“Specials,” by John Bolster (Foulis, 170 pages, 10s.).
No one has more right to claim this title for a book than the one and only John Bolster, now happily recovering from his Silverstone accident. And even at first glance you realise that it is a very good book indeed, because it really is about the insides of motor cars, by one who knows what he is writing about.
John has so frequently delivered entertaining and instructive lectures on how to build your own racing cars that he might have been expected to devote part of his book to this topic. Instead, after an entertaining opening chapter justifying the sprint and racing “special” in all its variants, and another outlining the historical background of these fascinating vehicles, John launches into a description, alphabetically, of specials down the years. And they are practically all there, dealt with generously and in his own delightful style — A.C. Nash, Becke, C.D.L., Dorcas, Eldridge, Fuzzi, Gardner, Harker, Iota, Jappic, K.N. 500, Lightweight Multi-Union, Norris, Ridley, Semmence, Tiger Cat, Vauxhall Villiers, and Wasp, to name only a few. It will be seen that Bolster does not confine himself to sprint cars alone. He takes in Brooklands’ specials like “Chitty-Bang-Bang,” the Laystall, Halford and Nanette, the less-professional Land Speed Record cars, small record-breakers, moderns like the A.J.B. and Steyr-Allard, foreigners like the Tarf and Nibbio, and so on. So it becomes quite a game to try to think up a rare special and then turn to Bolster’s index to see if it is missing — usually it isn’t! We can recall only a couple of omissions or so, if one excepts such essentially Brooklands’ specials as the R.L.B., H.N.T. and Welstead, etc.
Bolster has obviously had access to bound volumes of early numbers of the Light Car and Cyclecar to refresh his memory, but because he and brother Richard were avid spectators and later constructors, and thus personal friends of nearly all the other builders of specials, much new information appears in this book. John knows exactly what is significant and what he can leave out, and he gives some useful basic data for those who will unravel it. The illustrations are of high quality and the frontispiece, showing “Spider,” “Wasp” and “Gnat” lined up in Shelsley’s paddock, really worth while. Decidedly, Bolster’s “Specials” is one of the better motor-racing books. Therefore the very few errors we think we have spotted in no way detract from its desirability. In describing the Becke, it is stated that its engine was from a Wolseley “Moth” produced for the 200-Mile Race — actually cars in that race were required to be two-seaters, whereas Alistair Miller’s “Moths” were single-seater Wolseleys. And I believe that the earlier Wolseley “Stellite” had push-rod o.h. inlet and side exhaust valves, not similar valve gear and drive to the o.h.c. “Ten”
Then the bore of the Maybach engine in “Chitty I” was 165, not 155 mm., the stroke of the Benz motor in “Chitty II” 195, not 190 mm. (vide the B.A.R.C. records). Bolster adds more fuel to the controversy of whether or not the Zborowski “White Mercédès” was or was not the car later raced by Noel and Pole (see Chapter XV of my “Story of Brooklands,” Vol II), but he is certainly incorrect in stating that this car and the Higham-Special had pre-1914 Mercédès chain-drive chassis. The “White Merc.” had a lengthened Targo Florio shaft-drive chassis and Clive Gallop designed a special, and designedly primitive, frame for the Higham. Spikins’ Singer “Bantam” may quite well have lapped Brooklands’ outer and Mountain circuits at 114 and 71 m.p.h., respectively, in practice, but its best race laps were at 96.71 and 69.74 m.p.h., respectively. And in describing the Gwynne Eight-engined Emeryson, Bolster mentions a side-valve Gwynne, of which we would like more details.
But these are insignificant quibbles about such an entertaining and comprehensive book. The available reference works on motor-racing now cover a wide field, which, however, will be incomplete unless “Specials” is added to the library. — W. B.