Reviews, January 2006

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The Cobra in the Barn by Tom Cotter ISBN 0 76031992 8 published by MBI. £16.99

Coming from someone whose sole barn-find discovery to date was a Mk5 Ford Cortina (a 2.3-litre Ghia model though. Hmm, lovely), this super hardback is as frustrating as it is compelling. That exotic road cars and desirable racers still turn up in the most unlikely places — and are often found by serial automotive archaeologists— makes this a must-read for anyone who enjoys the thrill of the chase and harbours a dream that one day they’ll find a 250GT0 walled up in Dudley, or a Bocar in the Bronx.

Cotter, a sometime Road & Track contributor, has collated a number of stories written by himself and other well-known collaborators. We particularly enjoyed reading Rick Carey’s memories of first seeing a long-lost Scaglione Abarth 1500 in a New England barn. Better still is R&T columnist Peter Egan’s tale of recovering an early Lotus Elan S1 in the snow. A truly brilliant writer, he encapsulates in about 1500 words why we insist on buying old tat that any sane person wouldn’t look twice at — because it has that all-important ‘potential’.

Among the many racers included in here are the ex-Bob Tullius/Paul Newman Group 44 Triumph TR6, ex-works Lotus Eleven Le Mans veteran, Lightweight E-type, Lang Cooper, ex-Sid Taylor Racing/ Denny Hulme Brabham BT8 and a whole load more. Oddest of the lot has to be an AMC Spirit ANIX that unexpectedly won its class in the ’79 Nürburgring 24 Hours when driven by Lyn St James, Jim Downing and Gary Witzenburg.

Favourite of them all, though, is a race transporter: the Cheetah. Inspired by the 300SL-powered Mercedes-Benz flatbed that used to haul W196s, West Coast driver Norm Holtkamp built his own variation, a compendium of Merc, Chevy and Porsche bits with aluminium bodywork crafted by renowned Los Angeles metal-shapers Troutman and Barnes. It looked great and was a magazine cover star, but was reputedly lethal to drive. It survived alterations and an earthquake that destroyed everything around it. We would love to see this at the Goodwood Revival one day, carrying a Scarab or suchlike. RH

Shelsley Walsh Centenary: a Celebration of the Oldest Racing Track in the World, by Midland Automobile Club, available at www.shelsley-walsh.co.uk or 01886 812211, DVD £17 (£16 video)

Celebrating all that is good (and strange) about hillclimbing, this not-entirely-slick production offers only a brief overview of Shelsley’s history before moving into reportage of August 2005’s Festival Meeting.

Aside from the grating incidental music there’s much to like, not least the footage of the various Shelsley Specials among the exotica: you really need to see — and hear — Nic Mann’s Mannic off the start line. If you attended you’ll clearly want a reminder. If you didn’t, here’s a chance to view what you missed. RH

Alpine Trials and Rallies 1910-73 by Martin Pfundner ISBN 1 904788 95 5 published by Veloce, £12.99

If you thought the Alpine Trial was one regular event, think again. Over the years there has been a bewildering array of events in the Alps, run in half a dozen countries by a stack of different organisers. But small as this book is, it manages to cram in over 100 of them, complete with results. There’s even a decent array of pictures, right back to the remarkable 300-mile trans-Alpine event of 1898, won by a belt-driven 6hp Daimler.

The author is clearly well-placed to write the Alpine story, having competed in seven of them in the 1950s; it’s disappointing therefore that he doesn’t bring his personal insights to the book, which might have refreshed the fact-laden text. After reading it I can’t say that I’ve got Alpine lore sorted, but at least I know where to check my facts. GC

The Gurney Eagle Formula One Car by Dave Friedman, published by GMP available from www.gmpdiecast.com or 001800 536 1637, $19.95

Yet another album from the ace snapper’s bottomless photo files. This time the prolific Friedman celebrates the most utterly gorgeous grand prix car of all time (and this is not a topic open for debate!). Kicking off with a picture of All-American Racers boss Dan Gurney sitting in a wooden buck in autumn ’65 and closing with the squad’s final F1 race at Monza in ’68, the images are universally wonderful, as is the picture reproduction.

Fortunately, the captions are useful (and meaningful), with Gurney providing his thoughts and memories. This is a smallish book that doesn’t try and compete with Karl Ludvigsen’s Gurney’s Eagles, which has a much broader scope on the AAR team’s racing exploits outside Formula One. But it’s fun to dip into. Good value too. RH

Only Here for the Beer – Tribute Edition, Jeremy Walton ISBN 184425307 4 published by Haynes, £14.99

We always knew Gerry Marshall was a crowd favourite, but the outpouring of tributes on his death surprised us all. So this reissue of a classic racing memoir, first published in 1978, was to be expected. I turned first to the back to read about the funeral, to find that the wrap-up says, “there’s no doubt that Gerry will continue to figure on race programmes…” The text still stops at ’78, and the tribute consists of a new intro with some internet memories attached. Marshall’s post-78 racing is zipped over in less than a page.

It’s still a good read, reminding us that as well as being a joker Gerry was also very kind. (When I was laid up in Stoke Mandeville hospital for many months he rang several times to say, “Don’t forget I live nearby— if there’s anything I can do…”) A pity this feels like a rush job. GC

Appelle-moi Carroll! by Phil Henny ISBN 2 914920 49 published by Editions du Palmier, €40

’Call me Carroll’ isn’t actually about Shelby the driver and constructor — it’s the memoirs of one of his mechanics. But Shelby was significant in Phil Henny’s career, which saw the Swiss-born engineer move from Scuderia Filipinetti to the States to join the Texan’s race team. He worked on the Le Mans-winning Ford MkIIs and other Shelby projects before setting up on his own as a race engineer and restorer and campaigning a McLaren Can-Am car. Not a major player, then, but there’s interest in what it was like to work at Shelby’s, plus memories of the man himself and the likes of Gurney, Foyt and Miles. There are also some unexpected asides such as looking after Giuseppe Farina’s Lotus-Cortina and a brief cameo appearance in a film with Ralph Richardson. French text only. GC