Book Reviews, March 1969, March 1969

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“Milestones in a Motoring Life”, by Dudley Noble. 252 pp. 8 13/16 in. x 5 7/16 in. (The Queen Anne Press Ltd., Giles House, 49, Poland Street, London, W.1. 36s.)

If 1969 continues like this, book-reviewing for Motor Sport is going to be very enjoyable! Because Dudley Noble’s keenly anticipated autobiography of a busy motoring life fully lives up to the enthusiasm with which we awaited it. It captures admirably the very early days of motoring journalism and life in a London suburb at the turn of the century. On the latter count Noble is quite a match for the established recounters of period history. His craving to travel led him into the Motor Trade, first as a tester of Rover motorcycles. This led on to a considerable position with the Rover Company. For young Noble had plenty of initiative. Before the First World War, for instance, he contrived to get a film made free for Rover, showing how their motorcycles were built and tested, which resulted in a pay increase of 6d. an hour! This was probably the first documentary on the Motor Industry and is now in the National Film Archives.

Dudley Noble tells of how he first went abroad in 1913, riding a Rover solo in the Paris-Nice Trial, retiring when all the luggage fell off. This was the forerunner of subsequent adventurous journeys innumerable, which are graphically and fascinatingly described in “Milestones in a Motoring Life”. Noble does not omit interesting details of shortcomings which assailed famous motorcycles and cars; if you read his book you will know of the nasty trouble developed by the very early Rover motorcycles, of what happened to 9/20 Rover worm-drive back axles and to a pioneering attempt to put an electric starter on a 1919 Rover Fourteen, and the inside story of the failure of the complicated Poppe-designed 14/45 and 14/65 Rovers (there is no mention of the reasonably-successful Brooklands Rover).

Dudley Noble’s publicity stunts for Rover are recounted in some detail and make it impossible to put his book down. The attempts to beat the “Blue Train” across France, not always successful, are not only interesting in themselves but are essays capturing splendidly the “feel” and atmosphere of Continental motoring in those times.

After Noble had left the Rover to join Rootes he developed his flair for publicity runs very successfully and in his book tells, again in fascinating detail, of how he took a Hillman Wizard, using a Hillman Vortic as tender car, with Harold Pemberton through Sahara heat and Alpine snows to boost its announcement at the Albert Hall in January 1931 (racing driver George Bedford read the maps) and of the near-disaster over the programmes for that important function, delayed three months because Wizard production didn’t go smoothly.

Then there is the story of the run from Coventry to Cairo in a Hillman 75 towing a Car Cruiser caravan and of the error made in designing the tow-bar, and how ten capitals were visited in ten days, using a 1937 Humber Snipe.

Having devoured this, you can read about a trouble-free trip across the Sahara in a Humber Snipe with de Normanville gearbox—”Motoring’s Sixth Sense”—towing a caravan through the soft sand, with A. J. Appleby, the then-Editor of The Autocar, one of the party. Other publicity stunts are described, not forgetting the attempt to race the Orient Express in a 1937 Humber Snipe which ended when the engine ran its big-ends for a very simple but astonishing reason, rectified directly as a result of the run. Noble took a 2-litre Sunbeam-Talbot to America on the J.C.C. Cavalcade of British Cars in 1938, covered the 1939 Monte Carlo Rally in the latest Humber Snipe with Gordon Wilkins, drove out to Poland when the Lithuanian frontier was re-opened in that year, using a Hillman Fourteen, and competed in the last pre-war R.A.C. Rally in Jack Barclay’s Rolls-Royce Wraith which had such startling items of equipment as a heater and screen demister, apart from innovations like a glass roof to woo the Concours d’Elegance judges. All this, and much more, is most interestingly described, Dudley being a seasoned motoring writer when this reviewer was a Motor Sport contributor just out of short pants earning distinctly nominal fees. . . .

Going back to an earlier part of this absorbing autobiography, there is a very interesting chapter about the 1914/18 war, in which Noble served in M.T., commencing with a 5-ton British Berna van belonging in peacetime to Johnny Walker and later working with an ambulance fleet of excellent Model-T Fords and dubious Siddeley-Deasys (worm-drive axle trouble again), and, on leave, buying himself an Argo tourer.

Throughout his book Dudley Noble provides a sort of running commentary of motoring developments to tie together his own memories. Because he met and knew almost everyone of importance in the game it is impossible to refer to all the famous people you will meet in the pages of “Milestones in a Motoring Life” but they add enormously to the book and, indeed, Major Gordon McMinnies, Group Capt. Maurice Newnham, O.B.E., D.F.C., and H. G. Henly contribute long items, and the Foreword is by His Grace The Duke Of Richmond and Gordon. There is also a most acceptable Preliminary Chapter by Alfred Pemberton, which is about the very early days of motoring and is a pocket “Cars I Have Owned” in itself.

The closing chapters are about the formation of the Guild of Motoring Writers and Dudley’s travel magazine Milestones and how the I.A.M. came into being, etc. The illustrations in the middle of the book consist of nostalgic pictures of the old days and the Rover and Rootes cars used on Noble’s epic journeys, which, without being flamboyant, are nicely complementary to the text. Well done, Dudley!

On a personal note, I found Christmas 1968 greatly enhanced by the opportunity to read an advance copy of “Milestones in a Motoring Life”. It was an excellent foil to the moon-rocket programmes on TV! Only very minor items caused slightly raised eyebrows. For instance, Percy Bradley is described as Secretary of the Brooklands A.R.C. but he was in fact Clerk-of-the-Course, the late Kenneth Skinner being Secretary from 1907 to 1940. Then I thought that the flat-twin Rover Eight was based on a Singer design, but the author says it was a design bought from Swift, and he should know. I was also interested to note that the designer of the H.E. is quoted as Major H. E. Barker. This is one of the most enjoyable motoring books I have read for a long time.—W. B.

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“Vickers Aircraft Since 1908”, by C. F. Andrews. 566 pp. 8 13/16 in. x 5½ in. (Putnam & Go. Ltd., 9, Bose Street, Govern Garden, London, W.C. 105s.)

This is the ninth in Putnam’s splendid series of one-make aeronautical history books, the others covering Shorts, Bristol, Boeing, De Havilland, Avro, Blackburn, Hawker and Fokker, with numerous supporting titles—and Handley-Page, Westland/Saunders-Roe, Gloster, Curtiss, Airspeed, Miles and E.E.C. histories will not be long in emerging. I have used so many superlatives about these Putnam aviation books that I have just about exhausted them, but this is no reason for finding Mr. Andrews’ work on Vickers, which follows the usual pattern with photographs, plans and data tables innumerable, on good art paper, any less praiseworthy.

After describing the Vickers airships the author takes us through the whole of Vickers productions, type by type, from the early monoplanes, the evolution of the Gunbus and the 1914/18 war-time designs, to the Vimy and Vernon right down to the VC10. The twin-engined Vimy was one of the impressive big aeroplanes of my schooldays, to those chapters were avidly read. I was a little disappointed not to come upon a reference to the Vimy which crashed on take-off at Brooklands on the morning of a B.R.D.C. 500-Mile Race and had to be left in the Byfleet ditch all day—it intrigued me that Vimys and Virginias, and indeed later Vickers Viastra and 14-seater Imperial Airways airliners, could take off from the confines of pre-war Brooklands, and the Vimys from Kenley, then unfenced—but I did read of the M.1/30 biplane which broke up so completely over Brooklands one week-day when I was there, its pilot and observer parachuting down and its torpedo being found eventually buried in a churchyard, after notices had been posted at local Police Stations, etc., requesting its return! This is no criticism of the book, because it is an overall history, not a work describing each aeroplane of each type, although much detail about all the Vickers types is included, aided by lists made in 1919 by Paul Wyand. Anyway, Brooklands enthusiasts will not only relish the backgrounds behind many of the Vickers machines illustrated but will be pleased with the author’s reference to the Vickers works at the Fork, the flight shed on the Byfleet side in 1923, Eric Fernihough’s garage, new in 1926, seen from the aerodrome, views of wooded St. George’s Hill from the air, and the bridge across the river Wey to the aerodrome, although more about the first-named, whether the Itala motor works were still there when Vickers moved in in 1915, would have been interesting. Nor is the rumour I once heard, that the test pilot had to be bribed to fly the Vickers Jockey confirmed!

This is personal carping, however, and as a serious aviation history the book is first class. The 1919 Atlantic flight, Hendon air displays, the King’s Cup races, amphibions landing on the Thames, and so on, are most nostalgically recalled from the Vickers’ viewpoint, and the Wellington is especially well covered. There is a picture or “Dizzy” Addicott flying the recently built Gunbus replica and one of test pilot “Tiny” Scholefield chief test pilot from 1926 to 1928, in the cockpit of a racing car, captioned as engaged in “his pastime of motor racing”, although this is surely an exaggeration, as he only drove Miller’s Buick a few times. If Scholefield is thus mentioned, what of Capt. Stan Cockerell who drove a Lloyd-Lord in 1923, even if he didn’t lap at over 55 m.p.h.? A chart of Vickers insignia down the years is included and should be compared to that on the Vickers’ sheds at the Track at different periods.

Anything you need to know about Vickers aeroplanes is in this great book. Even if you are not in need of it as a reference work, ask your Library for it and enjoy the quite fascinating bits of incidental history within its pages.—W. B.

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“British Aeroplanes—1914-1918”, by J. M. Bruce. 742 pp. 11¼ in. x 8¾ in. (Putnam & Co., 9, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, W.C.2. 168s.)

This comprehensive work, of breathtaking detail and copiously illustrated with large photographs, many of them exceedingly rare, beautifully produced, sets out to clear up myths which have arisen over British aeroplanes of the First World War period due to sensational and not always accurate writing by other authors. Having said this the writer of “British Aircraft—1914-1918” must be confident of the accuracy of his own researches, and while we are not qualified to judge him in detail statements, his reputation is sufficient for this remarkable book to carry our strong recommendation.

It repeats the contents of the same author’s “British Aeroplanes—1914-1918” published in 1957, but those who missed this significant work will be glad to learn of the 1969 second impression.—W. B.

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Foulis have published “The Motorist’s Interpreter”, price 8s. 6d., which the R.A.C. is to sell to its members. The book gives the English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Serbo-Croat interpretations of over 700 sentences applicable to motoring situations. While we cannot imagine anyone trying to say in a strange language, for instance, “The oil gets-very hot and I can hear a strange noise . . .” or “The radiator is leaking. There’s a hole in it”, by reading the book, the idea is presumably to find the passage required and show it to the person whom one wants to make understand. As such, it could be useful, even indispensible.

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Many reviews of each racing season are published, good, bad and indifferent. They constitute, if conscientiously done, a valuable source of reference for journalists, historians and followers of motor racing who wish to check back on what happened in past Grand Prix races. One of the best things of this kind is the “Autocourse” review, which covers not only F.1 racing but sports-car races and rallies, and contains not only grids, lap charts and results but many fine pictures, a few in full colour, and authoritative articles giving coverage of F.2, Tasman, Can-Am and Indianapolis racing, etc., although we confess we have not checked all its reports against our own for accuracy. The 1968 edition includes the Mexican G.P. It runs to 215 12 5/8 x 9¼ in. pages, carries advertising, costs 55s., and is published by Haymarket Press Ltd., Gillow House, 5, Winsley Street, London, W. 1.