Book Reviews, June 1991, June 1991

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Automobiles Voisin — 1919-1958 by Pascal Courteault. 374 pp. 12-1/2″ x 11-1/2. White Mouse Editions (New Cavendish Books) 3 Denbigh Road, London, W11 2SJ. £100.

Until the publication of this ambitious Voisin history not a lot has been available on this renowned French automobile, although that remarkable man “Papa” Voisin did write two books about his cars and aeroplanes — and his love of women. However, these were available here only in paperback French-language editions. Now we have the full coverage, of the man and his individual motorcars, and some of his aeroplanes and later products, including the golf-buggy-like cyclecars and the biscooters, etc.

The main publication contains not only this comprehensive history of the Voisin but has an incredible number of photographic reproductions of these cars, from the beginning to the fading years. It is in French, and runs to 311 pages of large landscape size. For those who need the story in English, there is within the booksleeve a subsidiary work, a translation by our own Peter Hull, who I am glad to see has not slavishly followed the French text, but has included comments of his own where these seemed appropriate. This brings the total pages to 374, the translation a soft-cover supplement — it is, of course, somewhat annoying to have to link the English captions to the pictures so ably displayed in the main tome.

That apart, what a formidable book this is! It covers all the known Voisin models, with specifications, catalogue extracts, engineering drawings and the like, although I would have appreciated a little more on the remarkable straight-twelve chassis, actually using two six-cylinder power-units coupled together. That apart, there is little to criticise. I noted two spellings of Zborowski, (Count), both incorrect, two renderings of Montlhéry and was disappointed that Peter Hull did not mention the 4-litre Voisin with which Capt (later Sir) AG Miller lapped Brooklands at 101.23 mph in June 1927 — presumably one of the many Voisin record-breakers, and it would be nice to know which one. It is these impressive, well-streamlined recordbreaking racing cars which Voisin built and used so effectively after he had given up participation in touring car and Grand Prix races (notably with the unusual “tank”shaped sleeve-valve cars in the 1923 French GP) that form many of the large and impressive pictures used in this great book. Even after-crash shots are included, and there are photographs of the lesser-known French drivers who were entrusted with these Voisins.

So whether you seek information and illustrations of the chic Voisins that enlivened the European motoring scene in the 1920s, of the exciting racing and record-cars, or of Voisin the designer and creator, this is a magnificent way of enjoying such nostalgic fancies, especially as the bulk of the photographs used have not been seen in print previously. A unique feature of this coffee table-size history is the cover of the main volume, which is of metal, depicting the famous Voisin bird mascot in art-deco style, and actually bolted to the book’s thick card cover. Which reminds me of a story told by the late Edgar Duffield in The Auto, to the effect that “Papa” Voisin would not have this mascot attached to a radiator cap until the car involved had passed satisfactorily its road test at the factory, an anecdote you can add to the many in this welcome new one-make history. It was brave of New Cavendish Books to embark on it, the editing the responsibility of Narisa the grand-niece of Prince Bira. Although the Voisin is a comparatively rare make, they have contrived to endow the book with 118 fine colour-plates, to back up the 600 pictures in all.

Such individual-make books are important and I suppose they sell roughly half to owners of the cars described, half to those who read all forms of motoring history. In spite of the considerable diversity and numbers of Voisins made, after Gabriel Voisin turned from aeroplanes to cars, the make is now distinctly thin on the road, so one hopes the requisite quantity of readers will be found. In fact, only 2000 copies of the book will be printed and those purchasing it prior to May 24th obtained it for £75. It should appeal to those who study coachbuilding as well as cars, for the elegant Voisins appealed to Presidents, Princes, and film-stars of the calibre of Josephine Baker and Rudolph Valentino. Overall, it is an interesting story, well told and superbly illustrated, with its rather sad ending. It is important to emphasise that this is, indeed, a most detailed study as far as information was available, of the technicalities of all the Voisin models, nor just a repeat or embellishment of Voisin’s own book My Thousand and One Cars, which indeed, is corrected in some of its exaggerated details. (Voisin also, of course, wrote a companion volume, My Ten Thousand and One Kites, about his aeroplanes).

The cover is a typical New Cavendish/White Mouse hallmark and were books sold on weight this one would gain instant success, Automobiles Voisin turning the scales at 8lb 2oz, a mere 12oz lighter than the Bugatti Magnum. (I ran out of weights, and nearly resorted to the local weighbridge!)

Joking apart, this is an important as well as a highly “browsable” contribution to motoring history and the translation, partly subsidised by the Michael Sedgwick Memorial Trust, most useful to those who, at school, neglected their French primers for The Autocar. — WB

***

The MG CC’s Triple-M Yearbook, 1990 is something rather unique in Club life and its appearance is a notable event for MG enthusiasts, because apart from its fine presentation and colour pictures, it goes into much detail about MG history and that of historic examples of MGs which have been restored, MMM Register members being notably conscientious about putting things back as nearly as possible to original order, and tracing their cars’ history.

For example, the current edition of the Yearbook, edited by Guy Harris, carries articles on a carefully restored ex-works C-Type Montlhèry Midget which was raced at Brooklands and the Nürburgring, the J2 given to Doreen Evans on her 17th birthday and used by her for trials, the ex-Eddie Hall K3 restored in Canada, the ex-Langley/Bastock J2 trials car and the ex-Ted Lund P-Type, these descriptions made extremely interesting by the inclusion of data on the cars’ histories, and by photographs from those days, particularly about the Doreen Evans’ and the Langley/Bastock trials car. Incidentally, the interesting point is made that whereas classic car insurance underwriters specify annual mileages of 1500 to 3000 to qualify for reductions in premiums, the Langley J2 MG clocked up a trials-mileage of 15,762 during part of the 1933 season.

The Yearbook gains some fun by republishing pre-war advertisements; mingled with the 1991 adverts, these can come as quite a shock! And there is more! This 72-page, magazine-size Yearbook has John Thornley’s memories of the magic years of MG, reports and results of the Triple-Register member’s successes in the 1990 competition season, a discourse on the Auckland CC of NZ badge (based on the MG Nuvolari drove in the TT), an article on the bodies put on MGs in Australia, to avoid customs duty on Abingdon-made coachwork, notes on the restoration of an L-Type Magna and a 1931 M-Type Midget and on vintage MGs in general and, on the technical front, how to fit a J2 with a full-flow oil-filter, etc.

Clearly the Triple-M Register has a Worldwide influence. This 1990 Yearbook has a photographic front cover — reminding one that that was how the pre-war Light Car & Cyclecar did it — depicting Barry Foster’s C-Type Midget, VD 30, which won the 1989 Car-of-the-Year, and 1989 MGCC and Triple-M Register Speed Championships, in a watersplash during the 1933 Scottish Rally — another slice of history. The “Bellevue” pictures which accompany the story of the rebuilding the Doreen Evans’s J2 are excellent and remind one of the days when badges —MGCC, BARC, JCC, AA, RAC, etc — and her bulldog mascot could be carried on a car without the fear of them being “lifted”.

On a less happy note there are Obituaries to Henry Stone and Wilson McComb. My only criticism is that the picture-captions are in very small, faint, print and that they are difficult to read; but we tend to err that way ourselves!

Those who want to savour this MG book can buy it for the very modest price of £5.00, £6.00 if overseas, from Malcolm Green, Knowle House, Hooke Road, East Horsley, Leatherhead, Surrey, KT24 5DY, cheques made out to the MGCC, MMM Register. — WB

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