Book reviews, November 1964, November 1964

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“From the Cockpit,” by Bruce McLaren. 278 pp. 8 in. x 5 in. (Frederick Muller Ltd., 110, Fleet Street, London, E.C.4. 25s.)

It has become customary for present-day Grand Prix drivers to write their autobiographies while still at the height of their careers. So it is no surprise to find that Bruce McLaren, the young New Zealander who has come quickly to the top of his chosen profession, has written his, under the title adopted for his articles that appear in a weekly contemporary.

We are aware that Fangio began on stock-cars, Brabham on cinder-track midgets, Clark on fairly tame saloons. Did you know that McLaren nearly didn’t start at all, being in hospital for a long time with Perthes Disease—the races he and fellow patients had in wheeled Bradshaw frames and later in bathchairs round the hospital corridors and grounds are hair-raising—and that when he did start it was in an Ulster Austin 7 in an Auckland C.C. Speed Hill-Climb ?

After that McLaren commenced circuit racing in the Ulster, now highly tuned and taken about on a trailer, and then with a Ford Ten Special. Those were the days, vividly recalled by this book, of the New Zealand “circus,” starring Jones in the 4-litre Maybach Special, Ken Wharton in the V16 B.R.M., Tony Gaze in his H.W.M. and Horace Gould’s Cooper-Bristol.

“From the Cockpit” goes on to trace McLaren’s rise to fame in uncomplicated terms, through the Hawthorn days, and Bruce’s adventures in Europe with Coopers, his determination to follow in Brabham’s wheeltracks, sports-car racing in America, the 1961 F.1 season, more racing in America, up to his successful seasons back home. The book commences and terminates with racing accidents, reminder, if any is needed, of the dangerous calling of men like Bruce McLaren. Those who follow G.P. racing seriously will read this book avidly and give it a place in the bookcase beside those autobiographies of Moss, Fangio, Brabham, Clark, Surtees and Ireland—leaving space for hooks by Graham Hill, Bonnier and the rest, which are sure to come.—W. B.

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“The Motorist’s Miscellany,” edited by Anthony Harding. 272 pp. 9 in. x 6 in. (B. T. Batsford, Ltd., 4, Fitzhardinge Street, London, W.1. 30s.)

Batsford have published two previous books in this series, “The Motorist’s Weekend Book” and “The Motorist’s Bedside Book.” The idea is that well-known writers shall be allowed to write on any subject they choose, lightheartedly, and that the book shall be punctuated by pithy quotations picked up by Harding and illustrated with the best possible pictures.

This definitely adds up to a volume difficult to put down once you have started to read it. In the current one Wilson McComb is extremely good on trying to fit a special camshaft to his car (concluding “I wonder if Karl Benz was married? Can’t have been…”!). Joseph Lowrey looks at the men—like Issigonis, John Alden, the Routes, Harry Webster, Sir William Lyons, Wilks and King, John Cooper and Cohn Chapman—behind the ears we drive. Michael Sedgwick does a little amusing public-relations for old-car auction sales. Paul Frere is more serious, in looking at “The Revolution in Racing Car Design,” Walkerley thinks about the Phrase-Book Englishman, Eves has erudite information to impart about Wine and wheels (home nice to work for a publishing empire!). Wike is his old self on the subject of instruments as they were, and are now, while there is some very readable journalism by Michael Brown.

Ronald Barker takes you with him on a road-test while compiling a detailed report on interior fittings. Posthumus remembers The Man Who Crashed Twice (Varzi), Motor-Cotters are mercilessly exposed by Alexander Gray, and John Stanford gives us very good and absorbingly interesting reasons why some vintage and Edwardian cars have survived in considerable quantities while others have become virtually extinct. Bolster tells us what it feels like to drive very diverse automobiles, from Lutzmarm to Lotus (but, surprisingly, cannot spell Shelsley Special correctly), Jenkinson is concerned with when and for what reasons cars like GT Ferraris, E-type Jaguars and Porsche Super 905 will become obsolete for serious fast motoring, and Boddy gets small car history off his mind in a typically industrious piece he calls “Motoring at Tram Fare.”

Pomeroy has a technical chapter to himself, on the birth of the high-speed engine, Bensted-Smith is very honest about readers who write letters to the motoring Press, Tubbs talks of body styling, with de Dion Boutons in mind, and there is lots more besides—not at all a had 30-bobs’ worth!

The prize for something or other must go, though, to Scott-Moncrieff, who will enrage or delight, as the case may be, his fellow authors, by telling them that he returned to the motor trade after the Hitler war because, although success came all too easily to his authorship, writing “is exactly analogous to gold prospecting and prostitution” [what do Batsford pay for each valuable contribution in this book!—ED.]. Complaining that the most his pen ever earned him in a year was £1,200, he goes on to advertise quite blatantly his present self-chosen following of Purveyor of Horseless Carriages to the Nobility and Gentry, even to naming the location and contents of his new Showrooms, digging ribald comment at some of his more awkward or curious customers whose foibles, one suspects, exist mainly in the mind of the author (sorry, Trader) and does his level-best within the limits of the chapter to sell you an ancient R.-R. or help his son sell you a more mundane form of transport. Only Bunty could get away with it! (I always have maintained that since the war fools part with their money too readily in order to keep the used-car vendors in luxury and here is D. S-M. telling us he was able to turn his back on living in a “semi-detached” and drinking cheap Algerian “Burgundy” with his Sunday luncheon and was able to put his wife’s family seat and 400 acres into extremely good condition and paying dividends, merely by buying elderly Silver Ladies (which surely must have been mass-produced anyway, judging by the numbers still being advertised) and getting rid of them at a profit. Which makes me wonder why, when I last encountered the dear old rascal and his charming wife, they were using—a Jaguar ?—ED.]

Oh, and practically all the pictures in “The Motorist’s Miscellany” are first-class, including the study of Gurney and Clark at Monza last year, which is by a Motor Sport photographer.

* * *

“The History of the Vintage Sports Car Club,” by Peter Hull 209 pp. 8½ in. x 5 3/5 in. (Cassell & Co. Ltd., 35, Red Lion Square, London, 36s.)

When a cynical colleague saw this book, latest in the Montagu Motor Book Series, he said: “What a pity the V.S.C.C. has come to an end.” He has a personal “thing” that history should not be written until a race, or track, or human or club has had its lifespan.

So I hasten to explain that Peter Hull is dealing with the first thirty years or the Club, which now has over 4,500 members and is flourishing as strongly as ever, catering for most ages and types of historic ears, while generously leaving a few over for the mercifully mythical “Old Car Club.” Incidentally, Hull is _a prolific author these days and, as he is also a full-time R.A.F. Flying Instructor, one wonders whether this isn’t a fine testimony for that piece of aeronautical equipment known as “George”… This big tribute to the V.S.C.C. captures admirably the atmosphere of the Club and the spirit behind it, while painstakingly recording its history from the first season in 1934/35, with the Chilterns Trial, the Surrey Trial, the Buxton Trial and the first Speed Trial at Howard Park, to present-day activities. If there wasn’t this insatiable demand for hooks from the nation’s publishers one would question whether the subject merits the long manuscript, especially as bound volumes of Motor Sport bear witness to the Club’s active existence and even carry its potted history and accounts of its major developments, like Edwardian racing. But if a book is justified, Peter Hull has done the best possible job of writing it, and even the old-timers in the Club should find the forgotten episodes it recalls quite irresistible.

I am particularly pleased that the account is couched in a reasonably hilarious vein and that, in his Foreword, Cecil Clinton refers to the fact that just as many hilariously funny goings-on happen in the V.S.C.C. now as they did in the pre-war days, clearly regarding this as a Good Thing. This pleases me because I support the view that while vintage cars should be Carefully used and certainly mustn’t carry comic names or be driven by persons addicted to funny headgear and wearing apparel, they need not be taken with pathetic seriousness, or they will end up prematurely under dust-sheets in morgue-like museums. Peter Hull responds splendidly to the lighthearted aspect of vintage motoring, although inevitably this was a bit more pronounced in the early days of the Club., when a vintage car had only to be half-a-dozen years old and 30/98s could be bought for £25 or less, than today, when history engulfs them and they cost the earth [see Editorial comments in previous book-review!—ED].

Naturally, there are serious aspects of the V.S.C.C.’s work and these Clutton acknowledges and Hull enlarges upon. I am very pleased for example to find my Motor Sport article on the late Forrest Lycett’s 8-litre Bentley reprinted in full, because it serves as a tribute, both the Club’s and my own, to a great vintage exponent and a great car—the highest form of sports motoring before the advent of things like Jaguar E-types and Cobras.

Naturally, a lot of the material for this history has come from back numbers of the V.S.C.C. Bulletin and those members who have kept their copies may think the book somewhat repetitive. There are many entertaining extracts from old Bulletins, although some readers may think the inclusion of the libellous ones an unnecessary dragging up of old feuds, and I would have welcomed more of Wike’s Motor Show Reviews and “Steady” Barker’s verse. But I am glad that Hull is sufficiently honest to note that whereas Anglo-American Bastards and S.S.100s were scorned by the V.S.C.C. pre-war, they are now eligible for membership, and that he questions the inclusion of the F.W.D. Citroen, a mass-produced family car, as a post-vintage thoroughbred. Moreover, there are no obvious errors, apart from Alec Issigonis rendered as Alex.

It is interesting to be reminded that Motor Sport seems to have anticipated the Club’s change of name from Veteran Sports Car Club to Vintage Sports Car Club, and perhaps significant that Clutton soon abbreviates this to Vintage Club in his Foreword! Incidentally, Bentleys figure in seven of the pictures, 30/98 Vauxhalls in only three.

This is a book for V.S.C.C. members rather than the great motoring public. As such, it is an excellently written record, so that the compression of the Club’s last ten years into a single chapter, as if Hull was developing writer’s cramp, is a little disappointing. But this is one of the year’s better motoring books; no doubt its publishers are heavily insured against libel actions.—W. B

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