Book reviews, November 1977, November 1977

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“Vintage Motoring in Malaysia” by B. Tyler and H. A. Stonor. 92 pp. 9 1/4 in. x 6 in. (Available from P. J. Gibbs-Pancheri, Bentley DC, Long Crendon, Aylesbury, Bucks, for the benefit of the Malaysian and Singapore Vintage Car Register. £3.50 post paid.)

I have realised for a long time what a keen bunch of enthusiasts exists out in Malaysia and how the vintage motoring fun they have must be like that which we used to enjoy in Britain before things became over-regimented and controlled here. Now comes this little book, to endorse this. There is not much in it, but what there is is highly nostalgic, and of vintage appeal. The pictures are good and depict, among other things, such cars as that racing Marlborough light-car that went out to Singapore, the legendary Renault 45 that resides there, seen prior to the start of a 1963 Shell Rally in Ipoh, and a Model-T Ford two-seater winning, if you please, the 1969 Singapore Grand Prix. Others run from Bentley, Lagonda, Alvis and Frazer Nash to PB and TA MGs, Wolseley Hornet, and Triumph Vitesse-6. You see Barr,. Swann driving ERA R2A in a 1965 sprint, the late Col. Vaughan driving the es-Passe Frazer Nash single-seater in a Gap hill-climb, and the sort of “boy’s-racer” vintage Sunbeam I have always wanted to build. You are shown Hugh Stoner ascending the steps of the Kluang Rest House in his 3-litre Bentley(!) and Founder-Member of the Club, Lim Ah Fong, in his 1923 7/12 Peugeot. Apart from Austin Chummies and Rolls-Royces, there is the sort of 1913 Wolseley Twenty tourer seldom seen here—also a rare Fiat which, however, is surely 1913, not 1903?

There is a chart of the pre-1940 car population in the area fron 1954 to date, and of Singapore in the 1930s someone writes: “The British ran the country and yearly see celebrated ‘Empire’, a respectable word then but a dirty word today. Our Indian and Malay brethren helped the British to as the country, all for the benefit of the Chinese.” A little book in a good cause.—W.B.

“Pinin Farina—Master Coachbuilder” by Michael Frostick. 190 pp. 10 in. x 7 1/2 in. (Dalton Watson Ltd., 76, Wardour Yeast, London, W1V 4AN. £7.50.)

Here is another of these beautifully-produced Dalton Watson books, this one entirely devoted to the skill and artistry of Finis Farina, the great Italian coachbuilder, whose picture in colour forms a fine Frontispiece. The book is chock-full of Farina styling, and it is fascinating teases the pages to see on what make of car his next-depicted body will be found. Frostick has spared at things like 19505 Farina Austin, But he covers the British Farina theme via Rover, Bentley, Bristol, etc. The book is divided into fifteen “variations” and has an Appendix listing chassis numbers and Farina job-numbers for Pininfarina coachwork made for Ferrari chassis from 1952 to 1955, with the names of the customers. Unfortunately, my copy of the book has the pages bound out of numerical order, which makes for confusion. However, this is a splendid eyeful of fine coachwork, from the era of fold-flat windscreens on Fiats and Lancias, to some very exciting competition coupes, etc. Farina advertising gets a brief look-in and the quality of the art reproduction matches the ideals of the great stylist himself.—W.B.

“The Rover Story—A Century of Success” by Graham Robson. 176 pp. 9 3/4 in. x 6 1/2 in. (Patrick Stephens Ltd., 9, Bar Hill, Cambridge, CB3 8EL. £5.95.)

There have been histories of the Rover Company, of Coventry and Solihull, British “makers of fine cars” before this one. There ass a mediocre pictorial coverage that excelled itself by captioning a picture of two racing GNs as Rover Eight Sports, of which “there ain’t no sich hanimal” (although there was a push-rod o.h.v. conversion for this Rover flat-twin engine), and there is George Oliver’s “The Rover”, published by Cassell in 1971. So why should we want further Rover coverage?

That was the thought that occurred to me when words-spewing Graham Robson produced another Rover history. Having read his book I am all in favour, although this does not detract from my admiration for the adequacy of Oliver’s work. There is roost for both these books, inasmuch as, whereas Oliver’s is straight history, looking intimately at the long line of Rowe models from 1904 onwards, technically and historically, Rob,son’s concentrates more on the history of the Company, and of its successes and failures under a long series of Chairmen, Managing Directors and Engineers. Both books deal with the bicycle-making beginnings of this great Rover concern (and with the Rover motorcycles) but whereas Oliver looks closely and interestingly at the early Rover cars as well as the later products, Robson hastens us on to the 1930s, when the Wilks brothers came to the aid of an ailing Rover manufactory. From there on he shows us what made the company tick (or the pendulum nearly stop) and he uncovers with no holds barred some very interesting financial and other “inside” facts.

Besides this, however, Robson, who has already devoted a book to the Land-Rover, has a great deal to impart about all the later Rover products, again with no holds barred. Naturally, he deals with the competition performances of Rover, including their illimitable Le Mans appearances with the Rover-BRM gas-turbine racers, etc., and I found the Appendix about experimental and still-born Rovers—which he calls “Blind alleys and oddballs—the Rovers that got away”—as intriguing as the main text. This gives much detail about the odd air-cooled Scarab and the little M-type of the 1940s, and other “lost” Rovers, including the mid-engined V8 coupe which so many of as would liked to have owned had this very promising Rover not been axed by Lord Stokes. Other appendices deal with Company personnel from 1888 onwards, Rover milestones, from 1877 to the millionth Land-Rover, and the launch of the new Rover 3500 and the main text has chapters on Rover’s war work (some surprises here), the “Auntie” era, how the American V8 engine was adopted and developed, mergers and manoeuvres, like those of Alvis, Triumph and Leyland. the Ryder rationalisation, and so on.

Robson has done a pretty thorough job and he provides lesser-known facts, inside inform. ties, and a great deal of financial and other statistics, which make this an important book, for students of automotive affairs and for the enjoyment of those of us who enthuse over Rover products of many kinds (I write this just after the Editorial Rover 3500 has broken down and awaits spares!). The book concludes with stable of Rover vehicles, from the 8 h.p. car of 1904-1912 to the Forward-Control 101 in. military Land-Rover of 1975, but these specifications ran only to engine dimensions. The pictures, too, are rattier hackneyed and sparing—I could have supplied a photograph of the rare Mark Wild-designed 3 1/2-litre Six of 1923, of which only three, says Robson, were made, and I would have liked to have seen the Brooklands 14/65 racing car included.

However, this is a very readable book, which all those in any way associated with Rover should read, and which should disappoint only those more concerned with she early Rover days.—W.B.

“Rare and Exciting Cars” by Daphne Bampton. 190 pp. 8 3/4 in. 5 1/2 in. (Colin Vernon Ltd., Uffington Press, Melksham, Wiltshire. £5.95.)

This is rather a remarkable achievement. The authoress has stepped in fearlessly among well-known writers, to produce a little book about a miscellany of the older cars, from an 1898 Lutzmann to a 1926 Hispano-Suiza, and has made it very readable. It may have been an easy book to write, armed with tape-recorder, visits CO well-known VSCC and VCC members, and a “dear husband” who gave technical advice. But, no matter, the result is an easy-to-read book, of short biographies of many cars familiar to us, but worth sleeting again in print. There are very few technical errors that I could see, but some spelling mistakes. VSCC members like Ron Barker, Nigel Arnold-Forster, and Arthur Jeddere-Fisher obviously gave freely of their time to this new writer. The result is more than bearable, and, which is clever, it is a theme that can be repeated almost ad infiniton. Like the sadly expired “Profiles”, although the present essays are devoted primarily to one particular pre-war car. Perhaps Mrs. Bampton might have made it clear that the o.h.v. Hotchkiss engine in “Old No. 1” MG is peculiar to that car and not the same as the Hotchkiss engines found in the production Morris cars, or maybe she didn’t know? A pleasing, if expensive, little work.—W.B.

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If you have wondered how seemingly-erudite motoring authors are able to quote production figures for the more obscure American cars, I can now tell you. They refer to “The Production Figure Book for U.S. Cars” by Jerry Heasley. Or if they haven’t, they will now! For this 180-page, soft-cover book is packed with such information, broken down into types in many cases, with, for example, Oldsmobile figures born 1897 to 1975 and Cadillac data from 1902 through 1972. You learn that only 484 Chrysler New Yorker 300C convertibles were made in 1957 and that the production-total of the 1956 Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria Glass Tops was 603. This statistical goldmine is published by Motorbooks International, PO Box 2, 729, Prospect Avenue, Osceola, Wisconsin 54020, USA, at $6.95.