Book reviews, March 1980, March 1980



Grand Prix Racing — 1906-1914” by T.A.S.O. Mathieson. 300pp, 11¼” x 10″ (F.F. Publishing Ltd., 64, West Smithfield, London, EC1 9EE. £25.00) 

Here is some extremely good news for serious motoring historians and book collectors. That great pictorial study of the French Grand Prix, the most important race of the day from 1906 to 1908 and after a break when voiturette contests took over, from 1912 until the dramatic 1,2,3 triumph for Mercedes on the eve of World War One in 1914, the book compiled by TASO Mathieson and published in the summer of 1965, but long out of print, is now available again, as above, the price including packing and postage.

This is no mere “browsing book” of nice pictures (some 320 of them), although much pleasure can be gained from that usage. It is a very complete record of the greatest of the pre-1915 road races, with entry-lists, order-of-starting, tabulated technical details of all the competing cars, and the results of each of these seven quite-epic contests. And when I say “results” I mean full lists of all the cars in each race, with their lap-times and cumulative race-times, the sort of data only available in more recent time for other races, but from which so much can be deduced by those eager to delve deeply into the outcome. Then, to link all this together, TASO Mathieson, himself a racing driving and an enthusiastic historian, has written his own account of each GP race, after studying many contemporary reports and sifting fact from hearsay and exaggeration. Thus not only has TASO eliminated the fables and those stories of doubtful validity that have long surrounded such reports, but from his unique collection of motor-racing photographs he has produced perhaps the best illustrated book ever to depict so graphically the “Heroic Age” of motor racing.

This great and important book was written in Sintra, with the help of TASO’s wife Sonia. It must contain a picture of every starter in all those early French Grands Prix. From these not only details of the cars and drivers, but the whole background of these races, now so far distant, can be absorbed and appreciated. Thus the dress of the competitors, and of the spectators, many ladies among them, from 1906 to 1914, are of note, and, more interesting to motoring followers, there are the evolution of the replenishment-pits, the advertising banners round the circuits, the temporary bridges and paling fencing erected to keep spectators off the road, the signalling devices, the elaborate scoreboards, and the background of typical Edwardian French villages and countryside that set the Grand Prix scene. But above all it is the splendid pictures of the ancient racing giants in action that are so captivating. TASO has used double-page spreads of the race winners, so that we have Szisz and the invincible 1906 Renault, Felice Nazzaro and the great 1907 Fiat, Christian Lautenschlager and the giant 1908 Mercedes (the first shock to France, then the leading motor-car manufacturing country of the World), the immortal Georges Boillot and the equally-immortal 1912 twin-cam sixteen-valve Peugeot, the same car and driver combination that won in 1913, and finally the diabolically-efficient 4½-litre single-overhead-camshaft Mercedes that took Lautenschlager to victory on July 4th, 1914, all these in magnificent photographic “stills” each measuring an impressive 22½” x 10″. 

My advice to those who revel in this kind of thing is to procure a copy of “Grand Prix Racing — 1906-1914” without delay, because supplies are limited and its like will probably never be seen again. Let me emphasise that this is the original 1965 edition, not a reprint. Already its value has increased in price from the £6.6s charged then, to £25. . . .

Not only is this very complete coverage of some of the greatest of the now-historic motor races of all time but there is a map of each of the circuits used, very long circuits by today’s standards. It occurs to me that anyone going on holiday in the proximity of Le Mans, Dieppe, Amiens or Lyons and who wants to drive round these old race courses should takes copy of TASO’s book with them — its price would represent but a small part of such a vacation and it would then enable any race “landmarks” from the past to be recognised, etc. (In fairness to Kent Karslake, it must be said that he described such circuits in his book about these very races, published sixteen years before Mathieson produced his epic; but at that time only very poor photographic support was available, the antithesis of the book we are now reviewing.) 

I can only say I am captivated with this book, so that I find it stimulating news that it can now be obtained again, by mail-order only, from the address listed above. If them is a small area of disappointment it is that TASO mis-spells the Christian name of Laurence Pomeroy, who wrote so significantly about the design and construction of the pre-WW1 Grand Prix cars, and that he dismisses our Continental Correspondent as “Jenkins”. And there are other spelling errors. But this big book is such an invaluable contribution to early motor racing history, and one from which many interesting deductions could probably be worked out (such as which of the 1914 Mercedes was which in subsequent years — the many and clear photographs amassed by TASO show up detail differences in these and other competing cars — and how narrowly some races in the series were lost) that I can forgive careless proof-reading. It is, indeed, altogether an amazing work, which all libraries of any consequence should possess. What a pity only two books, both poor reflections of this one, exist to take the story on to the post-WWI French Grands Prix! — W.B.

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Historic Racing Cars in Australia” by John B. Blanden. 288pp. 10¼” x 8¼”. (Museum Publishing Company, 26 Thorngate Drive, Belair, South Australia 5052, Australia. £8.25 surface mail, or £9 Airmail.) 

This very interesting soft covered book is a catalogue of all the known historic racing and sports cars in Australia for as far back as anyone can remember. It solves a lot of queries as to what happened to certain cars, known to have been last heard of in Australia. The author owns an Aston Martin DB3S, a Cooper-Climax and a C-type Jaguar and is clearly well versed in Australian vintage and historic matters. It deals with some 230 interesting cars with at least two photographs of each car, and sometimes more, while each car has all its known history documented, even to buying and selling prices over the years and references to specific articles that have appeared on the car in question.

The author makes no claim to infallability and includes a fly-leaf requesting readers to advise him of any errors and omissions. This reviewer has put him right on a few details concerning Alfa Romeo, Alta and Maserati, and the publishers are prepared to put buyers of the book on a mailing list, for updating notes and additions. 

If you like racing cars and their histories you will find this a good buy, while “the trade and the restorers” will find it invaluable. Anyone contemplating making an historic racing car should get a copy of this book, if only to verify which Bugatti, or which Cooper they should not produce. There have been ten Type 37 or 37A Bugattis in Australia and most of the Cooper-Climax production seems to be “down-under”. There are some rare things too, like two Lombards, a 1923 Miller and a 1922 Sunbeam GP car. — D.S.J. 

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Automobile Year No. 27 — 1979-80“. Edited by Douglas Armstrong. 264 pp. 12½” x 9½” (Patrick Stephens Ltd., Bar Hill, Cambridge, CB3 8EL. £17.50). 

Once again comes this annual treat from Edita of Lausanne, that magnificently-produced, Rolls-Royce of annuals about the current automotive scene and last year’s competition season. It has been going since 1953, this de-luxe reference work, and it is said that No. 2 sold the other day for £1,000. In the opinion of the British distributors the latest “Automobile Year” is “unquestionably the best yet”.

It is the high-quality illustrations that do to much for this classic annual. This time there are 33% more colour plates than previously, making a total of 131, backed up by 329 very good black and white illustrations, and 16 circuit maps. This big book is casebound and the articles in the current edition include Duggie Armstrong’s welcome review, with full results, of the 1979 F1 season, together with all the expected tabulated results of other races, rallies, and Championships. Then Amy Guichard, the Editorial Director, has a foreword praising modern German motor cars, to lead in to articles on American and Japanese cars, which include a survey of 1945-1980 US models. Styling is covered by Dali (an odd piece, this), new models and recent developments by Farenc, and Mike McCarthy looks at electronics as they will affect the future of the Motor Industry.

So it is all there, with those splendid illustrations and high-class advertising that rounds off the prestige aspect of “Automobile Year”. The car makers who support it this time number Mercedes-Benz, Renault, Fiat, Jaguar-Rover-Triumph, Maserati and Lancia.

The section I could so well do without is that by Tim Chivers about those Replicars of former great automobiles, which he finds nostalgic. Most of them look rather silly to anyone who remembers and appreciates the cars of which these are supposed to be copies, and are mostly an easy (if you are wealthy) way of attracting attention and wooing some of the fun of vintage motoring while carefully avoiding the hardships and difficulties associated with it, and the coping with which is all part of it, to genuine enthusiasts. I have seen ill-informed onlookers drool over a Sbarro Royale at a gathering where there were genuine Grand Prix Bugattis to admire, which merely emphasises my point. And have you ever followed a Barchetta with hood up? (I sense that Chivers isn’t quite sure of himself, in spite of saying he would very much like a Sbarro BMW and calling the Panther J72 “another splendid motor”. If it’s wind-in-the-hair you want, what’s wrong with a Morgan or a Caterham Seven? But this needn’t stop you from buying this superb annual! — W.B.

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Those who are unacquainted with recent developments in the commercial-vehicle field will find much of interest to them in Warne’s Transport Library book “Trucks of the Sixties and Seventies” compiled by Nick Baldwin. It covers the World’s mainly heavier trucks, and is usefully informative about the significant technical and styling changes of those last two decades. The illustrations are clear and the text easy to read and there are some surprises in store for those who have become behind in following engineering and model developments in the Truck Industry. The book measures 7½” x 9½”, contains 176 carefully-chosen pictures, and sells for £5.95 from Frederick Warne Ltd., 40, Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3HE — W.B. 

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Those who find it hard to distinguish one American automobile from the next, will find “American Grilles” by authors Fratolillo and Salmieri, who spent two years photographing the fronts of American cars of the 1930s, through the 1940s, into the 1950s, of considerable help. They have selected 101 of their pictures, which are reproduced on fine glossy art-paper, to a page size of 8½” x 10½”, one picture to a page, in this soft-cover book. They decided on this 1930-50 Period because they say car-design (they mean styling) changed radically in 1934, with the Chrysler Airflow, and that grilles were then changed annually thereafter, until conformity returned at the close of the 1950s. American car-buffs should love this lavish presentation of fascinating trivia. The book is published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Ltd., 24-28, Oval Road, London, NW1 7DX, and it costs £4.95, with a hardback edition at £8.40. — W.B. 

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Useful and interesting in a different way are three “Aircraft Museums Directories”, distributed by Battle of Britain Prints International Ltd., 3 New Plaistow Road, London E15 3JA. The first of these illustrated directories is the British one, compiled by Gordon Riley, Editor of Vintage Aircraft Magazine; it costs 65p in the UK, or 74p by post. Then there is the European Directory, by Bob Ogden, priced at 95p or 104p by post. The third directory is rather different, being a complete compendium of vintage aircraft, containing their Reg. Letters, Owners, Bases and with comments. It is a well illustrated work, by Gorden Riley, and just the job for recognising the older aeroplanes vou see at rallies or in the Museums. This little book runs to 72 pages and covers aeroplanes from a lone Aero Commander 520 to a couple of SPP Yakoviav C-IIs. It sells for £1.25 in the UK. — W.B. 

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Anybody involved in the organisation of outside events, be they motoring activities, church fetes or major agricultural shows, should find The Showman’s Directory, the 1980 edition of which has just been published, an invaluable aid. Whether you want to hire a marquee or a mobile “loo”, the Marlboro Aerobatic Team or an axe racing team (what is that?), this comprehensive directory will tell you where to find them. As well as a list of contractors and entertainment, it includes a list of principal Shows in Great Britain, with details of the organisers, a schedule of the major European agricultural shows, dates of the main Steam Rallies, a Breed Society List and a list of agricultural and equestrian Press correspondents. The Showman’s Directory is available direct from the publishers, Stephen and Jean Lance, Brook House, Mint Street, Godalming, Surrey GU7 IHE. Price £2.00, including postage and packing. — C.R.