Have you noticed on Zoom interviews how often the background is a wall of books? Despite Kindle and its fellows there’s nothing like picking up a real book and flicking through the pages. That’s echoed by Ben Horton of Hortons Books when we talked about collecting books old and new.
“The book market is in rude health,” Ben thinks. “Four or five years back people were worried about the arrival of the e-book, but I think that was a fad. People have realised that reading from a screen doesn’t have the same involvement. Sensory things happen with a book. The ship was turning in that direction prior to the pandemic – Mark Zuckerberg once said books were cool and that Christmas there was a sales spike. Another point is that in lockdown people are spending all day at a screen and are turning to books as a relief. People who have never picked up a book are doing so now, and I think that will carry on when we come out of lockdown.”
Hortons Books carries both new books and collectors’ items – Ben reckons 70% of his stock is out-of-print titles. What would he cite as cornerstones of a motoring bookshelf?
“I love to find old copies being sold from the back of an estate car”
“In driver biographies,” says Ben, “Innes Ireland’s All Arms and Elbows of course, Touch Wood by Duncan Hamilton, James Hunt by Gerald Donaldson is excellent, and Sid Watkins’ Lifeat the Limit is fantastic. Birkin’s Full Throttle is one of the great motoring books. In technical works, Laurence Pomeroy’s The Grand Prix Car is out of favour now, but it’s still incredible. For myself I like photographic books. I would always want a copy of Jesse Alexander’s At Speed: it mixes art and photography wonderfully.”
Of course fashions shift even with old books. The 2017 documentary about Bruce McLaren triggered interest in his autobiography From the Cockpit. “That film and the new road cars have brought the name to a new generation who may not have known about his racing. Evro did a facsimile edition –I thought it was a daft idea but they’re sold out already! An original copy with a nice cover could be £70-£100, though I have in the past sold one signed by Bruce in the high hundreds.”
Popular books were once likely to be re-printed making a cheap ‘reading copy’ easy to find second hand. Not so now, Ben says.
“The lavish editions we are seeing now are becoming art pieces in themselves. Runs are shorter: the standard version is likely to be limited with the luxury edition printed in just handfuls, so both sell out quickly and prices rise. Take the Simon Kidston Miura book: you could buy that last year for £500. Now it’s selling for £4000 and upwards. The days are gone when a publisher would print 10,000 copies which might sit in a warehouse for years. But it makes people buy the books quickly instead of waiting.”
Yet it doesn’t have to mean big bucks. “I still love to find old copies being sold from the back of an estate car at Beaulieu autojumble; there is still plenty to find out there.”
Pekin to Paris by Luigi Barzini
If you’ve ever had a difficult car journey, read this – you’ll never complain again. It’s one of the most famous motoring adventures, battling across the Gobi Desert in 1907 in primitive cars on unmade roads or trackless wastes. Author Barzini was co-driver on the winning Itala, and their adventures – falling through bridges, sinking into rivers, endless punctures – are riveting. This 1907 first edition has a lovely cover. A great read and good investment.
All arms and elbows by Innes Ireland
Large in stature and in legend, Ireland wasn’t shy, as his book tells. Full of great stories about the hell he raised at the tracks along with frank views on other drivers and teams, it’s told with real wit. Often cited as the best driver autobiography, it’s one every enthusiast should read. This copy is the second impression of the first edition; reissues have more pictures, but it’s Ireland’s words which are the prize.
At speed by Jesse Alexander
Alexander’s photos of racing from the 1950s on made him one of the great names in capturing our sport – not merely a record of cars, teams and drivers but a portrait of the people and the times. Well known to the circus, he had access to pit and paddock and was able to give us a close-up view, presented with a visual flair few could match. Horton’s copy is the leather-bound limited edition in slipcase but standard editions are easily found at around £130 and up.
The racing driver by Denis Jenkinson
Yes, our Denis Jenkinson, whose forthright views on racing and its practitioners found expression in this little volume in which he analysed what made a driver great. Subtitled The Theory and Practice of Fast Driving, it describes the qualities a racer needs and compares the styles of those he had watched on track. The names have changed since 1958 but not the skills. Widely available and a ‘must read’.
My prized possession
Ferrari F40 LM model
Stéphane Ratel, Godfather of modern GT racing
“I’ve been fortunate to collect many things since founding SRO almost 30 years ago, but in pride of place in my London office is a 1:12-scale model of the Ratel Ferté Racing Ferrari F40 LM that raced in BPR and at Le Mans with Pilot sponsorship. It’s the most successful of all the F40s from the mid-90s. My model is the LM version that raced at Le Mans in 1995. I stumbled across it in a London shop. I don’t know who made it, but I had to have it –a happy reminder of BPR’s golden era ever since. The actual car recently sold for almost €5m, so if we apply the scale my model’s now worth about €400,000 – about what I sold the real F40 for in the late 90s! But I’m not sure if it’s a Pilot pen propping the cover up.”