Book Reviews, June 1981, June 1981

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“Whatever Happened To The British Motorcycle Industry?” by Bert Hopwood. 315 pp. 9 1/2″ x 6 1/2″ (Haynes Publishing group Ltd., Sparkford, Yeovil, Somerset, BA22 7JJ. £8.95)

In view of what looks mighty like an impending take-over of the British Motor Car Industry by the Japanese, if what has happened to our Motorcyle Industry is anything to go by, it could be hoped that such books as these might point a way out before it is too late, with Honda licking up Leyland, Mazda installed at Ford and Datsun about to build in this country. Bert Hopwood is not the first writer to express his feelings on the decline of a once-powerful and innovative Motorcycle Industry in Britain but he does have the advantage of having risen to managerial and board-room positions in the once-great companies from factory-floor level.

What he says is exceedingly interesting. He takes the reader step by step through the engineering, and the thinking behind it, at the Ariel, Triumph, Norton and BSA concerns, from his teenage beginnings, circa 1925, and from the depression of 1930 onwards. Although his object is to explain how and why, in his view, the Industry failed, along the way those more interested in the motorcycles themselves than the means of marketing them will find some very enthralling “inside” information and new slants, and in this respect racing and other two-wheeler competition work is certainly not neglected. Hopwood, who is a Ch.Eng. and a F.I.Mech.E, was himself responsible for such famous motorcycles as the BSA “Golden Flash” and the Norton “Dominator”, and when BSA collapsed he was preparing a design that might have carried them into the 1980s.

In a sense this book is reminiscent of a politician’s autobiography after his retirement from office, although Bert uses Christian names for almost everyone. But, like a retired politician, he does not pull his punches — his pour opinion of Edward Turner (who gave us that excellent 4 1/2-litre V8 engine that powered the Daimler “Majestic Major” and in smaller form the Jaguar that tried to be a Daimler) is truly outspoken, nor did he think well of Dennios Poore. Plenty of scandalous revelations are exposed by Mr. Hopwood, such as how Geoff Duke, having tried out and approved of a 250 c.c. BSA MC1, entered one as a “GDS” for the 1955 Lightweight TT without telling anyone at BSA’s, which caused much trouble for Hopwood, and of how Hopwood was sacked “as an economy measure” from Norton’s by Gilbert Smith, leaving Joe Craig to bask in the glory of the Dominator going into successful production. There is plenty more in this vein. Even Bob Holliday, Editor of Motor Cycling does not get off scot free!

He disagrees with the writer of a similar purpose book as to why Norton-Villiers-Triumph closed down, and industrialists and social scientists should relish his exposures. On the other hand, therein much of great interest about the machines themselves, from the scooters and mini-bikes and that maxim of micro-economy, the Ariel 3 tricycle — one of the famous or infamous failures (although if you could find and tolerate one today you could tax it for £7 a year), to the most exciting racing machinery, not only of the makes named as those he worked on, but of opposition models as well. The only reason why I am not reviewing this unusual and absorbing book at greater length is that it is aimed at the motorcycling fraternity – but let those who have this country’s interests at heart read, learn and inwardly digest its contents and observations. It is very generously illustrated, with some 240 clear pictures, and, what is more, most of the pictures that matter are placed close to the textual references. There is one reference to cars which intrigued me. The Ariel Nine flat-twin is said to have had a Harper Bean engine but as Bean did not make a two-cylinder car does this mean that they made the power units for Ariel? It was said to have been “not too reliable”, and the four-cylinder Ariel that replaced it, one of which, a 1924 model, I used to see after the war, driven by a maiden lady with great verve through the villages of Hampshire and Berkshire, had, according to Hopwood, a Swift engine. When the Ariel Nine was prone very quickly to break its back-axle, Jack Sangster quickly cured the trouble with a commanding order to increase the size of the axle shafts to 1 3/4″, while the car’s designer, Tippen, was suggesting, after prolonged stress work, a diameter of 1.154″. Other oddities, like the Fleet three-wheeler and even lawn-mowers, have crept into hopwood’s book and the development work on Wankel engines and the price of obtaining a licence for such German rotary-power is there, too. Bert’s book is one which I am sure you will find it hard to put down. I hope Sir Michael Edwardes has received a copy . . . – W.B.

“How to Make Your Own High Pressure Spray Plant” by H.G. Hearn. 138 pp. 8 3/4″ x 5 1/2″ (Angus & Robertson, 10 Earlham Street, London, WC2. £5.95).

Written in a rather aggressive and superior style “. . . for the benefit of all you ‘Do It Yourself’ enthusiasts. . .”, H.G. Hearn’s book nonetheless contains much useful information about the construction, use and abuse of a high pressure spray plant. Chapters cover choosing the equipment, assembling the pressure tubing (a chapter is also included on the subject of silver soldering, a necessary process in assembling the tubing), acquiring and rigging a pressure tank (ex-government fire extinguishers are highly iecornmended, but any container tested to 130 lb./sq. in. or more should be suitable), making a spray gun, using the equipment, improving it and using it for other applications. Appendices contain advice on respraying a car, further details about the spray gun head, and a rather incongruous page about the dangers of working with asbestos.

This volume is not of general interest, but gives good advice for anyone who wishes to save money by assembling his own high pressure spray plant: a job I have been contemplating myself for some time, which will be made easier for having read this volume, which has to be ordered through a bookseller. — P.H.J.W.

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Following his scholarly histories of British Aviation from the earliest times to the outbreak of the second World War, similar coverage of British Airlines across the World, and three delightful books of his aviation experiences, expressed in non-technical terms, Harald Penrose has now come up with “Cloud Cuckooland” (Airlife, 7 St. Johns Hill, Shrewsbury, 155 pages, 8 3/4″ x 5 1/2″, £6.95), which is an extension of his earlier reminiscences about many aspects of aeroplanes and flying. His great all-round knowledge of aviation and his love of flying, whether in aeroplanes or watching birds, and his power of descriptive writing, make his new book another treat which flying men will want to retire to a secluded place to enjoy.

Penrose uses the 18 chapters to tell us in fine prose of flying his Curry Wot, of journeys in a Tipsy monoplane, of seeing as a small boy in a train pioneer-aviators taking-off, of a trip in a Southampton flying-boat, of taking-off and landing an amateur-built Volmer pusher-amphibian from a Canadian lake, of sailing, of chasing birds on the wing, of ascending in a modern hot-air balloon, of tricky flights in a helicopter and in a borrowed Auster, even of returning to gliding, and making his first flight with a hang-glider at the age of 71. And more, including a fine piece about a night flight from Vienna to Paris in a Hawker-Siddeley 125 Executive twin-jet. Each chapter is headed by a David Gibbings’ sketch. One or two of these chapters may have appeared previously in the recently-defunct Blackwood’s Magazine but most of them are, I think, new; and quite delightful. Now I await avidly the promised autobiography of this gifted test-pilot-turned-writer. — W.B.

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The latest titles in those clear and expert-compiled Osprey “Autohistory Series” are “Aston Martin V8” by F. Wilson McComb, “Citroen SM” by Jeff Daniels, and “Lamborghini Countach” by J-F. Marchet and Peter Coltrin. Each of these landscape sized 212 x 185 mm. volumes has eight colour pages, 90 black-and-white illustrations and runs to 136 pages. Edited by Tim Parker, each costs £5.95.

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When a journey is made for pleasure rather than business, it is often more enjoyable to choose a route away from the busy and hectic main roads. For those who like the idea of getting off the major trunk routes, but who are not sure quite which alternative route is best, the AA’s “Alternative Routes in Britain” is to be recommended. It costs £8.95 and is available now from booksellers around the country. It lists some 26 routes, describes the villages and points of interest encountered on route and contains many photographs of special features. The routes are described in a very clear fashion, and maps are included, although these are confusing for those who expect north to be at the top of the page. The book is well produced, the photographs clear and the text easy to read.

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Another AA publication of interest to those whose journeys may be undertaken at a relaxed pace, or who wish to plan a touring holiday, is the five-volume series of Baedeker Guides, translated from the original German and up-dated by the AA. These cover Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain and may be had individually at £5.95 each or at £25 for the set. We have only seen the volume for France which contains political, social, historical and economical details of the country as well as descriptions of the various regions and their special features of interest. Simple plans are included for the major towns, but tourist maps are not, so it needs to be used in conjunction with a separate road-atlas or folding map. The AA, realising this, include a fold-up map of France. but this is of rather poor quality and only serves to show the relative positions of the larger towns. The last 40 or so pages of this 312-page book are taken up with the usual practical information about road and traffic regulations, currency, accommodation and so on. — P.H.J.W.