Reviews, November 2005
Memoirs of a Racing Man by Jo Ramírez. ISBN184425 238 8, published by Haynes, £18.99
In the introduction to this book, Ramírez tells us that on his last day at McLaren, in October 2001, Ron Dennis took his long-time team coordinator into his office and advised him not to write the story of his life. He told the popular Mexican that he wouldn’t make any money from the exercise, but the underlying meaning was clear: Ron didn’t want the public knowing about what really went on at McLaren.
And throughout this book Ramírez hasn’t pulled any punches. Starting with his early life in Mexico, where he and Ricardo Rodríguez goofed around as teenagers, he crosses the Atlantic, works in Italy, enjoys his first Formula One success with Dan Gurney and Eagle, then works for a variety of teams before landing the gig at McLaren for 1984.
You expect the first half of the book (the pre-McLaren years) to be a non-stop yarn of people and places and, even with the carrot of that Dennis incident in the intro, you predict that the second half will slow down the pace and be less rewarding — after all, his McLaren career spanned a massive 18 years. Far from it though: there are some fascinating insights into the personalities of Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Niki Lauda, Nigel Mansell, Mika Häkkinen, David Coulthard… And, of course, Ron. OK, there are times when Dennis comes across as totally lacking in grace and human skills, but usually Ramírez speaks with affection for his old boss. Like the corny old Paul McCartney/Stevie Wonder song from the 1980s, Jo’s motto seems to be that there’s good and bad in everyone.
In fact, there are those who may cringe far more than Dennis. Jo outspokenly describes Lauda’s decision to pull out of the 1976 Japanese GP as unacceptable selfishness, and says of Michael Andretti that “he became a racing driver only because his father was one. If Mario had been a carpenter, Michael would have been one too.”
Ouch! But overall Ramírez comes across as a lovely man whose presence has enriched the F1 paddocks since the 1960s, just as this book will enrich anyone’s bookshelf. This is a must-read. — MS
Formula 5000 in New Zealand and Australia. Race by Race by Wolfgang Klopfer. ISBN 3 8334 3101 6, published by Books on Demand, €35
Klopfer is turning into something of an authority on these big-bangers. This is the third book in his series, covering the 1970 to ’82 seasons, so it has a wide remit containing the Tasman races as well as the Australian and New Zealand championships. Functional black-and-white shots illustrate potted summaries of the races plus, in most cases, the top six finishers in each event. You’re not going to find any scintillating prose here, but for F5000 completists it’s a handy reference work. Available from the author: [email protected] — MS
Long Straights and Hairpin Turns – Volume One by Martin Rudow. ISBN 9769609 7, published by Rudow Speciality Publishing, $59.95
Another book celebrating sportscar racing’s rise to prominence in the US during the 1950s, but this is undoubtedly one of the best. Concentrating on events held in the Pacific North West, from temporary airport tracks to road circuits, the author has gathered a wealth of information about the cars, the events and the drama before professionalism (and all that entailed) caught up.
You really do get a feel for the atmosphere at these events and can only marvel at some of the machinery encapsulated within the 500 or so images: European exotica vying with such ‘sophisticated’ contraptions as the Fageol with a Porsche engine at either end, each equipped with a blower driven by a washing-machine motor. Magic. Volume two can’t arrive too soon. — RH
The V12 Engine by Karl Ludvigsen. ISBN184425 004, published by Haynes, £40
Following on from the author’s previous engine books, this is so thorough that I’d be amazed if anyone can point to a V12 with car applications that isn’t here. There’s many an aero unit too — famously in the 1930s record breakers — and the odd motorboat, for which the earliest V12s were built. The text is highly technical, so it’s not a book to lose yourself in, but it will tell you everything about any V12 you can name and plenty you can’t, from the first-ever V12 (built in Putney in 1904) to the Maserati MC12.
While the road cars are all here, competition cars outweigh them, all illuminated by hundreds of drawings and photos, including many one-offs. I’d love to have heard the 112-litre ‘Quad Al’ dragster, with eight wheels, four Allison V12s and 8000hp… — GC
Jacques Laffite, et Courir de Plaisir by Pierre Van Vliet. ISBN 2 930354 208, published by Apach Publishing www.apach.be, €40
At long last! A book about Jacques Laffite. It may not be published in English, but Jacques Laffite, et Courir de Plaisir (and racing for pleasure) is essentially a pictorial work, so schoolboy French should get you through the text: in case it doesn’t, there’s an English appendix.
The author takes us through Laffite’s career, from his early days as Jean-Pierre Jabouille’s mechanic, with rare photographs which you are unlikely to have seen before.
This work also reminds you just how prolific a racer Laffite was — and not just in terms of grand prix starts. For example, how many of us remember his win in the 1975 Nürburgring 1000Km aboard the gorgeous Alfa 33 TT12 ? And his career didn’t end at Brands in ’86.
This isn’t the definitive work on Laffite but it will do for starters. — GW
Toj: John Tojeiro and his Cars by Graham Gauld. ISBN 954916719, published by Havelock Publishing, £20
About time too. All credit to Gauld for writing this tribute to the late chassis designer and to Havelock for publishing a book that bigger concerns would consider too esoteric.
This is an engaging, unpretentious effort, charting the rise to prominence of Portuguese-born Tojeiro and the cars that carried his name. You do get an impression of what this unassuming engineer was really like and chassis histories are detailed, although we would like to have seen more gen on the road car projects such as the Britannia and the ‘Rambridge coupé’. But this is a minor quibble.
There are some pretty wonderful images too, although picture repro isn’t consistent, but this isn’t to denigrate a solid, well-researched work. You can’t argue with the price either: it’s excellent value. — RH