“The Story of the MG Sports Car”, by F. Wilson McComb. 206 pp. 8¾ in. x 5¼ in. (J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., Aldine House, 10-13 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9HG, £3.25).
One-make history is filling up apace but this book by Wilson McComb about the MG is one of the essential gaps closed, and very effectively too. The importance of the MG to British motor racing and record-breaking prestige and as a dollar-earner after the Second World War is not always sufficiently recognised and although John Thornley wrote an excellent and splendidly detailed history of the MG in pre-war competition guise, no complete and authentic history of this famous sports car had appeared until McComb’s painstaking book was published.
I like this work for several reasons, apart from its valuable contribution to serious, properly researched motoring history. In the first place, the author is well qualified to write it, having been employed by the MG Company in a technical and public relations capacity, been General Secretary of the MGCC and having restored a vintage MG and raced a modern MG. Then there is the pleasing amount of new material and detailed anecdote his book contains and the sensible attitude of refusing to take sides or form personal opinions where an issue is in doubt. McComb preferring to give all the information at his disposal in such cases and leave the reader to reach a conclusion. He is also fully aware of other MG histories and openly refers to them.
The result is a learned and readable book about MG origins and development in chronological order, comprehensively illustrated and taking the reader from the early life of Cecil Kimber, who was MG, to the Bullnose Days and through to adolescence and the post-vintage era standing with the post-war expansion and modern idiom, the period when half-a-million MGs had been built. In fact, up to the end of 1971 there had been 582,609 MGs built at the Abingdon factory, of which 459,565 were exported—very good business for Britain.
I find it very interesting that McComb has obviously had access to factory documents and other sources and thus when debating obscure matters such as when the present form of octogan MG badge first appeared on a Morris Garages car he goes to the Morris Owner rather than to the better known motor papers, and to these absorbing but insignificant aspects of his subject McComb gives as much care and attention as to the broader fabric of MG history.
Although the MG was essentially a sports car, a very fine one in its more extreme forms, such as the K3 Magnette, and a quite remarkably successful racing and record-breaking make, McComb does not neglect the larger MG saloon models and he fills in effectively the overall competition career of the Abingdon make, correcting mistakes in previous references where necessary and dealing with pre-war trials and post-war racing and record-breaking exploits as well as the more historic events we all remember, such as Nuvolari winning the Ards TT, the arrival of the R-type Midget, and so on. . . .
While the author is obviously very loyal to MG and feels a very warm affection for the make, he is scrupulously fair in not exaggerating a situation or glossing over Kimber’s mistakes and later MG shortcomings, except perhaps that the J2’s habitual breaking of crankshafts is not enlarged upon.
One has the impression that McComb has by no means exhausted his great knowledge of how MG sports and competition cars developed and that one day he may tell us all, with, I hope personally, a separate book about the racing aspect; there is even the thought that his publisher may have compressed to some extent the present book, in spite of 100 pictures, eight chapters and four appendices, two of the last-named being devoted, respectively, to MG specifications and MG competition successes between 1925 and 1968, the other two dealing with International Class Records (all too many writers would have called these “World’s” records) broken by MG from 1930 to 1959 and MG production and export figures from 1923 to 1971.
This then, is the complete-MG history, full of fascinating items which serve to endorse, not detract, from its commendable authenticity. I recommend it! — W. B.
“The Motorist’s Bedside Book”, edited by Anthony Harding. 293 pp. 8¾ in. x 5¼ in. (B. T. Batsford Ltd., 4 Fitzhardinge Street, London W1H OAH, £2.00).
Here is another of the Batsford Bedside Books and what fun it is. Tony Harding persuaded a couple of dozen well-known motoring writers to contribute, on any subject which took their fancy. The result is an amusing book, admirable for bedside dipping into.
Michael Brown has done an extremely well-composed piece on the lost joys of motoring, with a flashback to the old days, experienced in modern times, right at the end, which is most compelling. Ronald Barker recalls some of his more trying nights when he had intended to be at home or motoring but the machinery of a great variety of different vehicles decided otherwise! Paul Frere contributes a technical chapter about the factors which make modern racing cars go fast and Michael Scarlett has a skilful story showing how the motor-car may end up, if bureaucracy has its way and finds it possible to insist that we all travel in vehicles which are computer controlled and steer themselves . . . a very funny story indeed.
W. G. S. Wike writes of “Summat fer Nowt”, in which he reflects on the most economical forms of motoring, mostly in the past, recalling some of the inexpensive cars he has owned, including a 37.2 h.p. Hispano-Suiza bought in 1934 for £15 and in which he mentions the 1925 Lloyd made in Grimsby, which I thought at first he had confused with the Gnome or Nomad, and the age of bubble cars (he says of the Heinkel that it had two back wheels but this, surely, was the Isetta ?). Wilson McComb does a splendid piece about the changed aspect of top-rank motor racing, arising from a remark made to him while he was having a hair-cut, which is countered by the chapter contributed by David Hodges, who thinks today’s Formula One racing is too often belittled with absolutely no justification.
This reviewer took as his subject “Motors for Millionaires”, with particular reference to the luxury cars made immediately after the Armistice of 1918, which enables some of that remarkable “Which is the World’s Best Car ?” correspondence which broke out in The Autocar in 1921 to be summarised, and Rodney Walkerley, who once did motorcycle road-tests for Motor Sport, has had fun comparing cars with vintage wines.
Eoin Young covers the nostalgia of fantasy shopping with the aid of Motor Sport’s small advertisements, Graham Gould remembers some of the more hectic situations which befall rally drivers, Denis Jenkinson writes from the heart about the Autodromo Di Monza, and we have Richard O’Hagan delightfully taking the mickey out of some popular d.i.y. motoring items.
By now you should be asleep but for the next wakeful night there is “S.B.” writing about how very fast were the old BRDC 500-mile races at Brooklands, taking Indianapolis legends down more than a peg (but he isn’t quite correct in saying Noel and Pole of the aero-engined Mercedes entry had never raced before the 1929 “500”, for Pole at least had driven the car previously at Skegness and had also raced a Rally there). John Bolster wondering whether very expensive cars are worth buying and undecided to the last sentence, and Peter Hull giving a most welcome history of the Boulogne “Speed Week” of 1921 to 1928 with some fresh facts for good measure. Then there are some thoughts about pulling up, contributed by Leonard Setright who evokes Sod’s Law (is this the same as Sodt’s Legalities ?), and Cyril Posthumus reminding us of what a distinguished racing driver Jose Froilan Gonzales was, in typical enthusiastic Posthumus style. Getting drowsy again ? If not, there is still Michael Sedgwick’s chapter showing what motoring historians have to endure and how computers can never replace us, Sandy Skinner on good small cars from Type 13 Bugatti and earlier to his present Ogle-Mini coupé, Patrick Macnaghten being humorous at the expense of the law, Martyn Watkins on his personal dream-cars, Anthony Bird on just the opposite, in a fine reminiscent recall of some of the cars in which he motored on a shoe-string, and Henry Manney disliking motoring in the twenty-first century.
All of this should keep you awake for a long time, and the text is backed up by Brockbank cartoons, quotes and some grouped together photographs which give this Batsford nightcap a rare flavour, in expensive at the price, perhaps too inexpensive, because the quality is poor in comparison with earlier books in this series. How soon to the next one, Mr. Batsford ? — W. B.
Two notable books which have recently gone into new editions are the Riley Maintenance Manual, 1930-1956 (390 pp., 8½ in. x 5¼ in.) by S. V. Haddleton, one-time Advertising and Publicity Manager of the old Riley Company and Editor of the Riley Record, which G. T. Foulis Ltd. publish at £3.85, and The Theory of Tuning & The Choice of Conversi n Equipment (135 pp., 8½ in. x 5¼ in.) by Philip H. Smith, also by G. T. Foulis & Co. Ltd., 50a, Bell Street, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, at £2.45. The latter book has been completely revised.
The latest title by the industrious G. N. Georgano is A History of Transport (311 pp., 10¾ in. x 8½ in.) which is packed with compelling illustrations, over 400 of them, 16 in colour, the road-transport section written by Georgano himself. The publisher is J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., Aldine House, 10-13 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9HG and this big volume sells for £4.95.
“Profiles” are here again. The work of numerous authors, under the command of Anthony Harding, these inexpensive soft-cover booklets dealt mainly with vintage motoring history and their demise was widely regretted. The new series is bound to be compared with the former and the impression is less favourable. Modern rather than vintage cars form the main theme, the print is very small, especially that used for the specifications, and the cover-title Cars in Profile No. ? seems likely to clash badly if these 24-page soft-cover offerings are bound into volumes. That they are aimed primarily at American readers is evident from a glossary of Anglo/American motoring terminology on the inside front cover, which is a bit of an insult to intelligent enthusiasts; it is not even accurate, for surely “generator” is Yankee for dynamo or alternator, not “dynamotor”, which means a combined starter/dynamo, no longer in general use ? However, no doubt the series will make a worthwhile contribution to motoring history and we shall follow it with interest. No. 1 is about the 246 SP-330 P4 rear-engined Ferrari prototypes of 1961-67. The author is Paul Frere, which should ensure absolute accuracy and as you get some 10,000 words, colour pictures, 45 photographs, a couple of diagrams and tables, for 50p, the value is notable. The publishers are Profile Publishers Ltd., Coberg House, Sheet Street. Windsor, Berks., SL4 1EB.
The Hamlyn Group, Hamlyn House, 42 The Centre, Feltham. Middlesex, has published an illustrated history of motor racing by Count “Johnny” Lurani. A History of Motor Racing (319 pp., 11¼ in. x 8½ in.) covers most aspects of the subject, with some very fine illustrations, over 150 of which are in colour. It is as a pictorial presentation rather than an important contribution to motoring history that this review of racing from 1895 to the present-day should be regarded. It has more than 440 photographs and costs £3.95.