“Adventure with Fate” by Harald Penrose, OBE, CEng, FRAeS etc, 394 pp, 9 in x 6 in. (Airlife Publications Ltd, 7 St John’s Hill, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, SY1 11E. £14.95.)
Here is the book I have waited a long time for! — Harald Penrose’s aviation autobiography. He was Westland’s Chief Test-Pilot, but was much more besides, so that he knew almost everyone of importance in the developing years of the British Aircraft Industry. More than that, his love of aeroplanes makes this account of a life devoted to aviation particularly vivid and so well worth reading.
Past works of great literary merit, like Penrose’s “No Echo In The Sky”, “Airymouse”, and “Cloud Cuckooland”, have been a measure of this man’s dedication to, and intimate knowledge of, aeroplanes of all ages and types, and now we have the full story, his long-awaited autobiography. In it he traces the years from schoolboy and even earlier enthusiasm for manned flight, to his continuing close links with flying (and sailing) at the age of 80, in these 1980s. Harald Penrose has a happy knack in his writings of capturing the very atmosphere of the lost moments, whether of his first flight with a sporting aunt, piloted by Cobham, in 1919 in a three-seater Avro 504K, or the present. His expert explanations of the handling idiosyncrasies and problems of most of the machines he flew add much to his story, from the viewpoint of avid aeroplane enthusiasts.
There are many descriptions, in Harald’s crisp style, of narrow escapes, forced landings, fraught landings, and jumping from abandoned aeroplanes etc, in this long but ever-enthralling story. Although it is the personal story that counts, inevitably Penrose’s latest book portrays the development of the aeroplane, from boxkite to Concorde. He is also very funny in places, remembering the great characters of his time at Westland’s and elsewhere, like the eccentric test-pilot Capt Louis Paget, AFC, complete with monocle and pithy expressions, Penrose’s autocratic but understanding “boss” Robert Arthur Bruce, OBE, MSc, and the works’ staff at Westland’s, with snatches of conversation to exactly capture people’s characteristics.
The austerity in the Aircraft Industry, except when orders multiplied before the two World Wars, is seen in the mean payment by Westland’s to pilots, and how under-insured they were, but clearly this never detracted from Penrose’s keenness for flying. There are some references to cars, for although the author does not reveal the make of the £5 motorcycle he shared with a companion, he does tell us that he rode a time-worn Triumph sidecar-outfit when he was learning to fly with the RAF at Bristol in 1927, which was replaced by a £20 Wolseley two-seater as his Westland pay increased. It was sold for £15, giving way to an Austin 7 Mulliner fabric saloon when he got married in 1929 and went to live in a remote thatched cottage — rent, with rates, 7/-(35p) a week. Later he and young Teddy Petter, CBE, BA, elder son of the Chairman of the Company, Sir Edward Petter, ran identical Austin 7s (Petter also had a Hanomag) and met and picnicked with their wives, Harold’s cottage and Teddy Petter’s grand house being but half-a-mile apart.
In his apprenticeship days at Westland’s Penrose and his fellows built a Huck’s-starter out of an old Model-T Ford, and there was that big green racing Fiat used by their then-Test Pilot Major Laurence Openshaw, MA which has long puzzled me — could it have been the Cobb / Warde 1911, S61 car between its Brooklands appearances, or its sister? Or even “Mephistopheles”?
However, this is primarily a book for those with aeroplanes in their blood, not to overlook seaplanes, helicopters and gliders, and they are in for an enormous treat, for this is no mean autobiography. Small type fills its 386 pages of text (there is also an Index) and if there is a grumble at all, it concerns the mass of photographs, which have captions, one of which differs on hp from the text, in very small type and could be clearer. Against that, Airlife obviously had difficulty in packing all this splendid reminiscence in, but they are to be commended for mostly putting relevant pictures in the right places, so that a glance usually shows the kind of aeroplane Penrose is remembering. . . This book is the most complete, detailed and enjoyable autobiography of its kind in recent times. Every aviation buff should buy it or at least make quite sure his or her local Lending Library gets a copy. And I offer personal thanks to Harald Penrose for a lot of very worthwhile reading. — W.B.
“Not Much of an Engineer” by Sir Stanley Hooker. 255 pp, 9 in X 6 in. (Airlife Publishing Ltd, 7 St John’s Hill, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, SY1 1JE. £14.95.)
This book, published at the same time, is an excellent foil to Harald Penrose’s autobiography. It covers a later period, of mainly aero-engine development, at
Rolls-Royce and Bristol, by that very talented mathematician who had never seen a supercharger when he first went to R-R at Derby but who was soon in full charge of their improvement, with very worthwhile results for the Merlin engine. Sir Stanley went on to become the saviour of R-R after the failure of the RB211, Rolls-Royce paying £63.6-million to get him back by buying the Bristol Aeroplane Company! As one would expect from one of such logical and considered thinking, Hooker has written such a readable book that I could not put it down. Like Penrose, he recalls a great many individuals in covering a life devoted to aero-engine work, from the early Whittle turbo-jets to propulsion for the Harrier and Concorde, etc. Through it all his enormous respect for Lord Hives of Rolls-Royce is clearly apparent.
This is another book not to be missed by aviation enthusiasts or R-R followers, and if you want to know how Hooker was received in Rumania and China when negotiating R-R engine sales, it is all there. I confess that the erudite formulae at the back of the book are beyond my comprehension but I was somewhat surprised that the author refers to a “circular cylinder” — but perhaps that is ignorance on my part. . . Bill Gunston assisted with the book and the Foreword is by The Lord Keith of Castleacre, who first met Sir Stanley in 1972, when His Lordship had gone to R-R as Chairman after the great Company had survived bankruptcy. Another very enjoyable, important and highly recommended autobiography. — W.B.
“Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Racing 1934-1955” by George C. Monkhouse. 207 pp, 10½ in x 13 in (White Mouse Editions Ltd, 23 Craven Hill, London, W2 3EN.£30.00.)
We had heard for some time that Cyril Posthumus was working with the celebrated motor-racing photographer and writer, George C. Monkhouse, MACantab. FRPS, on this new book, mainly of fine photographs in abundance. The book, all 5 lb 2 oz of it (the companion Cavendish Books’ ERA coverage comes out at over 7 lb) was launched at a party given by Erik Johnson of Mercedes-Benz (UK) Ltd, at the London Toy Museum last month, among a select gathering of motoring-writers, racing-folk, fellow publishers, with of course George and Cyril themselves, and Narisa and Allen Levy who directed it editorially and into print. Neil Corner and his wife were there too, as owners post-war of pre-war GP Mercedes-Benz and Auto-Union cars. Before the war one of the memorable motoring books was “Motor Racing With Mercedes-Benz” published by Newnes, in which Monkhouse told of the mystical, magic life he led, following the Mercedes GP team around Europe with his friend Dick Seaman (who was to crash fatally at Spa), illustrating it with his inimitable Kodak-photographed pictures. His new book is an extension of that one, magnificently full of breathtaking pictures, inter-linked with George’s story of what this great period of Grand Prix motor-racing was like when seen at close quarters, but taking the account on, to cover Daimler-Benz’s racing return with the W196 GP cars in 1954/55.
If I was surprised at how many of the photographs I had seen previously I soon realised that this is but a measure of the great popularity and circulation of these unique camera-studies from such an artist. There is certainly much to be gained from a large-format, using best-quality art-paper, and there is fun picking out the new pictures. Posthumus has welded the book into a great record of the exciting appearances of the W25, W125, W154, W165 and W196 M-B GP racing cars, with the intertwining story by Monkhouse, suitably rewritten and expanded by Cyril. There are the supporting technical tables, power curves, etc, although it is to Karl Ludvigsen I would turn for more of the latter. Incidentally, we learn that they were 2.3-litre M-B saloons which the team’s drivers used for road journeys, in 1937. The race placings of the Mercedes cars are listed. So here is an enormous treat for GP racing fanatics and fans of the three-pointed star. But, unlike the ERA book format, there are no colour plates. — W.B.
“The Aston Martin and Lagonda: Volume 1 — Six-cylinder DB models” by Andrew Whyte 144 pp, 7¼ in x 9 in. (Motor Racing Publications Ltd., 52 Devonshire Road, Chiswick, London, W4 2HD. £8.95).
Andrew Whyte is associated with Jaguar history but with this book in MRP’s “Collector’s Guide” series he has branched out into Aston Martin and Lagonda matters, in this first volume about the six-cylinder twin-cam DB cars. Here is a compact wealth of information about these cars on the tracks as well as on the road, with a generous number of illustrations to back up the authoritative text and the tabulated data, the last-named calling for eight Appendices to embrace the dating of different models, the specifications, the chassis nos. and production figures, production engine data, the racing records of individual Aston Martins from 1951 to 1961, racing engine development data, and performance figures for 1949 to 1968, taken from the motoring weeklies and MOTOR SPORT.
Anclrew reminds us that in the decade 1950 to 1959 the proportion of starts to finishes of the winning sports / racing marques was: Aston Martin 39 starts and 14 race finishes, Ferrari 71 / 17, Jaguar 40 /20, Mercedes-Benz 6 / 2 and Talbot-Lago 23 / 8, in the course of which Jaguar took 20 first-places, Ferrari 17, Aston Martin 14, Talbot-Lago 8 and Mercedes-Benz two. It is recalled that HRH The Duke of Edinburgh had two of these Lagondas the book covers. I liked this one and so should Bentley folk, as “W.O.” was responsible for their engines. W . B .
“Countdown To A Grand Prix” by Tony Howard, 258 pp, 24 b&w illus pp, 7 in x 4½ in, paperback. (Arrow Books Ltd, 17-21 Conway Street, London W1P 6JP. £2.25.)
Many readers may already have seen Tony Howard’s look at the background of Formula One on station bookstalls and in high street shops such as W. H. Smith, for it is being heavily promoted. The fact that it is being promoted along with the latest from Barbara Cartland, and the fact that the cover is garish and the blurb over-excited, may have put off the serious enthusiast from buying it. Gentlemen, think again.
Tony Howard has gone to great pains to thoroughly research his subject, as the extracts of serious interviews conducted with serious people in the sport illustrates. The result is a very readable introduction to the background of Formula One which the new enthusiast will find indispensable and which will also add to the knowledge of those who have closely followed the sport for years.
This is not only an excellent book, but an important one. Its importance lies in the fact that it is inexpensive, easily available, accurate and responsible. It will, I am sure, convert many people who may casually watch racing on television into becoming serious enthusiasts. The wealth of information they will receive from “Countdown To A Grand Prix” will stand them in good stead for a long time.
There are 24 pages of well chosen photographs, maps of the major circuits, a glossary of terms and brief profiles of all current Grand Prix drivers. In addition, there is a voucher which may be exchanged for a free ticket at any one of a dozen MCD race meetings this year — which more than recoups the modest price of the book. M.L.
“Second Time Around” by Niki Lauda, Dr Fritz Indra and Herbert Volker, 251 pp, 9¾” X 6¾” (William Kimber & Co. Ltd., 100 Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6EE. £12.50).
Though Lauda’s name alone appears on the cover of this look at the technical aspects of current Grand Prix racing, I suspect that Dr Fritz Indra and Herbert Volker did most of the work. Still, the fact that Lauda left the sport in the days of full ground effect and largely, non-turbo cars, and then returned to a changed set of circumstances, gives the book both its form and its thrust.
It begins with the stock Lauda interview, in which he, as always, comes across as a gritty, unsentimental, no-nonsense individual, and ends with his comments on circuits, a complete record of his racing career, tables of past World Champions and Grand Prix winners, and a short piece by Lauda’s trainer, Willy Dungel, who stresses the importance of physical fitness but gives away few secrets.
So much for the padding. The meat of the book takes one step by step through all the technical variables currently operating in Formula One. This is both interesting and lucid and there are many photographs to highlight the points which the authors raise, The value of the book is the way it collates and puts into perspective all the variables but, in the last analysis, I felt it over-priced for the amount of useful information, unobtainable elsewhere, which it provides.
“Austin Seven-1922-1982”, Compiled by R. M. Clarke. 100 pp, 10½ in x 7¾ in. (Brooklands Books Distribution Ltd., Holmerise, Seven Hills Road, Cobham, Surrey. £5.50).
This is one of the most appealing and useful books in the wide range of one-make histories which Brooklands Books has made its speciality, by reproducing appropriate articles from contemporary magazines, MOTOR SPORT included, and binding them in book form — and I never fail to be surprised at the generosity of the publishers involved, especially as most of them publish similar books of their own. . . .
However, that is by the way. The articles reproduced in this new book run from the earliest manifestations of the Seven, to the Ruby and Big-Seven models. What is more, there are Motor’s opinions of the first Chummy and its road-test of that first Longbridge sports A7, a 1929 account of touring France and Spain in a Chummy, short pieces on the A7 in racing, pictures of special bodies put on the famous (or infamous?) A-pattern chassis frame, and, perhaps more interesting to those struggling to maintain vintage A7s, there are Light Car’s 1950 tuning and maintenance articles, and Marcus Chambers’ advice on working on the A7 from 1944 issues of Motor. For the more paper-minded technicians the three long articles “Under The Microscope” in which the Light car analysed the Austin 7 in 1937 are included — this series covered several pre-war small cars, so those concerned with other makes can indulge themselves, now that IPC run an Archives Photostat Department.
In this Brooklands Book it would have been interesting to read the old road-test reports comparing blown with unblown Ulster (72 mph and 0-50 mph in 24 sec for £185 in 1931 from the former), but the latter test is not there, although those for other A7 models are, and the blown Ulster does get its place in Autocar’s “Talking of Sports Cars” series (one by Hugh Conway), and in Eves’ much more recent coverage of a non-supercharged Ulster.
So this is a most interesting collection of past A7 articles, even if they do remind us that the 1936 Ruby saloon when new would not quite do 53 mph and required 58 sec in which to reach 50 mph from rest . . . I see,’ too, that the light-hearted piece I wrote for the Light Car about the 1928 Chummy I used regularly in 1939 has got in.
Altogether a highly-desirable A7 Publication, the soft covers and some advertising of which scarcely detract from it. The front-cover picture is of the now all-but-forgotten production-model Gordon England streamlined, all-aluminium “Brooklands” A7, as restored by Tom Abernethy.
With the 750 MC’s own vintage A7 handbook, this new Brooklands Books’ offering, MOTOR SPORT’s own A7 book (good value at £1 but now oop — but try the ^otor-book shops) and Wyatt’s full-scale A7 book, recently re-issued, it is possible to become a real expert on the most significant of all the baby cars (I write that rmembering the motor-racing reputation of the A7). -W . B .