Reviews, May 2011



Le Mans
The official history of the world’s greatest race 1970-79
by Quentin Spurring

There are so many great nuggets in this book. The story of the ‘Pink Pig’ Porsche 917, for example, and how Reinhold Joest was cleared of blame a decade after the crash that eliminated it in 1971; how Tony Adamowicz used raw potatoes to demist the windscreen of his Ferrari 312P in 1970; how a pair of NASCARs became the heaviest Le Mans contenders of the decade in 1976, a year in which the field was split into 22 classes…

This is the second in the official Le Mans-sanctioned series of books written by the authoritative Spurring -a separate project to the box set reviewed last month. As with last year’s release of the 1960s volume, it is structured clearly and chronologically. Brief descriptions of each entry and race are complemented by sections on rule and circuit changes. But it is in the individual stories dedicated to the key (and not so key) entrants each year where this book comes alive. The words, combined with excellent colour photography on a high-quality format, inject a true flavour of a troubled but in hindsight, quite wonderful decade at La Scuffle. And the pie-charts and myriad stats at the back? You can either take them or leave them.

It was no surprise this series started with the ’60s in our experience the most popular decade in motor racing history, followed by the ’70s. But what next? Push on into the ’80s or backtrack to the ’50s? We await the next volume with intrigue. DS
Published by Haynes Publishing, ISBN 978 1 84425 539 5, £45


Tiff Gear
The Autobiography of Tiff Needell
by Tiff Needell

The first chapter is called ‘The Grand Prix Career’ which hints at the lovely, dry delivery in which this engaging narrator will be telling his story.

Tiff’s life in F1 consisted of a promising first race for Ensign at Zolder in 1980, as a replacement for Clay Regazzoni (paralysed at Long Beach) and a heart-breaking DNQ at Monaco. That he found himself humming Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain on the Zolder grid says much about this true enthusiast’s approach to racing and life.

The tale of how he got to F1 and what happened next in Group C, touring cars and more is honest, funny and riveting. Then there’s the telly stuff a fascinating insight into the rise of 1990s Top Gear before the move to Channel 5 when the BBC lost faith in the show. Needell’s life has been a breathless and at times exasperating adventure. This was an autobiography well worth writing, and well worth reading, too. DS
Published by Haynes Publishing, ISBN 978 85733 089 5, £19.99


Bodywork optional but desirable
The story of 500cc motor car racing
by Colin C Rawlinson

In this country we recall 500cc racing as a prime example of ingenuity overcoming tradition tweaked ‘bike engines were mounted in the back of skimpy chassis mainly to simplify the transmission, but pointed the way to the rear-engined revolution. So the tale of “racing for the impecunious” is crucial to the sport and this book compiles the whole story from 1946, through the heyday as an international series and stepping stone to F1 , to 1963 when half-litre racing ran out of puff.

Undoubtedly a thorough work, but in its relentlessly chronological form no thriller. It has the required detail of a reference work, though, including lists of drivers, builders and marques and lots of photos of restored cars. But apart from one reprinted MS editorial, no mention of WB who championed such racing in these pages. Bernie Ecclestone writes the foreword. GC
Published by Iota Publications, ISBN 978 9554826 1 8, £35


British drag racing
The early years
by Nicholas John Pettitt

Another instalment in the ‘Those were the days…’ series brings the birth of British drag racing into the spotlight. It’s not the most glamorous of subjects, but for the speed freaks of the 1950s there was only one way to prove how fast their home-built specials really were, and that was to head to the nearest disused post-war airstrip and blast your way a quarter of a mile into the distance. The sport’s early days featured such names as Sydney Allard and our own Denis Jenkinson, who raced a Bristol-powered dragster through the ’60s. With the opening of Santa Pod in ’66, British drag racing finally had a permanent home, and the book follows the story through to the end of the decade.

The text is balanced towards the factual rather than the anecdotal, but the real reason to get hold of this book is the wonderful collection of period photos which bring to life a sport with humble beginnings. DC
Published by Veloce Publishing, ISBN 978 1 845843 37 3, £14.99