Book reviews, May 1986, May 1986

“Mostly Motor Racing” by Rivers Fletcher 319 pp. 11 in x 8 in (Haynes Publishing Group, Sparkford, near Yeova, Somerset, BA22 7JJ, £15.95) Rivers Fletcher is well known. particularly in the areas of vintage cars, pre-war memories, and Club racing and few can match his Infectious enthusiasm. Previously he has launched into authorship, with books about his days with Bentley Motors, his MG associations, and his Jaguar connections. Now he has given us a very big volume about how his passionate enthusiasm for motor racing developed, from schooldays onwards. It runs up to the outbreak of the war and will presumably be followed by another, describing Rivers’ personal participation in Club competitions.

He did not start on that path until after the war, so the present reminiscences are about the famous personalities he met and came to know — Malcolm Campbell, Earl Howe, Whitney Straight, Raymond Mays, Peter Berlhon, Humphrey Cook, Woolf Barnato, Charles Follett, Sammy Davis, Louis Fontes, the Dunfees, the Dunhams and others too numerous to list — his apprenticeship to Bentley Motors in the heyday of their Le Mans and other racing successes, his period in the Motor Trade, and his close association with the formation of ERA Ltd, not forgetting the various ERA sports cars mooted in that lime, culminating in the vee-eight Raymond Mays Specials of which four were run in an RAC Rally. The book is all about the happy motor racing fraternity of those days, with plenty of memories of events attended, and descriptions of others that Rivers recalls. All laced with an enormous number of very good, if miscellaneous, photographs from the Rivers’ collection, leavened with Peacop cartoons. Not all are originals by any means, but they are nice to browse through.

Apart from motor racing, there are Rivers’ links with Show Biz, the Metropolitan Police “Vice Squad”, the war-time Fire Service and amateur dramatics, all very entertaining, especially if you know this ever-young enthusiast of over 70… There is an amusing account of how the author came upon a naked girl straddling the cockpit of an Amilcar when he went uninvited into the Brooklands shed of a well-known racing driver, which fits that character she was with, perfectly, and mentions of Rivers’ many “amours”, which recall his classic assessment of that then less promiscuous age when, thinking of the reason why he bought an M-type MG Midget coupe: “Nature being what It is, I guess I was engaged on an ever increasing amount of snoggingl Well, in my open cars one’s wooing was at a disadvantage. Don’t misunderstand me, it was not the permissive age in the 1930s (in our set anyway). Anyhow, I felt (come to think of it, that’s about all I did do!) I should buy that Midget coupe.”

This is a light-hearted, not too technical, book all about how Rivers Fletcher grew up as an avid motoring enthusiast and what happened along the way. There are interesting insights about knowing the “greats”, the story of how aged about 16 Rivers rode with Malcolm Campbell in the 1 1/2 straight-eight GP Delage when it won the 1928 JCC Junior Grand Prix at Brooklands (there’s freedom for you — the cockpit was too cramped for an adult but a passenger had to be carried, so the boy got the job!), how he once crashed one of Barnato’s, Bentleys and had to own up, and many more anecdotes of like kind. It is all very enioyable reading, repeating slightly what was in the earlier books, but only in a few places.

The author explains that his first car was an 8/18 Talbot, in which he ventured onto the Mountain circuit at the Track and which ended its days by overturning when driven too fast and catching fire — we even get the photographs taken by the young owner as the London Fire Brigade fought the blaze… Rivers says, in his Acknowledgements page, that I covered much the same ground and have remembered many details, and it is true that when he was hanging a picture of the 1924 Le Mans-winning Bentley over his bed, I was sleeping as a boy beneath a cut-away drawing of a W.O. type 41/2-litre Bentley chassis. This permits me to say that the only errors I spotted are that Lanfranchi drove a 3-litre Alfa Romeo, not the big Isotta-Maybach at Brooklands, that Allards had ifs but not to LMB patents, and that a Cord did not have a Cotal gearbox and that Hamilton was killed at Berne, not at Tripoli. It is interesting that Rivers refers to Reginald Straker and the side-valve Riley Lynx, as he used to advertise In MOTOR SPORT, the 11/40 hp chassis in 1925/6, not to be confused with the 1934 -35 9 hp Lynx I have to differ from Rivers, however, in his dislike of long-tailed racing cars like the Leyland Thomas and Rapson Lanchester, while my eyebrows have scarcely come down after seeing Thomson & Taylor’s rendered with a “p”

But great entertainment, very fully illustrated, the dedication being to the late Raymond Mays. An Index would have been appreciated. — W.B.

With ”Specialist British Sports/ Racing Cars of The Fifties ft Sixties” (publ. Osprey. 12-14 Long Acre, London WC2E 9LP, 244pp, illust, Indexed, hard back, £15.95) Anthony Pritchard has gone a long way towards filling in a gap on the enthusiast’s book shelves. As the title implies, he concentrates on the smaller marques, and covers nearly 40 makers from AC to Warrior-Bristol via such firms as Brabham, Connaught, Cooper, Lola and Lotus.

Pritchard deliberately omits “factory” makers such as Aston Martin and Jaguar, for they are of a different nature and, besides, are covered adequately elsewhere. In accepting that Doug Nye’s “Powered by Jaguar” says all there is to say about the Jaguar-engined cars built by Cooper, HWM, Lister and Tojeiro, he skims lightly over these and concentrates instead on some of the less well-known cars such as the Revis-Borgward and Risley-Pritchard’s lovely Cooper-Connaught fitted with a copy of the Alfa Romeo “Disco Volante” body.

In his foreword Pritchard apologises to those whose favourite marques may have been omitted so we have Lander but not Diva. Beart Rodger but not Rejo, and Kieft but not Turner. It may be hard to find a pattern in his reasoning but It’s certainly impossible to include every maker.

Though it does not set out to be a comprehensive catologue of all the marques which appeared on the scene during the time covered, there’s enough meat here for anyone. The cars are succinctly described, their successes and failures faithfully recorded, and the text is complemented by a large number of excellent photographs (averaging about one per page) which not only display the cars but which also capture the atmosphere of the time.

It is not a book without errors. Frank Costin did not design the body of the Lotus Fifteen, that was done by Charlie Williams of Williams and Pritchard to Colin Chapman’s specification. Frank Nichols is given credit for designing the Elva range but Elva’s most successful cars were designed by others, notably Keith Marsden. We look in vain, too, for the motivation which drove some builders, for instance, the vision which Derek Buckler had to make motor sport available for all, a self-imposed constraint which clipped his wings, and two of the three long-estestablished specialist constructors in the world, John Crossle and Arthur Matlock. have no mention here.

Despite these criticisms, this handsomely produced book is extremely welcome as we begin to appreciate properly the men who built the British motor racing renaissance from tiny workshops. It admirably complements the author’s “British Racing Green” and, like that book, and others which Pritchard has written, it is likely to become one of the most useful and well-thumbed in this writer’s collection. — M.L.

“The Ferrari 250GT Story — Tour de France” by John Starkey 133 pp. 10 in x 7 in (Haynes Publishing Group, Sparkford, Yeovil, Somerset, BA22 7JJ. £10.95).

Another Ferrari title, the most exciting production motor-car deserving the number of books that have been written about it! The reason for this one, the author explains, is that the 250GT Berlinetta competition cars possess a mystique and charisma hard to explain but very evident, especially as they are, he says, eminently suitable as road-going cars, yet are legendary in their almost total dominance of the “Tour de France” races of the 1950s.

At the age of 19, John Starkey tells us, he wasn’t interested in cars but an unxpected ride in a Ferrari, which is said to have touched 140 mph on a normal narrow road, at night, changed all that, and 15 years later he became an owner. His book is about the development of the 250GT, its contemporary stablemates, its racing history, and a rather brief account of how Starkey’s car was restored. There Is also a short interview with Olivier Gendebien who raced these Ferraris and the book is packed with exciting pictures, some in colour. It concludes like all good things any drive must come to an end, and once more the Berlinetta is parked in the garage. Listen once more to the sound of the engine, and then switch off. The motor cuts dead as befits its light internal parts. When I leave the car I still find myself looking back at its beautiful shape. The long-wheelbase Berlinetta is a superlative Ferrari. It is for those who are in agreement that this book is for. — W.B.

There are currently available two paperbacks with the word “IACOCCA” writ large on the front together with a photograph of Lido “Lee” Iacocca, the sacked ex-President of Ford who achieved a near miracle by going onto Chrysler and taking it back from the brink of bankruptcy to healthy profitability. In achieving this, Iacocca has become a legend in the USA and has been widely touted as a future President.

One of these books has a purple cover and is a biography written by David Abodaher (publ. Star Books, 44 Hill St., London W1X 8LB, 276 pp plus 8pp b&w photographs. £2.50) and it is to be strictly avoided. It is a stodgily written work, apparently compiled from a newspaper cuttings library. Worse, it is uncritical in its treatment and contains a catalogue of extraordinary errors.

Abodaher states that Ferraris are made in Turin, “a city the Italians call Torino” (is it one of several cities the Italians call “Torino”?), that Chris Amon was a Grand Prix winner, and that to ensure success at Le Mans, Iacocca ordered the GT40 Mk 4 to be made heavier than the Mk 2. Obviously, all the teams using materials such as titanium have got it seriously wrong.

The star bloomer, in a book packed with them, is the assertion that after competing in the 1961 Monte Carlo Rally, the Ford Falcon team stayed on to take in the Monaco GP. This paragraph, which is quoted in full so as not delete a single nuance. reads “The stay in Monaco lasted two weeks. During that period Ford cars were entered in the annual Monaco Grand Prix, the twisting, treacherous, around-the-houses race now (sic) a fixture on the Grand Prix circuit. The Ford cars were not expected to win — they were entered only as a test of the cars durability for the benefit of the press. The race was won by England’s great driver, Stirling Moss, in a Lotus-Climax.”

With that single paragraph Abodaher puts himself in the class of Ronnie Mutch, whose magnificent “Niki Lauda and the Grand Prix Gladiators” had previously lacked serious rivals for ineptitude.

Iacocca’s autobiography (written with William Novak, publ. Bantam Books. 376pp plus 16 pp b&w photographs, £3.95) is a different matter entirely. It is punchy, opinionated and humorous and one can understand why it sold three million copies in hardback. Iacocca comes across as a man with a shrewd assessment of his own worth and intellect but since he has an enviable track record, this does not seem boastfulness. The book is in the American tradition of “son of immigrant made good”, which goes some way to explain its extravagant success in the States, but ills also a strong theme on which to hang a story.

It has an engaging veneer of frankness, and the man’s humour drives the story line, but the sort of corporate in-fighting in which Iacocca most have engaged is lightly side-stepped. We’re left with a sell portrait, minus warts, and the Iacocca which emerges is the sort of back-slapping good egg we’d all like to have round for dinner. After a good meal and some agreeable liquor, one might be able to scratch the surface of this extraordinary man.

The autobiography has a brown cover but should you be colour blind then you should remember that the gimcrack paperback, which has been published here in the wake of the authentic articles. has lacocca’s photograph out of focus.

That says It all. M.L.

“Dogwood Afternoons” (publ The Bodley Head. 30 Bedford Square, London WC 3RP, 247pp. fiction, £9.95) is a first novel by American sportswriter, Kim Chapin. Its background is the Deep South and the development of stock car racing from moonshine runners to factory teams. Had Chapin resfricted himself to a novel about stock car racing, he might have produced a fine book for he clearly knows his subject and has a crisp style.

Unfortunately he has attempted to write a serious novel. using the sport as a metaphor as he traces the maturing of his central character. In this attempt he has been too ambitious, his characters are insubstantial. his plotting loose and the book lacks a sense of both time and place.

Still, it held my attention and I found the motor racing content fascinating. — M.L.

* * *

Those interested in how American journalists viewed the Volkswagens, over the period 1951 to 1968, will find 35 of Road & Track’s road-test reports reproduced in “Road & Track on Volkswagen”, published by Brooklands Books at £5.95, which covers almost everything from Beetle to 1600 Fastback. For £6.50 the soft-cover 96-page book is available post-free from Brooklands Book Distributors Ltd. Holmerise, Seven Hills Road (that led to the Track from the Portsmouth Road!), Cobham, Surrey. — W.B.

Cars in Books/strong>

FROM “Swans Reflecting Elephants — My Early Years” by Edward James (Weidenfeld Nicholson, 1982, edited by George Melly) we learn that the great British eccentric, who lived at the time of this book at West Dean in Sussex, where HM King George V attended shooting parties, had a Rolls-Royce when he was in America before the war, which figured in his pranks, and that when he went to Rome he got an open Alfa Romeo which he drove at speed, waved on by the carabinieri. In fact, James was an Honorary Attache to the British Embassy in Rome, and at that time kept his own Rolls-Royce and chauffeur. It was used to take his bride, the Austrian singer Tilly Losch, to the church on Fifth Avenue for his wedding, but before that he was let down by a secondhand Rolls-Royce, his first car of this make, which had only done 1,200 miles but broke down outside Reading when he was taking Clementine Churchill to hear her son Randolph make his maiden speech at the Oxford Union. The old and stupid chauffeur being unable to make the Rolls go, they had to continue the journey in a taxi at a cost of £20, arriving just as the speech was ending. Edward James, who had a present of one million pounds on his 21st birthday, had aeroplanes which he flew himself, looping the loop on occasion, but their make isn’t divulged — W.B.