by Des Hammill & Brian Jenkins ISBN 0954639111 published by Asson, £19.99
Considering Cyril Kieft was in the racing car business a mere six years, it might seem surprising that there is a whole book’s-worth of story to tell. However, the restoration a couple of years ago of the stillborn F1 Kieft brought the name back into the historic frame, and the 500cc F3 successes of Stirling Moss, Ken Wharton and Don Parker imprinted the name in the record books.
Hammill was able to interview Cyril Kieft at length before the car builder died in 2004, hence the ‘authorised biography’ tag on this (though I can’t see a rash of unauthorised ones…), so this must be the ‘horse’s mouth’ version of a small but memorable section of racing history.
Kieft, a wealthy industrialist, was sidetracked into becoming a racing car builder because he thought the 500cc Marwyn he was racing was badly made. High build quality was a trademark of his cars, even if the early ones didn’t exactly handle until Ken Gregory persuaded Kieft to build a new car, the swing-axle machine, which led to Moss confirming his wunderkind reputation. At one stage Moss in a Kieft was virtually unbeatable in F3 — doubly good news for Kieft as he never paid anyone, even Moss, to drive his cars.
Kieft’s innovations sometimes preceded Cooper and Lotus, and the race results might have pushed the marque on to greater things, but when the F1 project had the rug pulled from under it by Coventry Climax deciding not to build the Godiva V8, Kieft decided to sell up. Ever the businessman, Kieft worked out that rather than making money his racing had cost him £22,000; but, says Hammill, he considered it good value for a rich man’s hobby…
Kieft’s range of businesses was astonishing — he was involved in over 100 firms, including motor scooters — and much is related here. Too much for me, in fact. I skipped a lot of detail about the various business affairs not only of Cyril but also of his father, though not without hearing Kieft’s voice in phrases like “legalised robbery” when Labour’s nationalisation of the steel industry comes up.
There’s unlikely to be a more thorough book on Kieft, so it’s a shame this looks so poor and feels so cheap, with picture reproduction the worst I’ve ever seen in a book. G C