Recollections of air and track

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I have been much enjoying reading High Speed Diary — The Life and Times of Reginald Ellis Tongue (Dove Publishing, Bute, ISBN 0 9534142 5 6, £18.95).

Reggie Tongue took part in trials, rallies, including the Alpine, and races as a young enthusiast before his more serious days in important British and Continental races with MG, ERA, and Maserati cars.

These were times when this, in both amateur and professional terms, was rather less complicated than it has since become. To win was nice, but taking part almost as satisfactory. This is a book redolent of those days, from the viewpoint of an enthusiast from an upper-middle-class Midlands family, who also learned to fly, becoming an RAF fighter pilot and a Rolls-Royce test pilot.

He told some of his story in Speed before the war, and later in Motor Sport, but here is his full account of a highly exciting life, with much serious motor racing and wartime flying. It was written in 1989, when aged 77, three years before his death. It is fascinating from beginning to end — parents, childhood, school, Oxford, the pranks, the competition successes and disappointments, and many narrow escapes from disaster.

Reggie became a Caterpillar Club member after bailing out of a Halifax he was flying when it caught fire. His adventures in flying 36 types of aeroplane add to the interest.

Anyone who likes those faraway times must not miss this enthralling book. Eric Dymock did the editing, accurately setting the scenes of Tongue’s career. It is generous in detail, has a supporting collection of good thumbnail and full-size pictures, correspondence with Tongue’s friend Seaman, and snapshots that capture the very atmosphere in which Reggie Tongue and his fellow drivers and pilots worked and played.

His racing cars are illustrated, with accounts of their good and bad points. He began with a Brooklands-type Riley 9, an Aston Martin, a Singer 9 Le Mans, two Ford V8s, Aston Martin LM10, and the ex-Whitney Straight K3 MG Magnette (bought for £400). Later he favoured Railtons.

This is a very amusing as well as a personal ‘insight’ book with, for instance, the Champion/KLG plugs fuss and the problems with ERA R11B before RT bought the Maserati 4CL, the ‘stolen’ trophy and attempted kidnap of Lord Nuffield. One which those who remember the days of Brooklands, Donington and the Continental circuits cannot afford to miss. I am so glad I didn’t.

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