Books for the New Year

“The Art of Gordon Crosby” by Peter Garnier. 95 pp. 13″ x 9¼”. (The Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd., Astronaut House, Feltham, Middlesex. £7.95).

I may not be the best person to review this book of Gordon Crosby paintings and sketches, for the reason that as a motoring historian I prefer photographs to the work of artists, these being, in general, unable to lie, thus avoiding confusion over the past. Also, because I have never been quite as enthusiastic as some people over Gordon Crosby’s pictures, thinking them to be, in some cases, of enormous racing cars occupied by dwarfs. However, this is a personal opinion, just as I admire artist Peter Helck’s productions but I think Peter Gamier might regard them as too “photographic”. And let me say that I prefer Crosby’s work to that of Brian de Grineau, whose drawings, hurriedly done no doubt for The Motor’s Tuesday publication date, seem to me to be of rather too much of a mass of scribbled lines. Having admitted that, let me say that I like this long-needed new book very much indeed. Garnier not only writes about The Autocar artist in impeccable prose but he has not shirked this difficult task. Whereas some authors might have felt that a brief introduction to the many illustrations in the book would suffice, Peter gives us a decently full appreciation of this artist whom he obviously admires, and all of whose existing work he has had through his hands before writing it. So the textual part of the book is most interesting, both about Crosby and also about the paper for which he worked, the only time, apart from in John Dugdale’s notable book, that we have had such a good if brief insight into what it was like to work for The Autocar.

Garnier does not stop there. He describes in long captions the race or event each Crosby picture depicts. (one heading, though, gives the date of the first Targa Florio as 1907 instead of 1906); and let me say that flying and shipping pictures are included. Indeed, Crosby’s fine painting of the Zeppelin L37 bring shot down over Ghent in 1915 made the Royal Academy the following year, thought to be the first aeronautical picture to do so – whereas the RA turned its back on motor-racing, even on Crosby’s scenic motoring pictures. (Crosby showed twice more in the RA and he was also a sculptor.) It is unnecessary to remark that this is a book of good pictures (of outstanding ones, to Crosby’s many admirers). There are masses of them – caricature, every kind of motor-competition from rally and road-race to LSR and Brooklands, car-studies, radiators, Motor Show and open-road scenes (I like that of the 1914 35-h.p. six-cylinder Vauxhall tourer in the Alps), war-time pictures, fantasy, and, of course, Crosby’s depicting of fine cars (he didn’t care for insignificant ones), with Lagonda, Invicta and MG prominent.

After the 31 pages of text in which Gamier tells us about Crosby the man, how he tackled his different assignments as an artist, all in the most interesting way, come 32 full-page illustrations, mostly in colour, many of these being from those Crosby “Meteors of Road and Track” and “The Endless Quest for Speed” series which have served Iliffe’s so well, as free supplements to The Autocar, as table-mats, book-illustrations, sets of bound prints and so on – in spite of my earlier remarks. I have 16 of these Crosbys framed in one of my “museum-rooms”; here again, Gamier neatly describes what forms the subject of each picture, in his accompanying captions.

Among the full-page pictures I like that of the Isotta-Fraschini touring car devouring the open road, and it is significant in view of my earlier remarks that Gamier admits that Crosby has permitted artistic licence to enlarge the dimensions of Sir Algernon Guinness’ 200 h.p. V8 Darracq. It is interesting that Crosby liked painting ERAs, Raymond Mays having ten of these in his possession and there are others in the IPC strongroom; for me these, and Crosby’s Le Mans scenes, tend to have been too liberally treated in the “white air-brush” manner. He is at his best with the great racing cars of the heroic-age.

There is nothing superficial about this book and Peter Garnier has treated the subject admirably, even to giving us a photograph of Gordon Crosby and his wife and dog beside their “specially-built” Riley 9 Biarritz saloon, WK 9678. Is it too much to hope that there may be other similar books about such motoring artists as de Grineau, Max Miller, and others (we have had those containing Sammy Davis’ sketches and Peter Helck’s paintings) and something more about what it was like to be on the staff of The Autocar in the Iliffe days? Perhaps, however, not enough original work exists, compared to nearly 300 Crosby pictures that have survived. Incidentally, Garnier makes the point that he never seems to have painted the “Best Car in the World”, apart from the two sketches of R-R cars in the TT races of 1905 and 1906.

The author of this excellent book does not shirk from telling us that Gordon Crosby took his own life, in sad circumstances – but it stands as a fine tribute to motoring’s best-known artist and illustrator and his career spanning more than 30 years. – W. B.

“Francis Bean – a Single Purpose” by Jeff Clew. 208 pp. 9½” x 7″. (Haynes Publishing Group, Sparkford, Yeovil, Somerset, BA22 7JJ. £6.25).

Although primarily intended for motorcycle enthusiasts, this book will be of much interest to car folk, inasmuch as it covers the whole career, in much detail, of that super-tuner (especially of Norton single-cylinder engines), Francis Beart.

Because of this there is a great deal about Brooklands before the war, which will appeal to both car and motorcycle followers, and the car side is further covered by brief reference to Johnnie Wakefield’s Alta, which Beart looked after for a time alongside Wakefield’s Nortons, until Sinclare took over this and the Maserati, and then to Beart’s good work on the Cooper 500s, as so successfully raced by Stirling Moss and others.

Jeff Clew has gone into intimate detail to set his story down, and has backed it copiously with a wealth of fascinating pictures. Thus the book absolutely breathes the spirit of the racing game. It begins with Beart’s schooldays and his attempt to build a car around an SE5A aeroplane fuselage and a 4-h.p. Douglas flat-twin engine driving a propeller, and his subsequent early motorcycles, commencing with a Duzmo powered by a 500-c.c. Rover engine purchased for £5. From these humble beginnings the tale unfolds to reveal the great engineering ability of Francis, in the very specialised field of racing. Much inside technical data is revealed to further enliven this book in the eyes of true believers, and I cannot recommend it too highly. It is right up to date, closing with Francis Beart’s work with Stuart Morrell and the Aermacchi, in 1976, before Francis had virtually retired. Tables of TT and Manx successes with his machines run from Johnnie Lockett’s Newcomers Award in the 1939 Junior TT on a Norton to the 1970s performances of the Beart-Aermacchis ridden by Brown, Parker and Morrell, the machines Beart tuned gaining a first, two seconds and a third place in the TT races of 1939-1969 and eleven firsts, ten seconds and five thirds in the Manx races from 1938-1975. There are car pictures of the Alta (wrongly captioned as in the Brooklands Paddock), the damaged Chummy Austin that Bean, Pope, Mortimer and Clarke crashed on the Aerodrome Road at Brooklands while returning from the Aero Club in high spirits, the Morgan 3-wheeler and 18/80 MG used by Francis for towing racing bikes, his later Riley Gamecock, Curly Dryden’s Standard-Vanguard racing-service van (remember it?), the Beart-Cooper 500 and Moss in the 1,100 c.c. Beart-Rogers, etc. The motorcycle pictures exactly capture the spirit of racing from Brooklands days onwards, with much Norton nostalgia, naturally. I was reminded from the text that double-goldstars were awarded for motorcycle laps of the Track at 120 m.p.h. and over and wonder how many riders gained these – BMCRC history is far less well documented than BARC history. There is a photograph of Beart’s shed at Brooklands and the back of the book’s dust-jacket depicts the sign that adorned it, which “could be seen front the Paddock entrance road and the railway . . .” and the Foreword is by that avid Brooklands habitue, Charles Mortimer. So here is really good value, and a Foulis book no Brooklands’ follower should pass by. – W. B.

“Lagonda – A History of the Marque” by Arnold Davey and Anthony May. (David & Charles (Holdings) Ltd., Brunel House, Newton Abbott, Devonshire, £15).

This book was mentioned briefly last month, before I had the opportunity to read it thoroughly. It is a weighty tome very full of words and one to be read rather than “thumbed through”. It tells the full story of Lagonda from 1899 to the present day, following the business and mechanical rising and falling that has been the story of Lagonda all its life. The authors have shared the work, though it most be said that Arnold Davey has taken the lion’s share, dealing with the history up to the end of 1939, leaving Tony May the rather sparse post-war period of David Brown and the present owners of the name Lagonda.

When a book is written as a labour of love rather than as a professional job of work, or a money-spinner or pot-boiler, the result is always refreshing for the author does not follow tradition and the unwritten rules of journalism. Davey does not accept something because it has appeared in print already, he verifies, challenges and makes no bones about putting things right. Some of his asides are hilarious and his corrections of past falsehoods, especially in Road Tests in the Motoring journals, are refreshing. He does not hesitate to point out the errors in the Lagonda company’s own printed word, in period catalogue, owner’s manual or advertising blurb. It is all good stuff and from the heart of a Lagonda enthusiast. Describing a works entry for the Monte Carlo Rally when appearance was more important than practicality, in order to win some spurious “equipment award” he comments on the fitting of a chromium-plated shovel in the equipment. “Have you ever tried shovelling snow with a chromium-plated shovel” he asks.

The overall history of the Lagonda company seems to have been a question of tottering from one financial disaster to another, while making some very good cars in between. Perhaps the buying public did not want “good cars”, preferring Rolls-Royce or Bentley. The life-long feud between Lagonda and Bentley comes out well in the pages of this book (until W. O. Bentley himself joins Lagonda, leaving his name with Rolls-Royce). What a pity that the 1939 war put a stop to the development of the V12 Lagonda, for it was shaping up to be “the best car in the world” as the book calls it. Even today there is keen rivalry between the Lagonda Club and the Bentley Drivers Club, even to the point of an annual Driving Test Match. Whereas the Bentley people have their history (brief as it was) in a plethora of books, the Lagonda people now have their very long history all in one book. It was written with the blessing of the Lagonda Club and I should think they are well pleased with it. It is a nice production, with a most tasteful dust-jacket and a serious book to have on the reference shelf. In a book of 497 pages there is bound to be the odd mistake, though printers’ errors and proof-reading errors are mercifully few. Davey stumbles a bit on his non-Lagonda racing history, which is occasionally added to enlarge the Lagonda racing history, but it is not disastrous, only the odd name being wrong, like George Duller in the Brooklands Duesenberg, when it was actually Jack Duller, and Dodson breaking the axle on his 328 when it was Dobbs.

Through all this interesting story comes strongly how much a real motor car manufacturer was the Lagonda concern, rather than an assembler of components, and what a well-equipped, if slightly old-fashioned, factory there was at Staines.

I am Lagonda-biased, so obviously the wrong person to write this review, but that’s the way it is. I will now go away and carry on working on a 3-litre Lagonda “Selector” Special saloon, which you can read all about in the book. A two-year project that is going to take ten years, but then Lagondas seem timeless, especially after reading this book right through. – D. S. J.

“A Time To Fly” by Sir Alan J. Cobham. 214 pp. 9¾” x 6″ (Shepheard-Walwyn (Publishers) Ltd., 51, Vineyard Hill Road, London, SW19 7JL. £6.50).

Aviation books have been a bit short on the ground (should one say “in the air”?) for some time. This is now made up for by this account of the late Sir Alan Cobham’s flying career, for it is a superb book, revealing fresh aspects of the great pioneer pilot of civil aviation and exactly capturing the spirit and romance of those early flying days. It has been compiled from material left by Sir Alan after his death, obviously intended for his autobiography and since very ably edited by Christopher Derrick. The esteem in which Sir Alan was regarded during his lifetime and the legend of his great flights is reflected in the Foreword to this book, which is by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh.

Cobham rose from humble beginnings, which he does not conceal, to become the best-known long-distance pilot of the pre-war era, and the finest advocate of aviation in this country. In this book he describes, through Mr. Derrick, how he joined the RAF, then tried to earn a living at joy-riding, the “barn-storming” days, in conjunction with the brothers Holmes, who have figured in these columns. Then he joined De Havillands and his remarkable long-distance flights in the famous DH50 biplane G-EBFO began, extended when Cobham acted as aerial chauffeur to the eccentric American Lucien Sharpe. In all those long and arduous and tricky flights to India with the Director of Civil Aviation, to the Cape and back, and to Westminster via Australia with the now-float-equipped DH50, with on this flight’s ending the historic landing on the Thames below the Houses of Parliament, Cobham never failed to get his aeroplane down with its occupants intact. He got lost at times, he suffered some very alarming moments, but overall his skill as a pilot and navigator of this open-cockpit biplane was quite exceptional.

Just as exceptional is the easy way in which Cobham unfolds this quite fascinating story, with unexpected modesty from one so accomplished, so much in the public eye. Indeed, the great pilot admits to having an inferiority complex until after he had gained confidence in handling men and organisational affairs with his National Air Displays.

After Cobham left DH’s to form his own aviation companies these remarkable National Air Displays became part of it, until he went on to his Flight Refuelling Ltd. interests. I write “remarkable” advisedly, and this book makes one realise just what Cobham had taken on. As he says, so many people had their first flight, or their first exciting day at an air display at one of these Shows that the reader of this review may well recall that Cobham operated them in 1932, in 1933 when two tours were operated simultaneously, throughout 1934 and again as two simultaneous tours in 1935, when aviation had to some extent ceased to be “the coming thing”. But do you realise that this entailed keeping a fleet of aeroplanes (Derrick calls them “aircraft” but I wish he wouldn’t) from liners to light-‘planes and gliders continously operational, moving them and the ground transport from field to field, some 60 miles on average, overnight, and enclosing the chosen fields with posts and boarding, etc., etc. almost all the season through? It was an incredible task, admirably covered in this book although it is a feat which merits even more detailed coverage, as I believe Thurstan James has contemplated writing.

Whereas the 1919 Joy-Ride tasks of Cobham’s Berkshire Aviation Co. took them to 34 towns, the separate NAD Shows of 1932-35, not including second visits, totalled 892! In these 990,000 passengers were carried and, apparently, there were only 12 fatal accidents, all described in the book, in Shows watched by perhaps 4,000,000 people; they numbered five passengers, two boys who insisted on riding their bicycles too close to the aeroplanes, a parachutist, five pilots, and a man whose house was struck.

I would like to know the makes of cars and trucks used by these Sir Alan Cobham’s Air Displays; although Cobham’s book doesn’t reveal this, it does mention that he used Armstrong Siddeley cars in the 1930s, that his early flights with AS Siddeley engines were intended to promote sales of these cars, and that his first office was in Warwick Wright’s Bond Street premises. In 1919 he used a Model-T Ford in conjunction with the joy-ride business; it cost £200, when the Avro 504K was only £450. Cobham makes one interesting point about his later Air Shows; these displays became so well known that they were invariably confused with similar ventures, such as the C. W. A. Scott Displays that followed and the British Hospitals Air Pageants that tried to compete. I had an instance of this the other day, when a field still existing on the outskirts of Llandrindod Wells was pointed out to me as where a pre-war Cobham Display had taken place. Now Cobham’s book has five appendices listing all the places his Displays visited and the Welsh town isn’t one of them. . . Although he did take in Builth Wells.

So here is a remarkable book, about a man whose mileage and number of take-offs and landings (some 5,000 and 40,000 passengers in his DH61 Giant Moth alone) in all manner of aeroplanes, seaplanes and flying-boats, boggles the imagination. It is a book which isn’t particularly technical (although some fascinating engineering items are there like the episode of faulty I.c. pistons found in an AS Jaguar engine borrowed for one of Sir Alan’s long-distance pioneering flights and why Rolls-Royce ceased to make any more Condoe engines, with the blame going unethically to Cellon), yet it is in no way written-down to the lay-reader. It deals in fluent style with this famous pilot’s entire life, his marriage, his homes, his non-aviation affairs, his boats, etc. One learns exactly how his mechanic Elliot was shot during the England-Australia-England flight. There is also much sound philosophy in Cobham’s story, about morals, hard work, and the Welfare State (those who worked on the successful private-enterprise airship R.101 lost their jobs; the civil-servants who were responsible for the disastrous R.101 kept theirs), etc. During WW2 Cobham used the Morgan Motor Co.’s works and there is a good, concise chapter about Flight Refuelling Ltd.

There is no index to the book and the pictures are only just adequate, and did Cobham really take his secretary home on the back of the horse he used for getting to his office (page 179)? But “A Time ‘To Fly” is a very welcome addition to aviation literature; an admirable achievement.

– W.B.

We have mentioned that Patrick Stephens Ltd., Bar Rill, Cambridge CB3 8EL has introduced a series of nicely-produced, well-illustrated hard-cover books about the leading makes of commercial vehicles, with a competent history of each, which should appeal to historians, and to the operators, and drivers, who take a pride in knowing about their vehicles. The books on “Seddon Atkinson” by Pat Kennett (No.3 in this series) with a line cover-picture of one of Canada Dry’s articulated trucks, and “Man” by the same author (No.4), are now ready. They each run to 88 large pages and cost £2.95 each. The next two books in this series, promised for April, will cover DAF and Dennis vehicles. A more ambitious book by the same publishers is “The Foden Story”, also by Pat Kennett, which covers in 183 9¼” x 6¼” pages and 141 photographs, together with 41 diagrams and three maps, the whole aspect of this great Company, from farm machinery and steam waggons to modern diesel lorries. It costs £6.95. All highly recommended! – W. B.

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Already available, for styling students and others of like mind, is “Function Versus Appearance In Vehicle Design”, being the papers presented at a Solihull Conference held during the NEC Motor Show last year, bound into a hard-cover, 103-page book carrying some advertising. It is available from Mechanical Engineering Publications Ltd., PO Box 24, Northgate Avenue, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, IP32 6BW, for £10.00.

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Invaluable for specialist historians but available for 10.95 dollars from Motorbooks International, Osceola, Wisconsin, 54020, USA, is the big soft-cover “American Car Spotter’s Guide – 1940-1965” by Tad Burness. – W. B.

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Commercial vehicles form a rather restricted part of the overall motoring world, yet they represent a very high standard of engineering and are so often driven with skill by drivers who naturally enthuse over them. Thus books about these vehicles have their place in the publishing field and we have referred previously to the series on the subject produced by Patrick Stephens Ltd. Now Motor Racing Publications have come up with a 128-page book “Ford Trucks and Transport since 1945” by Arthur Ingram. It deals in text, many fine pictures and tables with all the post-war Ford commercials, from the light vans and trucks based on car models, to the big vans, coaches and special vehicles of the present day. A motor-racing flavour is included, with a picture of the Elf Tyrrell Team’s Ford six-wheeler transporter, parked with a six-wheeled Tyrrell F1 car, and Ford’s own Performance-Centre coach shown at Boreham. A bookful of fascinating pictures, not forgetting that of a Fiesta van, this one costs £5.50 from MRP, 28, Devonshire Road, London, W4 2HD. – W. B.

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IPC Transport Press Ltd., Dorset House, Stamford Street, London, SE1 9LU, have followed their first book of MG Sports Cars with another, covering in a nicely dignified, clear-to-read, glossy-paper way the six-cylinder MGs, right up to the C-type of 1968. Reproductions of Autocar road-tests, with their performance figures, much about the classic MG Magnettes and the 18/80s, with a fine full-page 11½” x 8½” colour-plate of a Mk. II 18/80 2-seater, Sammy Davis trying out the Mille Miglia K-type Magnette, year-by-year new model descriptions, a Maurice Sampson account of a visit to the Abingdon factory, cut-away drawings of the various models, John Dugdale’s account of record-breaking with Gardner at Dessau in 1939, it’s all there, edited by Peter Garnier. A nice touch is the provision of action pictures of MGs of all types (of 6-cylinder, of course), along the years, each section headed “Into Battle”. This should add up to an irresistible publication for all MC fans and the only criticisms I have are that a Barre Lyndon article about the MG Magnette with which George Eyston won the 1,100-c.c. class of the 1933 Mille Miglia (it is said to be the first-ever road-racing car to have a pre-selector gearbox) seems to have been docked of its ending, that pictures on page 55 are transposed, and that the car captioned as a Magnate on page 59 is really a Midget. Good value this, at £2.25. – W. B.