“Climax in Coventry” by Walter Hassan and Graham Robson. 158 pp. 8 3/4 in. x 6 in. (Motor Racing Publications Ltd., 56, Fitzjames Avenue, Croydon, Surrey, CRO 5DD. £5.25.)
This long-awaited book about the career of that versatile engineer, Walter Hassan, aided by journalist Graham Robson, is both a delight and a disappointment. A delight because the careers of great men who have been closely associated with motor racing and high-performance cars are invariably stimulating. A disappointment because the earlier chapters about Hassan’s experiences at Bentley Motors from 1920 onwards and of his building the Barnato Hassan for Woolf Barnato and the later Pacey Hassan Brooklands outer-circuit single-seaters tell the avid reader of motoring history little that is new, partly because the Bentley DC has documented Bentley history so thoroughly and because Walter Hassan was generous enough to let Motor Sport tell the latter story while his book was in embryo— and I am always happy when we do first what other magazines and writers do later!
Even in those chapters about his very early experiences, however, Hassan is very interesting. For instance, he enthuses over the i.o.e. 4-litre Bentley which many have condemned, in this book which could just as easily have been called “Cricklewood to Coventry”. It is incredible how easily the young Hassan got into the racing game, and his contacts with the great personalities of those days make extremely interesting if brief reading. If there are any minor criticisms here they can be confined to remarking that although it is true that there was no retaining-wall at the top of the Brooklands’ bankings, over which Clive Dunfee’s Bentley went, with fatal results, there was later a sleeper guard fence, that Worters might have been given some of the credit for evolving the Multi-Union, and that the BHW does not appear in VSCC races, has not done so since the 1950s, in fact. Then in saying that he believes that “the Bentley engines were the only production units built in Britain for many years with four valves per cylinder. . . Hassan overlooks the 16-valve, single o.h.c. units listed by Sunbeam for their sports cars in 1921, and when Robson, who summarises technicalities after each of Hassan’s chapters, remarks that “The Bentley engines were the only ‘four-valve’ units sold to the public between the two world wars” it is obvious that he has never heard of the smaller Bugatti cars, of which the Brescia was a very well-established four-cylinder 16-valve model. Robson is also unnecessarily hard on the blower-4 1/2-litre Bentley, saying it was never a success and “never won a race in its prime”. True, of course, but a note might have been added, one feels, about Birkin’s lap-records at Brooklands in the single-seater car.
The rest of the book is enthralling, as the development story of all the engines for which Hassan has been responsible unfolds. The various Coventry-Climax engines for most of which racing did much good, from the unraced V8 to the last 16-cylinder, are discussed, with the most interesting data about power outputs and production figures, and the splendid days when the 2 1/2-litre and 1 1/2-litre Coventry Climax power-units were doing for Britain in racing what the 3-litre Cosworth-Ford has done since, are nostalgically recalled. It is interesting to remember that the first competition success of these “fire-pump” engines was in Kieft cars, followed by Lotus.
Hassan is amusing about his relations with Colin Chapman who messed about with the Coventry-Climax racing engines supplied to him with distrastrous outcome, and the more successful John Cooper, who didn’t. His days at Jaguar, doing development work on the XK120, are covered, culminating with the work he did on the present splendid Jaguar V12 engine, following his return to Jaguar after Leonard Lee had sold the CoventryClimax Company to them, and for which, among other achievements, Walter earned his OBE. Harry Mundy comes in for a good deal of the mentions, as he worked alongside Hassan so often. I was intrigued to find that when Mundy left to work for The Autocar it was because a magazine could pay so much more salary than the Engineering Industry; I must say this hasn’t been my own experience. …
Altogether this is an absorbing book. But it lacks the detail that made “Vanwall” so notable and that book was a little less expensive, too. It also contained far more pictures; those in “Climax in Coventry” have mostly appeared in other places. The Appendices in it cover the Coventry-Climax GP racing record and 1961-1966 development data for the C-C FWMV engines. Not only private enthusiasts but those who were in the Industry in Coventry will derive much enjoyment from Hassan’s story and we congratulate him on remaining active at the age of 70, with a strong liking for boats. My personal regret is not learning more about his time with T & T’s and ERA but those avid to read the true story about more recent matters should not be disappointed.—W.B.
“British Light Cars-1930-1939” by Bruce Hudson. 334 pp. 9 in. x 8 1/2in. (G. T. Poulis & Co. Ltd., Sparkford, Yeovil, Somerset, BA22 7FF. £6.50.)
It is an odd one, this book. The idea is that those who cannot afford vintage cars or expensive p.v.t. machinery will turn to post-vintage light cars for their old-car amusement. So the author has not only compiled a history of such cars, from AC to Wolseley, with dashboard-layout diagrams, tabulated specifications, and a motley but munificent assembly of pictures, both contemporary and current, but has added long chapters about choosing and overhauling such a possession. So far, so good. But I was put off early in my task of reading him, by such sentiments as “The long tapering bonnet of the MG Magna or the bull-nosed dummy radiator of the Morgan Aero Sports peer out from yellowing headlamps—spelling ‘Magnetism’ to the motoring romantic! Alongside any contemporary blatantly-functional fastback GT saloon, a pre-war square-set ‘Brooklands Replica’ strikes an attitude of worldly defiance, its glistening alloy bonnet and open mudguards hypnotically turning the clock back to an earlier era of dusty roads, sunny countrysides and excitement: the pure joy of a
full-throated open exhaust note, the friendly smell of ageing leather, and benzole mixture, the cool polished texture as one grips half-nonchalantly the massive black steering-wheel —the highway empty but for the distant outline of a Hyper Lea-Francis slowly but surely drawing nearer in the driving mirror!”
I got over that sort of thing by the.age of 10 and in this book it doesn’t seem to go with the Upperlube and the Energol 30, and all the hints and tips that follow. The fact is, Hudson has over-written. He is trying to cram maintenance notes, engineering evolution and one-make history into one overcrowded volume. Admittedly you get 244 photographs arid diagrams, but what is a Hyper Lea-Francis doing in a book about post-vintage small cars, or a 1929 Bertelli Aston Martin, a TT Replica Frazer Nash, a Double-12 MG Midget or a Lagonda Rapier, for that matter ? Much of the advice is superficial, as : “. . . should that ‘1935 model’ have in fact turned out to be of the ‘1925. version’ due to a misprint in the advertisement, you could well be faced with clutch fierceness due to hardened leather.” What rot! The fact is, budding authors are fortunate that these days, inflation and the alleged shortage of paper notwithstanding, there are publishers who will take almost anything. Fortunately, there is no compulsion about buying their books. All that I can say about this one is that you do get a lot for your money!—W.B.
“Rolls-Royce” by L. J. K. Setright. 159 pp. 9 3/4 in. x 6 1/2 in.
“Alfa Romeo” by Peter Hull. 159 pp. 9 3/4 in. x 6 1/2 in. (G. T. &rills & Co. Ltd., Sparkford, Yeovil, Somerset, BA22 7,73. £1.95 each.)
Having written the review of “British Light Cars”, my closing remarks therein were confirmed when. I picked up these two titles, which are part of the Foulis “Mini Marque History Series”. Don’t misunderstand me. These are far better books, each one written by an expert. Many people may wish to see what the erudite penman Setright makes of Rolls-Royce, and Peter Hull is an accurate historian and the acknowledged Alfa Romeo authority in this country. But so many excellent (and other than excellent) books have already been published relating to these two makes of motor car, especially Rolls-Royce, that one queries the wisdom of encouraging additional ones. One can see that if enough of these minimarque things are issued, an inexpensive onemake library of uniform volumes will be possible—and they are inexpensive. One concedes that Setright has included aeroplanes and boats in his book and that Hull gets it all very nicely together between two covers. But it is all, or about 90% of it, old-hat (no need to get out your slide-rule, Leonard) and it is next to impossible to find more than a few fresh pictures with which to illustrate general works of this nature. I cannot conceive, though, how a photograph of a pre-WW1 Wolseley has crept into the Setright volume, captioned as a 1914 Ghost. Lord Montagu of Beaulieu and Count Johnny Lurani have done some special pleading for the respective authors, in their Introductions. But I cannot see the need for either book, in view of all that has gone before, although I shall not expect the fee-earning authors, the profit-seeking publishers, or those content with a mini-library, to agree with me. But if the ethics of publishing revolve round the distribution of newfound knowledge, I would suggest that time and money (and paper) could have been better spent on new one-make histories, of which there are still quite a few that should be made available, from Allard to Wolseley.—W.B.
Michael Ware, Curator at the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, has followed his enjoyable “Roadside Camera” book with “A Canalside Camera, 1845-1930”. Packed with fascination for canal and narrowboat folk, there are also some vehicular items, from the picture of the Grand Junction’s Assistant Engineer on his Bradbury motorcycle (before the Company bought him a used Belsize car for £185 in 1918) to flying machines and Army vehicles being tested on the Basingstoke Canal, vintage cars parked at Rochdale wharf during the General Strike of 1926 (bull-nose Morris, Humber, Singer Ten, AC, Daimler among them, mostly open cars with their hoods up), and a 1914 40/50 Leyland lorry bought by the Rochdale Canal Co. for 4700 and used until it was commandeered for war-service and never returned. Some of the scenes depicted might well form exploratory objectives for today’s motorists. The book is from that prolific publisher, David & Charles, Ltd., South Devon House, Newton Abbot, Devon, and costs £3.95. Now we await Ware’s sequel to his “Roadside Camera”, which took us only to the year 1915.