Reviews, July 2009

Stealing Speed
The Biggest Spy Scandal in Motorsport History
Mat Oxley

Stealing Speed is the terrific true story of how the infant Japanese motorcycle company Suzuki stole former Nazi rocket scientist Walter Kaaden’s engine secrets from behind the Iron Curtain through MZ employee and star rider Ernst Degner.

This stolen technology not only helped Suzuki and Degner to win Grands Prix and World Championships, but paved the way for the Japanese domination of motorbike racing that we see today.

This was just the start of the story, though. Branded a traitor by the communists, Degner’s treachery meant he constantly lived in fear of his life and could never return to his home in East Germany. Ultimately, Degner suffered terrible injuries in a racing accident and died in mysterious circumstances, a lonely and embittered man.

This fantastic adventure, researched and written by Motor Sport columnist Mat Oxley, mixes the ‘Boys Own’ stories of cold-war espionage with the era’s death-defying motorcycle racing tales. An excellent book that can’t fail to get the blood pumping. DC
Published by Haynes, ISBN 978 1 84425 689 1, £17.99

Mickey Thompson
The Fast Life and Tragic Death of a Racing Legend
Erik Arneson

Mickey Thompson was an all-American, larger-than-life character who lived for speed and the pursuit of the winning ‘edge’. This book tells the story of his early days of illegal street racing, evading the authorities and racing for pink slips after WWII, through to his involvement in the birth of indoor stadium racing in the 1980s.

What he lacked in education he more than made up for in ingenuity. Thompson was constantly sketching ideas and plans that eventually took him to 406mph and a world land speed record in 1960.

Family members help make this a personal account of a rich and entertaining life. Thompson was far from being an angelic figure, however, and sometimes this book does gloss over his feisty nature.

Many famous names such as Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney and Parnelli Jones contribute stories to this rollercoaster ride of a life.

The headline-grabbing murder at his home in 1988 of Thompson and his wife Trudy, and subsequent long-running investigation into the unsolved crime, ensures his name will live on for a long while yet. DC
Published by MBI Publishing, ISBN 978 0 7603 3178 1, £15

Rolt and Bira
The Forgotten Stars
Neville Hay

Rolt and Bira – not a pairing you would automatically think of, but that is today’s subject. It’s not that the decorated war hero and the Siamese prince were bosom friends, though both went to Eton and their careers roughly coincided. More that both had talents outside racing and, argues Hay, have not received the attention they deserved.

Hay has at various times spoken with many of the protagonists, including Rolt himself and Bira’s wife Ceril. The result is a comprehensive retelling of the racing, though I’d have enjoyed more on the non-racing lives – Rolt’s engineering activities and Bira’s sailing, flying and sculpture, which feel tacked on at the end. But Hay is making a point about their racing skills, saying Rolt could have gone to one of the major teams if not for Hitler, while Ferrari briefly tried Bira.

Perhaps ‘The Forgotten Stars’ stretches it a little; both received coverage in their time for their racing, especially Rolt’s Le Mans win, and Bira was often in the society papers. But post-war they were up against Fangio, Farina, Moss and Hawthorn. Who was going to make the headlines? Interesting subjects, but let down by a clumsy layout. GC
Published by Transport Bookman Publications Ltd, ISBN 978 0 85184 073 4, £29.99

Pay it yourself: The Story of MG at Le Mans 1959 to 1961
George Dutton

This scrapbook-style book on the privately-entered MGAs at Le Mans includes many unseen photos and looks at the people behind the project.
Published by The MG Car Club North West Centre Limited,, £25

In the mind’s eye: Chevron Classic Formula Race Cars 1967 to 1970

This very thorough book may look like a home-made effort, but includes everything from results to special notes on particular chassis.
Published by Ebygum Productions, ISBN 978 0 956 1392 0 7, £21.95

Golden Era: The History of Group C & IMSA GTP 1981-86, and 1987-93
Ian Briggs & John Starkey

These two books are new versions of already-published works and, as before, they are definitive on their respective subjects.
Published by Gryfon Publishers, ISBN 978 0 9703259 9 0, $149.99