Book Reviews, November 1986, November 1986

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Racing The Silver Arrows — Mercedes-Benz Versus Auto Union, 1934-1939  by Chris Nixon. 350 pp. 11-1/4″ x  8″,  Osprey Publishing Ltd., 27a Floral Street, London, WC2E 9DP. £29.95.

The story of the two “giants”, Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union, and their fabulous Grand Prix and record cars, made possible by the Nazi interest in motor racing as propaganda, is a fascinating one.  It is interesting to see how the two-make struggle progressed, which make scored first, and how Auto Union could sometimes embarrass the might of Stuttgart, even with Herr Neubauer in command. It is a story that has been decently documented, both in the contemporary race reports in the pages of this and other motor papers and in a war-time survey in Motor Sport.

Nevertheless, it seemed splendid to find it all recalled in Chris Nixon’s big and magnificently illustrated book, although on the latter score he is up against the problem that now confronts all historians, that of finding fresh photographs, so that avid followers of the pre-war racing scene will have seen some of the fine and exciting pictures that grace his text. However, discovering hitherto unseen ones is part of the joy of thumbing through this book.

Whether Nixon’s treatment of this slice of history is to your liking must be a matter of individual choice.  Personally, I was disappointed that instead of reliving the drama of the M-B v. AU race encounters event by event, I had to read instead a collection of memories of those days, admittedly from the highest quarters, and of considerable interest.  It may be that, as I have said, those titanic battles of 1934-39 have been so well covered, that Nixon felt there was no point in reprinting old reports or rewriting existing material — the fact is, that is what I would have appreciated. As it is, there are accounts of all aspects of that intense period, by Rosemeyer, Varzi, Stuck, Fagioli, Caracciola, von Brauchitsch, Neubauer, Seaman, Lang, Meier, Nuvolari, and other great names, and naturally the race results for the entire period are tabulated, and most of the circuits used are illustrated. The only quarrel with that is, almost all the writers being long-deceased, the material cannot be new, although I concede that it is highly interesting. The Foreword is by Hermann Lang.

So there is much pleasing “period” material to digest, with driver’s wives. like Elly Beinhorn Rosemeyer and Erica Seaman, and the technicians such as Dr. Ferry Porsche, Prof . Robert Eberan-Eborhorst and Rudolf Uhlenhaut, contributing their memories. In reading these memoirs I find myself enthralled to know that after a camera-platform had been fitted to one of the GP MercedesBenz the drivers’ wives were allowed to have fast rides sitting thereon, while it is difficult to imagine Neubauer having the time, or even hearing, a telephone ring in the pits in the heat of a race, the call from a driver who had retired and wanted a car to bring him back.  He was, one gathers, told just what he could do with the idea. But truth is said to be stranger than fiction, so I must not doubt these stories, although the term “Silver Arrows” applied to the cars has always had a journalistic overtone, to my mind…

Reverting to the lack of actual race reports, 1934 has the French GP, from The Autocar, 1935 the same journal’s German GP account, as for 1936, the 1937 chapter contents itself with Motor’s Monaco report, and for 1938 and 1939 the same paper’s Donington and German GP reports are used, although for each year there is a fine photographic survey. In fact, the pictures are excellent and only bettered by those in George Monkhouse’s great books.—W.B.

***

Ford—The Man And The Machine by Robert Lacey. 778 pp 9-1/2″ x 6″,  William Heinemann Ltd., 10 Upper Grosvenor Street, London W1X 9PA. £15.00.

This must be quite the most complete history of the Ford family ever attempted, and Heinemann’s and Robert Lacey are clearly proud of it. Those who want chapter and verse about old Henry Ford, and the later bitter business struggle between Henry Ford II and Lee Iacocca need look no further, although the author generously provides a 221-title bibliography — and even that fails to include “Ford Through European Eyeglasses” by Edgar N. Duffield. The book is essentially about people rather than cars, as the quainter-than-fiction life-stories of those behind the World’s most successful one-make empire unfold. Henry Ford, from his beginnings to creator of his great automotive venture, his odd sidelines such as the Peace Ship, his newspaper with its attack on the Jews, changed overnight for a pro-Jewish policy when Henry was persuaded he had a chance of running for President of the United States, his problems with Henry Ford II and all the other aspects and details of this enthralling saga, surely provided material for a great soap opera, before these were ever screened!

Robert Lacey writes all this up for lay-readers rather than the experts, and the cars themselves get only as much cover as is needed to tell a viable story of Ford as a family. This is endorsed by the fact that, of the rather sparse and indifferent illustrations, Ford cars appear in only twenty, the famous Ford V8 being casually depicted because one was used by gangster Bonnie Parker, and many others similarly as mere backgrounds to other subjects, although the Edsel, as a loser, gets a proper photograph and there is a small picture of a Pinto and Iacocca’s Mustang I and II get in, although, picture-wise, the Model-T steals the show — after all, that was what really started it all.

Popular, powerful stuff, much of which has been told previously, but not in quite so much detail, perhaps. That this is scarcely a car-book is emphasised when I say that the aforesaid very detailed bibiography does not include Leo Levine’s “Ford: The Dust And The Glory — A Racing History”, which was published in New York in 1968. —W.B.

***

Automobile Aerodynamics by Geoffrey Howard.  Osprey, 12-14 Long Acre. London WC2E 9LP. £12.95

With the subtitle “Theory and Practice for Road and Track” this aims to be an ambitious round-up of an increasingly finely analysed science. It is a pleasure, therefore, to discover that it is both comprehensive and well-written, mixing history with theory, record cars with saloons, single-seaters with concept cars, and describing with some fascinating case histories the tiny alterations which affect, drag, lift and noise. The 191-page book is well illustrated with photographs and diagrams describing not only the vehicles but also wind tunnels and measuring methods through the years, and extends from background, such as the effects of the oil crisis, to details, such as engine cooling.

Readable, informative, highly recommended. — G.C.

***

MRP has added the American-published Aston Martin Buyer’s Guide  by Paul R. Woudenberg to its distribution list, priced at £9.95. The Foreword is by Phil Hill, who bought a DB2 new in 1951 and drove the works cars at Le Mans under John Wyer in 1963. The buying advice really starts with the Bertelli 1-1/2-litres and production figures are included, up to the V8 Vantage model.—W.B.

***

G. T. Foulis 8. Co. have reissued a 187 page book, previously entitled “American Follies”  but now called Amazing American Automobiles, the authors being Alberto Martinez and Jean-Loup Nory, which for those who like what the hand-out describes as “ostentatious beasts” and who love coffee table tomes, will set them back the sum of £17.95, to read and look at a selected two-dozen of these American automobiles of the nineteen-forties to the early nineteen-sixties periods. — W.B.

***

International Car Collectors’ Yearbook edited by J-R Piccard. Editions des Trois Continents, Lausanne, distributed by Motor Racing Publications, 28-32 Devonshire Road, Chiswick, London. £29.95.

This weighty volume was the idea of the late Ami Guichard, publisher of Automobile Year, and has a rather similar format, though concerning itself with collectors, collections, and auctions. Several museums are featured including the extraordinary Brussels collection of Ghislain Mahy housed in a circus: there follows a section called Collectors World, listing a variety of international automotive gatherings, a review of historic racing with some lovely colour photographs, plus relevant book reviews, an analysis of the year’s big car sales and a complete indexed listing of auction prices.

While I strongly disapprove of this “record-breaking” attitude to the sale of desirable machinery, the book may well be of  practical value to the wealthy collector, but for the rest of us it is a well-produced and rich outline of all those enjoyable rallies and races both real and pretend. — G.C.

 

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