Book reviews, November 1966, November 1966

“The Vintage Car-1919-1930,” by T. R. Nicholson. 390 pp. 9 in. x 5 1/2 in. (B. T. Batsford Ltd., 4, Fitzhardinge Street, London, W.1. 50s.)

Batsford were very early on the scene with specialised historical motoring books. Their “Vintage Motorcar,” the joint work of Cecil Glutton and John Stanford, published in 1954, was a classic, and consolidated the growing post-war appreciation of vintage cars and the desire to own one.

In recent times Batsford have decelerated over motor book publication, ceasing, for instance, those enjoyable miscellaneous motoring annuals edited by Anthony Harding. So it comes as rather a surprise to find them issuing a second vintage car book in the old, acceptable if somewhat stodgy, format.

One can say right away that this new vintage car book is nothing like so readable and lighthearted as its predecessor. But, as one expects from Tim Nicholson, it is a scholarly and painstaking study, intended primarily as a work of reference. The difficulty is that works of reference have to pack in all the information possible, which can render them unreadable, while the very cramming in of as much data as the author has available means that when treated as a directory with cars referred to under one heading, the knowledge imparted may seem sparse and expensive against the price of the book.

Nicholson has avoided these pitfalls fairly successfully, although a straight-through reading of the book is heavy ploughing and as almost every worthwhile car of the vintage era, of every nationality, is included, obviously the individual mentions are, of necessity, brief. Perhaps the most worthwhile section is the first, dealing with American vintage cars. It is indeed scholarly, and sorts out the many very similar-to-look-at American makes of the early ‘twenties, as well as explaining the U.S. luxury cars and covering particularly well the speedsters. Even the American Continent’s “lost causes” get more than a couple of pages to themselves.

Where this new vintage car book is fascinating is in its portrayal of the conditions, geographical, political and contemporary, which affected car production and design in the years under discussion, in America, France, Belgium, Holland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Great Britain, which the author takes in that order. These very informative introductions are followed by descriptions of the cars made between 1919 and 1930, practically every make being included and indexed, from A.B.C. to Zust. The coverage really is breathtakingly complete and browsers will have a splendid time. As a book to sit down and enjoy, the author is on a stickier wicket, because this is not exactly a book with which to pass a lighthearted evening and serious historians will already know a good deal of it for themselves.

But if you cannot name the car which was supplied with a Kodak camera and compass as standard equipment, or the one which had dual steering wheels to provide low and high-geared steering, or that of which every example sold was said to have been of a different colour scheme, this book provides the answers. In some cases Nicholson seems to have over-emphasised speed claims and may have had to sift his American data from specification statistics but on the whole he gets the vintage cars he covers in proper perspective. Accuracy is important in an expensive reference work. Without looking for errors we did notice that the Leyland Eight was endowed with two propeller shafts, which it didn’t have, confusion probably arising from its splayed axle shafts, nor do we recall double transverse cantilever rear springs on the Armstrong Siddeley. Nor did the Triumph Super Seven have 1/4-elliptic springing all round, only at the rear, while Sunbeam did not take the 1926 Land Speed Record with an aero-engined car. There is also some confusion about when the Austin 7 emerged as a sports car, the “two-seater Chummy” model, as we like to call it, being rightly referred to as appearing in 1924, only to have its claim stolen by the 1928 Sports model, nee Ulster, on a later page. The Wolseley Ten is wrongly described as having semi-elliptic instead of 1/4-elliptic springing and its rear-axle gearbox isn’t mentioned. The Type 35B Bugatti is described as if it were a non-supercharged 2.3 version of a Type 35. Nicholson also refers to a lightweight front-wheel-drive Horstman designed by Smith-Clark, but we have never heard previously that the Bath concern was going to sponsor this project before Alvis took it over as their f.w.d. prototype and first f.w.d. racing car. Otherwise, this very comprehensive book has been written with incredible industry and leaves very little to add to a general conception of the vintage-car movement, looked at in the context of contemporary, not current, function. Likewise, it should mellow on long acquaintance.

“The Vintage Car” is illustrated in the standard Batsford style of good photographs, most of them excellently chosen, and line drawings. The dust-jacket, however, depicts that classic wire wheel as worn by a Type 59 Bugatti. As this was a post-vintage car one assumes it was intended for the sequel, covering 1931-39 cars, which is, we gather, being written by Michael Sedgwick. The dust-jacket blurb is also misleading in stating that full specifications of every model are given, nor would this be entirely acceptable unless additional tabular matter had supplemented the text.—W. B.

“Motorcars of the Golden Past,” by Ken W. Purdy. 216 pp. 12 1/2 in. x 10 1/8 in. (Little, Brown Co’ Co., 34, Beacon Street, Boston, U.S.A. 30 dollars.)

Ken Purdy once paid us the compliment of saying that we write for schoolchildren. It might be said that in this book he is writing for old men. Because this catalogue of ancient motor vehicles, and mainly American ones at that, will appeal to those with long memories, who like to live in the past.

We are not particularly enthusiastic about these pictorial type surveys but the huge colour pictures in this one, the work of Tom Burnside, are excellent. The cost, however, is high, especially as the book is about one hundred old cars in the Harrah Collection, and as such is a free advertisement for this professional museum.

The introduction began to interest, telling as it does how William Harrah of Reno, whose money comes from gaming machines, has collected about 1,000 old automobiles, how spotlessly clean and hyper-efficiently supervised his gambling halls, and motor museum are, and how he and his wife live in typical American millionaire style and love to drive a Ferrari and a Bentley Continental very fast but have an abnormal fetish about safety— until we remembered we had read it all before in Road & Track.

The vehicles amply covered in text and colour picture range from 1899 De Dion Bouton tricycle to 1938 Rolls-Royce Phantom III. It is very good to be told of Harrah’s meticulous attention to originality in restoration, even to spending 165 dollars on making a set of pedal-pads for a 1928 Pierce-Arrow becquse his mint set of 1929 pads were minutely different, although only to the eyes of experts. With such commendable conscientiousness it is sad to learn that Harrah does not coachpaint his exhibits because to do so would occupy too much time.

After reading of this meticulous approach we feel it must be the colour-printing that makes the h.t. lead on the 1903 Model-F Packard look like a coloured plastic, instead of a rubber-covered, lead. To our eyes the Dunlop herringbone tyres on the 1906 Model 7-A Adams-Farwell look a bit oversize, and wire wheels on a 1913 Model-T Ford (admittedly a special-bodied version) are a surprise. We feel sure we are wrong to criticise, but the 1925 3-litre Bentley definitely has a non-original body, which Purdy does not explain, being more excited about the 1927 White House crash, and a 1926 Amilcar has modern headlamps and horn. The book itself is fine, if you like American cars and can afford £10—or 25 dollars if ordered by November 28th, from Boston, Atlantic-Little Brown.–W. B.

Undoubtedly the most satisfactory book about Rolls-Royce cars published to date is the beautifully-produced Batsford work by Anthony Bird and Ian Hallows. On art-paper throughout, the erudite text supported by a magnificent selection of pictures, this 320-page 10 in.  x 7 1/5 in. book is well worth the £5 5s. it is priced at. It has gone into a second edition, which brings it completely up to date by the inclusion in text, pictures and specification tables, of the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow and model-T Bentley cars. Likely to become a collector’s gem, “The Rolls-Royce Motor Car” is’ a book to secure without delay. The publisher’s address is 4, Fitzhardinge Street, London, W.1.