Reviews, June 2005

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Kings of the Nürburgring by Chris Nixon, ISBN 0-85184-070-1, Published by Transport Bookman Ltd., £45.00

You’re drawn instantly to this book. The cover shows Juan Manuel Fangio — his Maserati 250F looking tiny on the wide, grey, rough track surface — heading into the North Turn during his amazing drive in the 1957 German Grand Prix. The sun is shining, lighting up the rural landscape beyond. It’s not your usual Flugplatz or Karussell angle and is all the more striking for it.

Spanning 1925 to 1983, from when Otto Creutz — the head of administration for the local Adenau region — pushed ahead with plans to build the Nürburgring, to its last international car race, Nixon’s latest tome is based on a whimsical theme: he has selected 14 ‘Ringmeisters’, one for each mile of the awesome Nordschleife. It’s a lovely idea, but where it falls down is in its slightly clumsy realisation. Each of the 14 ‘Ringmeisters’ — from Caracciola to Ickx — is given his own paragraph. Their stories (with background on other events to put their ‘Ring drives into context) are told in typically thorough Nixon style, but where some careers overlapped you find yourself reading about the same race time and again.

Even that’s not necessarily an insurmountable problem, but the race accounts are just that — race accounts, and too dry to be a really enjoyable read.

Having said that, there is a wealth of information here and the historical detail is fantastic. I didn’t know that the name ‘Nürburgring’ came from a competition (the project initially revelled in the snappy title of ‘Die Erste Deutsche Gebirgs-Renn und Prüfungsstrecke im Kreis Adenau’!), and I had never realised that poor old Creutz was persecuted by the Nazis for belonging to a rival party. There’s great stuff too on Stirling Moss pushing himself so hard in the 1958 1000Km that he was ill for almost a week, a glossary of what the corner names mean, and Jackie Stewart admitting that he just couldn’t match Jochen Mass around the 14 miles in a Capri touring car! On the negative side, there is some poor proofreading resulting in far too many typos for a book of this feel.

There is similar inconsistency in the photos. Some are superb, others reproduced appallingly, although an impressive — if slightly chilling — touch is the inclusion of some Nazi programme covers from the ’30s.

Overall this is a bit of a letdown. An inspired idea, but one left wanting in its execution. — MS

***

1er Rally Paris-Dakar: Les Portes du Rêve by Michel Delannoy, ISBN 2914920431, Published by Editions du Palmier, €42

Thierry Sabine fell in love with the desert during the ’77 Abidjan-Nice Rally. Determined to conceive the world’s toughest motorsport event, he set up the Paris-Dakar for the following year with the maxim: ‘A challenge for those who go. A dream for those who stay behind.’

The author recounts the event’s birth with humour, and there are first-hand testimonies from some of those who took part in the inaugural running. Some super images, too, of highly unusual machines — Matras, buggies and a ’27 Renault KZ — out of their depth in the dunes. — RH

***

Monza: A Glorious History by Paolo Montagna, ISBN 88-7911-358-5, Published by Giorgio Nada Editore, £25.00

This is the official publication of the Automobile Club of Milan, the body that built Monza in just three months in 1922 and remains the custodian of one of the sport’s most famous venues. And it reads like it.

Although some of it is quite interesting — did you know that the venue became infested with chicanes in the 1930s after the triple-death Monza Grand Prix of ’33? — it’s hardly riveting stuff. Where it scores is photographically, with some terrific period shots. It’s a dual-language Italian/English book, but the translation is too literal (one caption reads: “Clay Regazzoni, driver of Ferrari and of other teams in the Seventies, is an assiduous frequenter of the Monza paddock”) and there are mistakes (Jimmy Brian!). Well worth it for the pics though.– MS

***

Maserati 450S – complete racing history from 1956-62  by Michel Bollee and Willem Oosthoek,  ISBN 2-951-3642-5-3, Published by Michel Bollée, £42.95

Only nine examples of the brutish 450S were built, but amid a flurry of crashes and breakages the over-engined beast almost won the 1957 sportscar title — and was promptly ruled out of contention by the new 3-litre limit. That much of their history is well-known; but six of the V8 machines raced on in the States, and this is the first time we’ve seen a comprehensive review of those US years (or in fact a book on the 450S). This work matches Oosthoek’s recent one on Birdcages for detail, with chassis numbers for almost every one of the Type 54’s 119 race entries, comprehensive results and individual histories. Bollée gives the Euro story, and the text also covers the Eldorado single-seater and a rear-engined Indy special. Period colour photos enhance an extremely thorough volume. — GC

***

Racing With Mercedes by John Fitch, ISBN 0 9705073 6, Published by Photo Data Research, $29.95

This 128-page psuedo-scrapbook celebrates an American road-racing pioneer and his association with the Three-Pointed Star. There’s real substance to the text thanks to Fitch’s remarkable powers of recall and he’s an entertaining writer, capable of some wonderful throwaway lines. His description of winning the ’51 Argentine GP in an Allard J2 is typical: “Evita Perón gave me the trophy and a kiss and died soon afterwards.”  That said, repetition does creep in — “One of Europe’s top women drivers, I’d always respected Gilberte, one of Europe’s top women drivers” — so a more thorough edit would have been welcome.

While picture reproduction is variable, there are some cracking images, not least of Mercedes-Benz legend Alfred Neubauer wearing a sombrero. Worth a look. — RH

***

Motorfilms Quarterly: Volume 12,  DVD, VHS, 85mins, www.motorfilms.com, DVD £19.99, VHS £14.99

What with everyone getting excited about June’s Dundrod revival meeting, this is a fine time to release previously unseen footage from the ’55 Tourist Trophy on this Northern Irish road circuit. Hidden in the vaults for nearly half a century, its discovery is hardly a cultural event on a par with Brian Wilson’s completion of his Smile album after 37 years, but as a historical document it’s fascinating. The film is silent, so you get an informal voiceover from Doug Nye — and it kind of works, like listening to a mate’s dad telling you what’s going on. And those drifting Mercedes of Moss and Fangio… Wow!  It’s backed up by a propaganda clip on Merc’s 1938 Tripoli GP silverwash, a nice little documentary on Sunbeams in the ’62 Tour de France and an often-dull Girling film of ’58 events. — MS

 

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