Book Reviews, January 1962, January 1962
“A History of the World’s Sports Cars,” by Richard Hough.
223 pp. 10 1/8 in. x 7 1/2 in. (George Allen & Unwin Ltd., Ruskin House, 40, Museum Street, London, W.C.1. 42s.)
Whether there is need for another history of the sports car, following John Stanford’s book on this subject and Boddy’s “Sports Car Pocket Book,” is open to doubt and a true history of all the sports cars in the World from the very beginning would require many more than one volume. But within its limits this hook is extraordinarily well done. Naturally, Hough has had to compress the material but he writes a good and accurate account of a very great many sports cars, although the chapters about pre 1939 cars are by far the longest, so that more recent Maserati, Ferrari and others get rather superficial treatment.
Hough does not stop at a history of the World’s sports cars. He includes an account of sports-car racing—Le Mans, the T.T. (including those races in the series that were for pure racing cars!), the Mille Miglia, Targa Florio, 1,000 km. Nurburg race and the 12-hour Florida G.P. These accounts, with tabulated results, circuit maps and excellent pictures, and an Introduction by S. C. H. Davis in his typical style, are well worth having, even if based on contemporary accounts.
This large volume concludes with brief specifications, of the sort found in trade directories once published by Stone & Cox and others, and Hough has had the happy idea of illustrating this section with reproductions of contemporary advertisements, which is most effective. Indeed, the whole book lives up to the promise of its gay dust-jacket so far as illustrations are concerned. Contemporary rather than existing cars are mainly depicted, there are many fine colour plates and sectional and other drawings from The Autocar.
The text is lively and informative and I stunted but one error— the chassis of the original Aston Martin is given as a 1908 Hispano-Sniza, whereas it was that of one of those rare Isotta-Fraschini voiturettes; the mistake occurring, curiously, opposite a colour reproduction of an advertisement for the later straighteight Isotta-Fraschini.
So this big book provides a worthwhile introduction, an “outline history” as the author puts it, to sports cars and sportscar racing, Hough only omitting races for the latter at Brooklands because, he says, these are comprehensively covered in Boddy’s classic “The History of Brooklands Motor Course.”
This is a good book which would make an excellent present. The Introduction is by W. O. Bentley, for whom Hough “ghosts,” and there is a comprehensive index.
“The Cars In My Life,” by W. O. Bentley.
157 pp. 9 5/8 in. x 5 7/8 in. (Hutchinson & Co. Ltd.,178-202, Great Portland Street, London, W.1. 25s.)
I awaited this book with impatience, but having read it-and it does not take long to read—I have to admit to considerable disappointment. W. O. Bentley’s “Autobiography” was so enjoyable that this book comes as an anti-climax. One would have expected a man of Mr. Bentley’s experience and technical ability to analyse the cars he drove in some detail, tearing them apart in words and dissecting them. But he confesses to having driven all too few rival makes while the Bentley was in production and his account of the cars in his life reads like a mediocre article rather than material for a book and those illustrated include his early Hillman Minx and 1946 Standard Eight ….
One feels that Richard Hough, who was the actual writer of this book, was hard pressed to expand it even to 116 pages—the remainder is index and appendices. He has done his best, by including chapters about `”W.O.’s” motorcycle races at Brooklands, and other subjects, inevitably repeating some of the facts already aired in the “Autobiography.”
There is a chapter on Bentley’s views on road accidents, delightfully outspoken but not saying anything very new. There is a chapter about the Bentley that will never be but this resolves into “W.O.’s” idea for a 1962 mass-production small car, a not particularly outstanding in-line 4-cylinder with wet cylinder liners, a high compression-ratio, a high top gear and all-round independent suspension. “W.O.” turns his back on air-cooling (“I can see little point in it for England”), on frontwheel-drive (“…a spur gear has to be used. In the Mini-Minor it creates a noise nuisance which Issigonis for all his brilliance has not entirely resolved”) and on swing-axle i.r.s. (“The oversteer and its potential dangers… can, of course, be reduced and ‘faked up,’ and in the case of some cars, like the German Porsche, the faking has been cleverly done. But it is still fundamentally an unsound layout and I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with it.”). In this chapter there are some very worthwhile remarks about the need for a reduction in greasing points, and for greater freedom from trouble even in cheap cars (“A certain German firm has already shown that it is possible but deplorably few other manufacturers have made much progress since the war”) Mr. Bentley also makes a plea for better-shaped driving seats.
A chapter that promised much, titled “And the Bentleys that Never Were” repeats some of the known data about the stillborn Napier-Bentley but is intriguing on the topic of a 15-b.p. quantity-production which “W.O” designed for Lagonda in 1945—a front-wheel-drive air-cooled flat-six!
There is a chapter devoted to motoring men, such as William Morris, Henry Coatalen, Laurence H. Pomeroy, Marc. Birkigt, Lord Hives, Sir Henry Royce, Georges Boesch, Henry Ferguson, Alec Issigonis and Sir William Lyons, but nothing very fresh emerges and one feels that Hough filled in the historical details. Incidentally, although W. O. Bentley admits he talked with Roesch only once, this does not stop him from describing Roesch’s designs as “a shade too clever and complex, as anyone who has tried to overhaul the engine of a Talbot 75 will agree.” But surely Bentley’s own engines were quite complex, and a nightmare to decarbonise, and I wonder how many Talbot 75s “W.O.” has dismantled?
The most interesting chapter is the last, wherein Mr. Bentley reveals his approach to design and tells of some of the problems he had to meet in developing the 3-litre and subsequent Bentley cats. He admits to being a firm believer in copying other people’s worthwhile ideas and admits that he found the valve gear he wanted for the post-war 2½-litre Lagonda engine in a pre-war British Salmson catalogue! And the con-rod design owed much to the British Ford. This chapter tails off with references to Bentley’s recent rides on the footplates and in the cabs of British railway locomotives….Indeed, six of the illustrations in “The Cars In My Life” are of such locomotives, by Courtesy of British Railways.
Two test reports which Bentley wrote for Rolls-Royce Ltd, one after a 3,000-mile Continental tour in an early 3½-litre Bentley and another on the straight-eight Railton Terraplane, are published in full and the appendices consist of the late Dr. J. Benjafield’s account of the 1930 Le Mans race (from his book “The Bentleys at Le Mans”) and The Autocar’s road-test reports on the 1920 3-litre Bentley tourer, 1930 8-litre Bentley saloon and 1938 V12 Lagonda saloon.
This book, like the boiled egg served to the cleric, is good only in parts. It will no doubt provoke controversy amongst those whose designs the author has criticised. And those avidly seeking fresh facts about Bentley and Rolls-Royce will find a few in its pages—but expensive facts they are to buy. — W. B.
“Traction Engines in Retirement,” by G. J. Romanes, illustrated by V. M. Dunnett and Stanley Paine. 24 pp. 14 3/8, in. x 17 3/4 in. (Hugh Evelyn Lid., 9, Fitzroy Square, London, W.1. 55s.)
You may imagine that the page size of this book has been given in error but we assure you we measured very carefully! This is another of those giant publications, the main purpose of which is to provide large colour illustrations, plain backed, so that they can be detached from the book and used for decoration. And very attractive any of the pictures of the engines with which the book deals would look, too. So if you want a novel form of wallpicture for cafe, pub or club, here you are. Apart from the excellent full-side-view pictures, the author makes most interesting each description, giving the individual histories of the ten traction engines dealt with, apart from other historical and technical data. There is a lengthy introduction about traction engines and tractors in general, before the descriptions of such makes as Clayton & Shuttleworth, Burrell, Foster. Wallis & Steegens, Fowler, Aveling & Porter and Foden, rejoicing in such picturesque names as “Peggy,” “Finem Reseipe,” “The Little Gem.” “Eileen the Erring,” “Wayfarer” and “Sandy McNab,” and dating from 1900 to 1932.
There cannot be a big demand for such a book, if only because flat-dwellers will have nowhere in which to keep it unless under the bed, so the illustrations can be regarded as exclusive. But the publishers obviously find it worthwhile to print these great works, having previously issued two even larger old-car books, and we like this one.—B. J.