Reviews, May 2005

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Vintage American Road Racing Cars 1950-1970 by Harold Pace & Mark Brinker, ISBN 0 76031783 6, published by Motorbooks International. £34.99

This is surely a candidate for book of the year — and it’s still only May. Tapping into a rich seam of nostalgia for American road racing ‘specials’, this 303-page hardback is a joy to read. With an overview of the genesis of US motorsport in which you turned left and right, this glossy effort kicks off with a chapter on the many constructors from Ambro to Zink. While many will already be familiar — Cunningham, Shelby, Cheetah and the like — the majority will not be. With firsthand accounts from many of the principals behind the cars, there’s a wealth of hitherto untold stories which help bring the text to life.

Likely to be of even more interest are the many one-offs that tweaked the nose of European exotica in period. Ever heard of the Brand X? Does Fageol Twin-Porsche ring any bells? Even if you’ve dieted on prized copies of Road & Track or Speed Age from the period, you’ll learn something new. The sheer amount of research here is a credit to both authors. We particularly loved Bill and Charles Rutan’s Porsche Special, a chopped down ’47 VW Beetle with Porsche four-cam Carrera power that took more than a minute off Carroll Shelby’s best time — in a Ferrari grand prix car — up Mount Washington hillclimb. We also drooled over the sexy PAM Project Group 7, a radical wedge-shaped Can-Am car based on a Lotus 30 that was destroyed in only its second race. And then there’s the Oregon Talbot-Lago…

With a separate chapter-ette on ‘engine-swap specials’ such as the ugly Escherich Lotus-Porsche and — shudder — the Tilp Ferrari-Offy, along with further gen on the many kit car manufacturers of the day, you won’t find this level of information in any other publication.

Aside from the words, the layout is crisp and easy to navigate and the many images — several taken by Dean Batchelor and Allen Kuhn — are worth the asking price alone. Technical spec boxes and period brochures and advertisements only add to this impression. For those who are unfamiliar with the many classifications of racing, there’s also a handy breakdown of categories. We’d never heard of the deliciously non-PC Powder Puff grouping (for women drivers if you hadn’t already twigged). Highly recommended. — RH

***

Paramount Coachbuilt Cars from Derbyshire by Peter Tuthill, No ISBN, published by Peter Tuthill, £6.99

Another of Tuthill’s engaging self-published scrapbooks, this one is typically good fun to dip into, despite being just 48 pages long. From the first Alvis-based ‘Pig’ prototype of the late 1940s, the story tackles the ups and many downs of this long-forgotten marque, including its motorsport history, which largely consisted of national rallies. If anything this work asks more questions than it answers, but it’s good to see someone tackling minority-interest subjects. There’s another volume on the way too. — RH

***

Formula One Race of Champions 1967/1973 — DVD, 64 mins, www.tallandcurly.com, £15.99

I’m no snob, so the rather amateur-looking cover wasn’t a barrier to potential enjoyment of this DVD. Unfortunately, though, that’s about as good at it gets. Randomly putting together the Brands Hatch Race of Champions events of 1967 and ’73, it’s pretty uninspiring stuff.

The film footage from ’67 is okay, but irritatingly the car noises in the background, to my ears, sound as though around 15 seconds’ worth has been sampled and then looped — the constant repetition is like a Chinese water torture and bears little relation to what you’re seeing. The ’73 stuff looks like it’s from a fan’s camera, is limited, dull and has virtually nothing of winner Gethin. What a disappointment. The footage of the 1961 Guards Trophy Inter-Continental Formula race is a nice bonus, though. — MS

***

The Cobra Ferrari Wars — DVD, 59 mins plus bonus disc, www.spiritlevelfilm.com, £24.99

You can usually pigeon-hole me as a single-seater sprint racing fan, so the GT class from early-to-mid 1960s endurance racing isn’t that near the top of my list of motorsport interests. Believe me, then, when I say that this film is superb. A bit pricey, maybe, but you also get a bonus CD of extra ‘bits-and-bobs’ material thrown in.

Beautifully shot interviews with Cobra team leader Carroll Shelby and his various cohorts are spliced with wonderful archive footage. The main DVD begins with a focus on Shelby’s angina-truncated driving career and takes you up to his car’s class win over Ferrari at Le Mans in ’64. One highlight for me was Texan ex-chicken farmer Shelby trying to impersonate the accent of acerbic tea-guzzling English expat Ken Miles. Simply fantastic. — MS

***

Citroën DS: Design Icon by Malcolm Bobbitt, ISBN 1 904788 30 0, published by Veloce, £34.99

Not a bad effort, this, despite some design weirdness: among the many period shots are modern ‘happy snaps’ deliberately aged to appear grainy, the net result being that your eyes start watering. Disregarding this, the author has produced an effective history of The Goddess which tackles just about everything DS-related, such as the reasons behind its birth, model variations and living with one now.

The DS’s career in motorsport is well told, from Paul Coltelloni’s winning efforts on the ’59 Monte Carlo Rally to Pauli Toivonen’s controversial win in the same event seven years later. It’s also great to see coverage of the Rallye du Maroc coupés too. That said, with the SM also earning a chapter, why are there no images of these Franco-Italian hybrids in competition? — RH

***

The Lotus Book Series Three. The Complete History of Lotus Cars by William Taylor, ISBN 1 90235113 4, published by Coterie Press, £39.95

A further update of this masterwork, now running to 316 pages (up by 60). The model-by-model breakdown works beautifully and, quite aside from the sheer wealth of information here, it’s worth buying just for the images and ephemera which help bring the story of this charismatic if rather calamity-prone marque to life. And there’s little Lotus-related that you won’t find here: even the Goodwood Festival of Speed soap-boxes get entries.

A few spelling mistakes aside, if there are criticisms they’re entirely personal ones. The cover of this reviewer’s first edition faded to white in no time at all, despite being kept away from sunlight. Whinge over: this thumping heavyweight is remarkably good value for money, and we await the arrival of the Series Four iteration. — RH

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