Book Reviews, November 1978, November 1978
“John Cooper – Grand Prix Carpet-Bagger” by John Cooper with John Bentley. 230 pp. 9 1/2″ x 7″ (Haynes Publishing Group, Sparkford, Yeovil, Somerset, BA22 7JJ. £5.95.)
We have had books about the Cooper racing cars and their evolution, from that first ingenious Cooper 500 using front and rear-ends devised from Fiat Topolino front suspension units, and about the mercurial John Cooper, son of a motor-racing-mechanic father, before. So this one, which which is a sort of long interview between John Cooper and John Bentley, is not exactly new ground. That is not to say that it isn’t essentially readable, and very entertaining. It starts off with John’s serious shunt on the Kingston By-pass road, where he formerly tested racing Coopers (!), in 1962, when some vital part of the 2,600-c.c. twin-engined Mini-Cooper saloon he was driving at an estimated 100 m.p.h. locked-up. Just prior to that shunt John was flying in his Piper Tri-Pacer, which also involved him in some hairy incidents and how he ever found his way to his base at Fairoaks when he thinks that aerodrome is in Kent, I do not know . . . .
The book then takes us breezily through the building of the first of those very effective Formula-500 Coopers, which multiplied exceedingly and prompted the many and varied Cooper racing cars that followed including the famous Cooper-Bristol, and all the other Cooper manifestations. All this is laced with anecdotes about the fun and games which John and his racing driver friends enjoyed and which was all part of the motor-racing scene in those more carefree days. At first Bentley seems to repeat himself and the reader has the impression that his tapes may have become duplicated. After that a good story follows, divided into chapters about the evolving Cooper racing cars, the use of Coventry-Climax engines, those visits to Nassau, Sebring and Indianapolis, with more wild parties, etc., and the arrival of the Cooper-Bristol and two World Championships gained in 1959 and 1960 by Jack Brabham.
Then we read of the Jonathan Sieff era and about the methods used to run the Cooper Racing Drivers’ School, suggested by Ron Searles, at Brands Hatch, which resulted in such people as Jim Russell, Bill Knight, Sharp, Rob Walker/Ken Gregory, Signor Dei in Modena and the Carroll Shelby school in California opening their schools with the Jim Russell School still operating. The book continues with the Mini-Cooper and the “S”, explaining how John Cooper’s link with the BMC came about, and it ends with some amusing recollections of this jolly British racing-driver-turned-racing-car constructor. There is an Appendix covering all the Coopers, from T1, Charles Cooper’s Austin 7 Special, to T91, the 1969 3-litre Alfa Romeo-engined car, with the numbers produced of each. The pictures well support the text. – W.B.
“Buick The Post-War Years” by Jan P. Norby and Jim Dunne. 166 pp. 7 3/4″ x 10″. (Motorbooks International, Osceola, Wisconsin, 54020, USA. 16.95 dollars.)
American cars may have a minority following in this country, for which reason the history of them tends to be ignored. Yet their story is as interesting as any other, if one takes the trouble to study it in the proper context. Thus this Buick post-war study is well worth reading. General Motors is the greatest motor-manufacturing complex in the World, and the authors of this book point out that had it not been for the Buick there would not have been a General Motors at the time it was formed. Moreover, they believe that without Buick GM would not be what it is, that without Buick there might never have been a General Motors and that without this make GM might have failed, not once but several times in its history.
So is the importance of the make to American automotive history and development established. The book gives a compact look-back at Buick progress before the war and at the GM top-brass associated with it, and then gets on with the job of describing in considerable detail (the detail that is so much the making of one-make and other histories) the Buicks of 1945 to the present – for this book is right up to date. The straight-eight, vee-eight and later V8 Buick engines are fully covered, the last-named sold to AMC, reacquired by GM, and now used by Rover’s of Solihull. The Dynaflow automatic transmission has its own chapter. The Rollert Years, the Riviera, and Buick’s Modern V8 Engines are other chapter headings.
I was pleased to find a sensible appreciation of where Buick fits into the overall automobile picture. For instance, the authors wonder if you can properly talk about the styling of an engine, then concede that you can, if it is an Alfa Romeo, Bugatti or Bentley. They then say that “The styling of the Buick eight (the straight-eight) could not, of course, compete with the exotic machinery in terms of sophistication. The styling of the Buick engine rather tended to play down to its brute force. The gentle radius on the rocker cover edges and corners were sort of a dissimulation – a disguise of its true character. But then the large manifolds and the vacuum-cleaner-size air filter would give it away, showing off the engine’s vast breathing needs.” After that you can read this very interesting and detailed account of 33 years of Buick endeavours without the fear that the authors understand only American machinery and motor cars. They deal not only with the Buick but the important GM personalities responsible for it, and they give the low-down on why the make had setbacks as well as great successes. They look also to the future of this famous car.
This book will be of the very greatest interest to those who like Buicks, those who seek inside information about American automobiles, and therefore to the two Clubs in this country whose members own and care for classic American automobiles. It is copiously illustrated and has tabulated data about all the Buick models from the 1946 Roadmaster, Special, and Super, through Century, Le Sabre, Electra, Invicta, Centurion, Wildcat, to the Riviera, a list of Buick literature, power outputs, production figures and straight-eight engine data, etc. Recommended! It should be available here from specialised booksellers. – W.B.
“The Porsche Book” by Lothar Boschen and Jurgen Barth. 472 pp. 9 3/4″ x 6 3/4″. (Patrick Stephens Ltd., Bar Hill, Cambridge, CB3 8EL. £12.50.)
It seems that either rival book publishers have slipped up in having so many books about Porsche appearing so close on top of one another, or that the race is on and this make about to overtake Rolls-Royce as a literary lion! I thought that anything I could possibly want to know, or turn up for reference, about the Porsche, in any one of its numerous types, could be found in Karl Ludvigsen’s great work, reviewed in the January issue of Motor Sport. However, here is another great Porsche tome, described as the definitive illustrated history of that make, translated from the German by Paul Fibre, a Porsche historian of note, and with a Foreword by Dr. Ferry Porsche himself. It covers every model of production and racing Porsche, from the pre-war Type 114, through the Types 356s, 911, 912, 914, Carreras, 930 Turbo, up to the controversial 924 and 928. The production sports cars are then covered, as are the racing Spyders, 904s, 908s, etc., up to the 917 series, and the Types 935 and 936 Turbos.
This book is, perhaps, a quicker reference work, with its tables and 690 rather sombre illustrations, than Ludvigsen’s chronological history; so the very wealthy may invest in both. – W.B.
“The MGA, MGB and MGC – A Collector’s Guide” by Graham Robson. 7 1/2″ x 9 7/8″ (Motor Racing Publications Ltd., 28, Devonshire Road, London, W4 2HD. £6.40.)
I was not aware that there are people who own collections of the three most-recent MG models, the middle one of those named in the book’s title still happily in production. But I bow to Robson’s knowledge of these British sports cars and the way in which, in this landscape-style picturebook, he sorts-out the works competition versions and discusses some of the intriguing prototypes, including the mid-engined ADO 21 (remember it?) which led on to “A” and “B” MGs you could buy. The frontispiece of the book depicts the old Abingdon factory from the air and poses the question: what kind of sports cars will Leyland make in the future? The appendices of technical specifications, chassis-number sequences, model by model, year by year, production and delivery statistics from 1955 to date, and performance figures, should be of interest to users of these MG sports cars, never mind the collectors. Nor have maintenance and details of the various MG Clubs been neglected. The book does seem rather expensive, though. – W.B.
“The Other Side of the Hill” by Bette Hill, with Neil Ewan, 143 pp. 8 3/4″ x 5 1/2″. (Hutchinson Publishing Group Ltd., 3, Fitzroy Place, London, W1P 6JD. £4.95.)
Bette Hill is not the first wife to write a book about what it was like to live with a racing-driver husband. Lady Campbell did that, many years ago. The rather startling thing about this book is that it has appeared less than three years since Graham’s death, so that Bette’s grief, her account of her honeymoon with Hill, and other intimate details “Where are you going? Come back and kiss me” – the petty rows and the marital ups-and-downs, seem rather distasteful.
That she and Graham lived in a different age from that in which Campbell raced is reflected in the high jinks at the Doghouse Ball – complete with bra-less strip-tease – and other social differences. (I never liked the Doghouse Club, because by moving into the old Pressbox at Silverstone it removed a very convenient reporting place which I used at VSCC meetings etc., and which it seemed unnecessary for the birds of the leading GP drivers to monopolise, on such minor occasions.)
Bette’s book is full of names-dropping, it can hardly be otherwise; my favourite is where she remarks, “There was Princess Anne and she caught my eye and we both sort of nodded to each other. . . .” She tells of the heartbreak of having to move out of “Lyndhurst”, the 25-room house in 30 acres at Shenley, with stabling for six horses and garages for four cars, once owned by Sir Edward Elgar – it gets a chapter and an aerial picture all to itself – to a 4-bedroom house with tiny garden at St. Albans. This will shock readers who imagine that top racing-drivers make so much money during their careers that there is never again a rainy day. (I remember telling Graham, during a lunch at Beaulieu, that I wanted to include his new house in Motor Sport’s “Homes of the Racing Drivers” picture-series but he wasn’t very keen, saying something about the Inland Revenue, by way of a brush off.)
Bette bravely defends Graham as a pilot, expressing the view that his crash in fog must have been due to a defect in his aeroplane of its instruments. It does seem odd that after surviving over 700 motor races and 176 Grands Prix the end came in this way. But without the official AM report, it is difficult to know what to think.
Anyway, Graham was a great guy and the girls will lap up this book about loving him and living with him. – W.B.
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The excellent Morris Register has issued a neat little 103-page soft-cover publication called “Morris Cars the first thirty-five years”. It is packed with good pictures and tabulated data about models from the 1913 bull-nose cars to the Series II and III six-cylinder models. This is the work of H.W. Edwards, the erudite Morris Register historian, and a particularly useful aspect of a book intended to help owners identify the model they own is the inclusion of details of the colours used for the different Morris cars when they were new. This should greatly assist those restoring old Morris cars – I have a similar problem at the moment, as to the correct colour for a 1924 12/20 Calthorpe two-seater. Buying this book will help the Morris Register, which offers it at £2.00 plus postage to members, £2.50 plus postage to non-members. Apply to: Mr. Edwards, Wellwood Farm, Lower Stock Road, W. Hanningfield, Chelmsford, Essex.
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There are so many complex regulations to understand if you are submitting a vehicle for its DoE test, rebuilding one of the older vehicles, commercials included, or just wondering whether the one you are driving fully complies with the law, that study of C.C. Toyne’s “Motor Vehicle Technical Regulations – Second Edition” is recommended. The author is well qualified and the book even has references applying to the irritating new National Type Approval requirements. Those about to be examined in transport subjects or studying for the Royal Society of Arts Certificate of Competence examination should benefit from this book, which is obtainable from the better booksellers (ISBN 09500679 is the reference), or direct from Liffon Engineering Services, Evington house, The Avenue, Northwood, Middlesex, HA6 2NL. for £3,75, post-free.
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Those who use their cars for touring will find a comprehensive reference to castles, historic houses, gardens and other places of interest in Britain, with a separate section covering Greater London, available from the RAC, under this title, for £2.25. We are informed that over 100,000 copies have been printed. The type is small but illustrations and maps are included. – W.B.