Book Reviews, October 1955, October 1955

Author

W.B.

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“Atalanta,” by S. C. H. Davis. 191pp., 5 1/2 in. by 8 1/2 in. (G. T. Foulis and Co., Ltd., 7, Milford Lane, Strand. London, W.C.2. 16s. 6d.)

Sammy Davis has written another motor-racing book in his inimitable unvarying style, this time about women as racing drivers. He was clever to think up a fresh subject when books on motoring are pouring so fast from publishers anxious to catch the high-tide of demand that to do so isn’t easy. Historians will derive pleasure from the chapters devoted to the remarkable Camille du Gast and Dorothy Levitt, the former competing in the Paris-Madrid race of 1903 and the latter doing prodigious things with S. F. Edge’s giant Napiers as early as 1905.

The subsequent chapters deal with Kay Petre, Gwenda Hawkes, Elsie Wisdom, Dorothy Stanley Turner, Madame Juneck of Targa Florio fame, Margaret Allen and Sheila van Damm, and the tenth chapter lumps together many lady racing drivers whom one would have liked to have had a chapter to themselves.

If there is criticism warranted it is that Davis lives rather in the past and lady competitors of our time, like Mrs. Gerard, Nancy Mitchell, Betty Haig, Barbara Marshall, get scant mention, and Doreen Evans should have had her own chapter, although she does get plenty of “mentions.”

The illustrations are good if not very directly related to the text in some cases; Sammy seems in places to embellish history with legendary anecdote, and the dust-jacket appears to depict Margaret Allen’s Bentley which has somehow acquired a blower, making it look like Birkin’s.

The reason why this — a satisfactory book — is called “Atalanta” will be clear to those who know their Greek mythology. — W. B.

“Recreation — Motoring,” by John Marshall. 192 pp., 4 3/4 in. by 7 1/2 in. (Hodder and Stoughton Ltd., London. 8s. 6d.)

This is a humorous book about motoring by a writer of a book on cricket. It is vastly amusing and entertaining in places, while dealing with motoring rather than motor sport. Many of the author’s experiences ring so true and he mentions such cars as de Dion, Fafnir cyclecar, Morris-Cowley, Austin Seven, Morris-Oxford, Hillman, Standard, Daimler, and others. But there is the usual non-enthusiast’s tendency to refer to each by a pet name and this isn’t perhaps quite a book for enthusiasts, although no doubt collectors will have to have it.

But John Marshall, if he cannot spell Zborowski, does show vintage sympathies “… the Hillman’s front was a proper front, curving gracefully to a radiator, not a great mouth organ; its rear, too, was quite unmistakably its rear, plump and rounded, as a lady’s stern should be. Not so the Vanguard. ‘Like a Grand Hotel on wheels,’ my sister Beth said when she beheld the new model.” So he bought a Daimler Fifteen Tickford coupé. The illustrations are by Gus.
W. B.

“Sports Cars,” by John Wheelock Freeman. 192 pp., 8 1/2 in. by 11 1/4 in. (Random House, Inc., 457, Madison Avenue, New York 22. 96s. 6d.)

This is one of the most beautifully produced motoring books to come into our hands, containing as it does over 250 photographs by Alexandre Georges and 38 plates in full colour.

The theme of “Sports Cars” is the catalogue type of book so acceptable in America and nowhere else, but in this instance the author, who is said to have obtained his data by visiting European factories, brings in some fresh facts and is critical in the extreme when he deems this necessary.

He divides his book into chapters on Great Britain and the Tradition of Sportsmanship, Germany and the Tradition of Workmanship (with the usual VW and Porsche eulogy), France and the Tradition of Elegance, Spain, and Italy and the Tradition of Speed, concluding with a chapter on America’s sports cars and observations On automobile body styling. The makes dealt with are M.G., Jaguar, Aston Martin (the hyphen has crept in), Fraser-Nash, Austin-Healey, Sunbeam Alpine, Doretti, Triumph, Bentley, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Talbot, Bugatti, Cométe, Pegaso, Alfa-Romeo, Lancia, Ferrari, Siata, Cunningham, Corvette, Thunderbird, Kaiser-Darrin and Nash-Healey. The treatment of each is descriptive rather than historical, with interesting presentation, and concludes with a brief specification containing performance figures presumably “borrowed” and in some cases a trifle suspect, as for instance the speed of 110 m.p.h. quoted for the Type 101 Bugatti, which surely no paper has tested properly.

The lead-in to each chapter makes excellent reading even if national driving characteristics and each nation’s roads, etc, may be exaggerated for effect — Britain’s spartan automobiles are explained as “Due to the continuous chilling downpour and to early Anglo-Saxon traditions, British inclination has been to fortify personal character against the lures of the flesh like heated buildings, palatable food and comfortable cars. Formidable abstractions, such as Pluck, Fortitude, Perseverance and Muddling Through, are held in high repute; a popular beverage is named Courage Stout.” Mr. Freeman writes freely  We are glad he avoids Americanism in his style and spells litre, litre. 

No doubt “Sports Cars” will sell many motor cars in different parts of the world for which John Wheelock Freeman will derive only satisfaction, for it is traditional that authors and journalists work without the commission which salesmen demand, and get.

The main charm of this lavish, beautifully produced and laid-out book is in its illustrations, which are very well chosen, even to many factory interior pictures which make the building of fine cars look the art it is. But the text is complementary to the photographs and “Sports Cars” will make a splendid Christmas present for those willing to spend 24 16s. 6d. on such a gift. — W. B.

“Stirling Moss’s Book of Motor Sport.” 118 pp., 7 1/4 in. by 10 in. (Cassell and Co., Ltd., 37/38, St. Andrew’s Hill, London, E.C.4. 10s. 6d.)

This is a remarkable book for which Wayne Mineau, who edited it, presumably from verbatim notes given to him by Stirling Moss, deserves every credit. For it answers the questions which young men anxious to start competition fire at their elders by the score: How does one become a racing driver? Which sort of racing does one begin with? What is a four-wheel-drift? and so on and so forth. The scope of the book is indicated by the chapter headings — How to become a racing driver; What is a racing car?; The art of driving fast; Team control and tactics; Great races and their circuits; Long-distance racing; Rally — Hill-climb — Trial — Sprint; Speed records; Men of today; a world alphabet of drivers; Famous racing and sports cars of today; Great races of yesterday; “Switch on the radar,” this last being a glimpse of the future. What more can you ask for half-a-guinea, especially as the book is copiously illustrated with excellent photographs, several of them from Motor Sport, from Jenatzy in the 1903 G.B. race in a 60 Mercedes and Malcolm Campbell’s 1922 350-h.p. V12 Sunbeam at Saltburn to modern Grand Prix cars in today’s races.

There is a page of nine head-and-shoulder views of famous drivers, some excellent historical illustrations, including those of Leyland Eight, Bentley and Vauxhall Villiers racing cars, and the book includes potted specifications of modern sports cars, short biographies of racing drivers, circuit plans, a table of capacity classes in recordbreaking, Moss’ descriptions of 1955 G.P. cars — in fact, the lot. The pictures are well reproduced in spite of mediocre paper, and this book represents better value than most of the reference works we have reviewed earlier this year.

Some of us may not agree with Moss’ advice to start racing with a 500-c.c. car and he is a little hard on Brighton sprint exponents when he refers to Brighton as a one-minute sprint, otherwise the text seems faultless.

This would seem to be the Christmas present of the year from uncles and aunts whose nephews and nieces are Stirling Moss and motor-sport fans. — W. B. 

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H. O. Quinn Ltd., 151, Fleet Street, London, E.C.4, have produced the “Modern Motoring Diary for 1956,” which is available now at 4s. 6d. Containing a great deal of motoring information, maps and motor-racing data compiled and edited by J. W. Knox, this diary is nicely bound, has illustrations of race circuits, etc., and provides some space for daily notes and plenty of car-records entries.

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An illustrated booklet. “New Roads for Old,” campaigning for new roads in South Wales and the Birmingham-Bristol area has been published by the Roads Campaign Council, 15, Dartmouth Street, London, S.W.1. It is obtainable free on mentioning Motor Sport.

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