Book Reviews, November 1970, November 1970

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“Very Advanced Driving”,

by A. Tom Topper. 189 pp. 7-1/8 in. x 4-3/8in., soft covers.

(Elliot Right Way Books, Kingswood Building, Kingswood., Surrey. 45s.)

This is an odd little paper-front packed full of driving hints suitably diagrammed. It may not teach the already advanced and skilful driver very much, perhaps nothing new at all. But most of us like seeing in print confirmation of our pet views and theories, so Topper’s driving methods could be entertaining on that score. And it is pleasing that the author, who drives a Lotus Elan, in his chapter on “Very Fast Driving”, is dead against an overall 70-m.p.h. speed-limit. Bad drivers he refers to as “buppy drivers”, for reasons explained in the text, and he thinks that, just as the £50 travel allowance encouraged foreign travel because people realised they could go abroad on £50, so a 70-m.p.h. speed-limit causes Buppies to feel safe at this speed., even if it is beyond their capabilities, Or it would not be legal, etc. He has some common-sense remarks about misleading MoT road signs and other contributions to accident prevention. One remarkable theory expressed by the author is that too many slow drivers never use headlamps’ full-beam, and that this is selfish, because it hampers those wanting to overtake by reducing visibility!

As has been said, lots of the logic in this book is known already to those who enjoy fast driving and have learned to drive quickly safely. If anything, the book includes too many elementary, even obvious, remarks and I question whether the advice that on changing from a car with automatic transmission “remember to put the clutch down when coming to rest. This is easily forgotten after many miles on automatics” should be found in a book on very advanced driving! But I am interested to note that Topper advocates driving automatic transmission cars with the right foot only.

This little book can do no harm and could do a great deal of good when read by advancing drivers.—W. B.

* * *
Cars in books

The following extract comes from “Midnight Plus One”, by Gavin Lyall (Hodder and Stoughton); a reader drew our attention to it:—

The story is a modern thriller, with two gunmen being paid to take a millionaire, wanted by the police of France, across France to Liechtenstein. In the closing stages of the journey they are given help by an elderly ex-Secret Service “General”, who sends them in his car to the frontier.

“The moment I saw the car I knew we were safe as far as the frontier. It was a 1930 Rolls-Royce Phantom II 40-50 with a seven-seat limousine-de-ville body. I didn’t know all those names and numbers right then: Morgan told me. All I could see then was something like the Simplon-Orient Express mated with a battleship and on four wheels. It was sharing the garage with a couple of modern Rolls, a new Mercedes 600, a Jaguar Mark 10, and a Cadillac. It made the whole bunch look like mere transportation.

“It had one other little distinction: the damn thing looked as if it was made of engraved silver. In the dull basement light it glowed like next Christmas.

“At a second glance, I saw it was just aluminium: unpainted aluminium, milled in small circles so that it caught the light from every angle, and studded with lines of ground-down rivet heads. Five minutes before, I’d have said aluminium hadn’t got quite that Rolls touch. I’d have been completely wrong. It had exactly the Rolls touch: it looked expensive, simple, and tough, the way the best fighter planes look, the way a good rifle looks, the way the first real space ship will look.

“Maganhard and Miss Jarman climbed in—and I mean climbed. The bottom was high off the ground, and the top was high off the bottom; you couldn’t see over it without standing on the runningboard.

“There were no side windows behind the rear doors, and the car went back nearly four feet from there. The back window was heavily smoked glass, and even the rear door windows were tinted. The car had the atmosphere of the smoking-room from one of the richer London dubs, and it was furnished to match. The seats were of thick brown leather, the woodwork was dark mahogany, the handles and knobs of scratched, worn brass that looked much more solid than brand-new brass ever did. The carpet and the silk panelling on the roof had the same tone; a dull gold. None of it looked smart and new, but it had never been intended to. It was supposed to look worn—and as if it would never wear out.

“I noticed we were going up a steep hill, but the car didn’t. It would have taken a hopped-up Mercedes a lot of work with the gearbox just to keep us in sight. Morgan only changed down from top a couple of times. But you hardly need gears with a seven-litre engine that turns slowly enough to have started the old crack about ‘it fires once every mile-post’. That period of Rolls doesn’t have much top speed—and never did have—but it’ll go up a vertical slope like fire along a fuse.

“We didn’t even slow down for the corners. I got a hasty flashback of my past life the first time Morgan slammed that great chariot into a hairpin bend, but it just sailed round. The springing was as stiff as a five-day corpse. We got to know that springing better once we were over the crest and opened up down the straight on the other side. It felt very solid and stable, but when you hit a hole in the road your backside knew about it by special delivery.”

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A Mobil map

Mobil have issued a large, colourful map, measuring 30 in. x 40 in., of all the European Grand Prix circuits, which is of interest to students of history because it includes some of the older courses. For instance, there is the 47.4-mile Dieppe circuit, where Lautenschlager won the Grand Prix for Mercedes in 1908, and, as the text reminds us, he and nearly half the rest of the field exceeded 100 m.p.h. timed over a flying kilometre. There is Amiens, where over the Picardy circuit Georges Boillot won the 1913 French GP for Peugeot; averaging 71.65 m.p.h. for a strenuous 569 miles [actually 566 miles.—Ed.] (I have never ceased to regret losing the piece of concrete I picked up from the special loop put in to prevent having to close a third public road during this race, this connecting road still intact, and in use as a camion park, after the Second World War.) They have included Albi, reminding us that there Fangio gained one of his first victories, in the 1949 European GP, at the rousing average speed of 98.2 m.p.h., although, for me, this circuit recalls the exploits of the British ERAs, in pre-war voiturette races of 1936 and 1937, with “Bira”, Mays and Cook beating the 1,500 c.c. Bugattis and Maseratis.

There is a map of the late-lamented 4-1/2-mile Berne circuit, and one of Strasbourg, where the ageing Felice Nazzaro won the 1922 French GP, of 1947, in which Chiron’s Talbot was victorious. The Pedralbes Lyons features, scene of that dramatic Mercedes 1, 2, 3 domination in 1914, the Alfa Romeo exploits of 1924 and the first post-WW2 French GP, of 1947, in which Chiron’s Talbot was victorious. The Pedralbes circuit, with its lap distance of 3.9 miles and spectators sitting dangerously but nonchalantly on the roadside kerbs, is there, and so is the Lasarte circuit at San Sebastian, 12 miles of poorly metalled road, where Guinness’ riding mechanic lost his life and where, although the first British victory by a Sunbeam at Tours in 1923 is oft-quoted, many people forget that Divo in 1923 and Segrave in 1924 won GP races for Sunbeam. Tours itself is depicted, as are three variants of the famous Le Mans course. Montlhéry and Brooklands have merited inclusion, although unfortunately the name of Brooklands’ creator is wrongly spelled. Donington, where Rosemeyer ( Auto-Union) won the first of the new-era Grands Prix over the 3.1-mile narrow, bumpy circuit through English parkland in 1937 at 82.8 m.p.h. for 250 miles against Mercedes-Benz, has not been forgotten.

There are colour renderings of this Auto-Union, Benoist’s 1927 GP Delage, Segrave in the 1923 Sunbeam, Szisz (subject of some rather shaky journalism in a weekly contemporary recently) in the Renault which won the French GP in 1906, Murphy’s 1921 Duesenberg, Campari’s P2 Alfa Romeo, Meo Costantini’s 1926 Bugatti, the 1913 GP Peugeot and more modern racers, from the brush of Roy Nockolds. Each circuit map is accompanied by a short description and a map of Europe locates the various past and more recent circuits, the latter including Pau, Clermont Ferrand, Jarama, Monaco, Monza, Syracuse, the Targa Florio course, Reims, Nurburgring, Albi, Zandvoort„ Rouen, Silverstone, Brands Hatch and Spa, of which this map remarks “This circuit is no longer used. Both drivers and organisers are frightened of it.” Which is only partially true . .

The map also carries a set of marshals’ signalling flags in colour. The entire presentation is most commendable. The Mobil map is no longer available as part of a sales-promotion scheme but could become quite a collectors’ piece, being one of the better free presentations, with a strong historic/modern motor racing flavour.—W. B.