Book Reviews - "Motor Racing Mavericks", March 1975, March 1975

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by Doug Nye. 199 pp. 9¾ in. x 5½ in. (B. T. Batsford Ltd., 4, Fitzhardinge Street, London, W1H 0AH. £3.50).

This is a difficult book to review. Knowledgeable students of motor racing history will question the need for it, because what Nye has done is to describe oddballs of machinery that have appeared in racing and record-breaking down the years. Inevitably, therefore, he has repeated much material already well known, or available, to historians. On the other hand, he is a reliable and knowledgeable writer, so that fascinating fresh facets of information are to be gleaned from a book which will no doubt be fascinating in its entirety to the younger generation who follow motoring sport.

As I have said, some of the material has been filched from recent sources, such as that about the exploits of the Baker Electric and Stanley steam-cars, in pursuit of the LSR. But otherwise the text is new and it is certainly comprehensive, covering as it does early American and European record cars, rear-engined and twin-engined projects, front-wheel-drive competition cars (with much restated Alvis history), some of the later European record cars, and the many remarkable endeavours to make the two-stroke win races, from 1926 to 1939, etc.

The later Indianapolis cars built during the 1930s depression get a chapter to themselves and the National racing cars of France form an absorbing study – including, of course, the SEFAC, about which a patriotic but disgruntled spectator is said to have observed “I went to see the SEFAC, but I sefacall”. The less-conventional Alfa Romeos fill another chapter, as do the post-war Cisitalias, Indy cars, Italian GP oddballs and unsuccessful British equivalents. The last of the Harry Miller racers, air-cooled competition cars, and the more recent Indianapolis entries, are also covered.

It will be seen that the book is a decided hotpotch, saved by the knowledgeable status of the author and the allure of unusual approaches to common problems and endeavours. If criticism is justified, it is that Nye puts in some cars which I would call interesting but not unconventional—to which I have no doubt he will retort that it all depends on what is meant by “maverick” – while omitting others that should be there, like, for instance, Taruffi’s double-nacelle record-breaker and the Myles-Rothwell racer with prone driving position. Some of the descriptions are superficial but I enjoyed those about the Butterworth AJB, Ridley Special, the Violets, the SEFAC, the Bugatti 251s, Honda’s air-cooled GP car, the Sachs-Gordine and others. But much of the rest is mostly old-hat, well documented elsewhere, apart from a few worthwhile Nye-asides. In places the language drifts into the “with-it modern” but on the whole I liked this book, which is well indexed and which is full of especially good pictures. It is decently up to date, too, concluding as it does with Colin Chapman’s disgust for the Lotus 64s.

Incidentally, as a Brooklands author, I cannot resist asking how the Talbots “powered away from him (Harvey in a FWD Alvis) round the long Brooklands bankings” during the 1926 British GP, when the Members banking wasn’t included in the course for that race? Otherwise, a well-researched, readable book which may not contain all that much which is new to the older students but which is very worthwhile nevertheless. – W.B.