Books for the New Year

“Bentley — Cricklewood To Crewe” by Michael Frostick. 302 pp. 10″ x 7 1/2″ (Osprey Publishing Ltd., 12/14 Long Acre, London, WC2E 9LP. £12.50).

When I first saw this book I thought the author had provided the review for me, in his Introduction, when he wrote: “Yet another Bentley book might seem too many even to the most avid enthusiast; for what is there to say that has not been better said before — usually more than once?” ‘That seemed to say it all, especially as for much of the book Frostick has resorted to his expected “scissors-and-paste” performance, dissecting Bentley catalogues, motor magazine articles and newspaper reports, to illustrate and fill the book’s 300+ pages. It seemed that I could confidentially tell you to re-pocket your cheque-books. . . .

But let us be fair, to the author and those who might otherwise miss something they may enjoy. Reading the book, I found it enthralling. This is not so much because Frostick has put all the Bentleys — Cricklewoodian, Derby-built and Crewe-assembled, between two covers, repeating, naturally oft-told chronology, but because he gives his opinions about some of the mysteries and myths that, up to now, have surrounded the life-story of W.O. Bentley. That is always fascinating! To do this the author has consulted 30 leading sources and has added some new material of his own, relating to Bentley Company finances and the cars’ technicalities. From these he forms some opinions of much interest, that are at variance with popularly-accepted versions of Bentley history.

Frostick will probably be castigated in BDC circles for his honesty. He is very likely to be seen by misty-eyed Bentley addicts as the first British writer who has dared to bring some of W.O.’s skeletons out of the cupboard, to wash Bentley dirty-linen in public. . . . Yet history should never be deliberately distorted. It is all too easy for an interviewer, desperate to make a good story, to persuade, perhaps unwittingly, his “victim” of certain things, to the biographer’s advantage. Richard Hough deserves our lasting praise and thanks for having originally drawn W.O. Bentley out of his shell and for writing his definitive biography. But in so doing, he may have sometimes unintentionally made W.O. say things he might not have written in the same way, had he been compiling the book himself. We know that W.O. was ready, quite rightly, to correct false impressions about his life-work (see his footnotes to Elizabeth Nagle’s Bentley book). But in the first flush of biography, faced by Hough, both needing a best-seller, the situation may not have been quite the same. . .

As an example of what I mean, Frostick is puzzled as to why W.O. should have told Hough that after the R-R merger Royce didn’t know what to do with him. He sees the clash of personalities between W.O. and Sir Henry as coming from Bentley’s public-school background (Frostick is very much influenced by this thinking, even to attributing to it Sammy Davis’ eventual honesty when criticising the first 3-litre Bentley, after road testing it in 1920 for The Autocar!) against Royce’s humble upbringing. Frostick omits, however, to use that splendid retort of W.O.’s when Royce had suggested to him that he was not an engineer — Bentley reminded Royce that he had been a premium apprentice with the GNR at Doncaster when “you were a boy in the running-sheds”. I have always thought this one of the great conversation pieces of all time — if it really was said.

Frostick thinks that Royce must have seen in W.O. his ideal Development Engineer, able to drive the long Continental test-runs which Royce’s poor health precluded. He sees no reason for W.O.’s complete discontent at this time or that Rolls-Royce failed to make use of his talents. It is very significant that he calls both Bentley and Royce Ideotores, as distinct from designers, in a completely complimentary sense! Incidentally, while he concurs with the view that W.O. did a great deal of development during WW1 on the Clerget rotary aero-engine, he still maintains that the BRI was based on the Clerget. . . .

What Frostick has set out to do he has done remarkably well. He goes step-by-step through the entire Bentley-car history, asking questions where these occur to him. (In this context, as he has quoted, from all the other important books about Bentley, it is rather snide of his publisher to refuse reproduction of any part of their book!) He is especially interesting about Bentley’s financial position, comparing previously-known figures with some newly-disclosed ones. The result is a situation far blacker than former W.O. biographers have cared to reveal. Frostick is at pains, too, to prove, difficult as this is, that despite the magnificent Bentley racing successes, the Company probably had only three racing-cars of its own!

Frostick goes into many interesting things. He is, I think, the first author to reveal the true nature of the illness that afflicted Royce so that he had to work from West Wittering and then from the South of France instead of at the Rolls-Royce factory. Frostick thinks that Rolls-Royce Ltd. were, in fact, happy to have Royce out of the way; but if this was so, why did they ask him to travel up to London to interview W. O. Bentley, not all that long before his death? In the matter of racing, Frostick wonders why W.O. chose first to race as faraway as Indianapolis, in 1922, where, as I have revealed, his lone 3-litre was attributed to Douglas Hawkes. He lists all the Bentley Directors, of W.O.’s first two Companies in 1919 and 1920, of Woolf Barnato’s Companies in 1928 and 1931, and of the new Bentley Company formed in 1931, after the Rolls-Royce take-over. He probes into Bentley finances, excusing himself by saying that “. . . one may admire one’s hero more if one has some inkling of what he was up against”. Having said that, Frostick clearly does not believe W.O.’s own estimate of what motor-racing cost his Company.

So this book must be accounted strong stuff. Apart from the many pictures, including a few pages in colour, with a pull out identification-chart of 15 different Bentley models from 1927 to 1980, and those reproduced catalogues (including that for the ill-fated 4-Iitre which Frostick defends), the author has had the audacity to cut-up and include all those little souvenir books that Bentley Motors issued after their four consecutive victories (1927-1930) at Le Mans (and which are top collector’s-items) so that if you have exceptional eyesight, or possess a magnifying-glass, you can see these races through the eyes of the Bentley Company. — W.B.

“Lionel Martin, a Biography” by A. B. Demaus. 151 Pages. 9 1/2″ x 7″. (Transport Bookman Publications Ltd., 8 South Street, Isleworth, Middlesex, TW7 7BG. £8.00).

This book may have come rather too late, for having been written long after the death of Lionel Martin, that great Etonian motoring and cycling enthusiast who with Robert Bamford, created the high-class side-valve Aston Martin car, many of the facts we would like to have been enlightened about are lost to both author and to us. Nevertheless, it is a compelling little volume, an excuse to republish many of the old Aston Martin photographs and some fresh ones, and to provide just enough new material to maintain the more specialist reader’s interest.

There is plenty of information about what a fine racing and record-breaking cyclist Lionel Martin was, and how he persisted with this hobby well into old age, despite ill-health. If the details of Aston Martin finances, helped by Count Zborowski, remain obscure, there are many little glimpses of Lionel’s character worth the recording, and Demaus, a dedicated historian, does not gloss over the gloomier aspects of the man, his queer temper, his impetuous wife Kate, and a Court case he brought in which Parry Thomas, among others, gave evidence — more fuel for a book about cars in Court which I hope one day someone will embark upon.

One feels that Demaus had to work hard to get a book out of his chosen subject, but that the end-product is worthwhile. He is at the disadvantage from which so many authors of motoring books now suffer, that of having to compete, if that is the word, against a great deal of previously-published history. In this respect, Aston Martin facts are well covered. Years back, during the war, I persuaded Lionel Martin to write his memoires for Motor Sport and to list the 65 or so cars he had owned and naturally Demaus repeats this — curious that there were more Wolseley Hornets than Aston Martins. Although this and many of the reproduced photographs may be “old hat” to some readers, I am glad to have this record of a great sportsman and motorist, belonging essentially to the Edwardian days and the mad nineteen-twenties, set out properly by Demaus, who has owned L.M.’s cars. If some of the pictures have been published elsewhere, sometimes more than once, at least the present employer of them knows all the people they depict. A breath of fresh air from the past, as it were, to enliven another New Year. – W.B.

“British Leyland — The Truth about the cars” by Jeff Daniels. 192 pp. 10″ x 7 1/2″. (Osprey Publishing Ltd., 12/14 Long Acre, London WC2E 9LP. £7.95)

This book strikes a difference, being a critical survey of British Leyland models, from the time of the epoch-making amalgamation between Austin and Morris to form the BMC in 1952, onwards. It is thus the first critical appraisal of the present unhappy BL situation, seen through the author’s eyes, since the revolutionary disclosures made by Graham Turner in his own remarkable book. “The Leyland Papers”. Significantly, Turner provides the Foreword to Jeff Daniels’ observations. He backs these up with the view that it is not strikes nor labour relations, nor management structures but poor products that make or break companies, citing the 1800, Maxi, Marina and Allegro models “which tolled the knell of parting sales for BL”.

Obviously, this book will be compulsive reading, as any revelation and exposure of other people’s weaknesses and failures is readable, a fact well-known to editors of Sunday newspapers! It may not endear itself to those who, from choice or financial stringency, run the older BMC BL cars, and it is hardly a make-history as such. It is a book that must stand on its own, as “The Leyland Papers” does.

Daniels has had much experience of the Motor Industry from several viewpoints, in a varied career, including testing new cars exhaustively for Motoring Which? when that branch of CA Ltd., had, I believe, its own ex-airfield testing centre. Consequently, what he says about the failings of the BL range of cars, which he compares with the products of Ford-of-Britain, is of the greatest interest to those (quite who is obscure, outside BL) concerned about such things. As a study of how customers matter to manufacturers the book points a pungent moral. If I have any disappointments — and this does not lie in the quantity of the many very interesting pictures of catalogue, prototype, and proposed BL cars along the years — it is that Daniels does not include all the shortcomings that many users must associate with some of the key BL models he is dissecting, nor does he give the findings of the motoring Press about them (at least, not as direct quotes), although the Technical Press is the main customer-link with the product.

For example, one remembers the apparent promise of the Austin 1800 — that nicely-sprung, very spacious “Big-Barge” — until its failings became apparent. Daniels recalls its heavy, low-geared manual steering, high apparent oil-consumption due to a wrongly-calibrated dip-stick(!), inaccessible minor controls if you wore a seat-belt, and the unreliable flasher-stalk. He also refers to the 1800’s odd driving stance and unacceptable styling. The last two never seemed unacceptable to me, but what of exhaust-joint failures, due to excessive movement between the transverse engine and the exhaust pipe? I recall having first to ask my secretary to cancel a Showtime BMC luncheon invitation because I felt too ill to attend, then of managing to turn up late, only to find I had been seated beside Alec lssigonis “How do you like the 1800?” “To be honest, that’s why I’m late — carbon monoxide fumes have nearly killed me!” What of those alarming drive-shafts failures on the 1100 after the universal joints had been destroyed, with danger of instant locking-up of the steering, and long servicing delays because the Holland Park BMC depot did not hold spares? That happened to me, as well as the sealed coolant system having been “filled for life” with plain water, that promptly froze at the first sign of frost.

However, Daniels’ has put down some remarkably interesting reasons for the lack of success of leading BL models, including how they were presented to the Press and to the dealers— the 1800 was, he says, over-produced for its potential market, encouraged by the dealers.

The bad effects of BMC/BL’s drastic “badge-engineering” is also well-put. All this is of interest to me, because Motor Sport was once banned from road-testing BMC cars (the famous “Bishop-Ban”) because of our too-critical reports on two then-current models.

One can but hope that Daniels’ optimism for BL’s future is not misplaced, as Turner seems to think it might be. I am glad to see that Daniels notes the great success of the Volkswagen Beetle, which Motor Sport recognised from the start, and pushed very early on. We have to thank him, then, for an interesting and “different” book, that held my attention as more and more BL models were fairly but analytically criticised. (It would be interesting if Harriman, Lord Stokes and Sir Michael Edwardes could reply!)

The book has Appendices giving chronological listing of Austin/Morris versus Ford models from Wolseley 1500-Riley 1.5 to Ital-Mini Metro/Escort “Erika” (i.e., from 1965 to 1980), UK marketing figures of BL and Ford cars from 1965 to 1979, showing that BL’s share fell from 44.5% to 19.6% in that period, when Imports rose from 5.1% to 56.3%(!) but the Ford sales are not this broken down, and three graphs of BL model-developments, of sports cars, Rover-Triumph cars and Austin-Morris cars, during the past 22 or 23 years. – W.B.

“Racing And All That” by Stirling Moss & Mike Hailwood. 155 pp., 8 3/4″ x 5 1/2″. (Pelham Books Ltd., 44, Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3DU. £6.95).

This is rather a fascinating little book, a “pot-boiler” maybe, but interesting as containing the views of two very famous racers who retired and then staged come-backs, about all those aspects of the motor-racing and motorcycle-racing game that have remained obscure to many. The two drivers (although I prefer the older “rider” of a motorcycle) appear to have done the text themselves, although John Thompson guided them. They are quite honest about what they made out of racing, their approach to it, the changes in technology and technique they have seen with the passing of the seasons, and what it was like to return to racing after their respective accidents.

Hailwood is also able to tell us what it was like for a world-champion racing motorcyclist to try his hand at car racing, again with no punches pulled over his opinions of driving in the Surtees GP team. The two co-authors even look at the vexed present-day politics of top-line motor racing. Both are interesting on the subject of “tigering” to attain success, Hailwood believing that in modem motorcycle racing you have to go over your personal limit to pull off wins. There are some good pictures and a list of both Moss’s and Hailwood’s racing records, retirements as well as placings (1950-1962 for Moss, 1959-1974 for Hailwood) and both writers discuss whom they regard as today’s and recent top-drivers and riders and why, and look back at some of the “characters” who enlivened the Sport in the past. The Foreword is by Rob Walker. I rate this worthwhile reading. — W.B.

“Powered by Jaguar” by Doug Nye. 168 pp. 10″ x 7 1/2″. (Motor Racing Publications Ltd.. 28/32 Devonshire Road, Chiswick, London W4 2HD, £10.95)

Here is yet another book with a Jaguar theme, albeit one with a difference, because in this one that terrific typewriter-key tapper Doug Nye covers cars engined with the famous Heynes-designed twin-cam Jaguar power units and which are now seen in Historic Sports Car racing. After an introduction to how the Jaguar in-line-six engine was evolved, Nye tells us a great deal about the many cars to race with this excellent and still not out-dated engine — the early Jaguar-powered specials, through to such great makes in their own right as the HWM-Jaguars, the Cooper-Jaguars, the Tojeiro-Jaguars, and the Lister-Jaguars. Each of these gets a chapter to itself and this packed with pictures. The book concludes with some Lister mysteries, Nye has researched the individual histories of many of the Jaguar-powered cars that in recent times have been rebuilt for use in today’s Historic car races, helped I see by our Denis Jenkinson, but with road-test reports on HWM, Cooper, Tojeiro and Lister-Jaguars from Autosport.

For those turned-on by these very fast, specialist sports/racing cars this book will make a good if expensive New Year’s present. — W.B.

“From Two-Stroke to Turbo” by Anders Tunberg. 128 pp. 10″ x 7 1/4″. (Motor Racing Publications Ltd,, 28/32 Devonshire Road, Chiswick, London W4 2HD. £5.95).

We remember vividly the early three-cylinder two-stroke Saabs, based on German FWD DKW engineering. This book translated from the Swedish, sets out to recall how Saab developed and publicised these rugged little cars, from the original Type-92 right up to the 900-series, through racing and especially through effective rally performances, starting in 1949. The ride I had through the Swedish snow-forests with Erik Carlsson and with Carl-Magnus Skogh, many years ago, points the way, often sideways on, to this book, as it were. The author allows us to relive the Saab rallying days and he provides a summarised survey of these Saab rally successes and the specifications of all Saab rally-cars from 92, through Sonett Super Sport, 93, 95, 96, Sonett II, 96 V4, Sonett III, 99, to the 900. At last a book for Saab followers and one again fully-illustrated. — W.B.

“The Colonel’s Ferraris” by Doug Nye. 165 pp. 8 3/4″ x 7 1/4″. (Ampersand Press, 2 Sutton Row, Sutton Manderville, Salisbury, Wiltshire. £10.00.)

One feels that Doug Nye enjoys delving into motor-racing history, learning as he goes. Ferrari is a compulsive subject, yet too many books have been written about this famous motor-car. The idea of looking at the career of the Maranello Concessionaires’ racing team, run by the very enthusiastic Col. Hoare, has been Doug’s excuse for hanging some good pictures and statistical tables (the race-record compiled by Geoff Willoughby) around a chronological account of Col. R. J. “Ronnie” Hoare’s racing with his Marenello Ferraris, from 1961 to 1972.

The book exudes that sort of enthusiasm which an amateur team so often possesses, and to his rather brief but descriptive text Nye had added, for good measure, specifications of the Hoare cars, from 250GT to the 365GTB/4 Daytona Berlinetta that was raced just once at Le Mans. There are also comments and memories of six of the Team, with Col. Hoare himself having the last word. Ferrari “fans” will need this one. – W.B.

“The Shiphunters” by R.E. Gillman, DFC, DFM. 240 pp. 8 1/2″ x 5 1/2″. (John Murray Ltd.. 50 Albemarle Street, London W1X 4BD. £3.95.)

This is the vivid story of Gillman’s war, after he was posted to Malta in 1940 as a Blenheim pilot. You experience the low-level day-light raids against shipping, harbours and motor transport, in the Mediterranean theatre from the pilot’s seat. This is a quite exceptional war-book, by the writer of “From Croydon to Concorde” which I reviewed so favourably last month. Add it to your list for some enthralling New Year’s reading. – W.B.