Book reviews, May 1979, May 1979

“Triumph Cars The Complete 75-year History” by Richard Langworth and Graham Robson. 312 pp. 10 in. x 7 1/4 in. (Motor Racing Publications Ltd., 2.8 Devonshire Road, London, W4 2HD. £14.95).

This book, of very high class and containing a great many well-produced pictures, many of them rare, is for dedicated (and looking at the price, one might add well-breeched) fanatics for the Triumph make. I say this because the subject has been well aired in print previously. We have had from the prolific Robson, who presumably taps a typewriter in his sleep “The Story of Triumph Sports Cars”, which covers the famous TR series and the controversial straight-eight Triumph Dolomite, and the same author’s “The Triumph TRs – A Collector’s Guide”, and we have had Richard Langworth’s “Fifty Years of Triumph”. So the only excuse for another tome about this make with the complex history is that the whole pattern should be set out in one volume.

That is what this volume is and no doubt Triumph owners, of whom there is a growing number, it seems in America, will lap it up. To me, while I am pleased to have such a very complete reference work, the book would seem an expensive luxury (but we live in an age when people permit themselves expensive luxuries, no matter) to stack beside those other Triumph titles. Especially as the motorcycle side is only superficially dealt with and not a great deal more emerges about the supercharged Donald Healey Dolomite, which is described as the “greatest Triumph ever built”. Indeed, the chapter devoted to this Alfa-crib, exciting sports model occupies only twelve pages including the pictures, most of which have been seen before, and I am proud to say that most of the “new material” here is a reprint of Motor Sport information and the true story about the Dolomite Eight which Donald Healey wrote for us back in 1972.

The other Triumph cars get good coverage, as the book’s chapter headings reveal: “The Quality Light Car”, “The Last Word in the Smallest Class” (all about the Super Seven), “From Scorpion to Southern Cross”, “The Smartest Cars in the Land”, “Dolomite and Demise”, “War and Resuscitation”, “Roadster and Renown”, “Mayflower: A Second American Invasion”, “The Sports Car America Loved Best”, “Hark the Herald Angle”, “TR7 and the Future”, etc.

Triumph derivations are covered and the usual appendices give production figures, model specifications, and similar data. But while personalities are described and quoted, the book lacks some of the freshness and intimacy with its subject that one has come to expect of the better one-make histories. It is biased towards the American reader, and some rather unusual comparisons are made, such as likening the 1953 Triumph Mayflower to the 1973 Volkswagen Beetle, for example. On the lesser-known Triumphs this book is very good and it is presumably aimed at members of the ten Triumph Clubs and Registers if they can afford it. Technically I have no grumbles, except to query whether the Cozette compressor can be called a Roots blower and whether the lead-bronze bearings that ruined an 8-cylinder Dolomite crankshaft were an innovation in 1934. – didn’t Marmon-Roosevelt have them in 1929?

Incidentally, the authors say they don’t know why the Dolomite was blown – why didn’t they ask Donald? The book is as up-to-date as such a book can be, and the pictures arc plentiful and very nice, if you like Triumphs.

“I Kept No Diary” by Air Commodore F. R. (Rod) Banks, CB, OBE, HonFRAeS, FIMechE, CEng. 247 pp. 9 in. x 5 1/2 in. (Airlift Publications, Shrewsbury) Ltd., 7 Sr. John’s Hill, Shrewsbury, £6.50).

The aviation titles are returning and at last we are getting books about the aero-engine aspect. That is what this very welcome book is mainly about, its sub-title being “Sixty Years with Marine Diesels, Automobile and Aero Engines”. The author is very well-known as an expert of the “hot-end”, as he has it, of the internal combustion engine and the best fuels for it to burn efficently. So his book is highly informative, in an historical way, about many famous and infamous engines. But as he has set down his memories of these in the form of a crisp autobiography, “I Kept No Diary” is very entertaining reading. Incidentally, in spite of the book’s title, Banks has a good memory and I cannot fault the book for accuracy. Airlife Publications are to be congratulated for having signed him as a very distinguished author.

The Air Commodore who has lived such a packed life among our sort of machinery and is still an active consultant for American aviation companies at the age of 80, makes no bones about having had a humble beginning. Also, a very tough life at sea, as a young man. His reminiscences make fascinating reading, and pack in some very sound morals. By page nine we are at Brooklands, watching Codyere in 1908 and Wilkinson crash the 27.9 h.p. Benz that Banks’ father had advised the Australian Craig to buy, after he had had several Brown cars from the same source.

That sets the scene for the enjoyable reading that follows the author’s experiences in the First World War, his associations with Peter Hooker of Walthamstow (see page 620 of this issue), his Schneider Trophy and Italian Air Speed Record bid associations, and the aero-engine and other technical contacts he had all along the years. With the sound technical references are blended asides about all manner of very famous people whom Air Commodore Banks met while prescribing leaded fuels for engines of all kinds, etc. (The aero-engines he refers to are all-embracing, from ABC to Wolseley-Hispano Viper.) His experiences in the Ministry of Aircraft Production and the Ministry of Supply (in whose offices, incidentally, I used to write some of the war-time issues of Motor Sport in slack times!) contrast with his more active WWI experiences but enable him to introduce us to some more very famous personalities, including Winston Churchill and “The Beaver”. Banks’ fascinating recollections and very clear observations cover a wide field of our kind of spectrum, brought up to the era of the jet-engine and the Rolls-Royce RB211/Lockheed Tri-Star fiasco

In his closing pages Banks looks at French higher education and he points to the state of Britain today and possible cures for our stagnation and inflation, concluding, with reference to this country’s recovery, “It can be done but will it be done?”.

There are enough, if undramatic, pictures to carry the book along very nicely, and appendices cover data on engine fuels and aero-engine production figures. It is a book which might usefully be read in conjunction with “By Jupiter!”, which we reviewed last month. Incidentally, the Air Commodore still runs a Bristol 407 (illustrated), kept like a new pin and his driver is the R-R-trained John Mayo. The car has run more than 300,000 miles, and I believe both its owner and his driver are readers of Motor Sport… “I Kept No Diary” is a damned good book.

“Wings On My Sleeve” by Captain Eric “Winkle” Brown, CBE, DSC, AFC, MA, FRAeS, RN. 202 pp. 9 in. x 5 1/2 in. (Airlift Publications (Shrewsbury) Ltd., 7 St. John’s Hill, Shrewsbury. £4.95).

Another book of great appeal, to those who like WW2 and subsequent flying, is this reprint of a title that was first published in 1961. It is a pilot’s personal account of flying for the Fleet Air Arm during the war and as a test pilot afterwards. What makes this such an outstanding contribution to the aviation story is that the author not only made more catapulted take-offs from ship’s decks than any other pilot but he holds the “world’s record” for 2,407 deck landings – and deck landings were regarded as hazardous. He is recognised as the greatest Naval air pilot of all time and ranks as one of the World’s greatest test pilots. His story is one well worth re-publishing and here it is, in clear type, well illustrated, at a competitive price.

“Only Here For The Beer: Gerry Marshall” by Jeremy Walton. 157 pp. 10 in. x 7 in. (Haynes Publishing Group, Sparkford, Somerset, BA22 7JJ. £6.95).

We sometimes bemoan the fact that motor racing and other motoring competitions lack the one time flamboyant, “larger-than-life” characters who once enlivened the tracks and paddocks. Well, these days there is Gerry Marshall. He is immediately thought of in connection with rallying and racing for Team Vauxhall but he has, in fact, as this book reminds us, driven other makes of cars in all kinds of competition events.

Jeremy Walton, acting as Gerry’s biographer, has set it all down in “Only Here For The Beer” and has gone out of his way to indicate the sort of bigger-than-very-big character that is the genial giant Gerry Marshall. The publishers have entered into the spirit of the thing by augmenting the text with a large and very fine collection of photographs, most of which reflect the Gerry way of life and motoring, beer and girls off the course, sideways, very much tail-out motoring on it. I

t isn’t exactly my kind of thing and will be foreign to those who pine for the days of The Right Crowd and No Crowding – except that Brooklands bred wild men in the Marshall mould. What interests me more are the technical descriptions and asides about the kind of motor cars Marshall has used, such as the Vauxhall Ventora V8 Big Bertha, the legendary 160 m.p.h. Vauxhall Firenza V8 Baby Bertha, the Firenza Club car Old Nail, etc. Those who see the sense of a big engine in a modest-size car will like the still-born idea of Marshall’s for an 8.2-litre Can Am Vauxhall Cavalier. But those cars apart, it’s all there the Minis, the Lotus and TVR, the Blydenstein Vauxhalls, Morris Marina, Hillman Avenger, Clan, Lister-Jaguar, all the Fords to Capri 3000S, to the Triumph Dolomite Sprint days, etc. As it unfolds, most of the saloon-car dicers of the time figure. And Gerry’s spectacular career is detailed, month by month, from February 1967 to November 1977, at the end of the book.

The Foreword is by Roger Clark, who suggests that the title could have been “Sideways to Victory” and the author has tried to show he can compete with Marshall, character wise, by telling us that he was expelled from school, ended an apprenticeship to a hot-car journal with “honourable dismissal”, was taken on by the Ford Motor Company because they mistook him for someone else, has been in and out of Standard House, and that by the time he was working for Ford’s they had ceased the competition activities he was promoting for them! – W.B.

Michelin have issued their 1979 tourist guide to Great Britain and Ireland.

The English Tourist Board has published a colour-illustrated booklet “Tourism In England”. 

Those interested in transport in rural districts will find the subject covered comprehensively in “Rural Rides”, published by the National Consumer Council. 

Routledge and Kcgan Paul of Henley-on-Thames, have brought out “Golden Age of Busts” by Charles F. Klapper, which is this author’s companion book to his “Golden Age of Tramways”. Among a host of ‘bus histories this quality book looks more at the development of the omnibus companies in this country, especially from the WW1 period onwards, with some anecdotes to liven the text. The publishers have been rather sparing with pictures. The book is priced at £8.75.

B. T. Batsford Ltd., 4 Fitzhardinge Street, London, Wi H oAH, have reissued the former “Veteran Motor-Car Pocketbook” by Francis Hutton-Stott and the late Anthony Bird as “The Batsford Guide to Veteran Cars”, presumably under the impression that fashion dictates bigger pockets for men, because the format has increased in size. The text hasn’t been much altered but R. G. Shapland has joined Mr. Hutton-Stott to add the makes of Riley, Lancia, Vulcan and Star, etc. to the original text, together with some more, previously unpublished photographs. The result is a useful alphabetically-arranged reference work for those not conversant with veteran (pre-1919) cars. Those covered run from AC to Zust, with brief histories, condensed specifications for important models, and 165 pictures of the latter. This 196-page 7 1/2 in. x 4 1/4 in. pocketbook costs £4.50. The authors think that the “Vintage Car Pocketbook” that preceded it “remains in its sphere the finest ornament to the literature of motoring which has appeared in sixty years”. Those who have toiled at full-length books may well raise an eyebrow and I am not sure that the same can be said of this latest little volume, attractive and very informative as it is.

“Lucas The First 100 Years” by Harold Nockolds, which I referred to briefly last month, is a very comprehensive, two-volume account of all that went to make Lucas Industries the impressive industrial organisation it is today. From early lamps to fuel-injection, electronic-ignition, the gas turbine, and work generally for the aircraft industry, with the take-overs of other companies along the road, it is all laid bare in this work. The P100 Lucas lamps which showed the Bentleys the way to victory at Le Mans in the vintage years, to Lucas’ part in the BRM Grand Prix cars, is some of the motoring content. Volume one runs to 349 pages, volume two to 432 pages, both of 9 1/2 in. x 6 in. page size. The publishers are David & Charles of Newton Abbot; volume one was published in 1976 and reprinted in 1977 and volume two arrived last year. W.B.