Book Reviews, July 1957, July 1957

“On the Starting Grid,” by Paul Frere. 224 pp., 8¾ in. by 5½ in. (B. T. Batsford Ltd., 4, Fitzhardinge Street, London, W.1. 25s.)

After a series of standardised textbooks on vintage, Edwardian and racing cars, Batsford have branched out into publishing this racing driver’s autobiography. And a very excellent account of Paul Frere’s experiences “On the Starting Grid” proves to be.

It is not so much how he writes, although his uncomplicated confident style carries the reader along easily, as the number of interesting experiences the author has to recount that makes this one of the worthwhile books about modern motor racing. The cheerful Belgian has driven in a lot of important races since he gained his first victory in a motoring competition at the wheel of a vintage Amilcar borrowed from his mother at the age of 18. Moreover, he has driven an interesting variety of vehicles, ranging from an out-dated but very “game” special-bodied PB M.G., through vast American saloons driven fast in Belgian Production Car Races, to the “real thing” in the form of H.W.M., Gordini and Ferrari Grand Prix cars.

Much of the pleasure of reading Frere, in this able translation by Louis Klementaski, is of coming again and again on races within recent memory and of discovering how they appeared to the driver of a works team car, often an Aston Martin or Jaguar from this country. As Frere is a professional motoring journalist with a rare ability to analyse the handling characteristics of the cars he drives in mechanical terms, his accounts of driving some of the leading saloon, sports and racing cars of our time are particularly interesting. We agree with Frere that eyesight is a vital factor in racing — Moss has exceptional sight. Frere devotes an intelligent chapter to how to drive a racing car and is amusing on the subject of motor-race reporting.

“On the Starting Grid” will be read with equal relish by those who, as Frere did, yearn somehow or other to become racing drivers, those who see small prospect of this tantalising dream materialising and those of us who know that there is no longer any hope in this direction. He is quite modest, describing without a trace of the trappings of popular journalism, how he crashed a 3-litre Monza Ferrari in practice at Kristiansted in 1955, breaking a leg, and how his mistake on the first lap at Le Mans last year lost Jaguar’s works team the race. This is another book which can be regarded as complete, inasmuch as Frere professes to have given up serious motor-racing due to family responsibilities.

Most of the great drivers of recent times figure in Frere’s autobiography and there are some excellent illustrations of many of them. There is, perhaps, unconscious humour in the account of Bira’s accident at Le Mans in 1954, inasmuch as if Bira was “very pale” after going off the road in an Aston Martin DB3S, he must have been frightened indeed! But mistakes are as the proverbial needle in the proverbial haystack, even if Aston Martin is incorrectly hyphenated, while it is sufficient to remark that the book is published by Batsford to imply the high standard of production and indexing. The dust-jacket is a pleasing wrap-round view from the back of the grid of the start of the 1955 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, in which the author drove a Ferrari Super Squalo into fourth place behind the Mercedes-Benz of Fangio and Moss and his team-mate Farina. —  W. B.

“London General—The Story of the London ‘Bus,1856-1956.” 70 pp., 91/16 in. by 7 in., soft covers. (London Transport, 55, Broadway, London, S.W.1. 5s.)

This publication will delight historians, and coming from London Transport it has the stamp of authenticity. It covers one hundred years of London’s omnibuses and is illustrated with some rare and pleasing pictures of early horse-drawn and motor ‘buses. Maps of the 23 services operating in 1911, of early tickets, the first ‘bus garages, details of routes and of many types of London General ‘buses from the earliest times to the present day add to the fascination of the story — we like particularly the full-page picture of Oxford Circus in the “B era.” — W. B.

“The Vanishing Litres,” by Rex Hays. 191 pp., 8¾in. by 53/5 in. (Macgibbon and Kee, 50, Margaret Street, London, W.1. 25s.) This is the year of anniversaries and in “The Vanishing Litres” Rex Hays sets out to tell the story of 50 years of Grand Prix road racing in text, picture and scale diagram. Such a subject deserves more than 190 pages and the various races are described but briefly, although much of interest emerges and the pictures reproduced are a nice collection, indifferently reproduced. Many, of course, have been seen before. We could excuse Piccard-Pictet rendered as Piccaro-Pictet if this did not appear also in the index, suggesting that someone doesn’t know.

The author brings powerful criticism to bear on the denunciation of G.P. racing by Sir William Morris (now Lord Nuffield) in 1931 and in this and other ways manages to bring fresh views to bear on a subject already very fully written-up. If somewhat superficial, this is nevertheless an enjoyable book; the many line drawings of cars are great fun. A pity Hays’ blueprint-inserts of classic G.P. cars are inconsistently captioned and drawn, apparently being borrowed unchanged from other sources, and that his circuit maps are so pathetic, and that both are incomplete. — W. B.

“The Cord Front-Drive,” by Roger Huntington, S.A.E. 224 pp., 8½ in. by 5½ in., soft covers. (Floyd Clymer Publications, 1268, So. Alvarado Street, Los Angeles 6, California. 3 dollars.)

Maybe you don’t own a Cord but if you do this book, reproduced in typical Clymer fashion, will undoubtedly become part of your very existence. That it is by Huntington ensures authenticity and good writing. It covers the evolution, history, and specification of the fabulous L29 and 810-812 Cord automobiles, even to reproductions of the respective service manuals, maintenance hints and owners’ comments, etc. This is a comprehensive and remarkable contribution to one-make publications and of consequent interest to historians as well as Cord maniacs. — W. B.

“Indianapolis 500 Mile Race Year Book-1956.” 108 pp., 11 in. by 8½ in., soft covers. (Floyd Clymer Publications, 1268, So. Alvarado Street, Los Angeles 6, California. 1 dollar 50 cents.)

This is now an eagerly-awaited annual covering practically every aspect of the 500-mile Indianapolis Race and lavishly illustrated. Of more interest to American than European students, it is nevertheless a useful contribution to motor-racing history—and vastly entertaining, too. — W. B.

“Value-for-Money Motoring,” by John R. Davey. 120 pp., 7½ in. by 49/10 in. (Iliffe & Sons Ltd., Dorset Hse., Stamford Street, London, S.E.1. 7s. 6d.)

For the newcomer to motoring rather than the expert, this little book appeals because its self-evident task is accomplished clearly and entertainingly, with unusual and well-picked photographic accompaniments. — W. B.

“Twenty-Four Hours at Le Mans,” by J. A. Gregoire. 199 pp., 81/16 in. by 5⅜ in. (Cassell & Co. Ltd., 37-38, St. Andrew’s Hill, Queen Victoria Street, London, E.C.4. 15s.)

This is a novel, translated from the French by Bryen Gentry, although from the title it could be mistaken for history. It is surely unique for an engineer who has produced a turbine car to be, in addition, a novelist. We did not have time to read M. Gregoire’s book but the lady who did so found the technical details tedious but the racing descriptions enthralling and she thought the story exciting but the romance unconvincing. If you went to Le Mans last month you will want to read this book. — W. B.

“The World’s Automobiles-1880-1955,” by G. R. Doyle. 165 pp, 8¾ in. by 5⅝ in. (Temple Press Ltd., Bowling Green Lane, London, E.C.1. 15s.)

Here, in a slim volume due to be much-thumbed, is a proper edition of that fascinating list of the world’s automobile manufacturers, with addresses and approximate periods when they were in business, which G. R. Doyle started and expanded many years ago as a hobby.

Temple Press have brought this remarkable work, covering 75 years of the world’s automobiles, up to date, and here it is between stiff covers, with interesting preliminary chapters and those comprehensive lists of makes, many amplified by little footnotes of absorbing interest to those who live in the past.

We were, however, disappointed to discover that the book does not appear to have been completely revised, insomuch as a spot-check on two makes, D.K.W. and Jaguar, discloses old addresses for the former and no mention of the latter except in a general note added to Chapter “J,” as “past misnomer and future name for S.S. Ltd.”