Book reviews, May 1980, May 1980

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Tiger — The Making of a Sports Car” by Mike Taylor. 224 pp. 9½” x 7″ (Gentry Books Ltd., 16 Regency Street, London SW1. £9.95).

In spite of the proliferation of marque histories pumped out in recent years, the Sunbeam Tiger has escaped the publishers’ cage. Now the story of the Rootes Group’s fast hybrid has been told in excellent style by Mike Taylor, an erstwhile Tiger owner, whose painstaking research has overcome the surprising lack of information to create an eminently readable and authoritative book. The Tiger had only a very short production run (June 1964 to July 1964), curtailed by the Chrysler takeover, yet Taylor has found a very worthwhile story in this short life. 

Taylor credits Norman Garrad with having converted the anti-sports car and anti-motorsport views of Lord Rootes just after the war, to the extent that Garrad was permitted to set up a competitions department in 1948. Thus was laid the trail to Rootes’ first and only venture into the high-performance sports car market, via the Sunbeam-Talbot Alpine and the Sunbeam Alpine, the latter, introduced in 1959, styled by Ken Howes in 1956/57 and in Mk. IV form to be the basis of the Tiger. Taylor follows the Alpine from its origins, through its development processes, including the Harrington Alpines, with one of which Proctor and Harper won the Thermal Efficiency Index at Le Mans in 1961, and into the general quest for more power.

Rootes toyed with the idea of Alfa Romeo 1600 or Daimler 2½-litre V8 power for the Alpine, but neither worked, and Jack Brabham’s idea of a big American V8 engine went no further at that stage. Meanwhile Carroll Shelby had created the Cobra out of the AC Ace/small block Ford V8 mix, the success of which, on US road and track, was watched with dismay by Ian Garrad, Norman’s son and Rootes’ West Coast Manager, who saw the need for a Rootes sports car to compete with E-types, Austin-Healeys and Porsches. Subsequently Garrad stirred the couldron which brought together his boss, John Panks, Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles, then Shelby’s chief development engineer and test driver. To cut a long story short, Miles “shoe-horned” a 4.2-litre Ford engine into an Alpine II in March 1963, and the Tiger project was under way. Shelby built a second prototype and it was this that arrived in England on a banana boat in July 1963 for Lord Rootes’ appraisal — which he accomplished with the handbrake full on! 

Taylor goes into great detail about the subsequent development of the “Alpine V8”, the extraordinary arrangement by which FoMoCo became an engine supplier to Rootes, the productionising of the Tiger at Jensen Motors and the production history. I suspect, though, that most Motor Sport readers will be attracted by the chapter entitled simply “Competition”, a fascinating and detailed account of the model’s ill-fated attack on Le Mans in 1964 and its rather more impressive rally record. Another chapter deals with the competition history in the USA. Taylor concludes with a sort of inquest chapter and looks at projects intended to give the model a new lease of life, including the fitment of a Chrysler engine.

A final chapter deals with specific problems to be found with these very fast cars and informs about relevant clubs and spares. Comprehensive appendices provide such gems as performance figures for the individual works rally cars, race and rally successes, comparisons of performance with contemporary sports cars and a list of factory competition options, together with their prices in 1965-66. 

This is a book which no Sunbeam Tiger or Alpine fan should be without, while non-addicts could soon find themselves converted by Taylor’s interesting story. — C.R. 

The Observer’s Book of Motorcycles” by R. M. Croucher. 192pp. 5¾” x 3⅝” (Frederick Warne Ltd., 40 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3HE. £1.50) 

This is the third edition of the useful little reference book that covers more than 50 motorcycle manufacturers from 15 countries, arranged in alphabetical order with brief histories, specifications and photographs for each make and model. Not only is it true “pocket-size” unlike some so-called pocket-book that would not go into a poacher’s pocket, but the price is pocket-size too. In this day and age a book for £1.50 is remarkable and it has to be good value whether you know all about motorcycles or are just beginning to find out. — D.S.J. 

Aston Martin and Lagonda” by Chris Harvey. 245 pp. 10″ X 8½”. “The MG A, B and C” by Chris Harvey. 232 pp. 10″ X 8½”. (Oxford Illustrated Press Ltd., Shelley Close, Headington, Oxford OX3 8HB. £17.95 and £14.95 respectively).

Numbers 5 and 6 in this expensive series from the prolific pen of Chris Harvey. They follow on from Healey, E-type, Jaguar XK and MG T-series offerings and follow the same entertaining, easily read recipe. 

It is simply coincidental that the stories of these two famous British sporting marques should have intertwined since OIP published these separate Harvey titles: Harvey makes no claims to being a clairvoyant. 

The Aston Martin tale begins in the post-War David Brown days and brings us up to the current V8, Volante, Vantage and Lagonda, but does not of course include the startling Bulldog announced in this issue. It takes us through the Feltham and Newport Pagnell days and the vicissitudes of life under the DB and William Willson Company Development ownerships, up to today’s stabilised regime under the guidance of Alan Curtis and his merry men. Separate chapters deal with the Feltharn cars, the Newport built DB4, 5 and 6, the Newport DBS to V8 and the Lagondas. There are chapters on the works racing Aston Martins and Astons and Lagondas generally in competition, contemporary road test reports, a guide to problems on the various cars for potential purchasers and existing owners, a quick reference to all the relevant models and other topics which wall interest Aston Martin enthusiasts.

The MG book follows similar lines, plus useful chapters on interchangeability of spare parts, a dismission of the MG’s potential for modification and concours and competition preparation. I see that my own Janspeed-modified MGB roadster, written up by me in another magazine in 1972, is quoted as haying a maximum speed of 125 m.p.h., which I seem to recall was a printer’s error at the time, and 115 m.p.h. would have been nearer the mark, except downhill with a following wind. But details of my very fast trip through France to the Paul Ricard circuit in an MGB V8 are accurately recalled — I remember it well! Harvey continues to quote registration numbers of contemporary road test cars, assumed from photographs amidst the text; this is dangerous, because all the journals, including Motor Sport, often use cars other than the actual road test cars for photographic purposes. 

No afficionado of the two famous marques should be without either book. But it would not be wise to regard them as definitive histories, for their nets are cast too wide, the research too widespread to allow for total accuracy and errors made by earlier publications and historians tend to be repeated. — C.R. 

* * * 

The Sporting Car Club of South Australia has issued its fourth book, about historic vehicles in that country. This one deals with motorcycles of 1899 to 1930. It is edited by G. H. Brooks, which is a guarantee of accuracy, although there is a loose page of corrections and additions to the No. 1 book of the series; but I am in sympathy with historians prepared to correct theirs, and others, errors. The book contains a fine selection of large pictures, showing motorcycles of all kinds, including competition scenes. As if to remind “pommies” of how tough they can be “down-under”, one picture is of a gentleman with a Levis who invented horse-operated bag-loaders (the animals’ friend?) and who took up motorcycling at the age of 81. . . . The book is available from the Club, at 260 Portrush Road, Beulah Park, South Australia, 5067. — W.B.

* * * 

Following up their very pleasing books about “Bedford Buses and Coaches Since 1931” and “Bedford Commercial Vehicles Since 1931”, Vauxhall Motors Ltd. of Luton have now come up with a splendid 68-page publication titled “A History of Vauxhall”. The large 11½” x 8″ pages are packed with fine pictures and other items from the past of this great Company, with an account of its origins and development running through the text. The photographs of 30/98s, GP and TT Vauxhalls, etc., in furious action at sporting venues should delight all our readers, and the book is also worth getting for the big colour-reproduction of Percy Kidner’s “Prince Henry” Vauxhall in the 1912 Swedish Winter Trials, won by Vauxhall. The painting is by Michael Turner. Almost all the other Vauxhall cars are illustrated, from 1903 to the present. The good news is that if you send a postcard or letter to the Publicity Department of Vauxhall Motors Limited, PO Box No. 3, Luton, LU2 0SY, saying you saw the offer in Motor Sport, you will receive this fine publication free of charge, together with those two aforementioned publications if you want them, and while they remain in print. W.B. 

* * * 

“Wit and Wisdom of the Moviemakers”, edited by John Robert Colombo, is a lighthearted guide to Hollywood and those who made it what it is, and is also a quick guide to those many films of the great movie-stars in which so many cars have appeared, running as the book does from 1916 to 1979. The Hamlyn Group, Astronaut House, Feltham, Middlesex TW14 9AR publish it, at £3.95. — W.B. 

* * * 

Frederick Warne (Publishers) Ltd. have added another title to the Warne Gerrard Guides for Walkers series, this one dealing with beautiful South Devon. “South Devon Walks for Motorists” by Alan Coles, contains 30 circular walks, from a parked car and back again. All routes described have public right of way and vary in length from two to seven miles. The walks are said to be mostly non-strenuous and to have been designed for those who enjoy the peace and beauty of the countryside. This soft-backed book costs a modest £1.50 — C.R. 

* * * 

Those who have a liking for toy, as distinct from model, boats of all ages and types can obtain a beautifully colour-illustrated book on this subject, called simply “Toy Boats”, from the same publisher. — W.B.