishing Co. Ltd., 15-17, City Road, London, E.C.1. 9s. 6d.)
This welcome annual review of the previous season’s racing cars, from the factual pen of Motor Sport’s Continental Correspondent, this year contains 50 more pages than it did last year, although the price remains the same. This has enabled the author to write comprehensively not only of all the Formula I cars, including Connaught, Gprdomo and the enlarged Cooper-Climax as well as the obvious ones like B.R.M., Ferrari, Lancia/Ferrari, Maserati and Vanwall, but to include such Formula II cars as Cooper, Lister, Lotus, Osca and Ferrari.
This landscape book on art paper abounds in absorbing pictures of the cars, their engines, cockpits, suspension and braking arrangements, etc., and each chapter, of which there are 14 altogether, unfolds in enthralling and informative manner the successes and failures of cars and drivers during the 1957 racing season. So many facts never made clear elsewhere emerge that this book is unique. For instance, we learn from it exactly what happened to Lewis-Evans’ Vanwall when he experienced stiff steering, why Hawthorn’s Lancia/Ferrari had to retire after the crash at Monaco whereas the Vanwall whose back wheel it struck was able to continue; in fact, the true reasons for retirements and other episodes throughout the year. Even chassis numbers of racing cars are quoted and text and pictures together make this THE motor-racing reference work.
In his preface Jenkinson laments the fact that Formula II racing has become “almost of a Speedway nature” and observes that 500-c.c. racing has lost its status, being relegated “almost to the level of Club racing.” Clearly his life revolves about Formula I and in his “Review” he serves it faithfully and with enthusiasm. The foreword is by William Boddy, Editor of Motor Sport, who remarks that while those who like motor racing mainly for the parties and the champagne will quite likely retire halfway through this book, enthusiasts will digest every word.
“Model Car Rail Racing,” by D. J. Laidlaw-Dickson. 176 pp., 7½ in. by 5 in. (Model Aeronautical Press, Ltd., 38, Clarendon Road, Watford, Herts. 10s.)
Now that rail racing is available in every home through the excellent Scalextric and V.I.P. layouts, interest in this hobby should increase by slides and spins. Here, by the Editor of Model Maker, is a book covering every conceivable aspect of the game, electric and diesel, with copious illustrations, circuit layouts and constructional and operational hints. — W. B.
“Treasury of Foreign Cars, Old and New,” by Floyd Clymer. 212 pp. 11¼ in. by 8½ in. (McGray-Hill Book Co., Inc., New York 7.50 dollars.)
This is an illustrated introduction to the World’s cars of all ages. Over 500 pictures are included in this handsome album, which covers a fascinating subject in luxury style. — W. B.