Book Reviews, November 1949, November 1949

“The Indianapolis Records” by Alan Hess (Stuart and Richards, 112 pp., 10s. 6d.).

Alan Hess, in this beautifully-produced book, has placed on record the full and intimate story of the successful record-attack at Indianapolis last April by the Austin A90 “Atlantic.”

As he is Public Relations Officer to the Austin Motor Company, Ltd., it must be assumed that he wrote this book to further Austin prestige and certainly it is difficult to see how such a lavish publication, with its many full-page photographs and four-colour plates, could sell for the price it does without the blessing of the Austin Company.

All credit, therefore, that, as he himself admits, Hess “pulls no punches” and gives us not only candid facts about the entire record bid but in places some pretty pithy comments on people and things encountered during his out-and-home trip to America.

Naturally, in the course of so detailed an account some interesting fresh aspects of the run come to light, in spite of the very considerable publicity which this 11,850 miles’ motoring at 70.54 m.p.h. achieved. The details of the pit-drill are most interesting. One learns that after six hours Buckley had a narrow escape from injury through the car being started with its alligator bonnet insecurely fastened, and once Hess was troubled by being given the “Faster” signal when the “O.K.” was intended, while some time later the car was despatched with an empty radiator. No further incidents of this sort occurred, emphasising that Davis soon had command of the mechanics! Full sympathy, incidentally, must go out to Hess for suffering a severe gum haemorrhage during his early driving spells, necessitating hospital treatment when he came off duty. That empty radiator put paid to the first attempt, for the engine lost all its power, after earlier overheating which replacement of gaskets, water-pump, radiator cap and air-cleaner-element had failed to cure. It now seems that a leaking radiator was the cause and during the renewed attempt this was overcome by adding liquid solder to the cooling water — as this was a stock car the humorist will want to know whether he must do this on taking delivery of his own A90!

The run commenced with a spare engine installed, using the cylinder head that had been borrowed from it when the original engine had overheated — quite why another head, from an A90 which had come from a local showroom as a practice car, differed from these two heads from England, both the A90s in America being non-standard, is just one of those things! Fortunately the “spare” head had suffered no distortion during its spell on the over-hot engine and, thanks to liquid solder, all now went well in that department. If eyebrows have been raised because twice a front wheel fell off and another front hub had to be changed, they can be lowered again after looking at pictures of Indianapolis’ rough brick surface, and for the same reason the standard Dunlop tyres can be entirely exonerated for wearing out rather quickly.

The appalling weather conditions are graphically described by Hess but they appear to have defeated nothing on the A90 except the screen-wipers, if we discount the horns freezing up! Other troubles were minor ones, like sticking pistons in the carburetters, a broken contact-breaker and a blocked air-cleaner pipe, while the speedometer-drive once played startling tricks. The A90 itself just went on and on, apart from one broken fuel pipe and minor bothers, except when a piston developed a hole, and the run finally ended 51 minutes short of 7 days and 7 nights because the timing chain broke, when trying for full speed for the last hour.

One cannot fail to be inspired by the story this book tells and to admire the tenacity and courage of these men who attempted so much, so far from home. On any track the run would have been a notable achievement, but at Indianapolis and under those weather conditions, it was superb. The Austin A90’s running average was 74 m.p.h. for 11,850 miles and its fuel consumption 17 m.p.g. Its best lap-speed was just below 90 m.p.h. and its fastest record the f.s. five miles, at 89.58 m.p.h. The highest praise must be bestowed on this Austin — but, in bestowing it, let us think for a moment of the Studebaker which averaged 68.58 m.p.h. for the same duration twenty-one years ago, for if its engine was twice the size of the A90s, I suspect that it had side-valves, while American cars of this period were not very highly developed, nor was Studebaker in more than the moderate-price class. Be that as it may, Hess’ book is an absorbing story very well told, in spite of his admission that it was written in five days, and its high-class presentation alone makes it a welcome addition to the library. — W.B.

“Speed on Wheels,” by the late Sir Malcolm Campbell. (Sampson Low, 214 pp., 7s. 6d.)

This book deals in a fascinating manner with Sir Malcolm Campbell’s attacks on the Land Speed Record. Whether it was written by Sir Malcolm or not, it makes an excellent adventure story and, as such, would be a good Christmas present for motor-minded boys and girls. It tends to repeat most of what we have read before in Campbell’s other book, in articles from his pen and in books about his racing career. One new detail emerges, that when Campbell acquired the ex-Guinness V12 350-h.p. Sunbeam, two of its gears were useless and new ones had to be cut from the solid in Vickers’ steel— interesting, because the Sunbeam suffered gear trouble on quite a few occasions at Brooklands.

The publishers explain that the proofs were carefully checked after Sir Malcolm’s death, but, unfortunately, Peugeot, a car with which Campbell did much Brooklands racing, is mis-spelt “Peugot,” as it often is.

The illustrations are well reproduced, but quite why eleven of them depict very early cars from St. Nixon’s collection remains obscure, while one caption suggests that Campbell raced his later record-breaking “Bluebirds” at Brooklands, whereas he merely gave demonstration runs. The foreword is by S. C. H. Davis.

Two New Clymer Books.

Two more Floyd Clymer books have reached us from America. The first is a year-book of the 1949 Indianapolis 500-Mile Race. In 62 large pages, also numbered to form a continuation of Clymer’s “Indianapolis Race History,” it gives a full report of the race, data on the drivers, cars, track, organisation, etc., and countless pictures of personalities, cars, engines, and so on. Altogether a very good effort and, although new motoring books now appear in this country with startling frequency, one feels that at least one of our big races might be documented like this, perhaps the 1950 G.P. d’Europe.

The other Clymer book is another of his detailed, entertaining test reports, this one about the Kaiser “Vagabond.” As usual, a certified high-speed run was undertaken, this time from Kansas City to Denver, 682 miles, in 9 hr. 50 min. The book is packed with pictures, including plenty of Floyd Clymer. Both handbooks cost 1 1/2 dollars each. We understand that they may be ordered from this country and the money paid to Clymer when he is next in England and, although it is awfully naughty to thus introduce English money into the States, the books constitute a considerable temptation.

“The Sports Car Engine,” by “Calculus.” (The Motor World Publishing Co., Ltd., 111 pp., 5s.)

This is a useful and well-illustrated little book, reprinting articles on high-output engines which have appeared in the Motor World. Chapters are devoted to: Induction systems for high-speed engines, Mechanical design for high power-output, Cylinder head design, Lubrication, Ignition, and Supercharging as they apply to sports-car engines, Calculations and factors affecting power and performance, and Tuning. There is a useful appendix of constants and formulae, and altogether this seems just the book for those who seek to learn more about horse-breeding. A good five-bobs’ worth from over the Border, in fact!

Russell Lowry Cartoons.

The Russell Lowry cartoons which appeared in the now defunct magazine Motor Club, have been collected together in booklet form, priced at 2s. 6d., available from J. A. Breckell & Sons, 65, South John Street, Liverpool, 1.